Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Power of Prince

Recently I listened to an All Songs Considered podcast about Bob Boilen's book Your Song Changed My Life. Afterwards, I started thinking about the music that has been significant in my life - and there's been a lot. If I had to write a chapter for that book, what would it be about? After much deliberation I finally settled on Prince's album 1999. I distinctly remember using a $10 gift certificate I'd gotten for my 12th birthday to buy the cassette at Dillon Music in Kalamazoo, MI. I remember feeling nervous as I reached for the cassette on one of those rotating cassette towers; it felt a little naughty, and I knew I was probably too young to buy it. But I did it anyway, feeling almost as if I'd won a dare. Honestly, the first thing that drew me to Prince was the line, "Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?" Ever the activist, I was drawn to his matter-of-fact questioning of the arms race, even if it did inexplicably come at the end of a pretty funky song that to me was about partying despite - or perhaps because of - the impending apocalypse. Soon my friends and I were dissecting the lyrics as we sang along at the back of the bus, playing the cassette on one of those portable Panasonic tape recorders. One of my more precocious friends explained all the sex stuff the rest of us didn't understand. I loved that Prince was profound and dirty, sacred and profane, political and passionate. His was the first music I remember having an in depth conversation about, as I tried to make an argument to my friend in support of his complexity. He was himself, unapologetically and uncompromisingly so, a model I desperately needed as a painfully shy preteen. And he could DANCE! And he sang about dancing! Two years later, Purple Rain was the soundtrack of my first relationship, and first breakup. My purple vinyl Purple Rain 45 is still one of my prized possessions. He definitely helped me get through this thing called life. All of this has been rolling around in my head for the past week, so when my colleague told me today that Prince was dead, it just didn't seem real. Party in Purple, dear one.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Won’t Back Down! A Brief History of the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers

When the Refuse & Resist! Reproductive Freedom Taskforce organized the first National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers twenty years ago in fall 1996, clinics and clinic staff were under constant physical attack. Two doctors and a clinic escort had been murdered; clinics were being blockaded, invaded, and bombed; doctors had their homes protested and their children followed to school; and some doctors were even being targeted by law enforcement for prosecution. Just going to work in the morning meant crossing a picket line and being called vile names, or worse being told that they know where you live. Unlisted phone numbers, and in Massachusettes where I lived at the time unlisted license plates, were necessary security precautions. Judicially, the Webster and Casey Supreme Court decisions in 1989 and 1992 had chipped away at the constitutional protections granted by Roe v. Wade. Many had thought that having a democrat in the White House would result in a more favorable climate for abortion after twelve years of a republican presidency, but instead violent attacks on clinics had only escalated. In this context, a small group of activists who themselves had been on the front lines of the abortion battle determined that it was essential to launch a campaign of public support. Declaring “Abortion providers are heroes for saving women’s lives!” the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers was created with two aims: 1) to hearten providers with positive public support and 2) to strengthen the movement by forging stronger links between activists and providers.

Though the first NDAAP was small, the feedback from providers was overwhelmingly positive. As we moved towards the 25th anniversary of Roe on January 22, 1998, we determined to make the Day of Appreciation a major annual event. When just one week after the Roe anniversary a clinic in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed, killing the security guard and seriously injuring a nurse, standing with providers and publicly thanking them for their work became all the more urgent. With the permission and participation of David Gunn Jr., we marked the fifth anniversary of his father’s death on March 10, 1998 with the second NDAAP, and ever since then March 10 has been a day to honor the work abortion providers do.

It seems hard to imagine now, but for those first five years we organized on the phone and mailed paper organizing kits to participating organizations like the LIST. We also mailed appreciation packets to clinics all over the country with the cooperation of the National Abortion Federation, the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Appreciation packets over the years included poetry written for the occasion by reg e. gaines and Marge Piercy, original artwork, posters for display in clinic waiting rooms and staff rooms, certificates and letters of appreciation, and even a sermon and prayer for clinic workers.

By the early 2000s the Internet was becoming a viable organizing tool, and the Day of Appreciation had caught on enough that we no longer had to convince organizations to participate or call to remind them that March 10 was coming. We made the decision at that point to let the Day have a life of its own. On the one hand it makes me sad that twenty years after that first NDAAP there is still a need for the Day. Many of the situations I described above are still the daily reality providers across the country, but that kind of daily violence is no longer a news story, just the reality of legal abortion in this country. But on the other hand, it makes me incredibly happy that so many individuals and organizations have taken the day up as their own and that abortion providers are so publicly thanked each year.

Back in the early days of NDAAP, David Gunn, Jr. told us that his father’s favorite song had been Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.”

Well I won't back down, no I won't back down
You could stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down

Gonna stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won't back down

The song is still an apt theme for the courageous health care providers and clinic staff whose determination and persistence in the face of unrelenting legislative attacks and daily harassment is nothing short of awe inspiring. It is these workers, sometimes the only ones for hundreds of miles or the only ones in an entire state, who make the constitutional right to abortion a reality. Abortion funds like the TEA Fund help make abortion financially accessible, but as the old saying goes, “without abortion providers there is no choice.” You can read some of their stories here

So today, and everyday, I honor all abortion providers and clinic staff. Having worked at Planned Parenthood myself, I know how hard it can be to go past those protestors on your way into work, or on your way back from lunch. I hold close to my heart all the providers I’ve worked with for the past 25 years, whose courage and strength have sustained me. And I remember with deep sadness and enormous gratitude those who were murdered for doing their part to provide safe, legal abortion.

March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn, Pensacola, FL
June 29, 1994: Dr. John Britton and James Barrett, Pensacola, FL
December 30, 1994: Shannon Lowney and Leann Nichols, Brookline, MA
January 29, 1998: Robert Sanderson, Birmingham, AL
October 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian, Rochester, NY
May 31, 2009: Dr. George Tiller, Wichita, KS

You are my heroes.

originally posted March 10, 2016 at

Friday, December 18, 2015

Favorite Albums of 2015

1. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love
My professional career is based on the assertion that not only can we write about things normally considered to exist outside the logic of words (the body, dance), but that we must. So it's hard for me to admit that I just can't talk about what Sleater-Kinney mean to me. The way the kids in this video look like they feel as they dance along to animated versions of Carrie, Corin, and Janet begins to touch the surface of my feelings for this band. I just couldn't be happier that they are back.

2. José González - Vestiges & Claws
There's something about José González's sound--the timbre of his voice? the keys he favors?--with which I deeply resonate. I listened to this album over and over again when it first came out as I was spending a rainy week in Portland. The atmosphere of his songs and the climate seemed a perfect match, and the album transports me still.

3. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
I have to admit that I wasn't blown away by Alabama Shakes' first album, Boys & Girls. I thought it was a solid offering, and that Brittany Howard's voice was strong, but it just didn't stand out to me musically. Their second album, however, really struck me as a band coming into its own and claiming their unique sound. I particularly love the way Howard morphs her voice from one song to another and even within a song.

And speaking of Brittany Howard, the release of Thunderbitch - Thunderbitch came as a surprise to everyone. Total unapologetic summer fun.

4. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
In dance there's the idea that repeating something prosaic over and over and over again can imbue the movement with a profundity it might not otherwise have. I find the same quality in Courtney Barnett's songs. One minute you're listening to her singing about a mundane moment in her day, or a thought you yourself have had, and then suddenly you're caught off guard by the deep insight of her observational style.

5. Buffy Sainte-Marie - Power in the Blood
When I was young, Buffy Sainte-Marie's Fire and Fleet and Candlelight was on regular rotation when I had control of the record player (which in retrospect seems like all the time). I admit I hadn't followed her over the years, but when I heard this album I was drawn back in to the power of her voice and her message, which far from fading over the years have only gathered strength.

6. Rhiannon Giddens - Tomorrow is My Turn
That voice! I have to admit I'd never heard Rhiannon Giddens or Carolina Chocolate Drops until I watched that documentary, Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis. I was captivated by her, and this, her debut solo album.

7. Childbirth - Women's Rights
Anytime you combine feminism and snark, I'm there. Add in dance-able tunes and laugh-out-loud lyrics and it's irresistible.

Childbirth is actually a "supergroup" of Seattle alt-rocking women, including Chastity Belt's Julia Shapiro.  Chastity Belt also had a noteworthy 2015 album, Time to Go Home. I will never forget seeing the band in the basement of J&J's Pizza at 35 Denton, and alternating between enjoying the music and worrying that we were all going to be crushed when that low, low ceiling fell in.

The next three bands make me feel like I'm back in the early 90s before the Lilith Fair-ization of music made by women, when the songs and sound could still be fierce and complex and fun.
8. Speedy Ortiz - Foil Deer
I caught Speedy Ortiz at Solid Sound this summer. Bonus: Speedy Ortiz are from Western Mass and "Puffer" references Puffer's Pond, one of my favorite Massachusetts swimming holes.

9. Palehound - Dry Food
I admit I don't know much about Boston-based Palehound, just that I kept being drawn to their sound, which at once seems familiar and surprising. (And ok, the album title makes me think of cats.)

10. Bully - Feels Like
I like the combination of strength and vulnerabilty in Bully's sound and lyrics. Triva: Singer Alicia Bognanno once interned for Steve Albini.

Bonus: Eagles of Death Metal - Zipper Down
I don't want to like this album. It's just so catchy! And I know how bad it looks coming after all the amazing powerful women I've talked above above. Maybe that's what they mean by "Complexity"?

*I have to give credit where credit is due. I learn about a lot of new music, especially all the amazing young women on this list, from NPR's Katie Presley

Favorite Songs of 2015

I spend most of my new music listening time focused on albums. I don't do much radio listening any more, so I'm less likely to encounter songs as singles. But occasionally a song or two breaks its way into my consciousness, standing on its own as a lyrical or melodic statement, leaving a visceral experience in its wake.

This year three very different songs worked their way into my ears and life.

Janelle Monae and Wondaland - "Hell You Talmbout"
This sonic litany of African Americans murdered by police in the United States is at once a powerful expression of rage, an urgent call to action, and an insistence upon remembering each individual life.

Rhett Miller - Most in the Summertime
I actually heard this song on the radio driving around on a summer day (though I probably didn't have the windows rolled down - Texas summers are just too hot!). This song perfectly evokes the feeling of skin warmed from the summer sun and new love.

Shovels & Rope - Patience
Let me just start by establishing two things: 1) I love a cover song that makes you discover something new about the original and 2) I never liked GnR's "Patience. Or to be more specific, I never gave it much thought. To have hated it, I would have had to actually listen to it. I find this cover by Shovels & Rope delightful precisely because it made me stop and listen.

List of my favorite albums of 2015 coming soon!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Humanly Reasonable

Public Comments to the Denton City Council, August 4, 2015

Our air and water.
Our health and safety.
Our Denton.

This simple slogan was at the heart of our campaign to ban fracking in Denton. Our priorities were—and remain—to make Denton a healthy and sustainable city for all of our residents to live and grow. In other words, we declared that we want Denton to be a place guided by HUMANLY reasonable standards. The majority of Denton voters agreed last November that fracking within the city limits is incompatible with this goal.

When HB40 nullified our ban and told us that we had to make decisions based on what is commercially reasonable, they stole from us our best means of protecting the health and safety of all people in Denton. 

In effect this leaves our Gas Well Ordinance as the last line of defense of
Our air and water.
Our health and safety.
Our Denton.

This is in fact what is at stake here tonight: nothing less than the question if Denton will insist upon being humanly reasonable, or merely commercially so. 

I believe that what you on the City Council are here to do is represent and serve the people of Denton, and to do everything in your power to protect the wellbeing of ALL of Denton’s residents, not only the interests of industry or developers or property owners. I’m concerned, however, that the current proposal leaves the people of Denton in a worse position than we were in in 2013.

I join the chorus of other Denton residents calling for no reduction in setbacks from 2013 levels, not even in industrial zones. The City Council owes it to us, your constituents who voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking, to protect as much of the city as possible under HB40. Our 1200 foot setbacks are still less than Dallas and Flower Mound’s 1500 foot setbacks, which had a record of being commercially reasonable, even before that term set the new standard. I also want to reiterate the call for reverse setbacks to not be lower than production site setbacks. How can something that is unsafe at less than 1200 feet suddenly be safe at a distance of 250 feet, just because a developer wants to build there? Again, we must be guided by the principle of what is humanly reasonable, not just what is commercially possible. 

Along these lines, I also ask that the Notice of Activities section of the current proposal be improved so that all residents, and not just surface property owners, be notified prior to Operators filing applications for approval of a Gas Well Development Site Plan. 52.3% of all occupied housing units in Denton are renter occupied. Notifying property owners is not sufficient to inform and protect ALL Denton residents. 

And finally, I echo calls for simple and effective means to monitor the impact “commercially reasonable” fracking has on the air, water, health, and safety of Denton residents:
  • Baseline air and water testing paid for by industry, pre- and post-fracking,
  • A ban on open surface pits within city limits, and 
  • Air quality monitors for our communities; we must be able to confirm that Operators are conducting business within existing state and federal laws.
These are all simple but powerful amendments the City Council can make to the proposed Ordinance to ensure that Denton is a reasonable place for humans, not just commercial interests.


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