Small Beauties

It’s been months since I wrote anything. And while I have some bigger things in mind, simmering so slowly they put southern BBQ to shame, here’s a glimpse of life’s small beauties.

I was attempting my first run in many months this morning, a rare humidity-free D.C. morning. Nothing hurt, and I felt great. Happy. Proud. Slightly embarrassed to be out running in nothing more than running shorts and a sports bra, but the laundry situation was what it was, and my husband assured me this was fine. (Note to self: husband is not to be trusted.)

As I was doing my last half-mile,* I saw an Ethiopian lady alongside the path, gracefully draped in the lightweight white shawl that is often part of the attire. She was staring straight up at the trees overhead, and as she heard me running, she lowered her head, and I smiled at her. I expected slight discomfort from her, or maybe a gentle rebuff, because I was dressed so immodestly. But no. Maybe it was my smile, who knows, but she beckoned me over, in no uncertain terms.

I went to her side, and she commanded me to stand straight, and look to the sky, and then to breathe in and out in a certain way, and it would bring looseness to the neck and relaxation. When she saw I wasn’t doing it correctly, she said, no, turn your eyes and watch me. I did, and tried again, and felt exactly what she meant. She smiled at me, told me to do that every day, and sent me on my way. I did that last bit of my run with a smile on my face.

We live in a world where that was possible. And what is that if not beautiful?

I confess, I have been having a tough time switching gears from being non-stop productive and useful (see: November through May, and thanks a lot 45 and co.) into summer when, technically, I’m not supposed to be working (and yet somehow was not relaxing). But something has shifted, and I’m starting to see the grace of being a little bit less purposeful, a little bit less driven. Somehow in my mind, that’s all connected with the perfect perfect-stranger reaching out to me on the path. Sometimes stopping your run and stepping off the path is exactly what the universe wants.

*****

* This sounds good until you realize I haven’t told you how long the total run was (one mile).

“Freedom” and Health Insurance

Anyone remember that scene from, what, Deep Impact (one of the asteroid movies that came out at the same time) , and Tea Leoni is standing with archetypally remote father on a beach waiting for the tidal wave caused by the asteroid? That’s how I feel now that the House passed that horrifying bill worsening health care in America.

(Ok, that also reveals too much about the shallowness of both my brain and how I spent my 20s.)

Some Republican lawmakers think that forcing people to be part of health insurance is an assault on people’s freedom. I can see that argument, and it makes sense in a pure libertarian way. I am not a libertarian.

Perhaps it makes sense if there were an alternative, like everyone in my neighborhood chipping in to provide room and board for a highly-skilled doctor who is an expert at both my next-door neighbors geriatric needs, my other neighbor’s teen-age epilepsy management, and my own rheumatoid arthritis. Yeah, that’s funny, let’s move right along.

Here’s one thing freedom does mean to me: Being healthy.

  • Being able to go outside for a walk on a beautiful day.
  • Being able to pick up my child for a hug (when she wants one, of course, and god knows there are times now when giving her a hug is sooooo embarrassing).
  • Being able to sing without the sharp pain of each intake of breath (RA hits the lungs, isn’t that cool?)
  • Making plans to see friends, knowing I will probably have the energy to follow through on those plans.

Without medical care, all of those things are beyond me.

Here’s another thing freedom means to me: Being able to work where I can and want.

  • Regular readers know I love my job. And surely tenure wipes away all fears of losing job-provided health insurance, right? Wrong. When you’ve experienced long-term debilitating illness, the fear of losing health insurance never goes away. Every time I have changed jobs in the last decade, I have had to change health insurance, which means for a couple of months, while insurers battle with my rheumatologist, I do not get my prescriptions filled, and all those things I said I like to do above, well, I can’t do them.
  • And what if I decide at some point that I’ve given what I can to law teaching? BuellerDo I really want to be the burned-out law professor who mumbles from notes he’s been using for 30 years? No, no, I really do not. But my choice will be between staying at my job and trying something new like building my own immigration practice (forget being able to pay for the health insurance that would be available to me with my pre-existing conditions) or finally writing my not-so-Great American Novel (ditto). So the “freedom” not to pay into Obamacare actually becomes a force that locks me into my job.

Another thing freedom means to me? Freedom to choose to buy affordable insurance.

  • Look, I am writing from a place of about the greatest privilege imaginable: tenured law professor (not official until August, please let me not be jinxing it). And I work with and among some of the least privileged, most marginalized people imaginable, and I see their health crises up close and personal, and know the tangle of problems that happen when emergency room care is the only care they can access, because the law forbids them from participating.* Do they feel free because they aren’t allowed to avail of Obamacare? Guess what: NO they do not.

So, for the “Freedom” Caucus, I want to say, first: PrincessBride.gif

And I want to say, second:

[Unprintable] [unprintable] [also unprintable], you [unprintable] [unprintables].

There. That feels a little better. Now, I better go take that handful of pills that keeps me walking and breathing, thanks to the health insurance that, for the moment, I have.

_______________________

*Post coming soon on how “undocumented” increasingly means nothing to me, since all my “undocumented” clients are actually on the slow, broken, slow, complicated, slow path toward having one of these statuses that would qualify them for Obamacare. (Did I mention the path is slow?)

 

 

 

Beyond the Bubble Bath

Journalist Anna North excoriated typical white girl self-care notions this week, in her essay Work Is My Self Care. There is obviously nobody better than me to respond since I actually had a real bubble bath this week (not just bath salts, but bubbles) and I am undeniably very white.

There’s a lot I agreed with in what she wrote. First, the term “self-care” increasingly makes me cringe, probably because of the co-optation she rightly calls out from, well, people selling bath products. Second, she is right on about the joy that comes from meaningful work, from being in the “flow” of doing your job well. But I think she sets up self-care against meaningful work, and what is really going on is a search for resilience. (As you might guess from the title of this website, I like the idea of resilience.)

Let me explain.

Even when I was in law school, and even more so when I graduated, I threw myself into law with every fiber of my being. The world was full of people suffering, and now I had a skill to use to mitigate the suffering a tiny bit. How could I rest, when my resting meant someone somewhere was suffering? If you think this sounds arrogant and over-wrought, I assure you that you’re totally right. I represented a detained asylum-seeker after my first year of law school, with minimal supervision, did a pretty good job and still lost. I had a brutal judge, and if you don’t believe me, this article might convince you. I carried that loss with me, though, as a sign that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t working hard enough, and when I got to do another asylum case for my law school clinic, I was going to prove myself.

Which is when I came down with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Coincidence, maybe. Probably not, since stress is thought to be a trigger for RA. All I knew is I went from healthy to unable to bear the weight of a pen in my hand, almost overnight. Even without holding a pen in my hand, it felt like someone had smashed my hands with a hammer. Walking was slow and painful. Breathing? Yeah, even breathing hurt.

So I slowed down and took bubble baths, right? Wrong. I went and got a job at a place where every single person I worked with was as dedicated as me, and we did amazing things collectively. My own specialty was human trafficking and wage theft. Talk about suffering and meaning! But it was a place where, true story, I found out I had lost my first pregnancy on a Friday morning, kept working through the day despite the news, and on Monday morning got called out for my lack of commitment generally. As a colleague said, it was like we showed up for life toting our own crosses, and asking people to crucify us.

So, meaningful work? Check. Purpose and flow? Check. Impossibly high standards that could not be maintained without sacrificing my actual body? Check, check, check. I blame the organization for none of this–the work ethic there merely mirrored my own sense that I had no right to look out for myself when there was still an injustice that needed to be righted.

Oh look, there it is again: arrogant and over-wrought.

So I learned, and the next place I worked, I experimented in the kind of self-care Ms. shutterstock_354727520North decries. I did domestic violence work (of course I did), and after every trip to the dark, tense halls of D.C. Superior Court, which was thankfully several times a week, I rewarded myself with a lovely cupcake. This was in the early days of the cupcake craze, and I actually think I might have made the craze happen.

Then the recession happened, the non-profit began tanking, and I stumbled into a teaching job with one of the best, most resilient friends and colleagues I have ever had. And for the first time in a while, I began to think and notice things.

At the same time, I was blindly groping for ways to help my students not become me–an almost-burned-out, physically debilitated human being (albeit one whose humor somehow never failed). We generated ideas from exercising to writing with sparkly pens to spending more time making music (for the piano players and singers among them) to playing sports (for those people who enjoy that sort of thing).

This was a great start. Better than cupcakes, but still not connecting the dots. Actually, nothing is better than a really good cupcake, and I will get back to that.

What I was groping toward was the idea of resilience. And the answer became beautifully simple. If you visualize a tree in a storm, the tree sways, sometimes alarmingly so. But a healthy tree, and a tree whose roots run deep, will withstand the wind. Sometimes the storms are too powerful, sure, but the best way to stay standing is to tend the roots.

So now what I work with my students on is identifying the roots. There is some overlap here with “self-care” but while self-care asks what will make me smile right now?, resilience goes to a deeper question: what keeps me strong over the long term? And then demands that we pay attention to and nourish whatever it is that keeps us strong.

It might be family, or music, or prayer. It could be building a circle of colleagues who make you laugh and understand how relentless the work can be. It could be laughing with old girlfriends who help you stay real. It could be training for a race or making home a respite, whether that looks like the cover of Real Simple, or looks like books spilling from every corner. It could be remembering how much you love theater, and going to see it more than you did before. Or remembering that volunteering with animals brings you joy, and going to the shelter more.

 

Our lives so often require incredible resilience. Tending to the roots helps us build that resilience. And from there we can go forth and keep doing the work.

And maybe celebrate a good day at work with a cupcake, too. I’m not going to judge.

 

 

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True Story

My daughter turned eleven this week. ELEVEN. That’s an important number to her, sure, but it’s also important for the resilience this blog is, theoretically, about.

Picture 18
It’s a matter of perspective. I’m not really as large as the Capitol dome.
You see, she was born in March 2006 (eleven years ago…yes, I’m going to keep emphasizing that number). I went into labor with her while I was at a rally for immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol. True story. (She was born with her fist over her head, too, also a true story. Also a reason the labor took a lackadaisical 48 or so hours, and yes, she still dawdles like a champion.)

In March 2006, we were beginning to see huge rallies and demonstrations across the country by advocates, increasingly led by the undocumented themselves, seeking immigration reform. It was an exciting time, full of possibility. And there I was, stuck in a hospital room pumped full of drugs (no, that wasn’t the plan, yes, god laughs at most of our plans) thinking I was going to MISS OUT ON IMMIGRATION REFORM while I was at the hospital. I really did.

As a friend just pointed out, some people have FOMO for parties; I have FOMO for immigration reform. I don’t think she was judging me.

You probably see where this is going. I did not, in fact, miss out on immigration reform. Eleven years later, we are still fighting, fighting, fighting. Some of the fights are a little different, many are much harder, and there has been some progress in places we didn’t anticipate eleven years ago (local activism, support for DREAMers, success in limiting law enforcement cooperation with immigration in many cities and states across the country).

These issues do not go away. My membership in the fierce band of immigration advocates dates back to 2002. Many of my colleagues in immigration have been fighting since the new, draconian, immigration law of 1996. More still go back to the Sanctuary movement of the 1980s, and the effort to pass the Refugee Act in 1980. 

So, for people, especially young people, feeling they have no ability to act against today’s injustices, I say this: Imagine what you want to be able to do in five years, whether that’s big or small, and start working toward that goal. 

  • Pick the issue that fires you up the most (because you need a strong fire to stay in the work), and be patient with yourself as you learn more, as you connect with others, as you learn who does the work in ways that fill your soul (keep them close), and who does the work in ways that deplete you (politely excuse yourself from their company).
  • Maybe learn a new language–it’s possible, it’s so useful, and for some of our brains, it’s really fun.
  • Maybe also learn the word no (a truly foreign language for me), so you say yes to things that matter more to you, and no to the things that don’t.
  • Think about running for a local office, or helping someone you admire to campaign. (Going door-to-door for them is also excellent exercise and will ever after give you intense admiration for how your local mail carrier does that day after day.)
  • Join a local affiliate of an organization that inspires you, and show up to their events, or help with a fundraiser, or work your way toward being a leader within the organization. A lot of great work happens at the most local levels, and while it can take over your life, it doesn’t have to.  Your role can be very small and very local, and still matter profoundly.

It all takes time, but when it comes to injustice, unfortunately, we have time–and the people who’ve been fighting for a while will be quite happy to tag out, and tag you in. And the faces of new people showing up will inspire and strengthen the people who do this full-time, I promise. And providing inspiration…what could be more satisfying than that?

So, true story, I did not miss out on immigration reform. Eleven years later, I have built my skills to the point where I feel maybe a little too useful, but that’s a nice position to be in.

And in honor of her 11th birthday, I’ll tell my sweet fist-still-raised-over-head daughter that she didn’t keep me from doing anything…she made my heart grow many sizes bigger, and she gave me the strength and love and inspiration to keep going, every single day.

Happy 11th birthday to her! And maybe we’ll get immigration reform done in the next eleven.

Demented bedtime stories 

That night at Mar-a-Lago, Trump had dinner with Sessions, Bannon, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, among others. They tried to put Trump in a better mood by going over their implementation plans for the travel ban, according to a White House official.

From the Washington Post (3/6/2017)

So, when the pwesident is gwumpy, his advisers just need to remind him how much power he has to ruin people’s lives, and that kisses his boo-boo and helps him sleep at night?

Other favorites:

  • Goodnight, Healthcare! I’ll probably kill you in the morning!
  • Free to Be Me (not You, and no, it’s not all right to cry)
  • Tomorrow Belongs to Me (such a sweet, albeit, well, you know, literally Nazi lullaby from Cabaret)
  • A Snowy Day (in hell)
  • The Lorax Goes to Guantanamo

Could somebody just give the man some ambien instead of these bedtime stories?

Immigrants and Crime

The blog has been quiet because, well, there have been one or two things in the world of immigration keeping me busy: panicked clients, panicked communities, curious students, people wanting good information to share with the panicked people in their own lives.

Ok, that was more than one or two things.

And now the President is going to legalize millions! But not with citizenship, we’ll keep them second-class! But no, he remembered during the State of the Union speech that immigrants are criminals and he is going to be tough!

So much to write about, but this is what I want to address: You see, about a week ago, I got an email from someone I have never met, who lives hundreds of miles away, with a charming email handle (Skullkrikkes–what is that?), hoping that I would be the next person raped by an immigrant. He (you never guessed  skullkrikkes turned out to be a guy) was trying to get under my skin. He didn’t, except to present himself as Exhibit A of something I have been fighting against, and for, for about a decade.

The idea that people are complicated. That very few people are all bad, and even fewer are all good. Except my dog. (Oh, right, she’s not a person. Try telling her that.)

Highlighting victims of crimes committed by immigrants, the way 45 did at the State of the Union, equates immigrants with criminality in a dangerous way. Almost worse, it implies that our personal safety depends on getting rid of immigrants. Then it will all be ok!

But immigrants are, if anything, less likely than native-born people to commit crimes, especially violent crimes. From the American Immigration Council’s Report The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States:

innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime.

We know this. It’s just that lots of Americans do not want it to be true. Because that means their hope for insulating themselves in a crime-free bubble by deporting immigrants isn’t true. It means they are vulnerable to crime. To pain. To suffering. To being human.

There are no guarantees. Every fully formed adult knows this. We may wish otherwise, but as Robert Winder wrote:

We can park our chair on the beach as often as we please, and cry at the oncoming waves, but the tide will not listen, nor the sea retreat. (quoted in the beautiful, beautiful book by recently deceased sociologist  Zygmunt Baumun, Strangers at the Door.)

Look, skullkrikkes, I do fear being raped. When one in five women in America experiences rape, well, I’d be foolish not to worry. But guess what: deporting immigrants doesn’t make me safer.

You know what does make me safer? Working to promote dignity and respect, helping to build communities where people trust each other, and seeing each person before me as flawed and doing his or her best. Even the sour-looking woman who doesn’t share the sidewalk (and sometimes yells at the crossing guards). Even that guy who cut me off on 95 last week. Even the Cameroonian construction worker who just got arrested for being drunk and disorderly because he had three beers to numb his own pain and started dancing on the sidewalk. Even the immigrant mother who used a fake social security number to work and provide for her kids. Even the young South Asian teen who took the dare from his high school friends and sped recklessly.

Yes, some immigrants commit violent crimes. Lord knows I don’t have any fondness for the MS-13 and M-18 gangs who terrorize the very immigrant communities I try to support. And I know our federal law enforcement authorities investigate and prosecute and punish those crimes. But let’s be honest. When we sweep the construction worker and mother and the teenager up as “criminal immigrants,” we have lost our shared humanity. Did they commit crimes? Yes. Can you not imagine yourself doing the same thing?

Really? Because I can.

I have definitely had times when I drank too much to numb something awful I was feeling (hello: divorce)* . If I could not work legally and my beautiful child was hungry, yeah, I’d borrow someone’s social security number to find work. And I acted like the South Asian kid who sped recklessly (once!) in high school–and I’ve lived in gratitude ever since that nobody got hurt, and that I’m white and far less likely to suffer the punitive consequences anyway.

I’ll take my compassion over your fear any day.

*Don’t worry. I’m all good now.

Want to read more? Here’s a thing I wrote about being complicated.

¡Calmate!

The action in the streets is “exciting” and people are revved up to respond. It’s like our interior soundtrack is on a repeat of:

I’m past patiently waitin’. I’m passionately
Smashin’ every expectation
Every action’s an act of creation!

But with all due respect to Lin-Manuel Miranda, and anyone who knows me has no doubt how much respect I think is due to him, we’re not all Hamilton and we need to think a little harder about what we’re smashing. Because right now, we are–with the best of intentions–smashing people’s nerves.

People’s nerves are jangled. Mine, probably yours (but definitely not the dogs’). IMG_2302See photo for evidence. But no one’s nerves are are on higher alert than undocumented immigrants in our communities. The people I speak to, from undocumented clients to advocates who look after their mental health, housing, medical, and other needs, report almost debilitating levels of anxiety as they face and plan for the prospect of families being torn apart with no notice. Figuring out who should take care of children, who has the right to sell their car, how someone can access their bank account if they get detained…these are all practical and urgent concerns. Practical, urgent, and time-consuming concerns.

What already anxious people do not need is more panic. But we have a cottage industry of panic-creators. Every rumored immigration raid raises anxiety even farther. But the rumors? Seldom true. Just in the DC area this week, we had rumors of raids in Langley Park (no, just a routine criminal investigation) and at Children’s Hospital (completely untrue). But the damage gets done anyway. Passing along rumors helps nobody.

There are real problems happening, from the woman picked up after her domestic violence protection order hearing in Texas, to the DACA recipient in Seattle. So what should be doing about these things?

  • First, let me explain that by “we,” I mean the people who do not live in fear of raids, who can call law enforcement officials without fear of the possible repercussions.
  • We must be aware of the abuses in immigration enforcement, figure out what is happening locally, and counsel community members accordingly.
  • For this to work, we need people to have good relationships with police departments and with ICE itself, so that when a rumor starts we can verify its accuracy, or when an injustice happens, we can advocate for different policies locally.
  • For those working directly with community members as lawyers, social workers, or case managers, that means that if we no longer believe that our clients will be safe from enforcement actions at court, at work, at regularly scheduled immigration check-ins, then we need to have a plan in place for when (or if) they go to these places. That might be helping them with their safety planning, encouraging them to bring a trusted friend who can set that plan into motion if needed, or accompanying them ourselves.

And now for a truth-bomb: This is also an important moment for personal and organizational self-reflection. So many of us, myself all too much included, benefit from the panic. That’s an ugly truth. Panic attracts media and publicity, attracts new clients, attracts funders, and makes us look like heroes. An organization can make a huge name for itself by responding to panic that, unintentionally, the same organization may be fomenting. (I have worked in, with, and alongside many such organizations. As some people’s president might say, “nobody loves immigrant advocacy organizations more than me!”) Even a humble law professor can get interviewed on the news to the admiration of friends and, maybe, her tenure committee.  Is that why we do it? Of course not. But it should make us uncomfortable to gain fame, glory, admiration, and donor money by amplifying the message of panic. And those same opportunities can and should be used, over and over and over, to urge people to remain calm, to take every precaution, absolutely, but to wait until information is verified before indulging in the panic.

Far less attractive to media and funders is the long-game, the behind-the-scenes relationship building with government officials, the endless meetings with colleagues and coalition partners who have different points and levels of access within Homeland Security, from the line officer at Homeland Security Investigations who might be able to verify what, if anything, is happening in a neighborhood enforcement-wise, to the director of policy within ICE who can send a clear message about whether the sensitive locations memo is still departmental policy. I can tell you, this work is not flashy and you don’t get fun stories from it. Usually. (And I’m not talking about that one.) But it is so important, and we must keep doing it.

So let’s keep doing all the good work. And in the meantime, our message to affected communities should be this: “These are scary times. Let’s help you feel prepared in case the worst happens. Let’s show you that we care about how all this is affecting you. And let’s keep working to make sure the worst never happens.”

Also, like I teach my students, let’s all tend to the roots that keep us resilient…whether that’s our faith communities, the friend we call every week to laugh with, the soccer team that was robbed of the title last year (but will win for sure this year), the music that reminds us of a happy time, or anything else. We can’t live on high-alert without it affecting us psychologically and physically. So let’s remember, all of us, to breathe and tend to those roots.

 

The Fight Gets Harder

 

When the travel ban went into place two weeks ago, we had an immediate call to action with incredible clarity. We knew where to go (our nearest international airport), we knew what to do (make more protest signs, advocate for those stuck with Customs and Border Protection to get people released, and litigate like mad in federal courts). And it worked.

Yesterday’s news about widespread immigration raids is so different. There is no one place to go to show our strength in numbers, because these raids are in scattered communities and workplaces. And the legal defense is going to vary from individual client to individual client. (There may also be some impact litigation to be done, as always, but those picked up in raids need their own lawyers who can understand the government’s case against them and any opportunities for relief from removal.)

Already, the local immigration court where I practice has begun shifting cases around to accommodate new enforcement priorities. It’s great for me personally, since my case for next week is postponed and I have some hours to plan more fighting ( and clean the house, and pet the dog who was beginning to wonder if I remembered her existence).

But more lives are going to be disrupted, and even for people who don’t get picked up, their newly increased fear and anxiety, on top of high pre-existing stress levels, makes a lot of the general post-election anxiety look like a xanax fest. Really consider that for a moment. I know how many friends have, since the election, been experiencing unusual levels of stress, anxiety, fear, inability to concentrate or sleep. I certainly have myself. And all of those things are in a different universe from the fear a parent has dropping her child off at school, wondering if she will be picked up by ICE before the school day is done. Every. Single. Day.

What can we do? Think long-term. These issues are going to be here for a long time…they have already been with us for as long as I have been a lawyer. When my daughter was born, I was so sure I was going to miss out on immigration reform while I was at the hospital (I did go into labor at one of the early rallies for immigration reform, so this was not just the drugs talking). My daughter is now ten. TEN. Think what you could learn to do in ten years,  consider what skill you most want to develop, and go develop it. Think about seriously improving your Spanish so you can interpret for people or help with community presentations. Put your school’s PTA to use supporting noncitizen families, and ask the ESOL teacher or a trusted counselor at the school for ideas on what would be useful support.

Short-term, this is going to be tough. In some ways, short-term the burden is going to be on the lawyers who are already trained-up and ready to do these cases. But there are other ways to help

  • The creative ones out there can help those lawyers design really visually appealing materials to get solid information out to people. Or help us improve our websites [clears throat].
  • The foreign language-speakers (especially Spanish) can help at community presentations where we talk with frightened families about safety planning.
  • Those with some extra money can donate to local legal service providers who do removal defense, especially detained removal defense. In the DC area, that means supporting Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.
  • And everyone can bring on the extra smiles, polite conversation, holding doors open for people, heck, even allowing someone to cut you off on the highway. Remember that your anxiety level, high as it is, may be nowhere near as high as a stranger you pass on the way to school, on the road to work, and so on. Kindness matters profoundly. Be a source of kindness.

 

Message to New Activists

Things needed change before, and many activists have been in these fights for a long time. After the election, I had conversations with many activists in different fields, and they all said the same thing vis-a-vis the new energy and attention to social injustices in the U.S. It is striking, across many different areas of activism, the same conversations. So I want to try to articulate what I have heard on their behalves. (My thoughts are in parens.)
  1. They are exhausted. It’s been hard enough fighting for justice under President Obama. (True. See: locking up Central American babies.)
  2. They feel a bit ungrateful, but the new surge of energy means so many people asking more of their time.
  3. They worry that once someone finds out social justice work involves a delusional amount of banging your head on brick walls, interrupted by banging your head on brick walls with sharp things protruding from the walls, the person will tire of justice work. (Don’t get tired: realize you earn a bad-ass badge with every wall you hit.)
  4. They worry that a lawyer taking on pro bono cases will discover not all their clients are immediately grateful or return calls, and tire of pro bono work. (Don’t get tired. Sometimes your biggest pain in the ass clients surprise you and teach you things you weren’t expecting. Of course, sometimes they don’t, and then you just get to complain. I am here for you when this happens.)
  5. They hope people will realize no single person can do everything. So many interlocking systems grind the most vulnerable down, and if you fight them all, you’re not good at fighting any one of them. They hope people don’t get disillusioned by the thought of that. (My cure for this: Mary Oliver’s “Song of the Builders.”)
  6. They hope people pick one issue they care so much about, and then get educated about it. About the issue, but also about the fight. Who has been writing on this, who has been organizing, who has a good network already in place.
  7. Once that happens, they hope folks find a way to be of service to those good efforts instead of creating new ones. And remember that service can absolutely include donating and then reading the action alerts that worthy organization sends along to you. (Note to self: stop deleting action alerts when I get them.) The ways you serve people can be local and small, and can be things you love to do from writing to art to…anything.

There is so much need, and now so much energy, and if we can just get focus ourselves, be kind to ourselves, be humble and patient, we’re going to BRING IT in 2017 and beyond.

 

Things I Know About Politics that I Learned from Musicals

Someone who was weaned on Annie is going to be an unreliable guide to politics. Even more unreliable is someone whose favorite moment in Annie is when Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, and FDR sing “Tomorrow” in harmony, with FDR demanding billionaire Oliver Warbucks join the harmony (“Republicans, too, Oliver!”). This is, clearly, a major reason for my delusional optimism.  (I’m not the only one. Check this out.)

But there’s enough negativity in the world. I’m going to sing out, Louise embrace my flaws. Here’s what musicals taught me.

  • When Elphaba defies gravity after accusing Galinda of groveling in submission to feed her own ambition, don’t we see Elphaba  as the hero? But who made her ultimate redemption possible? Her friend on the inside, powerful ally Glinda. Our inside actors don’t get the heroic roles, but wow are they necessary.
  • Some adversaries really, really aren’t worth the effort to try to persuade. See: Book of Mormon.
  • Bad politics rot our society from the inside. And thanks, Cabaret, for making me fall in love with a song that I discovered much later was sung by the Nazis in the movie.
  • Les Miserables: everyone dies, so I might as well drink. Ok, not everyone dies, but when all we are left with is Marius and Cosette, really, I might as well drink. Even Marius realizes this in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” Cosette, btw, was clearly a human trafficking survivor.
    • When Les Mis doesn’t depress me, it also provides about the strongest possible example of why not all prosecutions are just. And in a country obsessed with punishing the marginalized, and deporting people for little more than stealing a loaf of bread, it’s good to remember that nobody who watches that show wants to be Javert. We may understand him, and show him respect. But we all want to be Valjean.
      • Or Eponine. Because (a) the cap and (b) the best songs.
  • The car-dismantling nuns of The Sound of Music certainly taught me about how what’s right or wrong depends mightily on context.

In all seriousness, who better than Coalhouse Walker, Junior for these times, reminding us that law is not justice, and that our sword “may be a sermon, or the power of the pen…make them hear you. Make them hear you.” You don’t believe me? Listen to this.