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.

My Plaid Suit

GoogleWomen

When I was in middle school, my class put on a living wax museum presentation. There was a long list of people from whom we could choose to emulate. My fellow students picked famous athletes, beautiful celebrities, and important businessmen. I wasn’t motivated by fame and fortune. I wanted to find someone awesome. I scanned the list, complete with short summaries of the historical figures, and made my choice: Shirley Chisholm.

I didn’t know who she was before writing her name down next to mine. I remember reading that she was the first African American woman elected to Congress and the first woman to run for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. I remember learning that she fought for human rights, helped establish the food stamp program for women and children, and increased spending on education and health care. Once she’d worked to improve the lives of her constituents, she decided to run for the presidential nomination. There were threats made against her life. There were constant doubts. There was little support for her efforts. She said she ran, despite knowing she would not win the nomination, “to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.”

There was nothing that spoke to me more as a twelve year old than the desire to ruffle the status quo, to step outside what I was told was normal in order to create what was better. I found a plaid suit jacket and a beige turtleneck in my grandmother’s closet and proudly stood in the cafeteria as Chisholm.

I’d made a poster detailing the amazing accomplishments of this woman and was ready to explain every fact to wandering parents and teachers. People were only mildly interested. Well, to be honest, people were clearly disinterested. It could have been my natural awkwardness or my supernatural uncoolness, but I think it had a bit to do with the fact that I didn’t look glamorous or have a quickly recognizable name. I was not dissuaded. I felt strong standing up as a woman who defied expectations and odds.

When I watched Hillary Clinton become the Democratic nominee for president yesterday, I thought about Shirley Chisholm. I thought about her diligently and persistently cracking away at that glass ceiling. I thought about all the women who have been pushing up against it, decade after decade. I thought about how proud I felt wearing that plaid suit, like I was a part of this long struggle for equality and women’s rights. And I was. We all are. We’re standing on the shoulders of some really badass women. On the shoulders of Victoria Woodhull, who ran for president at a time when women were not even allowed to vote. On the shoulders of Nellie Bly, a political journalist who traveled the world to tell stories of the disenfranchised. On the shoulders of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was scorned for taking the place of a man at her university. Today, though, we have a woman running for president. Tomorrow, we’ll have a woman as our president.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. I just googled “amazing women” because I was feeling inspired and the first five results were for mail-order brides. So, we still have some work to do. I’m going to dig out my shoulder pads and turtleneck and get to it.

Decent

DeadGarden

Yesterday I read a story about a man who saved the farms of three Japanese-American families who were interned during World War II. He recently passed away at the age of 101 and, before that, was honored for his role in supporting these families while they were being unfairly and indiscriminately relocated and imprisoned. Basically, he just decided to be a decent person while other people around him were being incredibly undecent.

When one of Bob’s neighbors learned they would be forced out of their homes, he reached out to Bob and asked if he would help two friends in exchange for all the farms’ profits. Bob agreed, quit his job, and began taking care of all three farms. He kept a portion of the profits, but saved half for the families—filling their bank accounts while they were away. Bob’s other neighbors weren’t so happy that he was being kind, which just goes to show you that there have been and always will be jerks.

Many families lost their farms, businesses, and financial security after being interned. The three families that Bob helped came back to their homes, which is definitely something about which no one should need to boast. When Bob was honored for helping his neighbors, he said, “I don’t know about courage. It took a devil of a lot of work.” That seems to me to be the real way to help—just do the work. We don’t always need to think about being brave. We just need to think about doing the work of being considerate.

For me, this story serves as a reminder that we all have the ability, the responsibility, to be thoughtful and useful to one another. Bob could have walked in protests lines. He could have sent letters to his representatives. He could have posted messages on Facebook. JK, he couldn’t have done that. It was 1942. But he didn’t just talk about it. Instead, he responded to his neighbors call for help—an actual response to an actual call. He stepped in where he was needed. He didn’t save every farm in his state, but he helped who he could.

We can all learn a lesson in active support from Bob. Let’s not be frozen by a great need. Let’s get inspired to find those small acts of service. I don’t think I’ll use my green thumb to help anyone though. Last year I had thirteen pots full of lovely, CO2 giving flora. This year I have two left—home to a dying aloe and a wilting spider plant—a sad, sad homage to my love for all things green. Basically, I’m saying that we all have ways we can help one another and mine is probably not at the farm. But I could make cookies for a bake sale or poorly paint a wall or sit next to someone quietly.

A Jiminy Cricket Mother

IMG_20160628_0001

When I was young, my parents took us on a road trip. Like nearly all our vacations, we were camping in our lovely pop-up camper—equipped with double beds, a mini-fridge, and a heater. We may have been living among the trees, but we were extra fancy about it. In between hiking mountains and eating wild blueberries, we stopped in a few towns.

At one of them, we were making our way down a store-lined street after some wholesome vacation activity, like eating ice cream or window shopping. My sister and I were a few steps ahead of my parents and had stopped to talk to someone. I can’t remember what she said to us, but her voice was deep and raspy—very deep and very raspy. We talked with her about whatever we were doing at the time and then she went on her way. Once she left, and our parents had caught up to us, we turned to them and asked why that girl had a voice that sounded like a boy’s. My mom looked at us and said, “Because she was a boy, but now she’s a girl.”

It was the perfect explanation for two young kids—simple, straightforward, and free of judgment. With that short phrase, my mom explained the truth to us. She didn’t hesitate or hedge her response. She said it as the fact it was and left it out there for us to take. I’m not sure if she expected us to keep asking questions, but we didn’t have any. We heard her, acknowledged it, and went on with our business—the business of eating summer treats and looking at trinkets. We accepted that we’d just had a nice interaction with a stranger and that stranger was a woman. It wasn’t complicated. It wasn’t difficult to understand. It wasn’t hard to keep living our lives without judging her or hating her or wanting her to be harmed.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about the tragedy in Orlando. I’ve thought about it again and again. It’s filling my newsfeed and my mind. There are so many pieces to it—the hate, the gun violence, the political response. Stories about the attack have been popping up alongside pictures of my friends celebrating Pride this month—dancing in the streets, celebrating their truth, and recognizing the value of the people around them. The joy of honesty is sitting right next to this deep sadness. I’ve had a lot of emotional responses to the attack, but my gut keeps coming back to that memory.

I can’t speak for my LGBTQ friends and I won’t try, but I can speak for that little girl who heard a gruff, masculine voice rise out of a tall, beautiful woman. That moment wasn’t wrought with conflict for me. I wasn’t confused or offended or bothered. I was affected only enough to cement those minutes into my mind. And that’s because of one reason—one person, really. I was lucky enough to have a mother who explained the truth simply and kindly, and who raised me in a way that made the truth easy. I know not everyone is gifted with that, but what if we were? What would happen if we had an army of openminded, openhearted mothers? What would the world look like if, when a question arose, a thoughtful mother appeared to answer? What if every politician, every community leader, every businessperson was assigned a Jiminy Cricket style mother to explain how he should act?

We might be forced to quiet down just long enough to accept one another. The trade off would be that we could never walk too close to the edge of a balcony and we’d have to eat a lot more vegetables, but it’s probably worth it.

Higher Stakes

SmallMenBreakfast

As you, my lovely readers, know, there’s nothing I prefer to write about more than the challenges and triumphs of feminism around the world. This weekend has been ripe with material.

With some not-so-uplifting news from Pakistan, I was reminded that no matter where you go, there will always be small-minded men trying to control women. An article about proposed legislation from an extremist group in Pakistan has been circulating the internet. The group would like to make it legal for a man to “lightly beat” his wife for defying his commands, dressing in a way he didn’t approve, or refusing to have sex with him. They lay out what qualifies as an acceptable beating for the unholy behavior of showing off your ears or going to bed alone. Unfortunately, they didn’t settle on the only reasonable answer to that quandary, which is to just let a person be a person without feeling the obsessive and childish need to control her every action.

Some discussions about the bill have discounted its significance by noting it was proposed by an extremist group and has not been passed. I’m calling bullshit on that one, as I do when dangerous bills in the United States are proposed and never passed. While we can be thankful that much of the outlandish, harmful legislation is blocked, we can’t ignore the people who continue to propose it—people who look the other way when the percentage of reported honor killings in Pakistan rises, who work to keep the nation’s literacy rates among women offensively low, and who continue to marry Pakistani children. We have to remember these people exist because we need to work hard to bring them into the spotlight, appropriately shame them, and show everyone else just how wrong they are. We can’t forget there are still men who are angered by a pants-wearing woman who says she doesn’t feel like having sex with them. For some reason, I feel like I keep running into those guys. Literally. Because when I’m running and creepy guys yell obscenities at me, I stick my leg out to trip them.

This bill is thought to be a response to another rejected bill created to protect abused Pakistani women. It’s a disgusting act from a group of men who feel threatened, who feel the need to constantly stand on top of someone else—or a whole group of someone elses.

The kernel of hope in all this, though, is there are people fighting for growth and change. There was someone who wrote that bill to protect women in Pakistan. There was someone who boldly argued for it to be passed. And there will be someone who says no to this terrible legislation. No matter how hard these small men try to push us backward, there will always be feminists and humanists working to push us forward. It’s like a giant game of tug-a-war, but with much higher stakes. Same weird uncle cheering for the wrong team though.

Little by Little

Speech

It seems like every time I open my newsfeed or walk past the gigantic television at my office, I’m smacked in the face with how terrible people are treating one another. We’re fighting wars based on fear-mongering, executives are profiting while people are losing their savings, and children are getting bullied for being themselves. It’s a tough world out there, guys.

Sometimes we just need to be reminded there are people working hard to make things better. This month, I got that from Attorney General Loretta Lynch when she spoke about how she and her team are battling the dangerous laws passed in North Carolina and the general push for sanctioned and unsanctioned hate crimes across the country. Lynch had already warned the North Carolina government that their new law forcing people to enter only bathrooms that matched the gender they were assigned at birth are illegal and must not be enforced. State officials ignored her warning, because they were really busy unlawfully discriminating against citizens and that’s time consuming work.

Lynch talked about the lawsuit they’re filing against the state of North Carolina, its governor, the state’s Department of Public Safety, and the University of North Carolina, saying “it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country—haltingly but inexorably—in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.” Now that’s inspiring. That could get you to sign a petition or text a number to donate $1 or go on a 5k walk. It might even get us to elect officials who don’t attempt to legalize hate.

She also spoke directly to the communities being threatened, saying Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy—but we’ll get there together.” She’s right. It can be a challenge to get people do to what is so obviously right—because of all those terrible things we’re seeing on the news every day, all those people who haven’t yet woken up and realized we do better when we lift one another up. That just means we need to roll up our sleeves, listen to some more inspiring speeches, and remember to use the appropriate hashtags of support. Oh, also just be kind to one another and don’t uphold state-sanctioned discrimination or whatever.

 

Passing on Your Left

Mercury

Have you always wanted to watch Mercury pass between you and the sun? Well, today’s your lucky day! This only happens thirteen times a century, which is about every 7.6 years. Scientists are pretty excited about this one, because they have now developed more accurate tools to study the planet during this time. They’ll be working toward a better understanding of the sodium in its exosphere—the thin layer of surrounding gases—and how we can use what we learn from this phenomenon to discover planets that orbit other stars.

I can appreciate the push for scientific advancement and the desire to drum up excitement about space, but every 7.6 years doesn’t seem that rare. I’ve eaten granola bars that old. I already owned half of my current wardrobe the last time Mercury flew by us this way. And at that moment, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was topping the charts. It seems like just yesterday, and not because yesterday I was breaking out my best hand-flip moves to that jam in my living room.

Nevertheless, I’ll be staring directly at the Sun at least a few times between 8am and 2pm to try and catch a peek of the smallest planet in our solar system. (Sorry, Pluto-lovers, Mercury has claimed the title.) I don’t have one of those cardboard boxes we all made in elementary school, so I’ll just have to take the chance of being blinded. I practice high risk, high reward astronomy.

Be Brave

People

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s a time for us to think about the ways in which we can create a kinder, safer world. It’s a moment to recognize the massive harm and destruction that one group of people inflicted upon another. It’s a chance to be better. With the spread of hateful rhetoric in our political system, the violent disenfranchisement of entire communities, and a growing disregard for basic human rights, this work of bettering ourselves seems particularly pressing.

I try not to pay much mind to toxic, ignorant people—both in my personal life and with regard to public figures. For me to live in a functional and productive way, I have to separate emotionally from their ego and arrogance. This has been my approach to the hateful politicians I’ve been forced to listen to these past few months. I have a sort of schoolyard rule about ignoring the bullies so they have no one else to bully. Now, though, we can’t ignore them. Because other people aren’t. And this is what actually worries me: the mass of people following these men around, repeating their catchphrases and swinging their punches. One man uttering hateful nonsense is sad; whole communities of people doing the same is dangerous.

When I was in middle school, my friends and I devoured any book we could find set during the Holocaust. Every Jewish kid I knew had cried over Number the Stars and developed a soft spot for mice after reading Maus. We all watched that Kirsten Dunst movie where she opens the door at her family’s Passover Seder and is transported to a concentration camp. The stories were a mix of fact and fiction, but the sentiments were strong and similar. We were supposed to identify with the young characters, the ones who lived and the ones who died. We were supposed to feel in our gut what that kind of hate does to a person, a community, and the world. They were painful stories, but we sought them out in an attempt to understand the harm. And, perhaps most significantly, these stories modeled for us how to respond—be bold enough to speak up, be brave enough to act, be kind enough to reach out your hand.

These leaders standing on platforms of hate are dangerous not because they’re loud bigots, but because people are listening and groups are powerful. Once they’ve been directed toward a movement, they’ll just keep on rolling. I have no idea what Isaac Newton’s political views were, but he knew something about momentum. An object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and same direction, unless acted upon by an external force. Our object is headed in the wrong direction, and it’s up to us to move it toward something better. Let’s be brave in the face of hate. Let’s stand up for the friends and neighbors and strangers who need us. It’s scary, I know. It’s hard to lift your head and say something to the bully in the schoolyard. He’ll probably make fun of our stirrup stretch pants and steal our fruit roll-ups, but my eleven year old self would expect me to do something and I bet yours would too. Make her proud.

Future Fashion

roborights

A lot of people watch the Oscars and the Emmys to see what celebrities are wearing. To me, they’re a major bore fest, fashion-wise. Everyone walks the red carpet in a beautiful gown or a smart suit and they all look gorgeous. Usually the most dramatic thing we see is a woman wearing pants. The bravery! If you’re interested in seeing what a bunch of rich and famous people look like when they push the envelope just a tiny bit, while still staying in line with the wishes of their publicists, stylists, and managers, then the MET Gala is where it’s at.

The slightly more fashion-forward event was last night, and it did not disappoint. For me to deem any fashion situation a success, at least half of the outfits should be failures and a good portion should be massive failures. If no one is taking any risks, then there’s no point. The gala just narrowly slides into category of worthy fashion events.

One thing I love about it is that every year it has a different theme. I love a themed party. I would have a theme for every shindig I organize if I could—Charlie Chaplin baby showers, Prohibition Era New Year’s Eve parties, Tea Party tea parties. Sometimes I over commit. A zealous shrink might say it’s a way for me to bring joyful order to a situation. Well, that shrink should really keep it to herself, because it’s really just a whole lot of fun.

This year’s theme was “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” which meant we saw a lot of metallic, a healthy dash of glitter, and a few steel spikes. No one brought a mini-robot side kick though, so that was a real missed opportunity. If I’m ever invited to a futuristic dinner party and have a million dollars to spare (or someone else has a million dollars to spare for me), I will most certainly bring a robo-friend as my date. He’ll function as a mechanical purse and can hold my snacks and deodorant. Robots like that kind of thing.