What are we Fighting for?

Reading through 45’s budget proposal is like taking a punch in the gut. Putting America first should be about putting Americans first and that isn’t done by cutting funding for programs that millions of our most vulnerable depend on.

My career is in restaurant marketing and much of my business and people experience is in this arena, so it’s nearly impossible for me not to draw parallels between what I see inside our four walls and the outside world. My reaction to this “America First” budget was no different.

In the restaurant industry, as with any other service-based industry that employs minimum wage workers, the best way to engage and motivate your employees to perform is by supporting them – you lift them up and encourage them. What doesn’t work? Overworking and underpaying them while taking away the few things that make their jobs enjoyable. Every company aims to provide a fun and safe work environment. Why? Because it improves morale, which in turn improves productivity. That’s how you drive the bottom line.

These proposed budget cuts would do exactly those things that don’t work – they take away programs aimed at providing Americans with the most basic of needs on Maslow’s hierarchy – food, shelter, security. Without these most basic physiological needs, humans cannot be productive members of society. If you’re hungry and worried about where your next meal is coming from, you cannot study or work. You cannot be productive at work or school if you don’t have proper shelter or a place to rest and feel safe.

There are certain people that will scream that these people in need should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and work harder. But, these people lack a basic understanding of humanity – if you do not have boots, you cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

When Intelligence Fails Them

Since November, I’ve become far more vocal and outspoken on social media. I’ve joined the millions of voices in The Resistance and I’ve not been shy about sharing my thoughts and opinions. With this newfound voice, I’ve also found myself on the receiving end of countless trolls and incessant personal attacks and insults.

As you can see from the screenshot, their favorite target for their insults: my eyebrows. Seriously. My eyebrows.  I’ll admit that at first it bothered me. Why the heck are these people who hide behind Twitter eggs and avatars so offended by my eyebrows? Then I realized why their first instinct is to insult. Well, one of two reasons – 1.) They’re own insecurities cause them to pick apart others, or, 2.) They don’t like what I have to say but have nothing intelligent to add.

Their second favorite “insult” is to call me a man in drag. Why? I am guessing it is because I wear makeup. But, here’s the problem with their insult – Drag Queens are phenomenal at makeup application and are typically flawless. As a makeup geek, this is more of a compliment than an insult.

Why do I share this?

Mainly to communicate that it’s not okay to personally attack others when you don’t agree with them. I do my best to not stoop to this level and, for the most part, I am don’t. When I get comments like this, I typically respond with a cute GIF and a “Thank you!” I do this for two reasons – to let them know their insults don’t bother me and to discourage negativity. If I can take their mean spirited comments and turn them into something positive, perhaps I can better spread the message I am trying to spread.

But, I also share this to show the world just how much shit women put up with. Our opinions, thoughts, ideas and value are often reduced to our appearance. As if we can’t have anything of value to add if the audience doesn’t appreciate our looks. Further, it is also assumed that any woman speaking her mind is fair game for attacks on her appearance or comments on what she is wearing. This is simply not true.

Under the platinum blonde hair (yes, it’s dyed and no, I don’t really care whether you like it or not), behind the makeup and contouring,  underneath the eyebrows and beyond the layer or two of fat lies a human being with a brain, an education, a career and a family. Those last things are what I’d rather be judged on … not the physical.

Dear Sen. Corker & Sen. Alexander

This morning I awoke to the news that you voted to remove the protections of those with pre-existing conditions. As a woman with asthma, I spent much of my twenties without access to inhalers and preventative medicine. I’d often find myself scrounging change for OTC medicines that made my heart race and rarely solved the problem. Now, as a mother of an 18 month old son recently diagnosed with asthma, I am terrified for the future. Just last month, we spent two nights in the hospital watching him struggling to breath. We had to hold him down and force him to breath in albuterol from a nebulizer. We listened to his lungs fighting to breath – the wheezing loud enough to be heard over the noise of a busy hospital. His chest rising and falling with so much force as he struggled that the skin around his neck collapsed with every breath.

My son, 18 months old, doesn’t understand what is going on. But, he knows that Mama and Dada are there and they are going to make this all better. I fear with the removal of these protections, that we will not.

We are fortunate to have wonderful, affordable insurance through my husband’s employer and we have the financial means to purchase this insurance. A luxury we do not take for granted, but it is also a luxury that we could lose at any time. In the event that happens, my son and myself could be denied coverage or driven into a dire financial situation as we are gouged with insurance rates. Or worse, forced to chose between putting food on the table and buying an overpriced inhaler from American pharmacies at a rate 10 or 20 times what our Canadian family members pay. Why? So the cat can get fatter.

I’d love to send you a photo of my son and the millions of children just like him. Or the children who survived cancer or are diagnosed with diabetes. Or my photo or one of the millions of moms just like me. Or the mother fighting breast cancer. We fight every single day to provide the basic needs to our families only to watch wealthy businessmen and pork barreled senators laugh and gloat as the pull back the healthcare we so desperately need. We elected you into office so you could represent and protect us, and yet, you throw us to the wolves.

As you continue your fight to rip healthcare from millions of Americans, I ask that you think about the faces of the children of Tennessee – the ones you just told they don’t matter. Can you look them in the eyes and tell them their health isn’t worth a second thought? Can you look their mothers and fathers in the eye and tell them the lobbyists and their PACs loaded with campaign contributions are more valuable than the life of their child?

As you go to sleep tonight and close your eyes, I hope you see all of our faces. I hope you know that we are watching and paying attention. We see your votes and we are holding you accountable.

Paul Ryan: The Way Forward

I live in a self-created liberal bubble. I have intentionally surrounded myself with like minded or a-political friends, with few exceptions. Rarely do I seek out those with thoughts different from my own, unless I am looking to prove a point or start a debate.

After the disaster that was 2016, I realized I needed to expand my horizons and widen my thought bubble. In doing so, I sought out to find a book that was from a current thought leader on the Right. I chose Paul Ryan because I cannot stomach a Donald Trump book. While I know Ryan is not a true representation of Trump’s Republican party, he is a leader and one I would consider to be more representative of the Conservative way of thinking.

My goal was to listen to this book with an open mind to gain insight into Ryan and the Conservative agenda. I knew there would be liberal bashing and expected harsh words on President Obama. I was not disappointed. However, I was disappointed in the tone taken. The criticism of President Obama was done in a manner that appeared to be whining. He called POTUS a bully and a heartless politician pushing an agenda, which isn’t unique to POTUS. Ryan didn’t come across as a man offering constructive criticism of the president. Instead, he sounded like a child whose big brother didn’t let him ride along on his date.

Digging deeper into the book, Ryan did address the Conservative agenda and provide his ideas for solutions. A common theme, privatization. Rather than work to fix government institutions and alleviate the bureaucratic problems, his goal would be to have all government agencies and citizen safety nets outsourced to private companies – education, Social Security, Medicare, Healthcare, etc. I don’t disagree with his assessment of the issues we face, but I don’t agree with his shortsighted approach to solving them. We cannot, as a society, in good conscious send all of our public programs to private entities where profit will become the driving factor. Our citizens deserve better.

Herein lies the key difference in the Right and the Left. The Right focuses first on finances and second on people. The Left focuses first on people and second on finances. Which one is the correct way to run our country? The answer isn’t a clear cut right or left answer and we have to find balance. Ryan discusses this in his book, but in doing so he asserts that the Conservative agenda is the only clear choice to solving America’s issues. He doesn’t seek to understand the Left and he doesn’t care to incorporate its beliefs and values into his plans.

Ryan is also a devout Catholic and he inserts his beliefs very heavily into the book. I feel he may have missed the separation of Church and State portion of the Constitution. And that whole First Amendment piece on freedom of religion. I can respect a man’s beliefs, but I cannot respect his desire to impose those beliefs on a free nation.

My final takeaway -Ryan is clear in his mission, push the Conservative agenda at all costs. He does not believe Liberals have anything to offer. He does clearly have a passion for his country, but falls short on compassion for people. He talks about the poor and minorities in an abstract way. He brags about going out on tours to visit poor cities and talk to the poor. His solutions are about bringing back the dignity of work and he does address the issues that for some, getting ahead isn’t as simple as pulling up your bootstraps. But those rare moments of understanding are overshadowed by his simplistic solution of privatization.

I still have a great deal of work to do on expanding my bubble. I often found myself arguing with the narrator. Listening to Ryan’s book was step one. Step two is researching some of the works he referenced as the guiding principles of the Conservative movement.

Cory Booker: United

My post election hangover/funk deepened a little as I dove into Bernie’s book. I wanted to continue my path down political awareness, but also wanted something inspiring and positive. Enter Cory Booker – the eternally positive US Senator from New Jersey. I’ve followed him on Facebook for a few years and his posts are always a bright spot in the sea of news and depression.

His book did not disappoint.

Booker grew up in a solid middle class family with both him mom and dad. They fought to buy a home in a white suburb in New Jersey so he and his brother could attend good schools and his parents could commute to their jobs at IBM. He went on to get an Ivy League education and became a lawyer. His faith and personal beliefs led him to a desire to work in an impoverished community where he could make a difference.

His book details the stories of his experiences living in Brick Towers in Newark, his journey into politics and to the US Senate. The stores, while originating in Newark, are not unique to the city. All across America, minorities and those living in poverty face these realities on a daily basis. Booker offers insights and hope through his passion for helping others. He weaves in some politics as he discusses his ideas for solutions, but the majority of the book is nonpartisan, as we can all relate to and see the need to address these struggles facing Americans of all walks of life.

At times, the stories brought me to tears. But, Booker always brought hope back into the fold, not matter how depressing or solemn the story. Booker is the kind of politician America needs – passionate but pragmatic. He is idealistic, but he also takes and calls for action – a thinker and a doer. He sees people for who they are and his desire to help isn’t just a facade, it is genuine.

One Sided Bias

As humans we have a vested interest in being right. It’s why we argue. We are willing to lose loved ones and friends in order to prove ourselves to be right. Wars are fought and people die over desires to be right. An extreme example, perhaps. But, when you boil every disagreement down to its most basic beginning the root cause is always right versus wrong. Opinion or fact doesn’t really matter because when someone so strongly believes they are right, they cannot see reason and there is little that can be done to persuade them otherwise.

This is one of my shortcomings. Much of my beliefs and opinions are ones I hold dear and will fight tooth and nail to defend. Many of these are based in science and proven facts, but many are also strictly opinions (like the fact that Pumpkin Spice is an abomination).

After this election I have come to see that this one-sided approach to life and politics is detrimental to our country and to myself. Why? Because we are slowly working our way towards divides and wounds that cannot be bridged or healed.

My fundamental understanding and perception of Right vs. Left is this … the Left has deep concern for human beings and the Right has deep concern for money. A simplistic view, absolutely. But, every disagreement on policy that I have had with the Right has boiled down to this: I would argue the benefits to mankind and Americans and they would argue the impact it had on their wallets.

I may be naive, but I truly want to believe that the Right is not as callous as this perception has led me to believe. So, my challenge to myself is to learn and to understand where the Right is coming from. To put aside my personal biases and listen to their core beliefs and values. I’ve taken the time to do this with the Left, but not with the Right. It is far easier to stomach beliefs you agree with than to digest those with which you do not.

The first step I am taking is to listen to Paul Ryan’s audio book, A Better Way. Once I wrap up Cory Booker’s United, I’ll be submitting my ears and time to Paul Ryan. The challenge will be to listen with an open mind.

Now, I know Paul Ryan isn’t the end all be all of the Right, but it’s a start and I am open to book recommendations. Leave yours in the comments.

The Death of Rational Conversation

Although I did not grow up with social media, I barely remember a time without it. The act of checking my feed has become routine and at times, addictive. I do find it ironic that the technology meant to connect us and keep us informed has created a culture that is more disconnected and uninformed than ever. But, perhaps the greatest tragedy of social media is our loss of ability to carry on rational conversations, debates and disagreements.

Behind the false security of a computer screen, we are brazen in our opinions and brave with our words. Things we would never dream to speak aloud, we freely scream on Twitter and Facebook. We can choose to ignore or block that with which we disagree and we, without consequence, taunt and threaten those that dare to dissent. Gone are the days where we shouldered the responsibility of the words we speak.

Freedom of Speech is one of our most powerful and coveted rights (except, perhaps the right to bear arms, which if highly ironic). Despite this, there always have been consequences for using that speech to libel, slander, threaten, harm or intimidate. Those types of speech are not protected by the First Amendment, but they are seemingly protected by the anonymity of the internet. Our laws are just beginning to catch up, but it will be decades before we are close to both protecting Free Speech on the internet and also regulate non-protected speech.

This is not the greatest threat to American Democracy, however. Internet bullies and trolls are a terrible side effect, but they are merely an annoying gnat compared to the loss of rational debate, reputable news and respect of differing ideas. Over the past decade we’ve lost all traces of common sense. We’ve lost the ability to treat each other with respect. We’ve lost our willingness to learn new ideas and thoughts. We’ve lost our desire for seeking out factual information. We’ve surrounded ourselves with like minded friends and ignore those with differing opinions. We’ve rejected the notion that our diversity of thought is what makes us great.

I am just as guilty as anybody on all of these, but I am working to do and be better. I’m working my way out of my liberal bubble and trying to understand what the Right has to say. I don’t always like what I hear or read and I don’t always keep my mouth shut, nor will I ever keep my mouth shut when I encounter injustice, inequality, oppression and false/fake news or misinformation.

To make matters worse, we have major political candidates and influences not only embracing fake news and misinformation but also discrediting and rejecting the Press. We have a president-elect that is actively working to discredit and destroy journalism. We have a president-elect that is refusing intelligence and security briefings. We have a president-elect that is opting to rant on Twitter rather than hold press conferences. This is dangerous and it is an attack on the very freedoms we hold dear.

What we have got to figure out – before it is too late – is how we can reengage and encourage diversity of thought and ideas. At one time, both parties worked together for the common good. We have to figure out how to do this again or the divisions between us will only grow stronger and more dangerous.

In the grand scheme of things I would like to believe that all Americans want the same thing – a safe place to raise families, living wages, equal opportunity and the ability to leave a planet for our children and their children to grow up on. We have to want this not only for ourselves, but also for our neighbors. We only succeed when we all succeed – getting ahead by breaking the back of those below you isn’t true success.

This desire should unite us, not divide us.

An Unpopular Opinion

Heading into the voting booth during the Democratic primary, I struggled greatly with my decision. By the time Tennessee’s primaries rolled around, it was clear the Donald Trump was likely going to be the Republican’s nominee. That was a terrifying proposition. So, I knew the candidate we selected as the Democratic nominee had to be someone that could annihilate Trump. To be honest, I wasn’t optimistic about either of our choices – despite my personal feelings for both of them. I like Secretary Clinton and I like Bernie. But, I am one voter. Did I think either candidate could cross party lines or inspire Independents? Eh.

Bernie’s Progressive ideals and policies appealed greatly to me as a young American who worked her way from poverty level income to having a professional career and being comfortably middle class. I was personally familiar with the difficulties of living on a non-living wage. I also have intimate experience with student loans and debt. My professional career is in a field where workers are grossly underpaid. Every single day, I see the damaging effects of income inequality. Bernie is the only candidate talking about this and he is the only one with a plan of attack. But, Bernie is a Democratic Socialist, something few fully understand and also something the Right uses against him. The Right has created a fear in their followers that social and income equality is an attack on America, when in fact, it is quite the opposite. But, I knew the label would hurt him in a general election.

My biggest issue with Bernie and some of his supporters was the way in which they handled themselves during the primaries. Was Bernie treated unfairly by the DNC? Absolutely. But, if you want real change and you want your actions to be taken seriously, you must act like an adult. Don’t whine. Don’t protest without action. Speak up, but speak intelligently and respectfully. As millennials, we are already fighting an uphill battle to be heard and respected, and many of Bernie’s supporters didn’t do us any favors in making progress here. That said, Bernie offered real hope for change to so many of us who have felt disenfranchised and abandoned by Washington. This was the one thing I thought might help him in a general election.

Secretary Clinton, on the other hand, was the establishment darling. She’s seen the Presidency up close and personal and she’s been involved in government for much of her life and career. Her policies fell into alignment with the DNC and she didn’t challenge the establishment. Her shortcomings, however, were far more divisive than Bernie’s (in my opinion). She has a polarizing personality and is a strong female – something I don’t think American voters are ready for. Particularly, independent votes and Southern and Middle America. Not to mention Benghazi and the email situation, both of which have haunted her since before the nomination. But, she had the full support of the DNC, which did mean there wouldn’t be friction in the Democratic party like Trump was causing on the Right.

I did not vote for Secretary Clinton in the primaries – despite my reservations about public perception of Bernie. I knew their perception of Secretary Clinton was far worse. But, my primary reason for casting my democratic vote for Bernie was sitting on my hip. My then one year old son. The vote I cast that day and every vote after has been and will be done with his future in mind. The candidate I chose was the one I felt would have his best interest in mind. I wanted him to have a future where healthcare and education were guaranteed rights. I want him to have a chance to succeed and I want his friends and classmates to have that same chance. For me, the candidate that would fight for that along with me was clearly Bernie.

That said, I also knew that whomever won the DNC nomination would be getting my vote. While I didn’t support HRC during the primaries, I still knew I would support her in the general election – that was never even a question. For those that say that I am dumb for following party lines, I’d like you to provide me with a good option outside of the DNC. The Green Party isn’t strong enough to gain enough votes to earn federal support, and the Libertarians don’t believe in government. As someone who supported and believed in Bernie, there is no way Gary Johnson would have ever earned my vote. Someone who doesn’t support a federal minimum wage cannot and does not speak for working Americans. That is just one example of the shortcomings of the Libertarian party. Side Note … how does one run for an office that they don’t feel should hold any power? Asking for a friend.

Back to the issue at hand … my unpopular opinion. Ready for it? Here it is … HRC lost because we cannot get along. She lost because the DNC ignored Bernie’s platform and its popularity among young and working class voters. She lost because the DNC ignored Bernie’s supporters and did little to reach out and bring them in. She lost because HRS’s supporters chided, mocked and belittled Bernie’s supporters. She lost because of Benghazi. She lost because of emails housed on a fucking private server (the dumbest fucking reason of all). She lost because the Right is so effective at spreading false rumors and “news” that is meant to terrify gullible voters. She lost because Donald Trump and his team were very effective at manipulation. She lost because she ignored so-called Democratic “safe states.” She lost because she didn’t connect with working Americans. She lost because she was and is too friendly to the 1% and corporate America.

Hillary did not lose because she is a woman. She did not lose because of Bernie or Bust voters. She did not lose because of third-party voters.

She lost because we didn’t fight hard enough to come together. And, that is the true reason. Everything I mentioned above was part of the division. As Democrats, we let those reasons come between us and we let it lose us the election. We essentially handed Trump a victory and the keys to our nation because we bickered like babies. And you know what, we are still bickering. Don’t believe me, find a post within the Pantsuit Nation and comment about Bernie or mention you supported him. Just wait for the rabid dogs to appear ready to call you the same thing the Right does (whiny, cry baby, entitled millennial, delusional, uneducated, etc.).

We have got to move forward and focus on the special elections from those seats left empty because of Donald’s cabinet appointments. We have to focus on 2018 and 2020. The DNC must welcome the Progressives in and it must work to incorporate a more inclusive platform that speaks to the voters and Americans that we lost in 2016. But, more importantly, we must work to incorporate each other – both new Dems and old, establishment Dems – into a party that appeals to and works for ordinary Americans. We can’t afford not to.

Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution

This may not be a popular POV, but I was and always will be a Bernie supporter. I was vocal about my support during the primary and am still following him. For me, there was always something missing in the straight democratic platform. Sure, I’ve been a democrat for as long as I can remember … I think Dukakis was the first I remember voting for in our school elections. But, I knew my ideals were far more left than even the most liberal democrat … and then Bernie came along. As did the terms Progressive and Democratic Socialism. It was then I realized what was missing in the platform of the DNC. And, while I voted for Secretary Clinton and was a fierce supporter of hers after the Democratic National Convention, I still find myself asking “what if.”

In the days and weeks following the election, I found myself sinking deeper into the what if narrative and started stalking Bernie on social media. I was delighted to see he had released a new book that outlined his platform in detail and provided a postmortem on his campaign. So, I quickly downloaded and have spent that past two weeks listening to the audio production (narrated by Bernie himself and Mark Ruffalo) during my commute.

The first half of the book provides some back stories on Bernie’s life and career and then dives straight into his presidential primary campaign. One thing I have always appreciated about Bernie is his honesty – no matter how brutal the truth is. He assigns sainthood to no one (except, perhaps himself at times, my only complaint). To be perfectly honest, this was likely my least favorite part of the book. I had already lived through the campaign process and this was like ripping open a closed wound and pouring salt into the now fresh wound.

The second half of the book, read by Mark Ruffalo, was a complete outline, in detail, of the progressive platform. It contained statistics, solutions, causes and, did I mention actual solutions to the problems faced by every day Americans. Real solutions … such a novel idea.

Several times in the book I was moved to tears. Why? Because Bernie gets it. He truly knows and understands the real struggles that ordinary Americans face every single day. He writes with passion, compassion and empathy as he tells stories of single mothers, coal miners, fast food workers – the under paid and under represented.

What he also knows and understands is how corporations and the 1% are guiding American politics. He discusses, in detail (shocking, I know), just how destructive their lobbying and political activism is to American democracy. If you don’t know the details of how Walmart is the largest recipient of government welfare, you are in for a shocking and rude awakening.

In Our Revolution, Bernie takes corporate America to task and he doesn’t apologize for his hard stance and definitive defense of working Americans. Most politicians today are so far removed from Middle America and the working class, but not Bernie. He took the time to listen and he actually paid attention to their stories and struggles.

I doubt many reading this are on the Right, but if you are and want to understand where Progressives are coming from, I recommend this book. Further, if you are one of the members of the DNC who attack and bemoan the “Bernie or Bust” voters, take the time to check out this book, at least the second half. The policies and positions he outlines are important and they are crucial to rebuilding the democratic party.

Snowflakes, Delicate Little Snowflakes

A delicate little snowflake. That’s what the Right likes to call the Left – especially us bleeding heart liberals (since when did caring for human beings become a bad thing??). It’s meant to imply that we are weak and delicate. Sure, one snowflake can melt under the sun and heat, but 65 million snowflakes? Together, snowflakes are mighty.

When snowflakes come together, it’s a beautiful and majestic sight. People dream of it and when it happens on Christmas, it’s pure magic. One Snowflake can’t change the landscape on its own, but bring us all together and we can change everything.

Together, snowflakes are anything but delicate.

Together, snowflakes can bring power to its knees.

Together, snowflakes can move mountains and reshape landscapes.

Together, snowflakes can shut down cities and stop traffic.

Together, snowflakes can change the conversation.

Together, snowflakes can unite us all.

Together, snowflakes can blanket the ugly and reveal beauty.

Together, snowflakes stand tall and grow stronger with every additional snowflake.

Alone, a single snowflake will melt and wither away. But, when we come together, we add up to an unstoppable force.