Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reflections on the Evening of Marijuana Legalization in the District of Columbia

Let me begin by saying I don't hesitate posting this musing in a place that I've limited to style and civil rights as I do believe that Initiative 71 is a civil rights issue. That being said, I believe it is that and so much more, and I for one, will be celebrating for a more personal reason.

In 1990, I was a student at UC Santa Barbara. It was a beautiful time in my young life, and I knew then I was a very lucky girl to be where I was - in a place that was basically a beach with a great town and university, 75 degrees and sunny most of the year, 3,000 miles away from home. I loved this time of physical independence. I was in such a rush to grow up, and I knew succeeding in school on my own, I would be making great strides toward that. I tried lots of new things, had lots of fun, made good friends, did well enough in school, developed my passion for voting rights, fell in love, and well, got cancer. Cervical cancer at 21.

Like many girls, I was on the pill, and went to the doctor on a regular basis, so I had a relationship with my Dr. at school, and also my ob/gyn back home in RI. The decision was made for treatment, which included radiation and surgery, and it all went fine, but it was painful, like the worst cramps you ever could get when you have a period, child-birth-like even, I'm told, but constant. So yay pharmaceuticals, right? Nope, not for this girl. I took the painkillers and I was a total basket case, and that was unacceptable. I like to be present, in the moment. That is not possible on pharmaceuticals.

It was in my whining to my CA doctor that she suggested I smoke pot for the pain and forgo the pharmaceuticals. I laughed out loud and felt very much the provincial New England girl as she talked to me about cannabis and its medicinal properties. Honestly, up until that point, all I had seen was stoners who were high all the time, and people who smoked at parties in conjunction of course, with alcohol. This was a whole new thought about pot and what it really was. And so I tried it. And it was more effective than the pharmaceuticals, and I didn't feel all loopy and drugged, which as I understand it, the pot is going to the pain, so you don't feel all high and out of it.

That experience began my study, because I am a geek at heart, into marijuana, cannabis, pot, whatever you want to call it, I call it pot. I learned its history, tracing it back to when it was legal and was used both for medicine and/or recreation at the "appropriate" times for lack of a better term, and its later demonization and then prohibition and of course, all that's happened while it has been classified as a drug in the same category as heroin in the "drug war." It's been a rough road for the pot.

Meanwhile, people have drank themselves into oblivion, meth has become the scariest and current drug crisis for entire states, heroin use is skyrocketing, and meanwhile we have jailed countless, mostly black men, into a lifetime prison system for possessing pot, just pot, at a rate of 8-1 to whites when both groups smoke the same amount. Something is so wrong with this picture.

Well, fortunately, a lot of others think so too, and I am so proud that my friend Adam wrote a ballot initiative to legalize pot in the District of Columbia, and got it on the ballot.

Today it is being voted on with overwhelming support from the residents, who have showed up in greater numbers than usual (still ridiculously low, but that's another post) to exercise the right to vote and make their voice heard for legalization, voting for it for whatever reason they believe it should be legal.

So tonight, when we know the outcome of Initiative 71, I will be smiling and thankful, and proud to have had a vote on this important issue.

Monday, December 9, 2013

SNAP Challenge, Take 2

SNAP - Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

SNAP Challenge - Live for a week on the current assistance - Was $36 per person in DC, now $30.

I just completed my second SNAP challenge, $30 for a week of food.  I chose to do it again now, just after Thanksgiving, because of the cuts that SNAP faced at the beginning of November. The last time I did SNAP, I did it on $36 for the week. $6 may not sound like a lot, but this past week, I realized just how much that $6 was worth.

Bottom line, I was hungry. And it sucked, and I am angry. Not for me, because this was my challenge for just a week. I am angry because I am aware more than ever how many people in this country are hungry right now, and that Congress is to blame for it, and needs to restore that funding immediately. There was no human reason to cut that crucial assistance, and I challenge each that voted to cut SNAP to do the challenge for a week.

Since I had done the challenge before, I already had my plan of what to eat.  I don’t eat fast food, and I am mostly vegetarian, although I love bacon and a piece of steak on occasion, things that were definitely not on my shopping list last week. I also chose not to buy milk and cheese, for as much as I love them, they are expensive and could easily eat up half of my budget.

My list from the grocery store included half and half, coffee, chobani yogurt, fage, orange juice, bread, oatmeal, almonds, and luna bars.

My list from the farmers market included spinach, squash, onion, apples and eggs. I am so proud to support FreshFarms market in Dupont every Sunday. It is fresh organic produce and eggs at a reasonable price, and for every SNAP dollar, you get $2 in farmer market dollars.  That means even more now with the cuts. The soup I made from the market ingredients and the spinach I ate with eggs or in a smoothie was the best food I ate all week. Including vegetables in a SNAP budget is so important, and I am so thankful that FreshFarm understands that, too.

What can I say about the week? I started on Sunday after Thanksgiving, and I made it (barely) through Saturday. By Friday, I was pretty much out of food. That’s when that missing $6 reared its ugly head and I realized a luna bar and a chobani was all I had til the end of Saturday.

That’s when I got really mad. And that’s when I saw your tweet about the SNAP challenge, and here we are. I have gone back to spending about $50 at the grocery store, and thousands upon thousands are once again living on that next $30 for a week of food.

It’s wrong, and I hope that may more folks that do this challenge and talk about what it really is like. Then maybe it will become understood that it is imperative that Americans do not go hungry if there is anything can be done about it. And of course there is. Restore the funding to SNAP is the first thing.

* note - this was written upon being asked to share my reflections with DC Hunger Solutions, who works to create a hunger-free community and improve the well-being of low-income DC residents.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Suddenly Autumn

And so here we are, the Autumnal Equinox is upon us, and the weather is agreeing it's so.

I'm not sure when I fell in love with Fall, I used to hate it. The shorter days, those first cold winds that go right through you, lots of gray skies, depressing, right? Maybe it's climate change and I don't think winters are so dreary, maybe it's because Fall is just so beautiful in DC. If I were a tourist, I would come visit here NOW. These days into October remind me of what winters in Santa Barbara, CA where I went to college. Except it just stayed like that into Spring, without those harsh January/February days where everyone on the East Coast bails for warmer destinations. Remember that Bangles song - "Hazy Shade of Winter" - it was played at the beginning of the film, "Less than Zero" It takes place in LA over winter break. I was living there when it came out and the imagery of that song and those California winters are still my favorite. Those days, cold and night and in the morning, but clear days where you could stay in the sun and cling to that endless summer, or be in the shade and acknowledge the season in a sweater and boots. Alas, ultimately, DC could get another snowpocolypse and SB will not.

So with that in mind, the switching out of the wardrobe from Spring/Summer to Fall/Winter commences. I did mine yesterday, with the Skins on tv, the first squash-apple soup of the season on the stove, deep breathing throughout. As I live in a really tiny apartment - not complaining, love it - the closet space is, well, limited. So you take a former dress shop owner with over 100 dresses, and all the other clothing that takes up space, jackets especially, well, you can see why I've now added, have become an expert on small space wardrobing. I laugh now to think of my now sold condo in Rhode Island and its expansive closets, and additional storage space. I have about 1/4 of the space I once had, which means I have consigned, donated to charity, or given to friends more than 1/2 of my wardrobe, while my remaining exists in the closet, 2 dress bags under the bed, and a large plastic tote, that's it. And I love it. It's incredibly freeing to only own what you love, what you know looks great on you. There's simply no room for anything that doesn't.

dreamy closets...

closer to reality in a DC apartment...

So my closet is done, what about yours? Need help? I love doing closets, and now that mine is done, I can draw my attention to yours. 3 hours max, it usually takes closer to 2. Basically, we go through your wardrobe, keep what's great, donate/consign what doesn't, and make a list to get to update and go with what's staying. And of course you get my impeccable style advice. Don't worry, I'm not expensive, and I don't want to change your style, I just love to see it elevated, refined. It's fun, I promise. 

In the meantime, so looking forward to seeing the DC street style in the next few weeks. I'm still seeing some flip flops, which truly does kill me a little bit, but alas, I remain optimistic that the ladies will step it up. It's the gentlemen in DC I'm noticing are already looking sharp and in their Fall attire - less khaki, more dress pants, great jackets, and gasp, suits. Thank you, gentlemen. And Happy Fall! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The March on Washington, 50 years later...

It is moments like this that I am especially glad that I live in Washington, DC.

This coming Wednesday, August 28th, is the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the most iconic moment to have evolved from that day, is an image that I hope every American sees, as it was truly a moment to dream of what could be in this country of ours. Although his speech is especially remembered as a comment on race, the March itself was far more encompassing. People marched for Jobs and Freedom as the title says, but also for voting rights, for dignity, for the end of Jim Crow, and yes, for DC Statehood.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be a part of the commemoration of that March, on the same land that 50 years ago, America had a dream. The dream is still a work in progress, for sure. But what I saw yesterday was the very best and most intense moment I have had in a long time that left me overwhelmed by hope. And I believe that hope is a crucial component to the dream becoming real.

For a reminder of what hope is...

Definition of HOPE

intransitive verb

: to cherish a desire with anticipation <hopes for a promotion>
archaic : trust
transitive verb
: to desire with expectation of obtainment
: to expect with confidence : trust

It really is a fantastic word, isn't it? 

Waking up yesterday morning, even going to bed Friday night, I was feeling a palpable buzz in the city. After a rainy Friday, the sun made a spectacular appearance for sunset, and the air cooled and dried of humidity. Waking up to the air coming in through open windows on Saturday morning, I had that great feeling when you get when you just know it's going to be a good day.

I had wanted to begin my day at the DC Statehood rally at the DC War Memorial on the Mall before going to the events and speeches at the Lincoln. But alas, Saturday was a required work day for me so I had to figure out a different plan.  Having looked at the schedule, it looked like the Lincoln part of the program would be over by 3 so I could go for a few hours leading up to that, and that's what I did.

By the time I got to the Mall at about 12:30 (SO thankful that Capital Bikeshare had bikes and spaces available where and when I needed them!) people were coming in the opposite direction, and I was so worried that I had missed it, and that the March had left the Lincoln earlier than I had planned. But alas, as I made my way across the Mall towards the Lincoln, I saw that I was right on time...

As I was on my own, I wandered through the crowd intensely present and observing it all. I was so struck by the thousands of people gathered and the t shirts and signs that most clearly said why they were there. And it was voting, and dignity, and the end to the new Jim Crow, and jobs and freedom, and equality and yes, DC Statehood.


As I wandered towards the Lincoln, I was struck by not just the sheer number of people, but how many types of people were there. I saw every age and color, men and women, thousands and thousands of them, all having made the effort to come be part of this moment. And although their specific causes may have differed, it was overwhelming to see so many people gathered in support of what the 1963 March on Washington meant to them, and the hope that they all still have that the causes are still worth marching for.

As I walked and realized this all, listening to the speeches over the loudspeakers, I saw that people were smiling at me, as I pardoned myself past in the very crowded paths and meandered my way closer to the Lincoln. I realized that I was smiling as I walked through, and folks were smiling back. Such a simple act really, but it was that interaction that made me feel very much a part of where I was and what I was experiencing was an amazing sense of community on a pretty profound level.

By the time I made it to the Lincoln, Bernice King was speaking. In the spirit of her father, she spoke about unity and equality and dignity and asked us all to join hands. And we did, my left hand clasped in the hand of an elder black man, my right clasped in the hand of a younger black man. And we prayed for hope and that the dream would be fulfilled. And the older man hugged me and I hugged the younger one, and the event was over in advance of the March. 

I continued on my way, as it was time to go back to work, so content that I had come to witness this wonderful moment, and with a truly renewed sense of hope that the dream will be fulfilled by me and all those people just like me on the Mall.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reflections on the Voting Rights Act Today, and Moving Toward Equal Access for All

Funny, as I waited for the decision to come down from SCOTUS on the Shelby case, I very much expected to post here shortly thereafter. The reality is that learning of the decision that Tuesday morning left me very much at a loss for words. Even now, I am not writing because I have figured it all out, oh no, I am not even close to there yet. I am writing now simply because today, as promised by Congress, there was a hearing on the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and watching it allowed me to focus on it, and to see who is going to be responsible for fixing it, and hearing the powers that be, speak to the issue. And I am left wondering, can it be fixed? Yes, I believe it can be. But in our current state, by this Congress, will it be fixed?

As SCOTUS obliterated aka found to be unconstitutional, Section 4 of the VRA, on Tuesday morning, June 25th, almost a month ago, it was kind of like a backhanded slap upside the head. You're shocked, and surprised, it's not the worst thing ever, but it's offensive.

Section 4 is the enforcement of Section 5, and necessary for it to function as prescribed. However, Section 2, which is sometimes called the heart of the VRA, was not struck down, so technically, there is still voting rights enforcement that can occur, but on a much smaller and much more specific scale.

It was not a simple verdict, not at all. On one hand, SCOTUS almost legislated how the VRA could still exist - which many will say and have said, is not the job of SCOTUS at all - but yet also left the true fate of the VRA to Congress. This is where I think it gets really really complicated.

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and as recently as 2006, the Congress overwhelmingly, with bipartisan support - even from the states covered by the VRA - voted to reauthorize it. It was a total no brainer, even in the midst of the second Bush Administration. Perhaps it is that very fact that is so sobering today as we move on from here. It isn't a no brainer anymore. As we move towards the extremes of partisanship, the fate of the right to vote is in the balance.

Today, in this grand move to hold the hearing on the future of Voting Rights Act, as a Congressional response to SCOTUS' challenge, only 2 TWO Republicans showed up. Just not a good sign on any level, and for me, and I think for anyone who cares about the right that every American should have fair and equal access to the vote, I am left with this hollow feeling in my stomach. To think that the most basic and important right that we as Americans have, that has historically been more of a challenge, to put it mildly, to exercise that right, is no longer a bipartisan, nay a nonpartisan issue, as it has been since the Voting Rights Act was passed amongst blood shed and the will of the American people, leaves me a bit perplexed.

So, where DO we go from here. I know where I want to go, where I want this country to go, and where all that treasure the right to vote want it to go - to ensure fair and equal access to the right to vote. It's that simple. And in the current state of this unprecedented partisanship, that hard.

I am truly thankful for the civil rights community that has come together as a coalition behind this most essential right that the movement aspired to and did, up until June 25th, rectify, although it had issues still. The Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, The Advancement Project, the Brennan Center, all of the scholars, and all of the advocates, have all truly come together with such a force, that I truly do believe we will continue to fight and ultimately, we shall overcome. And justice will be served, and every American will have fair and equal access to the vote.

So much work to do... Game on.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Voting Rights Victory in Arizona and for All

As the 10 am hour came and went this morning, upwards of 30,000 people followed scotusblog.com to find out what opinions the Court had rendered. As we speed towards the end of June, truly important cases and issues lie in the balance and that includes Shelby v Holder.

But alas, and nearly amazingly, after 4 opinions were read this morning, the final one was Arizona v ITCA! And as Justice Scalia stated that federal law preempts Arizona's proof of citizenship requirement,  we who support access for all Americans to the vote had a victory in the first of the two voting rights cases the Justices are considering this term.

The funny thing is, in Arizona, this is a BIG deal, and has been the hot issue there for months. Perception among people outside of Arizona though, not so much. A reaction along the lines of, it's not a big deal. That kind of pisses me off. It is a big deal to all the people is has easily enabled to register to vote, and to people like me who were there advocating for its passage as Bill Clinton became our President.

In 1993, the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA) was passed in Congress. NVRA is more commonly known as "Motor Voter" and its intent was to make it easier for people to register to vote. That's always a good thing, you know, helping people access democracy and their civil rights and such. And what a great idea to be able to register to vote when you get a drivers license. I will in fact be doing that tomorrow, when I surrender my Rhode Island license and get my DC license (and lose my voting rights and be taxed without representation, but that's another post altogether!) Fill out a form, check the box that asks if you would like to register to vote and WHAM! You are a voting member of our democracy! It was cool when I was 23 working on it, it's still a great addition to the voting process 20 years later.

Ah, but Arizona. Arizona wanted to impose its own regulations to the NVRA, and today SCOTUS said they could not. Phew. This gives the responsibility of the U.S. Congress to control the voter registration laws of our country, and states must yield to those laws.

I could go on and analyze this for you, but of course it was done hours ago by many. I direct you to Lyle Denniston, who has been writing on the Supreme Court for 55 years here. Yes, 55 years. He knows his stuff, I am a fan. http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/06/opinion-recap-one-hand-giveth/ 

So it was a good Monday in DC. Next opportunity to get the Shelby v Holder opinion will be Thursday morning at 10 am. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The 45th Anniversary of My Birth, A Historic Reflection

All I can figure is, I must have been really alert inside the womb. 45 years ago this morning, in New Jersey, I came into the world. 4 June 1968. A date two months to the day after MLK, Jr. was killed, that day being when RFK spoke words that prevented Indianapolis from the rioting that night, which was so prevalent in other cities especially my DC, that night; and the day that same man gave his last speech in LA, CA. The civil rights movement was literally losing its voice as I was being born. People that were conscious of that time have told me so many times, "Hope died that night." I was mere hours old when hope died...and civil rights has been my innate passion since the day I was born. Many years later, I got, to me, validation of its significance from one of my heroes, Tim Russert, when he looked me in the eye and told me that I was born at a truly historic moment and that my passion was palpable. But that's another story for another time...

Until I went to college, I never knew anyone born on my birthdate. Then one day, as a freshman at UC Santa Barbara, I befriended a girl named Martine, who not only shared my birthday, but was born in California, the very state that a few hours later on the day of our birth, would witness the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. And the most amazing thing happened. Not only was she barely aware of the events of that day, but she didn't have any thoughtful connection to the CR movement. At the time, I just thought that was fascinating. I think up until then, I thought that everyone who shared my birthday would be affected by the historical events of the time. Nope.

It's funny, I've always had two very distinct passions, dressing, and civil rights. Here I am, all this time later, and they are truly 2 evolving passions. I went as far as I desired with dressing, but even now put on the back burner as a career, it is still something I truly love and share with others regularly. It's just there, and a part of me. But civil rights, and for me voting rights especially, that is what made me angsty this morning awaiting SCOTUS' released decisions. The 2 voting cases were not among them, and so we shall wait, til next Monday at the earliest... that is my still developing and enveloping passion, to ensure that this slide I see back to what was so wrong in the 60's, that made true progress, rearing its ugly head again today. I must make sure my voice is heard in advocacy, to continue to move towards fairness, equality, for every person in this country, regardless of race, sex, or sexual orientation. Yes, I still hold that ideal, all these years later, in the face of so much ignorance and hate towards anything that is different. I know as sure as I type, it is in our rejoicing in our diversity, that we can truly accomplish anything. That's just me. And a whole lot of others that I am proud to call my heroes.

I find myself, and many things at this moment, hanging in the balance. I am taking this moment to reflect on my, and our collective history, and always our limitless potential, alas, but there are decisions that will greatly affect ability to reach our potential. That is why, at the end of the day, I choose hope. And optimism. That there is more good than bad, that there is, at the end of the day, a collective wish that we all share that things will be good, be better, and that the common good, and justice, will prevail. And that truest wish is my wish that I share on this, the morning of my birth, for the good of each and everyone of us.

And peonies.