1974

gowiththis

In my past lawyer-life, I helped kids fight to find the lives they deserved. I worked hard to help them assert their rights and establish lives that kept them safe, healthy, and happy. In that role, I met a lot of children with special needs. Some of those needs were so serious, they required extensive accommodations for their education—in or out of the school building. They needed transportation, new classrooms, better lesson plans, certain equipment, or a different setting. There was a time when those kids wouldn’t have gotten any of that from the public school system. There was a time when kids were allowed to be excluded from classrooms, according the federal government, based on their disabilities.

That time was 1974.

In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed. It established that any school receiving federal funds must provide equal access to education for all children in its district, regardless of a child’s special needs. Before that, states or districts could provide help if they wanted, but parents and schools could determine it was just not worth it. Let’s sit with that for a bit. Any parent or school administrator could decide that it just wasn’t worth it to educate a child. And then not do it. That was considered acceptable.

In 1990, that Act became what we now use—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. It included what was in the previous law and a few more important things, like educational services for infants and toddlers and the creation of individualized education plans for kids who need them. That was the law I used for my clients. I stood on it all the time. I used it to get them the classrooms they needed, the bus they needed, the teachers they needed. I used it to get kids into special education programs and out of them. Let me tell you, school systems are hard to manage. It’s difficult to convince busy principals and even busier teachers to spend extra time and money on one child, especially one that might be a challenge. It’s good to have a federal law to back you up. It helps.

The Children’s Defense Fund helped make that law a reality. Back in 1974, the group was fighting for children who didn’t get these rights. And guess who was doing it with them? Hillary Clinton. After graduating law school, she went to work for the group. She met with kids across Massachusetts, so the organization could document how many of them should have been but were not in school. She did what I did. She drove from home to home, checking on whether these kids were getting what they deserved. In doing that, she worked to build a law I used nearly every day as a lawyer. In 1974, she was helping to build the platform I stood on for my clients—kids who needed a bit more from all of us, and who, born 50 years earlier, wouldn’t have been entitled to it.

Just to compare, in 1974, Donald Trump was working for his father’s real estate company and fighting a discrimination case from the Justice Department. He was accused of refusing to rent apartments to minority applicants. He settled the case, but his firm didn’t stop the discrimination, so the case was reopened.

One of those definitely sounds better than the other. I’m going to vote for the person who, even over 40 years ago, was fighting to establish better and broader rights for Americans, not the person who was using discriminatory business practices to violate them.

Be Cool

NerdPeople

Today’s reason to vote in November is simple: we are no longer teenagers and it is no longer cool to not care. This election is important and, when you’re a mature, reasonable, intelligent person, it’s cool to care about important things. Teenagers are great at pulling off a practiced “whatever” attitude. Adults with that demeanor are just called selfish jerks.

As a kid, I couldn’t figure out what exactly made someone a nerd or a geek. I knew the label was attached to people who liked unpopular things a little too intensely and little too publicly. I knew it meant you weren’t invited to all the weekend parties. I knew I was one. You guys have all read about my status on the teen board of our local library. There’s no denying my lifetime membership to the nerd-tribe. As an adult, I realized the word is attached to people who dive into something deeply, who love something unabashedly. I also realized that most of those other kids also liked something strange in the same way but were too afraid to let everyone know. Or maybe they didn’t. Some people are just basic. But most of them probably cared about something and were just scared to show it—stifled by that span of our lives during which it was just not cool to care.

Well, those years are over for us. I get the mental fatigue that comes from all these political ads, the debates that seemed to never debate anything, and the articles that repeat the same critiques over and over again. It’s tiring. But we’ve got to hang in there. As teenagers, we faced tedium with a sigh and a turned head. As adults, we’re gonna have to face these moments with the excitement of fulfilling our grown-up responsibilities and making history. You know, just the slow grind toward equality and growth.

Sick Day

sneeze

I caught a bug this week. I wasn’t feeling great yesterday, so I missed a day of sharing why we should all be excited about voting on November 8th. Hopefully I didn’t make any of you turn back on your mental path to the polls. Something has been going around my office. It decided, after I’d had a few sleepless nights, I’d be a good host. I disagreed, but it’s a bad listener. I’m sure I won’t get much sicker, but if I did, it would be little more than an inconvenience. See, I have health insurance. If I go to the doctor, I give them only a copay. If I get a bunch of tests done, I don’t pay a fee. If I need a prescription, I hand them my card. Both Dave and I are on plans with our employers, but that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve had a few short spans of time without insurance and Dave has had even more. It was in our days of invincible youth, so we weren’t worried, but we should have been. We laughed about it as we crossed a dangerous street or ate suspect food. Thankfully, we didn’t have any disasters during those months. There were avoided check-ups, well-used stashes of Dayquil, and bowls of soup—but no disasters.

I would have benefited from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that parents be allowed to keep children up to the age of 26 on their plans. My parent’s more generous government policy helped for awhile, but once I graduated from college, I was booted from that one as well. Dave got shown the door long before. That particular change came too late for us, but the others might not have. Now, I’m not allowed to be charged more by insurance companies because I’m a woman. Preventative health care includes women’s care more broadly than it used to. I can’t be denied insurance based on a pre-existing condition and I can’t be denied my insurance benefits just because I got too sick too many times that year. So far, none of that has changed my life, but that’s because I’m lucky.

The Act isn’t perfect. There were a lot of compromises made to get it passed. Insurance companies can still make strange and financially motivated decisions about what types of care are necessary. The policies are confusing, allowing for loopholes and high expense limits for patients. People are still falling into massive debt when they get sick. Every week, I see a GoFundMe site for a family who’s been hit by a medical emergency. Their tragic stories made even more tragic by the fact that they have to reach out to their friends and family to pay for the treatment. I’m all for the village mentality, but we already have a village meant to do that job—it’s called insurance. We’re all supposed to pitch in so that, when any one of us needs help, it’s there.

Trump has repeated over and over again that one of the first things he’ll do if he wins the presidency will be to repeal Obamacare. Obama’s opposition loves to hate on the bill, never mind that many of its issues came from the forced compromises. Trump would like to start from scratch, pulling 24 year old’s off their parents insurance and taking away birth control from women across the country. He doesn’t say that out loud, of course, but that’s what it would mean. All those people who have gotten insurance since the bill’s passing? Now uninsured. All those women living in states without a Planned Parenthood? No more free cancer screenings. The people that now have Medicaid because of expanded limits? Back to high cost, low coverage plans.

I think we can all agree this sounds pretty terrible. Luckily, a bit of this is up to us. We can vote for the candidate who is hellbent on pulling us backward or we can vote for the candidate with the goal of moving us forward.

 

Glorious Times

susanbanthony

On August 28, 1920 the United States government ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. It reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” It took a long, long struggle to get this amendment passed. After a tough fight led by Susan B. Anthony and other brave ladies, a Californian Senator introduced an amendment similar to the 19th in 1878. It sat around for awhile and then failed. Other activists tried for a few decades. They failed too. Then they had some success in state-based legislation. Finally, in 1918, the group brought the amendment again. It failed. Obviously. This time, though, some important people, like President Wilson, really wished it had passed. They brought it back up, and finally, it went through. And then probably all those dudes tried to take credit for the work those badass women did, because that’s just how the world works. But jokes on them, cause we all know who Susan B. Anthony is and no one knows the name of the dude that introduced that amendment. Well, someone does. But not me, so don’t worry about it.

There are women alive today who were born before that amendment passed. You can go talk to them, if you frequent a lot of nursing homes and Big Boys. You can find 34 of them on this website, which my super amazing friend sent me over the weekend. It’s good to have a friend who knows the key to my heart—bold old ladies and even bolder feminism. These awesome women are profiled on the site, happily asserting their vote for Hillary. They include Helen Snook, 102, who says, “We cannot allow that disgraceful man to win,” to which I say, “For realz.” Helen looks like a pretty hip lady, so I think she’d understand the lingo. There’s also Garvin Colburn, 96, who says, “It really is remarkable to think of all that has happened in 96 years.” True, Garvin. A lot has certainly changed over this last near-century, most notably the serious fluctuation of fringe in women’s fashion. And I guess that whole basic human rights thing.

Particularly joyful about the current state of events is Consuelo Lopez, 96, who says, “When I was born women had no voice and were not allowed to vote. Now we are about to make history and have a woman president for the United States. I never thought in a million years I would see that happen. It’s a glorious time.” It sure is a glorious time, Consuelo. The trees are changing colors, I ate ice cream in my sweatpants last night, and, in just 12 days, we’ll be electing the first female president of the United States. That is, if we get out and vote. It’s gonna be a glorious, girl-power time.

Paper Ballots

vote

When I was in elementary school, our teachers ran a fake presidential election. It must have been 1996, because I was nearing the end of my illustrious career as an elementary student and I distinctly remember Bob Dole being on the ballot. We only voted for president, but we didn’t get any particular information about the candidates or their platforms. At least, I don’t remember learning anything. I did go to public school after all. We were lucky they even told us there was a presidential election happening.

There was so much buzz that afternoon. It was mostly about doing literally anything but practicing cursive or completing division tables, but we were also excited about participating. We all got tiny pieces of paper and dropped them into these little cardboard boxes. Most of us knew we were supposed to vote for Bill Clinton, and most of us did. He seemed cool, we’d heard our parents would be voting for him, and he played the saxophone. A bunch of kids voted for Ross Perot, because they knew it was the alternative choice and that holds a lot of appeal for a ten year old. I’m sure a few voted for Bob Dole, but he mostly seemed old and boring. I think Clinton won our class election, just as he won the actual race. We were all very pleased. Our accuracy made us a sort of groundhog, I think. I should find the group, poll them all today, and see if we’re a good measure of results for this upcoming election. We were uninformed but also a strangely close representation of reality.

For this election, I recommend getting a little more knowledgable than my friends and I were in 1996. Factcheck.org is a good spot to start. It’s dedicated to sorting out the nonsense from the truth, regardless of party or affiliation. It’s run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and is staffed mostly by journalists. Once we’re all educated, then we can go about the giddy business of choosing the next leader of the free world. Maybe we’ll even get extra time at recess for doing our civic duty.

Sometimes Silent Revolt

protest

My mother took me to my first political protest when I was an infant. It was 1987 and she trekked to the National Mall to stand against the horrendous treatment of Jews living in the Soviet Union. I have no memory of the event, but I have this image in my mind of my mom holding me while a mass of outraged American Jews voice their anger and support. I can picture the Mall, packed with protesters, and tiny little me looking around at the power of the people.

Even though I don’t remember the moment, it means something to me. I like to think the spirit of peaceful revolt was injected into me early. And the spirit of sometimes not-so-peaceful revolt. Things don’t always go smoothly when it comes to civil and personal (the personal is political, after all) disobedience. I was a quick human rights sympathizer. Even as a toddler, I felt deeply that certain things were fair or unfair, right or wrong. I expressed these feelings through loud and unruly tantrums.

I’d be lying if I said my epic tantrums have left me forever. I just try my best to channel them into a more acceptable form for an adult. We all choose different methods of revolt. Sometimes it’s standing alongside same-minded strangers. Sometimes it’s sitting next to people who need help. Sometimes it means walking away. A lot of times it means walking. People love walk-a-thons. The core of any protest, really, is making your voice heard. And having a sturdy pair of shoes.

There was a time when heading to the polls was a protest on its own, when people were killed for just trying to cast their choice. Those voters knew having their opinion heard meant more than just tediously checking a box. When I step into my polling place in November, I’m going to remember that spirit. I’ll be issuing my silent protest against hate and ignorance and sending my vote to fight for equality and progress. And when I do, I’ll be thinking of my mother, carrying her baby girl through the streets of this country’s capital city to stand against the wrongs of the world and try to make them right. If she can do that, we can fill out a ballot.

Alternate Reality

tv

The season premiere of Walking Dead aired yesterday, so despite my valiant efforts to think about politics, I just couldn’t do it. Before the show aired, I had to focus all my mental energy on saving my zombie-fighting friends from the disastrous events of last season’s finale. After the show aired, I was too emotionally drained to think about who will become the leader of the free world.

All I can manage is this: I am so invested in this fictional world, set in a zombie apocalypse in the not too distant future. I’ve been following these characters for seven years and I care about what happens to them. The story means something to me. I’m sure there’s a television program or book series or video game you appreciate in the same way. You love it so much you think about it while you’re going about your regular-life business. You might feel like those characters are your friends or at least a strange neighbor you see every day from across the street. I bet the series has made you cry through a box of tissues or laugh until your stomach hurts. And it’s not real. At least, the characters aren’t real. The story isn’t real. All it does is pull something real out of you.

If we can be that dedicated to a make-believe universe, we should be that dedicated to our own—at least for the next sixteen days. Let’s try to care as much about our reality as we care about the fiction we enjoy. And if we care, we participate. So go vote.

Pancake Politics

cafeteria

In our house, Sunday mornings are for pancakes and extra blanket time. If I’m lucky, I wake up to the smells wafting off the griddle and lay on the couch until I fill my belly with delicious, sugary carbs. Dave makes them from the whole wheat flour and pure maple syrup that are always in our cabinets. Sometimes I toss a bit of fruit on my plate to pretend like I’m being healthy. After all, I have a basket full of bananas on my counter and a freezer stuffed with frozen berries. Dave usually adds chocolate chips to his, because he likes to live a life of luxury. If I’m feeling extra motivated, I’ll mash up a tofu scramble and add the spinach, peppers, and onions that always seem to find their way into our kitchen.

When I eat our lazy Sunday breakfast, I’m always appreciative of the moment together, Dave’s excellent pancake making skills, and the time I have to relax. Sometimes—though not often enough—I remember to appreciate the ease with which we fill our cupboards and fridge, the privilege of having enough for this feast every week.

That’s not the case for everyone. During the 2014-2015 school year, 21.5 million kids qualified for free or reduced school lunches. Around one in every five children and one in every ten senior citizens lived in food-insecure homes in 2015. Nearly half of SNAP (the federal food benefit program) recipients are children. For people who struggle to fill their family’s freezers and their children’s bellies, every meal is a concern. The worry never disappears. One day you could have just enough and the next you could be going to sleep hungry. Think about how hard it is to make it through your work day without a 3pm snack. Imagine that feeling for three months. For three years. Weeks and weeks of fluctuating between just barely filling your plate and opening an empty fridge in the morning. Imagine relying on a federal program to help you feed your children and then having it taken away when your government starts to cut the budget.

One of America’s most beautiful qualities—the pride we take in our ability to work hard and carve out a bit of the world for ourselves—backfires when we’re tasked with taking care of one another. We live in a system of praise and punishment, so that’s what we dole out. We forget that not everyone starts in the same place. We forget that our brains don’t all work the same way. We forget that this isn’t an all-or-nothing game. And our politicians know we forget those things. They forget too. So they pass bills that make the numbers look better and we let them because social needs are complicated and never-ending.

Each time an election comes around, though, its a chance to place people who remember in positions of power. It’s a chance to tell our government that we can both work hard to succeed and be understanding of people who need a bit more than we do. We can have something to which we all aspire—this grand ideal of ultimate success—while also firmly establishing a ground floor beneath which none of us should fall. At the very least, we can make sure we’re all fed, warm, and healthy.

I can’t buy a sandwich for every hungry kid or send a care package to every hungry family, but I can vote for politicians who support programs that align with my values. I can vote for representatives who maintain strong SNAP and WIC funding, who work to grow healthy food programs in low-income neighborhoods, and who prioritize school breakfast and lunch programs. Our presidential candidates haven’t been talking much about this issue—children with growling stomachs don’t vote very often—but state and local governments play a big role in keeping communities fed and healthy, and we can shape those roles just as we shape the presidency—if we cast our ballots.

 

Stick It To ‘Em

stickbook

The next reason in my “go vote” countdown: You get a sticker. Think about the lengths you went to obtain a sticker when you were seven—filled out tedious multiplication tables, vacuumed the living room, traded your fruit roll-up at lunch. Voting is so much easier than all those things. Don’t disappoint your seven-year-old self. Go get your sticker.

Do Not Pass Go

solitairepresident

As promised, I’m going to write about another reason we all need to vote in November. I spent a long time yesterday writing for the job that pays me the medium-bucks, so my creative juices are a little low, but a promise is a promise. That’s what I tell Dave after he says he’ll give me a foot rub and then takes a socks-off whiff of my toes. Gotta stick to your word.

Today’s reason is rooted in two particularly dangerous quotes we heard at the second and third presidential debates. In the second debate, Donald Trump explained in his always-eloquent style how he would assign his attorney general, not the attorney general, mind you, but his, to investigate Hillary Clinton’s lost emails. In it, he went through what he believed Hillary did with those emails, and Hillary, in response, said “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.” To which Donald quipped, “Because you’d be in jail.”

Now, this post is not about the emails. Maybe we can dive into that another time, but not today. This post is about that last little phrase, the one threatening jail time to a political opponent, and what it means alongside this next exchange.

At the final debate, Chris Wallace asked Donald Trump whether he would accept the results of the election. Donald gave a long-winded answer that basically claimed the election and the media are corrupt and that he would decide at that particular moment whether he would concede. He would like to “keep [us] in suspense” as to whether or not he will peacefully remove himself from the race, as other losing candidates in our history have done, or whether he will decide to incite a mass riot and burn effigies in the street.

While doing this, he continued to claim rampant voter fraud by misinterpreting a Pew Research study stating voter registrations are outdated and inaccurate. The study, done in 2012, brought to light that many states’ voting records contain millions of entries that are no longer valid, represent people who have died, or are for voters simultaneously registered in other states. These errors exist because of old systems, requirements to maintain entries until absolute proof of ineligibility is given, and voter registration error. However, the study never makes any claims about actual voter fraud. It doesn’t say that people are voting for those dead people or that people are driving between Washington and Oregon to vote twice in one day. The study says that we have some updating to do technologically. In fact, other studies have decidedly determined that the amount of voter fraud in this country is miniscule. A study by News21 analyzed voter fraud claims and found 10 cases since 2010. One was a 17-year-old voting in his dad’s name. One was a recent immigrant who received two voter cards and thought he had to go to both locations. Four were people who filled out ballots for themselves and their spouses. Donald isn’t the first person to make these claims, but he’s wrong. Voter fraud happens, but it happens on an incredibly small scale. It’s been proven over and over again that we can barely get people out to vote once, let alone ten times.

When Donald makes these claims, he’s doing two things. He’s telling people that we can’t trust our democracy and he’s claiming that he is above the law. He’s openly decided to take one of two vastly un-American actions at the end of this election: jail his opponent if he wins or revolt against the democratic process if he loses.

Does it get scarier than that?

We’re going to need someone in the White House at the end of this who can rise above whatever chaos may or may not occur at the finish line. I’m voting on November 8th because I’d like a president who values our country’s complicated, but relatively stable political process more than her own ego.