Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Facing the facts

I was a journalism major. My first real job, after waitressing, was at the Rittman Press, a weekly newspaper in rural Ohio. I was the only full-time reporter, a lot of pressure. As we’d been taught in school, I followed the rules: find two sources, verify everything, double and triple-check my information. Some sources were more reliable than others. A photo was better than a statement. No one could argue with the facts. 

Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Fast-forward 40 years, and I’m being told by family members that my facts aren’t real, and I’m an idiot for believing them. This headache never goes away. I can’t for the life of me understand how we got to this place.

Here’s what I want to know. Officials in every state have certified the election. Representatives from both parties, and monitors from every walk of life, studied the ballots and signatures and deemed them valid. Courts reviewed 59 charges of fraud and dismissed them out of hand.

One judge, a Trump appointee said, “Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.” 

But you think a bus pulled up at a polling place, stuffed with fake ballots, and every single person in the chain of command went along with it? Where is this flawless operation in every other phase of our government? We can’t even dole out vaccine shots. My dad used to be a poll volunteer. He would have decked anyone who tried to cheat. It meant that much to him. 

If this election was rigged, why are members of Congress fine with their results? Shouldn’t we throw out their votes too? Could it be they’re using this fiction to raise money? It’s estimated that the Trump campaign and allied GOP groups have raised at least $497 million since he lost.

Why on earth would Joe Biden want to be president, given the abysmal situation he’s inheriting? A $27 trillion debt. A raging pandemic. Record unemployment. A country at war with itself. 

I’ll be honest. Four years ago, I couldn’t stomach the thought of “President Trump.” His attitudes toward women, immigrants, minorities, the press, disabled and LGBTQ people were disturbing. Not what I wanted for the leader of our country. But as someone told me, “Sometimes you have to hire an assh*le to get the job done.” My dad said, “Don’t worry. He’ll surround himself with good people.” You know why I suspended my judgment? Because so many of my friends and family—people I respected—thought he was a good guy.

A good guy who cheated his contractors, cheated his tenants, cheated charities, cheated veterans at his fake university, and cheated on his wives, but okay. 

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” 

This president has a habit of lying. This is well-known. His supporters enjoy it, I think. He’s playing a game, and they’re winning. Unfortunately, he lost this last election. This is also well-known. But because he couldn’t admit to losing, he lied for two months. The election was only fair if he won. What second-grader wouldn’t recognize this tactic? 

He couldn’t win through voter suppression, slowing down the post office, and disqualifying mail-in ballots during the most deadly pandemic since 1918. He couldn’t believe he lost, because all of his tricks didn’t work.

Is it divisive of me to spell out the facts? “Agreeing to disagree” doesn’t fly anymore. I can’t give equal weight to complete fabrications. We were taught to be polite to people with different views, and that worked for most of my life, until Facebook came along. I miss the old days, when I didn’t know my Christian neighbors were kinda racist.

A Trump supporter recently told me she’s afraid of losing our freedoms. I agree. The Capitol is locked down so tightly right now, it looks like the Green Zone in Baghdad. She says she’s fighting to protect our rights. As Americans, our rights are protected by the Constitution. Which this president has done everything in his power to undermine.

Tomorrow, we inaugurate a new president. This has happened every four years since 1789. Sadly, it won’t happen with the same pomp and circumstance, due to the death threats from the ex-president’s fans. How do we move on as a nation, rebuild our economy, fight this virus, put people back to work, when half of the country thinks the other half is trying to destroy it? How can this be? We all want the same things: safety, security, peace. Freedom to live our own lives. If your first reaction just now was to think of all the ways the “other side” is doing the opposite, well, that’s part of the problem. We’ve gotten so used to this tit-for-tat, knee-jerk argument, we’ve lost the point. Do we want to win the fight or fix our problems? We’ve been trolling each other for four years, thanks to the troller-in-chief, and that has to stop. 

Here’s part of the oath that President Biden will swear tomorrow: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

We are not the enemy, you and I. We’re Americans.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

A Plea for Peace

Remember the days before Facebook, when you could go your whole life not knowing what someone thought politically? You could wave to relatives and neighbors, blissfully unaware that they voted for the Antichrist. (Yes, I voted for her. The email lady. Some folks will never forgive me.)

I don’t check Facebook much anymore, except to see pictures of my husband’s cousin’s dog, Joey, who is adorable. Otherwise, it’s too depressing. The other night, I accidentally caught a post from a friend, and it was like a knife to the chest. I hoped that four years of grift, graft and incompetence would change some minds. I was wrong.

My friend list is shorter than it used to be. In 2016, the mute and unfollow buttons became protection. I didn’t want to be that person, ending relationships over politics. This was different, though. Our choices reflect our values, and our character. A red hat is an in-your-face statement. Maybe it means more than you intended, but we can’t look past it. That bell can’t be un-rung.

I’ve been trying to figure out when we took up opposite sides of the fence, but who has time to re-examine four hundred years of American history? In my lifetime, Rush Limbaugh was the one who built the wall. His radio show went national in the late eighties, but he didn’t reach critical mass until the Clinton presidency. In fact, Rush was honored for his part in the landslide mid-term election of 1994, when Republicans reclaimed the House after forty years. It was a dark time to be a liberal. It was the first time I knew I was a liberal. Here was this man on the radio, braying the ugliest, meanest, most hateful thoughts out loud, and people ate it up. People I knew and loved. It felt like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” One day, I’d be talking to a kind, caring individual. The next, he was calling me a feminazi. As a joke, he said. Ha. Ha.

Rush certainly didn’t mean it as a joke. He’d say anything for ratings, but he tapped into a deep, dark vein of hatred toward women, people of color, and immigrants. By the way, he just received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Up is down, down is up. I don’t understand the country we’re living in. But then, I’ve always been naïve. I grew up on a farm, believing in truth, justice, the American Way. My parents sent me to church, where I learned to Do unto others as you would have done unto you and Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. According to Rush, this made me the enemy. My dad loved his show.

As a monstrous liberal, what was my agenda? I believed in investing in education, childcare, drug treatment, and affordable housing, rather than paying $40,000 a year to house a person in prison. I believed in investing in healthcare—check-ups, cancer screenings, birth control, blood-pressure medicine—to keep our workforce healthy, and to avoid paying Medicaid to transport a patient to dialysis three times a week. I believed in paying my fair share of taxes, since I reaped the benefits of living in this great country.

Honestly, it pains me to write this. America isn’t great at the moment—the slogan says so. I believe in the best of this nation—basic rights and care for all citizens—and apparently, that makes me a radical left-wing socialist. Here are some other socialist programs I endorse: public libraries, schools, roads, fire departments, subways, city buses, Social Security, Medicare, public universities, and hospitals. Lock me up.

Rush Limbaugh would have you believe that I, as a liberal, am the greatest threat this country has ever faced. Meanwhile, he helped elect a president who is bent on destroying our institutions, from the CDC to the FBI. At this moment, he and his cronies are working hard to strike down healthcare, gay marriage, voter rights, and a woman’s right to choose. Our national debt has exploded to $27 trillion. With a “T.”

But oh, right, I forgot—your taxes. That’s what matters. In a Biden presidency, your taxes will go up if you make more than $400,000 a year. Does that apply to you? If so, you’re buying lunch next time.

Sorry. For a bleeding-heart liberal, I get so mad sometimes. The past four years have been agony. We watch our standing in the world erode. Our allies don’t trust us—they think we’re a joke. Our leader brags about the great job he’s doing. By the end of the year, a quarter-million of us will be dead.

We have a chance to change this narrative, to choose a president who is good, smart, decent, who works with people across the aisle to get things done. Being a politician isn’t a dirty word, unless you think it’s smart to hire a mechanic to take out your gallbladder.

Please, just this once, don’t do something just to own the libs. We’re owned. We’re permanently owned. The joke’s on us. You win.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

There Comes a Time When Silence is Betrayal

A great many people think they are thinking
when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

                     —William James

Maybe I shouldn’t say this out loud, but I’ve always been prejudiced against white men. Growing up, they were the ones who took advantage—the liars, the cheats, the thieves. The rapist on my college campus was white. The doctor who conned my father-in-law out of his life savings was white. The lawyer who stole the deed to my neighbor’s house was white. The punks who terrorized my parents’ street, breaking into homes in the middle of the day, were white. The guys who cheated on their taxes, cheated on their wives, cheated on their way to the top—in my experience, they’ve always been white. Call me a racist, but I just don’t trust them.

All but one of our presidents have been white. Personally, I only felt safe when the black one was in office. The rest, at least in my lifetime, cared for nothing but power and money. That’s true of most white men, isn’t it? The architects of the 2007 financial crisis that wiped out trillions in consumer assets—those were white men in starched white shirts. Greedy bastards. Look at the Forbes list of America’s billionaires, currently hoarding nearly three trillion dollars, and you’ll see a marked lack of pigment.

Frankly, when I see a white man coming, I hide my purse.

All of my bosses were white. The bullies, the harassers, the crushers of dreams and aspirations—you guessed it, white males. To finally have a woman in charge was a revelation. Here was kindness, fairness, problem-solving without intimidation. Sadly, she was the exception. Corporate culture, by and large, is driven by a need to dominate. Capitalism is a zero-sum game. I win, you lose.

The sad thing is, for all the winning that white men do, they’re never happy. It’s never enough. They get the benefit of every doubt, and they’re not even grateful for the privilege. Nobody questions their right to walk down the street, or drive a car, or shop in a store, or voice whatever dumb opinion they have, no matter how ill-informed. Nobody turns them down for a college application, or a loan, or a mortgage. Creditors practically give them money. They’re on the dole from birth, getting hand-outs left and right. Thanks to the GOP tax cuts in 2017, the wealthiest Americans and corporations received nearly two trillion dollars from the government for doing absolutely nothing. Welcome to the welfare state.
If you’ve read this far and can’t wait to argue my baseless generalizations, you might be a white guy. It’s a hard time for you, I know. Your portfolio is down almost ten percent, what with the global pandemic and all. You’re probably losing sleep. It’s not safe to walk the streets. How do you protect yourself, your home, your family? Is it even safe to call the police?

Photo by Richard Grant, Long Beach, CA
Could it be, at this moment in history, that you might be feeling a glimmer of empathy? I’d always heard that white men weren’t capable of it. Can you imagine that others in America feel this anxiety, this overwhelming fear, every day of their lives? Can you look beyond your safe existence to see that others never had your security? You’ve probably always thought that your ability to talk your way out of a speeding ticket had more to do with your charm than the color of your face.

If you watched the protests on TV and felt more outrage over damaged property than you did about a man slowly being choked to death while he cried out for his dead mother, I wrote this for you. Enough is enough. I look back now and see the fiction we’ve lived, the myth that the American Dream is the same for every American. We’ve always believed that cops were heroes. Sure, there were a few bad apples, but they were the exceptions, the aberrations. If an officer roughed you up, you must have done something to deserve it. After all, cops were always nice to us.

I went to a very nice school, paid for by my parents, along with a zero-interest federal loan. Some of my classmates were very successful weed dealers. Most of them went on to become successful lawyers. Young men of the same age but with slightly darker complexions went to maximum-security prisons for up to ten years. No college kid I knew could have imagined being stopped and frisked on the street. It was not the world we knew. How lucky for us, growing up in that America.

In our America, people worked hard to succeed. If we played by the rules, we were rewarded. We pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. What a joke, considering that our parents bought our shoes. For many of us, land and money were handed down, generation to generation. Our parents bought good homes in decent neighborhoods, with good schools. They could do that, being white. Nobody stopped them.

There’s a gentleman named Shola Richards, who lives in California. He owns a nice house in a nice neighborhood. He’s tall, athletic, black. As a black man, he never feels safe walking in his own neighborhood because he knows others perceive him as a threat. He always brings his wife or daughter along, and his fluffy little dog. To make us feel safe. How pathetic we are, as a country, to treat our fellow citizens this way.

But let’s get back to you white guys. Don’t get me wrong—some of my best friends are white. I sleep with a white guy. Maybe I’ve judged you too harshly, but then, you’ve been holding the reins of power here for four hundred years. This is your legacy. Innocent people are being attacked and killed in the streets on your watch. If you sit silently by, supporting the status quo because it’s good for business, this is on you.

Why am I off the hook? One, I’m a woman, and two, I voted for the woman. Every time I raise my voice, you say I’m too shrill. Rest assured I’ll vote again come November, braving a virus, martial law or nuclear winter to elect any and all candidates who support criminal justice reform, federal legislation to stop police violence, and programs at state and local levels to combat bias and discrimination. Is it too much to ask that every American be treated with decency and respect? If that means I have to start being nice to white men, so be it. Seriously, I love you guys.

Note: All references to white and/or melanin-challenged men are not meant to perpetuate racial stereotypes. This piece was written as satire, or metaphor, or allegory—I can never keep them straight. At any rate, I didn’t mean you. I mean those guys who tell us how hard they had it, growing up, and how they’re the good guys, and they don’t see color. You know who I mean.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Ain't That a Kick in the Head

Neuro ICU, Tampa General Hospital
This will make a good story one day, my husband says on the way home from physical therapy. He fell and fractured his skull six weeks ago. Oh, yeah, I say. We’ll look back on this and laugh and laugh. At the moment, I can’t even tell my hairdresser without bursting into tears. It’s embarrassing. For friends and family who didn’t know about Graeme’s little trip to the Neuro ICU, I apologize. Chalk it up to denial and a loss for words. I couldn’t believe what was happening at first, and then, it seemed better to wait until the news was good. Today, I’m happy to report that Graeme is on his way to a full recovery. He’s back at work, though at a fraction of his old pace, which is probably a blessing. He lost hearing in one ear, can’t drive for a year, and his balance is shot, but he’s getting stronger every day. The doctors say he was extremely lucky, if you don’t count the fall.

It happened during his annual camping trip to Sebring Raceway. He wasn’t feeling well. Asked a friend to stop the car, took a few steps and collapsed. Doctors later blamed food poisoning and dehydration. He fell backwards, hitting his head on the concrete. His skull cracked on the left side. Blood ran out of his ear. He turned gray, stopped breathing. His friend Don admitted, “I thought he was gone.”

My brother-in-law was the one who called me. “Graeme’s being airlifted to Tampa” sounded like a stupid joke, even for these guys. “I’m not kidding,” Craig said, and I could hear the panic in his voice. “Alaine’s on her way to pick you up.” Fifteen minutes later, my sister and I were speeding down the highway toward the ER.

When we tell the story in the future, the confusion over hospitals will probably be a minor detail. At the time, it was terrifying. We drove across the state toward Tampa. Halfway there, one of Graeme’s friends reported that his helicopter was headed for the closer hospital in Lakeland, a level-two trauma center. GPS recalculating. As it turned out, the Lakeland helipad was busy that night with another accident. Graeme was rerouted back to Tampa, a level-one trauma center. As I juggled calls, trying to find out where he was, my phone rang again. It was the president of Sebring Raceway, asking what he could do to help. I’ve never been more scared in my life.

Long story short, Graeme spent eight days in two different hospitals. The impact of his fall caused a brain bleed and seizures. He was in critical condition for a while. When he finally woke up, his short-term memory was gone. He remembered everything and everybody pre-fall, just nothing we’d talked about five minutes earlier. It’s funny now—we told him the helicopter story at least twenty times, and he was always impressed—but what would it mean for his career? His phone filled up with anxious messages from clients. Alaine and I scrambled to do his work and ours between hospital shifts.

Graeme and his sister, Gayle
Thank God for my sister. I don’t know what we would have done without her. Or Craig. Or Graeme’s sister Gayle and her husband Rudy. In times like these, you find out how lucky you are for the people in your life. Gayle and Rudy, who happened to be on vacation in South Florida, cut their trip short to stay with us at the hospital. After Gayle’s month-long stint in the ICU in 2015, we couldn’t have asked for better company and medical advocates. When Graeme came home, Gayle flew back for another week to care for her brother and keep me sane. My parents delivered home-cooked meals and stayed with Graeme when I made office visits. They also drove us to the ER the second time, but that’s another story.

Speaking of driving, let’s go back to the president of Sebring Raceway. Wayne Estes called that first night and every day after to check on Graeme. I asked if we could leave our van at the track—it was locked, full of camping gear, and the keys were in Graeme’s pocket—until we figured out how to get it home. Wayne said not to worry. The next morning, his wife appeared at the hospital with a gift bag full of snacks and treats. (It fed us for weeks.) Rita held out her hand and asked for the key. Then, she drove back to Sebring, and she and her husband brought the van north, where Craig and Alaine picked it up. That’s eight hours of driving by people we’d never met. I’m still in awe of their kindness.

So many people to thank. Highland County EMS. The Aeromed pilot and crew who kept Graeme alive on the way to Tampa. The staff at TGH, one of the best trauma centers in the country. The neurology team at ORMC. Thanks also to my cousin-in-law Ellen, a former EMT, who gave us some invaluable advice, along with chocolates, puzzles, and a book on traumatic brain injury. At first, I hid it from Graeme, not wanting to traumatize him with the TBI label, but now, he reads a little every night. It helps, he says, to understand his new normal. Headaches. Dizziness. Fatigue. Insomnia. Bouts of fog and frustration. He wants to be better yesterday. He’s learning patience. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that pain means you’re still breathing.

My cousin Laurie and her husband Wallace have made three trips from Jacksonville to cheer Graeme up. They come, deliver hugs and lunch, and leave. That’s my definition of love. Graeme’s friends have been here from the start, although he doesn’t remember the first time Don, John, or Loredana visited him in the hospital. I took pictures, just to be safe.

Staff Meeting with Alaine, Graeme and Cato
We’re lucky for friends like Greg and Gary, our neighbors, who took care of the cats while we were gone. Dr. Carol Logan, who gave Graeme a new pair of glasses to replace the ones he lost. Nicole Broseman, Katie Miller and the rest of the Orlando Magic family. One of the first things Graeme said when he woke up was, “Did I miss a game?” (So far, he’s missed nine, and they’re on a winning streak.) As if we didn’t love the team enough already, they sent flowers, autographed jerseys, and a Christmas get-well message we’ll never forget.

Thank you to everyone for the flowers, fruit, cheese, crackers, cookies, candy and Whoopie Pies. Glucose is fuel for brain recovery, so sugar is exactly what Graeme needed. There will be personal thank-you notes when life settles down (did I mention tax season?) but in the meantime, please know that we’ve been blown away by your thoughtfulness and prayers.

One last thing. Thank you to the stranger in the elevator of the parking garage at two in the morning, who leaned over and whispered, “Don’t you worry, honey. Everything’s going to be fine.”

Friday, March 30, 2018

Changing Hearts and Minds

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.
                     —MARK TWAIN

The first argument my husband and I ever had was over voting. He wasn’t registered. Didn’t see the point. It was kind of a deal-breaker for me. Long story short, he joined the electoral rolls and canceled out my vote for the next 20 years. Be careful what you wish for.

Russell Means at Wounded Knee, 1973
Lately, I wish I didn’t take politics so seriously. Sleep and conversations at parties would be so much easier. I blame my mother, who indoctrinated me into activism at an early age. She wouldn’t remember it that way—we lived a peaceful life in a quiet Midwestern town—but she believed in exposing her children to alternative points of view. She often took us to lectures at local colleges, which sounds boring, but changed my way of looking at the world.

The first speaker I remember was Russell Means, an Oglala Sioux activist who championed the American Indian Movement. Among many protests, he led the 71-day occupation at Wounded Knee. He was a tall, impressive man with long, black braids—like the Indians I’d seen on TV, only much, much angrier. When he talked about poverty and despair on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and his vow to “get in the white man’s face until he gives me and my people our just due,” I was right there with him, shaking my fist. It didn’t occur to me that my face was white.

Dick Gregory and Muhammad Ali, 1968
Then there was Dick Gregory, a stand-up comedian who used his fame to fight for civil rights. He’d just finished a hunger strike and was gaunt, weak on his feet, but there he stood in front of an audience of middle-class Ohioans, making us understand that the American Dream was not the same for all people. This will sound trite, but as a kid who never missed a meal, I remember being awed that someone could believe in a cause so much, he’d be willing to starve for it.

That’s how you inspire change—by changing the minds of people who don’t know any different.

Kent State University, May 4, 1970
Growing up in the Sixties, protest was a way of life. Civil rights, women’s rights—someone was always burning something. I thought going to college meant demonstrating against the war, because that’s what I saw students doing on the nightly news. My mom was in grad school at Kent State when four students were shot and killed by the National Guard. Speaking truth to power could have deadly consequences. I remember hearing an adult say, “They got what they asked for,” and it terrified me. These kids, not much older than I was, were asking the government not to send any more of their friends to die in Vietnam. Why were they traitors? In solidarity, I dressed up as a hippie for Halloween, with a big peace sign on my shirt. A few years later, the Nixon Administration went down in flames, and there was nothing left to burn.

Senators Baker and Ervin, Watergate Hearings, 1973
Watergate was a different kind of war. Senate hearings, indictments, talk of impeachment—it’s hard to imagine the chaos of those years. We wondered if the country would survive. I was too young to vote, so it was easy to blame the people in charge, who seemed to be in denial. In the summer of 1973, we all sat down to watch the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, a reality show on PBS that had record-breaking ratings. Senators Sam Ervin and Howard Baker became my heroes. They stood up to a lying, corrupt president and brought him down, not with a coup, but with legislative procedures and the rule of law. These two fine men, who took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” were true to their word.

Atty. Gen. Kimberlé Williams & her staff with
Ohio Atty. Gen. William J. Brown, Girls State, 1976
So that’s how I became a political nerd. It wasn’t until my high school sent me to Girls State that I really understood how the system worked. Imagine hundreds of 17-year-old girls on a college campus, setting up their own government—running for office, forming coalitions, passing laws and enforcing them. Crazy, right? But there we were, from school board to governor, doing our jobs. Government wasn’t just some nameless, faceless entity—it was people like us, trying to make a difference. Many of the young women I met that week went on to careers in public service. My friend in the dorm, who ran for Attorney General, invited me to join her staff. We got to meet her real counterpart at the Ohio Statehouse. Today, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is a civil rights advocate and law professor at UCLA and Columbia Law School. She’s out there fighting every day to make the world a better place.

25,00 people at the March for Our Lives in Orlando
That’s what we all want, right? To build a better world for ourselves and our families? It’s just the definitions we argue about. Your definition of safety may be different from mine. That doesn’t mean one of us is wrong—it just means we have to find a compromise. To do that, we have to listen to each other, as painful as that may be. Here’s what I learned in a made-up legislative session at 17 years old: No matter how good your intentions, or how great your cause, if you can’t persuade others to join you, you’re dead in the water.

A friend recently said, “Politics isn’t my thing,” as if he didn’t care whether the police come when he calls 911, or how much he’ll pay in property taxes, or whether his son and daughter will be drafted into war. Every one of those decisions will be made by an elected official. We take our government for granted, except to complain about it. One of the silver linings of the 2016 election is that a record number of women—nearly 34,000—have filed to run for office across the country. Maybe we’ll finally get something done.

Protest, register to vote, call or write your representative, contact Emily’s List to start your own campaign—these are all rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Be a patriot and get involved. Research the issues yourself—don’t let a web site or TV station tell you what to believe. If I sound too strident, well, that ship has already sailed. As my husband will tell you, I’m not kidding around.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers and Hollow-Point Bullets

After my grandmother died, her old cat hung on for a while. It was ratty and sick. Threw up in the corners. My mom, tired of cleaning on her annual trips home, yelled at Grandpa to “take care of it.” One weekend as I was visiting, my uncle came up for breakfast. While I ate pancakes, the two men talked in the kitchen. A few minutes later, Uncle Hal went out the door with a quilt. Weird, I thought, and then, Man, this syrup is delicious. Suddenly, BOOM! The blast echoed across the mountain. My uncle came back through the house, put the rifle back in the cabinet, and left. Grandpa leaned inside and said, “Tell your mother I took care of the cat.”

I used to tell this as a funny story, but my city friends were horrified. Growing up on a farm, you learn what guns are for: quick and efficient death. Lame horses, old dogs—they’re taken out back and shot. Vets are expensive, and anyway, farmers take care of their own. An animal dies in the place that it lived, with relatively little stress.

That said, people in my family only ever owned hunting rifles. The opening of deer season was a state holiday. My cousin, on his first trip into the woods, wounded a doe and tracked her for miles but never found her. Said he felt sick for days. Even so, he became an avid hunter and lover of guns, as most of my northern kin are. One of my cousins had a camouflage wedding. You can’t see him in the pictures.

Battle of Townsend Plantation
© 2018 Alison Lockwood
Once, Grandpa accidentally shot a turkey hen. (Only toms are legal.) He hid the bird in his freezer for months, finally asked my advice on the matter. You can’t bring it back to life, I said, so you might as well eat it. Make its life worth something. He donated it to church for a potluck supper.

This is a long way of explaining that when I talk about guns, they’re part of my culture. My people fought in every American war, starting in 1776. My ancestors were part of that “well-regulated militia” that everyone talks about. My dad never owned a gun, but he grew up in town, a gentleman farmer. He trained as a sharpshooter at Camp Breckenridge during the Korean War, but never shot again. I was secretly glad. As a tender-hearted kid, I couldn’t understand how people took pleasure in killing animals. When my friend checked his muskrat traps, I didn’t tag along. He carried a gun because sometimes, the critter wasn’t dead. I got sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

Still, I knew the name of every cow that put a steak on our table. Helped load that cow on a truck, said my goodbyes, and watched it come back in neat little white-paper packages. Death was a necessary part of life. There were people who volunteered to kill as part of their jobs—butchers, soldiers, cops—and I was grateful for their service. Thanks to them, I didn’t have to think about guns.

And then one night, my 19-year-old friend put a pistol to his head and blew his brains out. The description is harsh, but literal. He’d been depressed. There was a gun in the house. End of story. That was the first time I’d ever heard of someone keeping a gun not for hunting, but for protection. Not long after, a relative died the same way. Then, a neighbor shot his wife. Suddenly, it seemed, everyone had a gun, and no one was safe. After we moved to Orlando, I started hearing the term “gun hobbyist.” One of our friends owned a small arsenal. He drilled his family on home invasions. When we met for drinks, we had to sit outside, because he couldn’t carry a concealed weapon into a bar. So, we sweated to death.

Once, he actually had me convinced that I needed a “lady gun” for my purse. After a few drinks, it started to make sense. Yes, I’d feel safer at night. Yes, I needed to protect myself. After I sobered up, I realized: If I bought a gun, I’d be making the choice to kill someone. Not that I ever would, but if push came to shove—if that gun was used for its designed purpose—someone could die. I wasn’t willing to make that bargain for the safety of my wallet. And before you start suggesting all the other awful things a bad guy might do, don’t worry, I have an active imagination. The worst might happen, but I refuse to live my life in fear.
Flower Power, Bernie Boston © 1967

Once you start carrying a gun, you have to make that constant calculation: bad guy or good? It’s like the old saying: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. What if you hit the wrong target? What if your shootout at OK Corral kills innocent people? Frankly, we watch too much television. Trained police officers have an 18% hit rate during gunfights. God help us with trigger-happy citizens.

Living in a house with a gun doubles your risk of death by homicide, suicide or accident. In all my years, I’ve never known anyone who fended off an armed assailant. On the other hand, I know three people who died by their own guns. You may remember my elderly neighbor, who accidentally shot his bed while trying to prove that his gun wasn’t loaded. It’s funny until it’s not. At least 2,500 kids are killed by guns each year, and another 13,500 wounded.
If you have kids or teens in the house, or family members with depression, dementia, or mental-health issues, I believe you’re being personally irresponsible to keep a gun within reach. You can argue with me if you like, or you can ask yourself what you’re trying to do. Keep your family safe? Here’s a statistic: More than 75 percent of first and second graders know where their parents keep their guns and 36 percent admitted handling the weapons. Here’s another: More than 80 percent of guns used by youth in suicide attempts were kept in the home of the victim, a relative, or a friend.

Jim Rassol, Sun Sentinel © 2018
After the Parkland shooting, we can’t keep saying we love our kids while using the Second Amendment as excuse not to change. Here is that text in its entirety: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

I support the right of every able-bodied American to own a musket, and even a pair of dueling pistols. But we have no constitutional right to weapons of war, or cannons, or nuclear arms. To me, the most important words here are “well regulated.” The founding fathers believed in gun control as much as we do.

The Port Arthur massacre in Australia prompted sweeping reforms in that country in 1996. There hasn’t been a mass shooting since. Please, take a minute and read about a gun-control program that actually worked. We’re not powerless. We don’t have to rehearse our deaths every time we walk into a movie theater, or a church, or a club, or a concert hall, or a school.

Here are some commonsense reforms:

Ban semiautomatic assault weapons and accessories. If you want to shoot a weapon of war, join the army. No civilian should have the ability to fire 150 rounds per minute. As for the argument that there are already too many weapons on the street, fine. They’ll become more valuable, more expensive. Harder for the average crazy person to buy. For those of you who already own one, congratulations. It’ll become a collectible. Maybe one day, your kids will turn it in to law enforcement or have it destroyed. Here’s one gun owner making that choice. As he says, “Is the right to own this weapon more important than someone’s life?”

Minimum Age to Purchase & Possess. We set legal ages for activities that require maturity, such as voting, driving, and drinking alcohol. Owning a gun is arguably a bigger responsibility. As a parent, if you want to buy a gun for your kid, you should be held responsible if that kid later kills someone. You provided the murder weapon. You’re an accomplice.

Tighten background checks. It’s harder to buy Sudafed than a gun, and loopholes have made the U.S. system even leakier. All sales at all venues—gun shows, Walmart, online sites, private dealers—should be held to the same scrutiny. The following should disqualify a person from buying or owning a gun: 1) felony or drug conviction, 2) being on the no-fly list, 3) a restraining order or conviction for domestic violence or stalking, 4) “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to a mental institution” (an existing law recently repealed by the Trump administration), 5) disciplinary action during military service or dishonorable discharge, 6) deemed unfit to own a gun by a doctor or mental-health professional. A doctor can tell the DMV that you’re not fit to drive. The same should be true for weapons.

Enforce a 10-day waiting period. This provides enough time for a thorough background check, along with a “cooling off” period for impulsive acts of violence—especially suicide.

Repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). Signed in 2005 by President Bush and lauded by NRA President Wayne LaPierre, this law protects gun manufacturers from being held liable for crimes committed with their products. We can sue McDonald’s for hot coffee, but we can’t sue the maker of a product that kills 93 people a day. If manufacturers and dealers were held responsible for their guns getting into the wrong hands, the industry might begin policing itself. It worked for car and tobacco companies.

Vote for candidates who aren’t owned by the NRA. The National Rifle Association used to represent the interests of recreational gun owners and sportsmen. Now, the bulk of its money comes from gun manufacturers. Many companies donate a portion of their sales directly to the NRA. Think of it. The proposal to arm millions of teachers with guns purchased by state or federal funds would mean a windfall for the NRA. They work hard every day to make you feel less safe, so you’ll buy more guns.

Spend money on gun buyback programs, not putting more guns in schools. After Australia instituted a mandatory buyback program for firearms banned by the 1996 law, a study found that buying back 3,500 guns per 100,000 people correlated with up to a 50 percent drop in firearm homicides and a 74 percent drop in gun suicides.

For years, we’ve been held hostage by the gun lobby. An entire generation of kids grew up in the shadow of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook. Orlando’s distinction as site of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history only held true for 16 months, until 58 died in Las Vegas. We’ve become numb to it all. No more. The NRA only represents 5 million people. That's 2 percent of our population. We have the votes, and the power to change. We’re the only civilized nation that allows its citizens to be slaughtered this way. Why do we accept it as normal?

Pray for the Parkland victims, but even more important, make the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School matter. These brave kids weren’t a statistic. Don’t let them die in vain.

For more information, explore the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Giffords: Courage to Prevent Gun Violence.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Man's World

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. 
Women are afraid that men will kill them.
                     —MARGARET ATWOOD

I wonder how many men saw the #MeToo hashtag and thought, What are they whining about now? That’s the joke, right? Women—we’re never satisfied. Always complaining. No matter how much you give us, we want more. Unreasonable things, like equal pay for equal work. Control over our own bodies. Freedom to walk down the street without being attacked. Who do we think we are?

If the women in your life seem a bit touchy lately, it isn’t PMS. (Haha. Yeah, guys, that joke is still funny, a million times later.) No, they may be suffering from something closer to PTSD. The Harvey Weinstein story brought up memories many of us would’ve gladly left buried. Painful, embarrassing stuff. The sad part is, we always thought it was our fault. Something we did. The way we walked or acted or dressed. There’s a shame attached to these experiences that’s hard to shake. It wrecks your confidence. Makes you second-guess yourself. Maybe that’s why men do it. To keep us in our place.

This week, these memories floated up for me like smelly bits of trash:

First ride on a subway, packed in like sardines. Suddenly, a hand between my legs. “Groped” would be the word. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t even turn to see his face. Later, a friend explained, “Just some guy copping a feel.”

Working as a waitress at Howard Johnson’s. Men older than my dad patted my butt, eyed the fit of my uniform, asked when I got off work. I was 16. They expected me to be flattered. The boss was always after us to smile, be nice. All part of the friendly service. One of the other waitresses made the mistake of being too nice to a customer, and then, he came in every day and stared at her from the corner booth. The cook had to walk her out to her car at night. On the bright side, he tipped well, her stalker.

A few weeks into my new job at HBJ Publishing, meeting with the VP. I was nervous. He’d been with the company for 25 years. If he liked you, you were going places. “Want to hear a good joke?” he asked. “Sure,” I said, feeling like a grown-up. He leaned closer. “What’s the difference between a gang-bang and a clusterf*ck?”

To this day, I can’t remember the punchline.

But what’s the big deal? Nobody got hurt. There was nothing physical, no assault. It was just locker-room talk. As someone in HR once said, “If you want to work in a man’s world, you’d better learn to speak the language.” Over the years, I toughened up. There wasn’t much that could shock me. I learned never to be alone with certain people, like the VP. So many women complained about him, he was sent to “sensitivity training,” not once but twice. He learned to lower his voice when he asked my boss and me for a threesome. I think he was joking. Anyway, we laughed. That’s what we did—laughed when it wasn’t even remotely funny. And then, we went home and took a long, hot shower.

We just wanted to do our jobs. Was that too much to ask? We wanted to be judged by our work, and not our boobs or the length of our skirt. (Once, the VP actually told us where we ranked in the departmental order of breast size.) Later on, I discovered there was something worse than a boss who wanted to sleep with you, and that was the one who thought women were too stupid to vote. You know the type: always interrupting, always shooting you down, until a guy made the same suggestion, and then it was genius. That boss finally drove me into therapy. My hands would shake before meetings. You never knew when he might take you apart in public. The company sent him to anger management, also twice. He’s been promoted three times.

In all the places I ever worked, there was never any serious consequence for a man who bullied, harassed or intimidated female employees. He rose through the ranks. It was the women who quit. If they mentioned his name in an exit interview, nothing ever happened. The rest of us learned to keep our mouths shut.

I hope those days are gone. Millions of women have responded to the #MeToo campaign. The secret’s out. We used to talk about assertiveness training for girls. Now, let’s focus on teaching boys to be decent human beings. Here’s a tip: When you whistle at a woman on the street, she has to make a quick mental calculation: harmless jerk or potential rapist? Try wearing a sign.

Fortunately, I’ve known many fine, decent men in my life—I’m lucky enough to be married to one—so I guess I’m asking for their help. Teach your brothers how to be men. Don’t put up with their bad-boy behavior. Show them that every person deserves respect, regardless of race, creed, or gender. Maybe one day, a woman can feel safe leaving her drink on a table, or walking down the street, or maybe, just maybe, applying for a job. A girl can dream, can’t she?