Tuesday, June 21, 2016

An Open Letter to Mitch McConnell on Gun Violence

Dear Mitch McConnell,

Imagine a health crisis hitting the United States.   Imagine being a parent during this health crisis and seeing your child swept up in that crisis.   Maybe the crisis kills them.   Or perhaps it simply weakens them in some way.   Imagine seeing your child in pain or suffering, fearing they might die, or that they may never lead a full and prosperous life because of the horrible events that have befallen them. 

I imagine that this is a familiar story to you, as you've discussed your own battle with polio often, even on the Senate floor.   Back in 2005, you said:
My mother was, of course, like many mothers of young polio victims, perplexed about what to do, anxious about whether I would be disabled for the rest of my life.   
You went on to discuss your mother's own hard work to help you with the disease:
They told my mother she needed to keep me from walking. Now, imagine this. You are the mother of a 2-year-old boy. And we all know how anxious little boys are to get up and get around and get into trouble. So my mother convinced me that I could walk, but I couldn't walk--a pretty subtle concept to try to convey to a 2-year-old. In other words, she wanted me to think I could walk, but she wanted me to also understand I should not walk.  
Now, obviously, the only way to enforce that with a 2-year-old is to watch them like a hawk all the time. So I was under intense observation by my mother for 2 years. She administered this physical therapy regiment at least three times a day--all of this really before my recollection. But we now know the things that happened to us in the first 5 years of our lives have an enormous impact on us for the rest of our lives. 
 And you summed up the fear of the time like this:  
When I was a youngster, the fear of polio was enormous. Mothers, every summer, lived in fear that their children would come down with polio, and many did, many died. Many had much more serious aftereffects than I did, certainly. 
Well what if the United States had a public health epidemic and the government told you that there was nothing that could be done?  What if they said that these polio deaths were the price we paid for living in a free society?  What if they made these statements while taking money from an industry that profited off of continued polio sickness and death?

That's the way it feels being a parent in the age of mass shootings.  As parents we live knowing that when we send our kids to school in the morning, or college in the fall, or finally see them move into a happy and successful life as an adult, it can all be ended in seconds by one person with military style firepower and ammo.   When you were a child and young adult, I would imagine that schools, colleges, and movie theaters were places you trusted to be safe.   Today they are potentially mass killing grounds.

Mitch, reread that statement you made about mothers and the fear of polio.  If your mother were alive, what would she say when she watches you bow down to the NRA and actively working to block sensible gun laws to help reduce or eliminate gun violence against children?    Imagine if instead of getting polio as a young child, you were injured physically or emotionally by one of these shootings?  Do you think your mother would sit back and accept that nothing could be done? Would she be proud watching you ignore the pleas of parents scarred by gun violence, and those parents who fear it will happen to their own children?   Would she be happy to know you did nothing even as one of your own colleagues was almost killed in a similar shooting?    If it were my daughter doing the same, I wouldn't be proud.  I'd be deeply saddened and ashamed.   

But know that just as noble men and women decades ago banded together to eliminate the polio that threatened your health, you can take steps toward eliminating the health crisis of gun violence.  I beg you to break the stranglehold that the NRA has on your party.  Instead of being a barrier, you can help make sensible laws that protect children and adults from gun violence, advance research into gun violence and gun safety, and work toward addressing a gun culture that advances the idea that guns are the ultimate resolution to conflicts in our life.   I have to imagine it's what your mother would have wanted to see had you been a child in 2016.   

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Anti-abortion Forces Shouldn't Pretend They Support Women

In the wake of Donald Trump's latest outrageous comment that there "has to be some form" of punishment for women who have an abortion, a false narrative has arisen that anti-abortion forces are somehow aligned with pro-choice forces in saying that women should not be punished for having an abortion. For instance, March For Life tweeted:
In addition, Susan B Anthony List President said,

"We have never advocated, in any context, for the punishment of women who undergo abortion.  As a convert to the pro-life movement, Mr. Trump sees the reality of the horror of abortion — the destruction of an innocent human life, buy let us be clear: punishment is solely for the abortionist who profits off of the destruction of one life and the grave wounding of another."
To these groups and their statements that they don't believe in punishing women who have abortions, there is only one thing to be said.


Ask any woman who has sought an abortion, or any doctor, staff member, or volunteer who works at a clinic.  The "pro-life" movement is all about punishing women.  Punishing them for seeking any services at a women's clinic.  Punishing them for seeking counseling.  Punishing them for having sex.  Punishing them for getting pregnant.  Punishing them for seeking an abortion. 

Day after day protesters and politicians around the country work diligently to punish women, shaming them, passing laws that intrude on their rights to abortion and dignity, and physically, emotionally, and verbally attacking them in clinics around the country, as well as destroying property and violating court orders.  Just take a look at one the Twitter feed of LvilleClinicEscorts and see the compilation of stories from one city and around the country of people who stalk, intimidate, threaten, and even commit violence against the women seeking these services. 

So "pro-life" groups,  please spare me your rhetoric that you somehow care about a woman who is seeking an abortion.   Own your rhetoric, your members, and your actions.   You are not there to support the women who are getting an abortion.  You're there to do them further harm. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

From Fame to SpongeBob, Thanks David Bowie for Family Memories

I work up at 3 in the morning and checked the time on my phone.  And there it was.  David Bowie was dead.  My brain raced to the new album I'd just listened to, brought to my attention by music writers and musicians I'd met via social media.  The album, Blackstar, was pure Bowie, new and fresh, yet familiar.  The music and lyrics were eerie, otherworldly, and seemed to be ruminations on mortality.   I figured it was merely a commentary on being 69, not a farewell note.   But suddenly everything made sense.  

Truthfully, I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn't aware of David Bowie.  I spun the heck out of Fame on 45 as a kid, which I imagine my dad purchased because he found Bowie's weirdness fascinating.   Other than that, my knowledge of Bowie was from magazines and music reviews, since most of the radio listening in our house at the time was AM pop radio.  All I really knew was that he was weird, possibly gay, and most certainly dangerous to good little girls and boys.

The first album I ever bought was Queen's The Game, which was followed by a Greatest Hits album that included their duet with Bowie, Under Pressure, which I also bought.   Fast forward to Let's Dance.  I remember my brother getting the cassette with Thriller and Police Synchronicity.  All three albums came out at an insanely good period for music, and I swiped and played them all as often as I could. Listening to it this morning, I forgot how much I'd listened to the non-hits.  Next  I bought Tonight, his follow up, which was nowhere near as good or successful, but I played the hell out of it, and came to know and love the Beach Boys' God Only Knows through it.  Then came Dancing in the Street, Bowie and Jagger's quickly tossed off fun duet with the insane video (so ridiculous it was shown in its entirety in an episode of Family Guy) that they released to benefit Live Aid.   The video was featured in an ad for a local radio station and I remember my dad (who found MTV ridiculous) walking around singing the snippet in the same exaggerated form as the video.   (see the clip attached)  One day he said something, and my sixth sense knew he was going to sing the little piece of the song, so I immediately got in his face just like Bowie does to Jagger and we both sang "EVERYWHERE AROUND THE WORLD" at the same time.  He reacted by collapsing with laughter, which sent me into hysterics.  

In college I lost track of the new Bowie, preferring to jump in the stuff I'd missed, buying the hits collection, ChangesBowie at Newbury Comics and Ziggy Stardust and Young Americans at Tower Records in Boston (I can't remember yesterday, but I remember these) in one of my many monthly trips to buy CDs. I loved the music, but, I'm sad to say I drifted away from following his career.  

While reflecting today, and wondering how I could help my daughter understand what Bowie meant, it dawned on me that Bowie was a guest star on my daughter's favorite cartoon, SpongeBob Squarepants.   I read today that his daughter (only a year or two older than my own) was a huge SpongeBob fan.  I told her when I got home that "one of SpongeBob's friends died today," and fumbling his character's name, she corrected me and said, "oh.... LRH (Lord Royal Highness).  I'm sorry."   I then said he was working on a SpongeBob Musical, which excited her and made her say "we have to go to Broadway."  

In reflecting today, I realized that what really made me admire Bowie was that he wasn't afraid to be weird, different, or true to himself, even to the very end.   And unlike so many of the musical geniuses I've loved over the year, there isn't a sense that he was a jerk or mean spirited.   And I realized that he connected three generations of my family in moments of sheer joy.  

Rest in peace, David Robert Jones, and thanks for the music.