I usually stay away from politics on this blog, but this issue is urgent and huge. Missouri Secretary of State, Jay Ashcroft, who seems desperate to stay in the spotlight through ever more extreme and controversial measures, has proposed a new rule for public libraries in the state, deceptively title “Library Certification Rule for the Protection of Minors.”
Under this proposal, public libraries would lose funding if they continue their policies of allowing parents and families to make the choices about what their own children are allowed to read. Instead, libraries would be required to make available to minors only books approved by the state.
Beyond the free speech implications, this kind of rule is setting libraries up to fail by making it logistically impossible to function. How do you enforce it at the library level? Do you station a staff member at every self check machine to demand photo ID and act as a bouncer for anyone under 18 trying to check out materials?
A similar state law has already gone into effect regulating public school libraries, to chilling effect. Thanks to SB775 “School districts have banned works on Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, graphic novel adaptations of classics by Shakespeare and Mark Twain as well as The Gettysburg Address, the Pulitzer-prize winning Maus, and educational books about the Holocaust. Also banned have been comics about Batman, X-Men, and Watchmen; The Complete Guide to Drawing & Painting by Reader’s Digest; Women (a book of photographs by Annie Leibovitz); and The Children’s Bible,” according to this article in PEN America.
Public library boards, professional organizations such as the Missouri Library Association, workers’ unions, and many others are uniting their voices to oppose this radical attack on libraries and the right to read. See what some of them have to say on the matter:
Access to abortion once allowed someone I love a whole lot to be around and keep raising the two children she already had.
I try not to swear gratuitously. I save up those words to use when really needed for maximum impact. Here’s my gut reaction to today’s news about the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade: we’re fucked. We are truly fucked. I live in a state with trigger laws. Everyone in this state who possesses a uterus no longer possesses full human rights. Here are some links to give an idea of the full extent of dystopia we have just entered.
I know parents of young children who are seriously investigating leaving the country. Between the increasing number of gun deaths and the stripping of human rights, they’re realizing this is a pretty dangerous place to raise kids. As one friend said, “It feels irresponsible to raise my daughter in this country now.”
If anyone is currently composing a response playing “devil’s advocate” or providing a “logical” anti-choice explanation from a person without a uterus who’s never had to ponder how a pregnancy would personally affect them, I invite those folks to keep your typing fingers off my page. Your time is better spent listening, really listening, to the loved ones in your life who are devastated today by this ruling. This post isn’t an invitation to debate whether roughly 50% of the population should or shouldn’t have fundamental rights.
I know this post is disjointed and lacks eye-catching graphics, but if feels necessary. We have to find a way to right these wrongs. I wish I knew what that way is, but I know it’s not going to be done by remaining silent.
I see I haven’t checked in here for a while. I’ve been a little busy helping to organize a union and reading The Count of Monte Cristo, both of which turned out to be huge time commitments. The two efforts came to fruition within a couple of days of each other. Saturday I finished Alexandre Dumas’ 117-chapter epic tale, and on Monday the state of Missouri announced the results of our union election, which we won with 65% yes votes.
Both efforts held surprises for me. Union organizing — gaining big new insights into people I thought I knew. I saw aspects and layers previously hidden to me, most of them good and inspiring, with a small handful of disappointments. The number of hours spent looking at spreadsheets was not something I had anticipated. And I didn’t do nearly as much of the work as some of my colleagues, bless them. Count of Monte Cristo — a lot more drug use than I expected. The psychedelic 1970s had nothing on the 1800s, it seems. There were some truly trippy scenes. Ease up on the hashish, there. Also, a young, early nineteenth century female character who wished to avoid marriage and live independently.
Of course, I was also working both of my paying jobs during this time. So all of this labor movement activity and classics reading led to late nights, with Zoom meetings followed by just another chapter or two. I honestly don’t know how anyone ever runs for office. The stress of campaign-type activities nearly did this introvert in. Often, after yet another meeting, followed by phone calls (shudder) I’d promised to make, or an elaborately-arranged meeting with someone who wanted to sign a union card without being seen to do so, I found myself with an actual need to lose myself in the drama and tension of a fictional character’s story. It was somehow cathartic to transfer the intensity of my feelings into the life and perils and plots of Edmond Dantes, wrongly imprisoned, losing everyone and everything he loved, seeking revenge but unexpectedly finding his heart warring with itself in his resolve.
I’m a different person than I was at the beginning of 2022. This has been the year I determined to pursue some long overdue goals – getting a seat at the table in my workplace and finally pulling The Count from it’s decades-long spot on my to-be-read list. I’m a union woman now, and someone who can speak with knowledge about a Dumas classic.
We’ve won our election, but there’s still organizing to do around electing officers, contract negotiations, etc. And there are enough literary gaps in my world to spend a lifetime filling them. But I might take a breath or two and enjoy some lighter pursuits before plunging myself into the next intense adventure.
Following are a few readings relevant to the day. The point of the list isn’t to tell anyone they should absolutely agree with every word of every one of these writings, but just to prompt folks to spend some time examining different viewpoints and really thinking about what peace is and how we might work toward it. Feel free to add your own suggestions for titles in the comments.
The Racial Healing Handbook by Annaliese Singh. The theme for 2021 is “recovering better for an equitable and sustainable world.” This book seems like a good fit. The subtitle is “Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism, and Engage in Collective Healing.”
Nonviolent Communication: a Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg and Arun Gandhi. I have found this book helpful in my personal and professional life, especially as I have a job that requires a lot of interaction with the public.
The War Prayerby Mark Twain, who was a consistent critic of U.S. military action in the Philippines. This had a huge influence on me when I read it as a teen. In the story, a church assembly prays for victory in battle for their soldiers. Immediately, an unknown man in a long robe appears, promising the request will be fulfilled, but only if the congregation still wants it after hearing the full consequences of what they are asking.
This is going to be a departure from my usual “On Today’s Walk” type of post. I want to talk about an under-discussed, quiet and insidious form of discrimination that continues to happen to women, and how I’m discovering that it’s widespread.
On today’s walk, I participated in the local Women’s March. The temperature was bitter cold, so I didn’t take photos. But here are a couple of stories to illustrate some reasons we still need to march in this day and age.
An hour before I left to attend the rally and walk, our mail came. The bank where my husband and I have done business for twenty years is being sold to another bank, and in the mail was a letter about a loan we have, explaining how it will be transferred. Here’s the kicker. The loan is in both of our names, but the letter was addressed solely to my husband. My name appears nowhere in it.
I immediately called customer service to get this straightened out, because this is not my first experience with getting erased from an account. It has led to problems in the past. The customer service worker told me the reason my name isn’t on the letter is because my husband is listed as the primary owner of the loan, something that has never been explained to either of us or agreed to by either of us. In fact, I’m the one who makes sure they get their payment every month, since I handle the finances for the household.
In the politest voice and phrasing I could muster, I insisted my name should be included on all correspondence. (How hard can it be?) The young-sounding woman who was helping me wasn’t sure that could be done. She kept repeating that letters go out in the name of the primary person. I also did the broken record thing, saying I never was told that and never agreed to it, and even if it were the case, my name needs to be on all documents related to the loan. My husband and I both signed the paperwork and took on the liability. And I’m certain, if something happened to my spouse, the bank would suddenly remember me and expect me to keep paying. I courteously stood firm in my request. A manager is supposed to contact me on Tuesday.
Before I ended the call, I said, “If this ever happens to you, please speak up for yourself like I am. Don’t let yourself be erased.” I’m probably the story she’s telling at the dinner table tonight.
Over the thirty-plus years of my marriage, this sort of thing has happened to me more times than I can count. My name gets dropped from accounts, left off of correspondence. It has never happened to my husband. Not once.
A few years back, when we still used a landline phone, I contacted CenturyLink to make some changes in the account and they said I didn’t have permission. This was an account I set up when we first moved to town. I personally was the one to go to the phone company and handle everything to do with creating our account here. I put both of our names on it. But at some point in time, the company decided only one name should be on the account, and removed mine. They removed me from my own account that I set up, and then told me I had to get my husband’s permission to be added back on.
Now my bank has removed my name from correspondence about my own account.
I shared all of this in a facebook post a few hours ago. Since then, I have gotten an outpouring of comments from women saying the same kind of thing has happened to them, and is still happening. A utility company wouldn’t accept a change of address from a woman; they had her husband listed as the account holder, even though — guess what? — she was the one to set up the original account. Another friend had a credit union account in her name, added her husband to it when they got married, and a few years later was denied a car loan from them because she wasn’t listed as the primary account holder. Like with my phone account, nobody could tell her when it was changed or by whom, only that it couldn’t be changed back without her husband’s permission. A woman’s name was left off the title to her house, something she only discovered by accident after a few years, though she was on the hook for the mortgage along with her husband.
One friend direct messaged me because she didn’t want anyone else to see her comment with her name attached to it. She said her now ex-husband was able to get her name removed from their joint bank account when she was leaving an abusive marriage.
As far as I can determine, this is happening repeatedly to wives, and not to one single husband of my acquaintance. It’s the institutional erasure of women.
I want to ask the same thing of all women that I asked of my bank customer service rep. If this happens to you, please don’t accept it without discussion. Please make noise about it. Let’s raise awareness and make it uncomfortable for business and institutions that do this. And seek out better businesses as recipients of our money, if possible.
Yesterday I was sitting in a waiting room while my son had some medical scans done. I always have a book handy for such occasions, but it was a little hard to enjoy it while the wall-mounted television blared at loud volume with some police drama involving the search for a child rapist/murderer.
Several other people were in the waiting room as well, including a couple of families with young children. I saw one pregnant mom and her partner trying to keep their kids distracted, as they moved to the far side of the room from the TV. Unfortunately, the show was audible from all corners. I could tell the program was disturbing them at least as much as it was me. I remember those pregnancy hormones and the instant overwhelming grief I would feel upon hearing of any harm to a child. Then, too, who wants their kids to hear discussions of children being horrifically murdered?
After the fourth mention or so from the TV characters about raped and murdered children, I went to the reception desk and asked if there was a way to change the channel. I think the woman working there had been focused on her work and managed to tune out the show. She looked up at the screen after I asked and seemed to realize then what was playing. She handed me a remote, saying, “Of course. Put it on whatever station you want.”
As I turned around with the remote in my hand, the pregnant mom looked me in the eye and offered the most sincere “thank you” I’ve ever heard. I’ve never had cable television, so I don’t even know about channels. “Is there a channel your family likes?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Anything but that.”
I flipped through a few, trying to find something non-controversial and non-traumatic. I settled on college baseball. After I returned the remote and sat back down, an older man near me thanked me as well.
Here’s the thing. I’m shy. I carry a lot of social anxiety around with me. But of everyone who wanted the channel changed, I was the only one who felt empowered to do something about it. I guess?
If you like police procedurals and want to watch whatever that show was at home, I’m not judging. I, too, sometimes enjoy shows where I feel like an evil doer is brought to justice. But it was so obviously inappropriate for the situation and so obviously distressing a number of people.
Let me give a little pep talk here. It’s not overstepping to say that something is distressing and politely request a remedy. You don’t have to sit there thinking it’s terrible but you just have to live with it. Folks, you have the right to request a channel change.
Last evening, I had the privilege of attending a free talk by Bill McKibben, a leading experts on climate change. He authored one of the first books on the topic to be written for a lay audience. The End of Nature was published in 1989. McKibben is also one of the founders of 350.org. Click the link to see what they’re about.
I want to share my take-aways from what I heard last night.
Time is short. Our window of opportunity to act is closing. We have to make big changes as quickly as possible.
The silver lining to the above point is that scientists have figured out what we need to do. (Mostly, stop using fossil fuels.) It’s a matter of actually doing it.
Oil companies knew about climate change and how bad it would be back in the 1970s and 80s, but they kept it quiet while redesigning all of their offshore rigs to withstand changes in sea level and sea chemistry. (Steam is still coming out my ears.)
McKibben believes we need to focus more on policy change than on personal lifestyle changes. If you can’t influence the federal government, then work on your state or city government. Urge universities and retirement funds to divest from oil companies. I get his point that the changes we need to make are so large and the time so short that we can’t reach our goal with only personal lifestyle changes done one person at a time. But I believe he downplayed the importance of it a little too much. One person can influence others and show them it’s possible to live differently, to help overcome resistance to change. One example — many folks in my neighborhood have planted milkweed in the past few years and I saw many more monarchs this summer than I have in recent years.
Organize! McKibben gave many examples of average citizens from many countries, races and economic strata joining together to stop environmental destruction. He showed us a photo of a group of kayakers preventing an oil tanker from leaving dock, as one example.
Older people should take risks to save the future for the next generations. If you’ve already got a successful career behind you, be the one willing to go to jail instead of a younger person who has more to lose by it. He practices what he preaches, by the way, having been arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.
Don’t spend too much time and energy arguing with climate change skeptics. “Don’t ruin Thanksgiving dinner” because some folks are resistant to information and will never change their minds. McKibben said he has two standard responses to climate change skeptics. “I hope you’re right” or “You may not believe in climate change, but it believes in you.”
70% of people do believe in climate change and the need to reverse it. Focus your energies on spurring the believers to action.
I’ve spent the last 24 hours or so thinking about what else I can do. I decided my next step will be adding my name to those calling for our local university to divest from fossil fuel companies. Let’s hurry and save the world, y’all!
Since education is always an important component of any venture, here’s a recommended reading list:
Last Chain on Billie by Carol Bradley. An examination of one elephant’s life in the context of a shameful history of abuse of circus animals in the U.S.
The Eye of the Elephant by Delia Owens and Mark Owens. The story of how one couple took on elephant poachers in Zambia and did their best to assist local communities at the same time.
Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa by Keith Somerville. The ivory trade is the biggest threat elephants face. Poachers have decimated populations in order to get tusks to trade. Worse, much of the profit ends up funding terrorism. Don’t buy ivory!
One easy thing we all can do is limit our consumption of foods containing palm oil. Palm oil plantations have wiped out swaths of habitat for elephants and other wildlife.
Happy World Elephant Day! Let’s celebrate by working to save them.
Today we are all orphans in the charge of Count Olaf. But many of us are inventors and many of us are well-read, while others have sharp, useful teeth that can chew through the ropes. We only need to stick together and not give up.
Memory from my childhood: I was about twelve years old, returning pop bottles for the deposits at a Safeway grocery store three blocks from my house in Kansas City. A wrinkled woman, not more than five feet tall, wearing a headscarf and a coat too heavy for the weather — probably someone’s grandmother — wheeled her cart toward the check-out lines. She had quite a bit of food. I guessed she was shopping for the extended family.
The store was busy, lines at every register. I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but Saturday seems likely. I saw the woman stand still for a couple of minutes, scanning the scene, assessing the lines and then spotting one that was miraculously short. She rolled up to it and began unloading her cart of goods right under the sign that read “Express Lane. 12 items or less.” Continue reading “When the Refugees Came, or Why I Can’t Seem to Keep My Mouth Shut on Facebook”