Saturday, April 23, 2016

Canvassing for Happiness

So it turns out that the world is a lot like it looks to my panic attacks. Everyone is jangled as the reality of Trump voters settles in. A small faction of Sanders supporters have decided it’s okay to throw dollar bills at the former Secretary of State and call her a whore. Campaign emails designed to fire us up to fight for good can bring out the worst in everyone, including me. Even my incredibly well-curated facebook feed can trick me into thinking I’m on a battleground. My heart has started doing this new beating-really-fast thing to signal when I’ve had enough.

But the part that seemed like it would be the hardest, the actual calling of strangers and knocking on doors, turns out to be the part that makes my heart feel most at ease. As soon as I get a phone list or a canvassing map in my hand, I feel like a new person, confident and purposeful. I’m still shy, and I still have to keep back tears on some topics, but I feel a sense of safety, a flow like I’m on the right track.

Before President Obama’s first campaign, it never would have occurred to me that I could do more for the process than vote. I don’t know how he convinced me that I was entitled to participate in his campaign, but he did, and I’ll never stop being grateful. Phone banking that fall was an easy job. Almost every call was a lovefest, and those phonebanks are some of my warmest memories, despite the raging toothache I had the whole time.

This time around, I thought the calling might be tougher. Before I managed to reweight its algorithm, my facebook feed could sometimes convince me that I and a handful of my pals were alone in a sea of Sanders-love. But the thing about real life is, it’s a safer place. Many people were happy and relieved to hear from us and almost all of those who were opposed were still kind and respectful.

Last weekend was my first time knocking on doors for a candidate, and it was the most perfect paradigm of a spring evening, complete with exuberant tulips and smell-of-happiness lilacs. A woman stopped us in the street and said “Oh! God bless you!” and signed up to volunteer on the spot. A couple of ladies wearing rainbow H buttons gave us an enthusiastic “Go Hillary!” (This happens to me daily even when I’m not canvassing, and it rules.) Neighbors of all categories said “yes” or “no” or “uncommitted” and I couldn’t help but geek out to myself (and also geek out to Amy) that! Democracy is amazing! And! These are our neighbors! And we’re not helpless! We can do something! I get extremely corny around election time and I’m totally not sorry.

The next day, when I went back to photograph all the flowers I’d longed after while canvassing, I felt even more at home here than I usually do. No matter the election’s outcome, having heard so many voices and looked into so many faces will make me a healthier and happier human being.

Since I left my church last year, I’ve had (with a few wonderful exceptions) trouble sustaining close friendships. The heart-space that had formerly been occupied with close chats and post-church brunches has often been filled by the little daily moments with strangers that give me a sense of hope and belonging. This election has made me rich with those moments. This year and beyond, I hope I have the strength to stop scrolling myself into Internet Brain Poisoning and keep finding joy in real life.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Why Are Women and GLBT People Still Invisible to So Many Liberals?

I used to be a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, a self-proclaimed liberal religion that aimed to value “The inherent worth and dignity of all people.” I was shocked last fall when my congregation’s pastors (both men) made the decision to endorse Pope Francis on our church sign and replace our regular service with the televised pope mass.

No amount of discussion could make the pastors understand why, as a queer feminist, I would be offended by their decision to endorse a religion that opposes reproductive rights, doesn’t allow women to lead congregations, and condemns gay marriage. No one in the Unitarian Society of Germantown, gay or straight, male or female, could see my point, so I left USG and, I’m pretty sure, all of religion, behind. I would have seen this as an isolated incident, a blind spot within just this particular group, but I see the same invisibility playing out on a national level through the Bernie Sanders campaign.

I know that there are many valid reasons to choose him, and I trust that the Bernie fans near and dear to me have everyone’s best interest at heart just as much as I do, but by now I’ve scrolled through hundreds of pro-Bernie posts without seeing a single mention of protecting women’s rights or fighting for GLBT equality. He does have those things in his platform, but they don’t seem to be the reason that people are so bananas about him. That oversight, more than anything else, is why I feel that gender-normative prejudice is the unconscious driving force underlying most (but not all) of the Bernie love.

I’ve seen and heard well-reasoned arguments in his favor, but here’s what acquaintances in my friend feed seem to love about Bernie Sanders:
1.      He’s not Hillary Clinton.
2.      He is adorable.
3.      He’s against some mysterious entity called “the banks.”

When Hillary Clinton received the endorsements of Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign, Bernie dismissed those organizations, which serve to protect the health and safety of women and GLBT Americans, as “the establishment.” With women’s health under attack and anti-gay legislation taking hold all over the country, I would like those organizations to stay established. I want a president who will fight to keep the progress that Barack Obama worked so hard to create.

And now, albeit super-awkwardly, Bernie Sanders is trying to align himself with another so-called liberal, Pope Francis, who doesn’t believe women should have autonomy over our own bodies and who condemns gay marriage.

This has been my year to learn that “liberal” and “progressive” don’t automatically mean “feminist,” and although that revelation has been painful, it has inspired me to act with more self-respect, to turn away from those who don’t prioritize women and GLBT folks. I refuse to be invisible. I refuse to be talked down to. I refuse to stop asking for the same safety and rights that straight white men are born feeling entitled to. Though I’ll hang on tight to those important to me no matter how they vote, I’m enjoying pivoting my life in a more feminist direction. Whether or not we wind up with our first female president, my life will be very mush the richer for this race.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Day I Shook Bill Clinton's Hand

“We can’t hide from any of these hard truths about race and justice in America. We have to name them, and own them, and then change them.”
Hillary Clinton, June 20, 2015

Although as someone who remembers the Nineties well, I know enough to blame the Republican Senate for many of the letdowns of Bill Clinton’s presidency, I did have to cross some picket lines in my mind to get excited about going to see him speak. However, as both he and Hillary have done so much to support the poor, to fight for women’s rights, and to bring GLBT rights into the national conversation, I was jumping-up-and-down happy to show up first thing in the morning as one of the volunteers for the April 7th event.

I phone-banked for President Obama, but this was my first time volunteering in support of a big event. When I got there and saw the other volunteers, I almost wept for joy. My facebook feed had made me feel like quite the lonely feminist, but here was a beautiful, diverse, welcoming team of mostly African American people from around the city and from the campaign itself. One volunteer was wearing a shirt that said, in rainbow letters, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” and I knew I’d found my people.

My team was given clipboards so we could have people fill out their tickets to get inside. Two hours before they were to open the doors, I was sent around back of the building to help direct anybody who was lost. My directing partner was an African American gentleman who’d just retired. He told me that he and his wife love trading off the remote these days, but today he had to get out and do something. We groused about the rain together. He spoke passionately about how relieved he’ll be when President Obama is out of office, because he isn’t treated with the respect that a President deserves. We agreed that Hillary Clinton would have to go through similar assaults on her dignity, that it would be hard.

He and I were stationed near a friendly Secret Service agent who kept us updated on the weather. As it blustered and rained, we signed happy people in. One lady was wearing her T-shirt from the first Clinton presidency, the first time I voted, when I was eighteen.

After we were done helping people in, I said goodbye to my partner and switched clipboards so I could help sign people up to phone bank and canvass. The crowd inside the event was BEAUTIFUL, smiling, dancing here and there to Bill Withers’s Lovely Day. I signed up people of all ages and demographics, some of whom were inspired by Hillary’s platform to sign up for a campaign for the first time ever. I loved helping them find hours in their days and fill out their forms, letting them know that they could even phone bank from home. Men, women, and children volunteered their time, their talent, their artistic and organizing skills, the few spare moments they have.
A classroom of children were up on the bleachers, looking around the room in wonder and chanting “HRC! HRC!” In the midst of this tense and often-segregated city, it was a pleasure to be united with my fellow citizens for a common cause. Well, almost united. Almost all of us.

We were a festive crowd, but serious. I didn’t see the appealing Phish-show merriment that Sanders rallies seem to have, but I think I’m okay with serious when it comes to electing a president.

I used up all of my extroversion and almost all of my clipboard sheets. My fondness for paperwork comes in handy once again.

When President Clinton took the stage, I was standing with a class of African American kids and their teachers, my heart overflowing with love. The crowd was rapt for the President’s speech, woohooing the loudest about teachers and about Planned Parenthood. I’ve heard Bill Clinton give a commencement address, so this wasn’t the most eloquent I’ve seen him, but he was hitting the points we’d come to hear.

When the protest signs went up, my heart dropped. I watched them there in the middle of the crowd, hoping that they would be safe. When that brave woman started to speak, what you can’t really tell from the news is that she was heard. Though I don’t agree with her choice to blame Hillary for the crime bill, I was absolutely dazzled by this young woman’s courage. To stand up in the middle of a crowd and disagree with one of the most powerful men in the world is an act of bravery that should be honored, whether I agree with her or not. And I do agree with her on her most important point, that Black Lives Matter.

Wanting Hillary to have a chance to continue the Clintons’ decades of social justice work kept me on Bill’s side, but it the going was tough. I had a therapist once tell me that I don’t have enough room in my life for moral ambiguity, and I would like to have emailed her this deeply complicated day.

I want to be careful about how I say this next part, and it may well come out wrong. As the protesters continued to make themselves heard, I knew the exact moment when Twitter would explode. When Bill said the thing that I knew would be the headline, I looked around me in horror, expecting to see the same in the faces around me, but I didn’t. Though I  cannot and would not presume to know what they were thinking, the African American people around me seemed to be nodding in emphatic agreement with the President. One of the young women from the elementary class next to me yelled at the protesters to “Shut up!” but I (my teacher brain making me think all kids are my business) told her to listen to the protesters too and that everything would be okay.

Noting the presence of the Secret Service in the crowd, the teachers soon led their students out. I’m glad they got to see this. I’m glad they got to see how powerful one voice can be, and I hope that they’re inspired to grow up just as passionate and vocal.

I felt overwhelmed with so many different emotions, but when the line formed and the President came to shake hands, I stuck mine out. He took it, and held on while he was talking to the person in front of me, for a long time, and it almost felt like I was holding him up. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life. I was connecting with everything I stood for and against, with power and struggle and humanity. With a new forgiveness in my heart, I almost looked into his eyes. He looked tired, sad, and haunted. I’ve only done a microscopic fraction of what he’s done, but I do know what it’s like to fuck up while working against racism, what it’s like to set out to do good and find oneself pinned down by a poison system. What if, like everyone, he’s doing the best he can?

In the end, though, it’s Hillary Clinton who is running for president, and I believe she’s the candidate with the drive, skill, and wherewithal to help us build a country where Black Lives Matter. Her racial justice platform touches on many issues that are deeply important to me as an educator, particularly her plans to take apart the school to prison pipeline, [1] and end the achievement gap.[2] She also aims to protect transgender women of color [3] and has the clearest plan for supporting LGBT rights overall. [4] For these reasons, I hope that voters will look past the headlines and choose the candidate most equipped to improve African American lives.

[1]In too many communities, student discipline is overly harsh, with too large an emphasis on suspension, expulsion, or even police involvement—disproportionately impacting students of color and those with the greatest economic, social, and academic needs. Hillary will work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by providing $2 billion in support to schools to reform overly punitive disciplinary policies, calling on states to reform school disturbance laws, and encouraging states to use federal education funding to implement social and emotional support interventions.” (

[2] Every child—in every ZIP code—deserves the opportunity to live up to his or her potential. That begins with a world class education from birth through college. Hillary will double America’s investment in Early Head Start and ensure that every four year old in America has access to high quality preschool to begin closing the achievement gap. She will modernize and elevate the teaching profession to drive student achievement in our K-12 schools.” (

[3]LGBT Americans, particularly transgender women of color, are disproportionately the targets of discrimination, harassment, and violence. As president, Hillary will fight for full LGBT equality. She will work to protect transgender individuals from violence by improving the reporting of hate crimes, investing in law enforcement training that promotes fair and impartial interactions with the LGBT community, and directing the government to collect better data regarding crime victims.” (

[4]Today in America, nearly 65 percent of LGBT individuals report experiencing discrimination in their daily lives. LGBT youth are nearly twice as likely as their peers to be physically assaulted at school, and 74 percent of LGBT students say they’ve been verbally harassed for their sexual orientation. And a recent study found that nearly 50 percent of of LGBT elders experienced discrimination when applying for senior housing. Despite this discrimination, 31 states do not have fully inclusive LGBT non-discrimination laws. Hillary will work with Congress to pass the Equality Act, continue President Obama’s LGBT equality executive actions, and support efforts to clarify that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” (

Saturday, April 2, 2016