Monday, December 16, 2013

Favorite Albums of 2013

There's been a lot of talk about how 2013 is the new 1990s. New albums by beloved 90s acts My Bloody Valentine, Sebadoh, Superchunk, The Dismemberment Plan and others were received with much fanfare. For me, the 1990s, and especially the early 90s, are all about Riot Grrrl and heavy rocking ladies like Hole, Babes in Toyland, and Seven Year Bitch. Bikini Kill are the only band I ever wrote to. I have an autographed handmade poster from an early Le Tigre show hanging on my wall (Kathleen Hanna seemed as nervous as me when I asked for her autograph). So there was really no question that The Julie Ruin's Run Fast would come in at #1 on my album list this year. I'm just so happy to have KH back, healthy and vital once again. But this is no mere nostalgia trip. Run Fast is a collection of 13 tight, cheeky, exuberant confessions and declarations.

The story I read about Potty Mouth begins at Ladyfest Easthampton, which to me is very much a legacy of Riot Grrrl. These songs aren't super deep, but this quartet of women will make you (pop) rock out. Their album The Spins is my #2 favorite this year.

Continuing the strong women theme, Savages' Silence Yourself comes in at #3. Reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees, but that's never a bad thing.

Speaking of rocking your pop out, have you listened to my #4 album, Parquet Courts' Light Up Gold yet? If so, you know that of the 15 songs, only 2 top out over 3 minutes, including the 5:12 epic, "Stoned and Starving," that chronicles an evening wandering around Queens trying to decide what to eat. "Borrowed Time" takes less than half that time to convince you that you want to hear more.

And now for a sonic switcheroo. I've loved Laura Marling since I first heard her in a song-of-the-day download. There's something about the quality of her voice, and the way she paints a picture with her songs that reminds me of Joni Mitchell, even though she sounds nothing like her. My #5 album, Once I Was an Eagle features more sophisticated and full production that her earlier albums, but rather than covering her up or making her something she's not (as often happens with other female singer-songwriters), it just serves to support her ever stronger songs.

I've always been a lyrics person. Words drew me into a song, and my appreciation of it would grow from there. When I was an adolescent, for example, any song that mentioned "dance" or "dancer" - I was there! Sometimes that worked out well ("Tiny Dancer," "Safety Dance"), sometimes not so much ("Private Dancer"). When I got a bit older, politics were what drew me in. Again, this led to some unevenness (on the one hand: Bruce Hornsby; on the other: Rage Against the Machine). But over the last few years, I've noticed myself being attracted to music based far more on soundscape, particularly ones that surprise me or take me somewhere new. The next batch of albums captured me in this way.

#6 Laura Mvula Sing to the Moon

#7 San Fermin San Fermin, featuring the ladies of Lucius (whose album Wildewoman I also liked quite a lot, so I'll give them an honorable mention here)

# 8 Cloud Cult's Love was a strong contender right from the beginning of the year, but fell off my radar for a while. When I was trying to make my end of the year decisions, I just had to bring it back into the top 10ish.

#9 Tremor Proa

#10 all the other instrumental albums I enjoyed this year
Eluvium Nightmare Ending

Tim Hecker Virgins

Colin Stetson New History Warfare vol III

And because these always go to eleven...
Here are the albums I didn't think I should like, am a bit embarrassed that I like, but what the hell, I do! I tried to take these albums off my list, but I just couldn't. They're all prettiness and heartbreak and tragedy, gorgeously told.

Josh Ritter's breakup album, The Beast in its Tracks, is sad and bitter and joyful all at once.

Is it bad that I like Volcano Choir's Repave better than Bon Iver?

Typhoon White Lighter

And I could go on and on. It was just that kind of year! Hope you discovered something new here, or were reminded of how much you loved something. Happy listening!

Favorite Songs of 2013

This year, picking my favorite albums has been a really difficult task. Not so with songs. This list solidified early, and stayed consistent, with the exception of #6, which was a last minute addition because it's just that good. So without further ado...

1. Phosphorescent "Song for Zula"
From the first time I heard this song, I knew it would be on my year-end list. The "Ring of Fire" reference draws you in to the dark lyrics, but the swirling melodies offer a promise of hope only glimpsed in the words. (Can't speak for the video, though. Maybe just listen without watching?) Bonus: the song can incidentally be heard at the end of my favorite movie of the year, The Spectacular Now.

2. Okkervil River "Down Down the Deep River"
I've never really been into Okkervil River. Nothing against them, just never connected with their sound. But when I heard this single, I really liked the catchy chorus. However, the lyrics didn't really hit me until I was listening one day when I was out for a run, and I literally let out a sob. The song is about the moment when you were first confronted with the fragility of life, and how you got through it then, and how you continue to get through it now.

3. Moby featuring Wayne Coyne "The Perfect Life"
The world needs more Wayne Coyne. That is all.

4. Daft Punk "Lose Yourself to Dance"
So, every August since 1997, I've been getting together with a group of close friends at a lodge in Western Massachusetts. We cook and eat and swim, and eat some more, and laugh, and play games, followed by a sauna and a midnight snack. This summer for the first time, we choreographed, performed, and filmed our first group dance. The reason for this unprecedented activity? Daft Punk. We danced to "Get Lucky" because it fit our movement well. "Get Lucky" is a great pop song, that will grace proms and wedding receptions for years to come. But I love "Lose Yourself to Dance" even more.

5. Kanye West "Black Skinhead"
I often dislike Kanye West's music. Sometimes I even hate it. But there's no denying that he is a capital-F force, and when he is good, he is very, very good. I just wish he wouldn't undercut the power of a good song by peddling it to multiple buyers. Put your trust in Martin Scorsese and leave it be!

6. Superchunk "FOH"
This late entry into songs of the year is a super catchy, upbeat song of busted dreams and middle-age depression that wills itself to come around by the end.

Coming soon...favorite albums!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why I'm not going to thank the pope for anything


My Facebook feed tonight was full of statements thanking Pope Francis for admitting today what we've all known for over thirty years: "that the church had grown 'obsessed' with abortion, gay marriage and contraception". In addition to gushy messages from individuals in my feed, there was a statement from Catholics for Choice (an organization I have long supported and deeply respect) and the following graphic from the Abortion Care Network.

While I understand this impulse, as a pro-choice ex-Catholic who attended Catholic school through the 12th grade, and received all the sacraments through that point (as Jim Carroll sings, "I got con-fir-MA-shun!"), I cannot participate in this premature outpouring of gratitude. 

While I have known many wonderful Catholic individuals who have been important in my life, including nuns and brothers, I cannot forget nor can I forgive that the Catholic Church systematically covered up a epidemic of sexual abuse shocking in its extent and the way it was implicitly allowed to continue unabated for decades.

I know my parish had an alcoholic pederast as a priest when I was in junior high. They moved him along to another parish soon enough, and I don't know if he raped anyone while at our parish, but I do know that a classmate of mine who had previously been sexually assaulted refused to be alone with him (e.g. in confession), and I trusted her instincts. 

I know someone who got HIV after being raped by his priest. 

These are but two small examples of a massive crisis in which an astounding number of violent, abusive, exploitative acts were covered up at every level of the hierarchy, all the way up to the Vatican. The decision was made that it was more important to protect the institution than the individuals who looked to that institution for solace and guidance. This goes all the way to the former pope, Benedict XVI, who was named in cases brought by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and others. I firmly believe he retired to defuse the issue and deflect attention away from the hierarchy (after all, how can an infallible being resign?). And it's no accident that he continues to live in the Vatican - doing so protects him from prosecution

So no, I'm not going to be mollified by a new pope who names himself for Francis of Assisi, or who phones average Catholics, or who verbally admits blatant doctrinal faults. Those are all nice PR moves, but PR moves aren't enough. I won't accept anything short of massive structural change that results in justice for survivors of sexual abuse by priests, and actual doctrinal changes regarding abortion and contraception, homosexuality, and women in the priesthood. When that day comes, we can all be truly grateful. Until then, I will neither forgive nor forget, and I will certainly not thank.

Monday, September 16, 2013

On Breaking Bad and the Best of TV

Last night's pen-penultimate* (yep, just made that word up. deal with it.) episode of Breaking Bad, "Ozymandas," is already being called one of the best episodes of one of the best television shows ever. (And if you haven't seen it, here's a season teaser in which Bryan Cranston reads "Ozymandias".) The show is also anticipated to have one of the best endings ever. I am wholly on board with all the praises being heaped on the show. But it did get me thinking about my version of the all-time best on TV. So following is my semi-annotated and fully-biased list.

Best TV shows:
No comments, just the facts:
  • Breaking Bad
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Friday Night Lights (I know I said no comments, but if you think it's just about football, you're wrong)

Best multi-season story arcs:
  • Star Trek Deep Space Nine - takes a while to get going, but then the "dark" Trek traces the development of a complex war and its aftermath
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer - character development and a world where everything eventually has consequences; Joss Whedon rules
  • Breaking Bad - look, when the titles of episodes over the course of a season reveal a key event ("Seven Thirty-Seven," "Down," "Over," "ABQ"), you're dealing with a master story teller

And on the flip side, The X-Files is the big loser for utter inability to carry a story arc farther than I could carry the Lone Gunmen. Really, I had a better handle on his mythology than Chris Carter did. (And I say this as a one-time passionate fan. As in, back in the pre-internet days, I used to spend a good part of every Monday morning explaining the previous night's ep to friends and their friends.)

Also, I need to critique Ronald D. Moore here. Even though he oversaw one of the best story arcs ever (DS9), he also blew an amazing story in Battlestar Galactica.

Best Endings:
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation "All Good Things" - bookends the series with another visit from Q, and is ultimately about how crucial it is to keep the important people in your life close. As Picard says, "the sky's the limit."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Chosen" - Kanye West asks, "You got the power to let power go?" Cuz Buffy does.
  • Angel "Not Fade Away" - the faithful viewer is rewarded with some of the most surprising and delightful and heartbreaking moments of character development and resolution
I also fully expect Breaking Bad "FeLiNa" to appear on this list

And on the flip side, The X-Files, "The Truth II" so ruined the series for me that I cannot even go back and watch my favorite episodes. That bad.

In the spirit of Anna Gunn's (Breaking Bad's Skylar White) New York Times op-ed, "I have a character issue," (and posts on similar issues I've written here and here), Best Written Female Characters
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer 
  • Deep Space Nine
  • Prime Suspect
  • Battlestar Galactica - sure, it helps that there were many copies of all the Cylons, but the women here got to be complex and as wonderful and as dumb-headed as the men
*I'm not saying that the women on Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc. are not well-written, but rather that the women in the shows I've listed here are written in such a way that they don't invite violent hatred from a fanbase. Also see this thoughtful piece in the New Yorker today about how "Ozymandias" specifically speaks back to the type of fan Gunn called out in her op-ed even as it takes responsibility for the existence of such fans.

Best Tackling of Social Issues

  • abortion 90210 - no I don't mean any of the cowardly (yet common) story lines of having a miscarriage on the way to an abortion appointment; I mean the Susan Keats storyline ("Nancy's Choice") in which Brandon's girlfriend shares that she had an abortion the previous year, and that it was the right choice for her and that she has no regrets, even if it did mean the end of a relationship. Pretty basic, really, but for television it's (unfortunately) really radical. (Bonus: Susan is played by a pre-Buffy Emma Caulfield)
  • depression Party of Five - I haven't seen it in years, but at the time Kirsten's depression storyline seemed to me incredibly well done.
  • alcoholism The Bridge - Matthew Lillard harnesses the adolescent mania that made him famous in this trying-to-get-sober journalist, letting the pathos and desperation behind the grown up frat boy mask leak through. I hope he gets other roles based on this one; he's been stunning.
  • pretty much everything on Friday Night Lights - race, disability, class, sex, and yes, football. it's all there.

Best scene of a parent talking to a young woman about sex

  • Giles, Buffy's father figure telling her she has nothing but his respect in "Innocence"*
  • Friday Night Lights' Tammy Taylor to her daughter, Julie, once when she thinks Julie has had sex but has not, and a few years later when Coach Taylor catches Julie and Matt in bed - her talks are an amazing mix of sex-positivity and care and concern and Tammy admitting that part of her reaction has to do with her own changing role in Julie's life

Best Short 'n Sweet (aka "Don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened")

  • Spaced - witness the beginning of the Wright-Pegg-Frost brilliance. and oh, it's co-written by and co-stars a woman, Jessica Stevenson (now Hynes)
  • The Office - UK version, of course
  • Freaks and Geeks
  • Firefly - not the top of my Whedon list, but it did give us Nathan Fillion and an even better movie
  • Square Pegs

Best "I can't believe this is happening on network television"

  • Community (seasons 1-3)
  • Arrested Development
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - four words: "Mac and Dennis: Manhunters"
  • American Horror Story - ok, maybe FX isn't network television, and I'm not the biggest horror fan, but I love the repertory company thing

Agree? Disagree? Think there's a major oversight in this list? Leave a note in the comments!

*I've been informed that the word is "antepenultimate."

*I just love this scene so much I have to share it in more detail:

When Buffy says, “You must be so disappointed in me” for having sex with Angel, Giles responds, “No, no, I'm not.” He continues:
Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you that you acted rashly? You did. And I can. I know that you loved him. And, he ... he's proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn't have known what would happen. The coming months are, are going to be hard, I suspect on all of us. But if it's guilt you're looking for, Buffy, I'm not your man. All you will get from me is my support. And my respect.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Abortion Rights Freedom Ride

A few weeks ago I posted a number of concrete things you can do right away to support abortion rights. Here's another.

The group Stop Patriarchy is currently engaged in an Abortion Rights Freedom Ride across the country, focusing on states where abortion rights are particularly precarious, hanging often on one lone provider. Rather than focusing on legislation, their important direct action activism is aimed directly at supporting and defending the people who make abortion even possible in these states, and whose lives are quite literally on the line.

Major events are planned for the following:
August 3: Fargo, North Dakota
August 10: Wichita, Kansas
August 17: Jackson, Mississippi

If you live in the area, or have friends and family there, please spread the word and help build popular support for abortion providers and abortion rights where they are most under attack.

Visit the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride website for the most up-to-date information on the ride and reports from stops along the way.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Buffy vs. the GOP

"It's about power. Who's got it. Who knows how to use it."
-Buffy Summers, Lessons*

Looking back on the past few weeks in politics, in Texas and North Carolina in particular, but in the US more generally, what has become eminently clear is that it's all about power. White men have it, and the spate of hateful, yes hateful, legislation and decisions coming down are clear indications of who they are afraid of losing their power to: women, people of color, Muslims. 

Why else would legislators in North Carolina attach extreme (but increasingly common) anti-abortion regulations to a bill banning Sharia law in North Carolina? (Because, as a friend of mine noted, I'm sure that Sharia law is the biggest problem facing North Carolinians these days.) This as over 150 people have been arrested in the Moral Mondays campaign protesting among other things voting restrictions aimed at limiting (in effect if not in name) the rights of people of color (aka non-Republicans) to vote.

Why else would Texas Republicans stop at nothing, including lying about having passed legislation, to halt Senator Wendy Davis' historic filibuster against SB5, which included a similar spate of restrictions as the NC language and which, in its new second special legislative session iteration, will close all but 5 abortion clinics in a state 10% larger than the country of France? This on the same day that within 2 hours of the Supreme Court overturning sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Attorney General of Texas moved to implement a voter ID law and redistricting maps previously blocked because they were unconstitutional. 

Why else would Texas Governor Rick Perry find a don't-text-and-drive law to be an unacceptable intrusion on personal liberty, but be just fine passing laws that limit women's personal liberty?

Why else would that same governor have no qualms about executing the 500th person in Texas the same week he publicly speaks to a "pro-life" conference and excoriates Senator Davis for not learning a lesson about the value of "life" from her own experience as the daughter of a teen mother and as a teen mother herself?

Why else would countless politicians categorically refuse to entertain gun control legislation ("out of my cold, dead hands!") even as they seek to control women's bodies? (The same could be said of any politician who calls for small government - i.e. no regulations on business and capital - while also calling for that same small government to regulate women's bodies.)

I could go on, but you get the point. They don't want anyone to stop them from doing the things they do (carrying guns, texting while driving, passing laws to serve their own interests, making a lot of money), and so all of the non-small government bills they propose and pass have to do with limiting the rights of those whose power they fear (women, people of color, Muslims, and really anyone not just like them). That they have just lost on the issue of gay marriage is interesting, but not surprising given that 1) marriage (and its related category, family) is a conservative institution that is ultimately hard for conservatives to argue against, and 2) there are enough white, gay men in positions of power to make "them" into "us."

Now I've just laid a lot out here about the intersections of various movements (anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action in all its forms, anti-Muslim, and anti-gay) in a very cursory way. It's not my intention here to provide an in-depth history and analysis of those movements, but those analyses do exist and I encourage you to seek them out (start with Political Research Associates and the writing of Chip Berlet). Instead, you probably noticed that I opened this discussion with a quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And that's intentional. Because what I'm trying to do here is to understand this current political moment, and a big part of that is being able to identify where the fault lines are, and discerning how best to mobilize along those points. And that's also why I've knowingly engaged here in a lot of gross generalizing - referring to white, male, Republicans - and a simplistic us vs. them construction* of American politics, because doing so makes the fault lines perfectly and painfully clear. 

Now, what does this all have to do with Buffy?

In the university classes I teach, I'm known for citing pop culture to both clarify and exemplify theoretical points. I mean, really, if you're talking about ideological state apparatuses and then the FLOTUS, surrounded by military personnel, presents the Oscar for Best Picture to Argo, a movie about how the movie industry helped the CIA free US embassy workers from Tehran, then, in the immortal words of GOB Bluth, (and at the risk of over-referencing): "Come on!" Pop culture helps us understand who we are as a people (again, gross generalization) and where we are politically and culturally. What are we obsessed with? What are we trying to think about in new ways? What can we not let go? (see for example "Is It Possible to Make a Hollywood Blockbuster Without Evoking 9/11?)

But I cite Buffy here specifically because she is a young woman with power. And that is what is at stake right now: power. Who has it, and who is afraid to lose it. Buffy creator, Joss Whedon (a white man - see I'm not demonizing them all), famously created the character with the premise, "what if that young, blond woman running from the bad guy in the horror movie, you know the one who can only fall and scream and be overcome over and over again in every single movie, instead turned around and fought back?" So for seven seasons on TV (and two-and-counting in comic book format), Buffy learned to use her power, until in the final episode of the TV series she makes the radical decision to share her power. Now it is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so there is magic involved in the power-sharing. But still, it's not easy, and it involves a really difficult fight. And even once it's done, things are not immediately rosy. The comic books (seasons 8 and 9) explore the consequences of power sharing. In short: A shift in power results in fundamental changes to the world. A lot of people are pissed about  the new order and fight against it. Others feel scared or lost. Still others take their new-found power and begin to wield it in old ways. And Buffy herself has to struggle with what it means to not be the "chosen one" and what her role is in the new world. (Briefly: even as she continues to fight the good fight, she becomes more like us: gets a job, has roommates, has what seems like an unplanned pregnancy* and decides with the help of friends to have an abortion.)

So, what does this have to do with Texas and North Carolina and Ohio and Wisconsin and Congress or, really, anything? Well, basically I think we're a few episodes before the end of this iteration of the series. We're at the point where people are aware that power might be shared, and therefore shifted, and frankly they are scared. And pissed. And they're fighting back, cruelly and unfairly. And they're using stories and we should, too.* And what I'm trying to do here is use the story of Buffy to help us understand that this ugly fight is happening BECAUSE WE HAVE POWER. And sometimes that's the hardest thing to imagine or understand. A friend of mine says of The Walking Dead that it's evidently easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of white male privilege and patriarchy. But we have to imagine it. Imagine it and act accordingly. And understand it's not going down without a fight. And understand that we shouldn't be defeated by these current battles (which after all are the culmination of decades of preparation). And also understand that winning a battle, like the filibuster of SB5, doesn't mean we've won everything. And that being defeated in the Texas legislature, as we are likely to be later this month, doesn't mean we've lost the fight.

So watch some Buffy and eat your spinach and do whatever else it is you need to do to assure yourself that you, that WE, are strong and capable in this fight.

"I just realized something, something that never really occurred to me before. We're gonna win."

*I'm just saying right up front that Buffy and Foucault disagree about the nature of power. It's a contradiction I'm willing to work with. And here's a link to a scholarly article that says they aren't that contradictory after all:
*I also don't want to suggest that the Democrats are the "us" here, or to let them off the hook for the current state of affairs. Like I said, far more complicated than my portrayal suggests.
*This deserves a whole separate blog post.
*Check out Mike Carey's ongoing comic, The Unwritten, for a stunning series about the power of stories. George Lakoff eat your heart out!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

On Courageous Resisters and the Role We All Must Play

"I hope to be as brave as Bradley Manning."

"I want some Edward Snowden underoos."

"I want to be Wendy Davis when I grow up."

These are all actual comments I've heard recently. While I absolutely understand the sentiment - feeling inadequate or that you're not doing everything you possibly can to make a difference in the world - I want to challenge the idea that these folks are somehow different than us, superheroes who are inherently able to do something we can't. The current glut of superhero movies with their mythic origin stories reinforce the idea that there are the average folks and the super ones. In other words, if I haven't been bitten by a radioactive spider, or watched my parents be murdered, or if I'm not from another world, or if I don't suddenly have special powers, or if I'm not ridiculously wealthy, there's no way I can do what Manning and Snowden and Davis and countless others have done and continue to do.

When he first came forward as the source of the NSA leaks, Edward Snowden told Glenn Greenwald, "you can't wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act." 


But Snowden is also right that it often takes an individual willing to take a stand - and not back down even in face of personal and professional attacks - to galvanize others to action, to hearten those who had given up, and to inspire those who didn't even realize there was another option in the first place.

The now defunct organization, Refuse & Resist! (R&R!) used to call these folks Courageous Resistors, and would regularly present Courageous Resistor Awards to people whose names you know well, like Cindy Sheehan (for starting an anti-war encampment at then President Bush's Crawford Ranch) and Adrienne Rich (for refusing the National Medal of the Arts) as well as to people you've probably never heard of, like Dr. Wayne Goldner (for continuing to perform abortions after his hospital was taken over by a Catholic one) or Iris Baez (for leading the fight to end police brutality after her son was murdered by cops). The point of the awards was to hold up these amazing folks and their acts of courage, yes. But it was also to rally a community to support them. And to remind ourselves that any of us could one day be in their position. 

So, thinking about someone like Texas Senator Wendy Davis as a Courageous Resistor, rather than a super hero is a helpful move for a couple of reasons. First of all, it places her firmly in a (geographic/activist/online) community, rather than singling her out as a savior. After all, with super heroes, there's not a whole lot for the average person to do. Sure Batman has Commissioner Gordon, and Superman has Lois Lane, but when the battles get heated the "humans" are not usually needed to get the job done. And I have to say, despite media efforts to make her into a singular figure (even Rachel Maddow has tended to do this), Davis herself is always clear that she was able to do what she did because she had a community of colleagues working with her, countless women willing to let her share their stories, hundreds of women, men, and children supporting her in the gallery, and thousands more right outside the door. She's also really clear that when her filibuster against SB5 had been halted, and her colleague's attempts to stop GOP maneuvers were failing, it was the average people, yes US, who prevented SB5 from passing (and who forced the GOP to give up their attempt to falsify their vote).

Moreover, if Davis is a Courageous Resister and not a super hero, that means that we have something really important to do. Namely, we have to continue to fight, even if, and especially when, the attacks come. Davis can't do it for us. Sure, she's got a very specific role to play. But so do we. 

I close this post with a poem that has given me reassurance and guidance over the years, when I've felt hopeless or unsure of how to proceed. It tells me that even though my acts may not be as high profile as Wendy Davis', they are equally important.

The Low Road, by Marge Piercy

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can't remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can't stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know you who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

From The Moon is Always Female published by Alfred A. Knopf, Copyright 1980 by Marge Piercy

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Concrete things you can do today to advance reproductive rights

We've been so conditioned to think that the only way we as individuals can make a difference is to sign an online petition or to call or write our elected officials. I think one of the big reasons the filibuster of SB5 in Texas has been so inspirational to people is that it really showed that we do have collective power, if we only use it. I'm sure many people are wondering what they can do now to keep the momentum. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Remain vigilant and keep the pressure on. We won an important battle (like the voters in Mississippi, like the women in Virginia), but the war continues (in Texas, Ohio, North Carolina and many other states). In short, we must make it politically untenable for anti-choice politicians to continue to legislate our bodies, and we must make it possible for pro-choice folks to be bold and uncompromising. It was really incredible for me to watch the pro-choice senators (and the representatives who filed into chambers as midnight neared) take in the 10+ minute clap-in. Let Dewhurst and the others call us a mob; it reveals that they are scared of us. In response, we must take on Dr. David Gunn's (first abortion provider to be murdered in 1994) favorite song as our own: "Won't Back Down!"
  2. Give to your local abortion fund. (Or start one if there's not one in your area). Abortion funds quite simply make the right to abortion a reality. It's ok if you don't have much money: $15 can mean transportation funding, or child care, that helps a woman get to the clinic. I'm partial to the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund, which I co-founded, and the Texas Equal Access Fund, which covers the northern half of Texas, where I now live. But they're all doing great work, and all can use your help.
  3. Support your local abortion provider. ABORTION PROVIDERS SAVE WOMEN'S LIVES. It's just that simple. And for that, their lives are too often at risk. Become a clinic escort. Send a note of support. Let them know they are not alone. Find out what they need and organize a way to provide it. 
Share your story and support others to tell their stories. One of the most amazing things about Wendy Davis' filibuster was that she used the time to share women's (and men's) experiences with abortion, leading to an unprecedented public airing of stories that are normally never told. My friend, abortion provider Dr. Susan Wicklund wrote a book about abortion called This Common Secret. 1 in 3 women in the United States will have an abortion in her lifetime, but most of those women have been shamed by our culture into keeping silent about their experiences. Imagine the difference if every woman who had an abortion could say so, confidently, honestly. If we could hear how she always or never wanted to be a mother, how she doesn't regret it at all or is often sad about the life that could have been, how the pregnancy was so wanted or put her life at risk. We need to hear all these things to understand and insist on the crucial role of abortion in women's lives. So tell your story. Tell it to a friend, or contact Exhale the After Abortion Talkline, or get connected with a local group organizing testimony to your state legislature, or submit to the 1 in 3 Campaign. Organize an abortion speakout. Write it down. Dance it out. Share it.

The People's Filibuster

As I type this on my phone, it's 3:30am and we are somewhere between Austin and Denton, TX, returning from the filibuster of the anti-abortion SB5 spearheaded by Senator Wendy Davis. This is not going to be my most eloquent (or best spellchecked) blog, but it may be my most urgent. This was simply one of the most incredible days of my political life, and I've had some pretty amazing ones. There are three points of particular significance that I want to highlight from today's filibuster.

  1. Senator Wendy Davis read countless stories into the official record - and on live stream -  from women who were not allowed to testify in the House, or who sent their stories in specifically for the filibuster. This is an unprecedented airing of women's experiences with abortion, and I cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is that these stories are shared widely. 
  2. The night, and the session, already extraordinary, culminated in what I can only describe as the people's filibuster. With just over 10 minutes left in the special session, and with efforts to derail Sen. Davis' filibuster in full desperate swing, the packed gallery erupted in applause and then a standing O when Senator van de Putte exasperatedly asked if a female legislator needed to raise her hand to be heard over her male colleagues. Then collectively, the people realized their power and simply DID NOT STOP CLAPPING. It's as if we realized together, all at once, that we could disrupt business as usual, and that we could keep it up until the clock ran out. AND WE DID. This is the kind of collective and mass action that has been missing from American politics. It's crucial that we realize that WE did this. Yes, Wendy Davis is amazing and inspiring. But so are we. 
  3. This brings me to my final point. The TX senate tried to cheat their way into passing the bill illegally after the session had officially ended. But the thousands of people in the Capitol, and the hundreds of thousands following via the Internet made it impossible for them to get away with it. They clearly were pushed to the point of having to decide how scared they were of the people. Despite the deafening crowds, they thought they could still pull it off. They were wrong and within a few hours they had to concede that their illegal passage was indeed defeat. Again, WE did that. And we have to continue to do that. Sen. Davis was indeed phenomenal today. But we need to understand that we have the power; we can't hand it over to legislators, no matter how cool. Don't relax with this victory. It's not over. Far from it. Let this buoy you into more action. . 
View from the gallery as the people carried the filibuster.

Update: Governor Rick Perry has, as predicted, called another special session to try and ram this legislation through. Perry called what we did "the breakdown of decorum and decency." Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst called us an "angry mob."  I call it people power disrupting business as usual. Their power has been shaken and they are scared. Can't stop, won't stop!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Making Roe v Wade a Reality for Women

We recently observed the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in this country.

40 years of legal abortion. That's almost my whole lifetime.

So why do we still need to fight so hard to keep abortion not only legal but accessible for the women who need it?

Why am I, once again, asking for your financial contribution to make this "right" a reality for the women of Eastern Massachusetts, and all over the country?

As we've seen over the last year, many of the crucial political battles of our time are being played out on and through women's bodies. Even contraceptive coverage has become controversial. States like my new home of Texas are canceling their family planning funds just so they don't have to give money to Planned Parenthood.

Who suffers from these political battles? Women. Women who need health care. Women who for a wide range of reasons have decided that they cannot continue their pregnancy.
I'm not normally one to say that a financial donation is a political act, but in this case that's exactly what it is. By giving money to the EMA Fund, you are making Roe v. Wade a reality, one woman at a time. It doesn't have to be a lot: $5, $25, $75. All of these amounts make a huge difference in a woman's life. Sometimes a woman just needs bus fare. Or money for a babysitter. Or the last $100 for the clinic. You can make that difference. I thank you for giving what you can.

To donate, click here.

Q: I don't live in Massachusetts, Why should I give to the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund? 

A: The EMA Fund is based in Eastern Massachusetts, but engages in collaborative funding with other Funds from around the country through the National Network of Abortion Funds. This is especially crucial for women needing later abortions, when the number of providers dwindles and travel and clinic costs soar. So by supporting EMA, you're actually making an impact across the country.

Q: I thought you lived in Texas now. Don't they need your help more than Massachusetts?

A: Correct! And don't worry, I'm connected to the Texas Equal Access Fund, as well. I'm a co-founder of EMA, and for that reason it will always be dear to my heart. I'll be raising money for the TEA Fund later this year. 


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