"Welfare mothers are not born. They are made by unpaid child support and unfair wages."
So says the new button I picked up at the Women's Political Caucus booth.
So I was in DC from this past Friday until last night for the American Public Health Association's annual national meeting. And it was fantastic. But before I get to the good part, I have to include one depressing anecdote. While standing in line at the airport last night I befriended a nice British fellow. Travels all the time, has been going in and out of America for years and years and years. And the previous night he was accosted in a restaurant. For being British. Some ugly American overheard his accent and got very angry and confrontational. Welcome to George Bush's America.
Ok, so that aside, this trip to DC was exactly the antidote I needed after last week. Sitting in the opening session, I can't even tell you how amazing it was to be surrounded by such people. "My" people. Thousands and thousands of people who are heartbroken, but not despondent. Who are passionate and fired up and ready to fight. So uplifting and inspiring. Not a single one of whom would have laughed at me for saying I want to make the world a better place. Erin Brockovitch was the keynote speaker and the dirt she's still
digging up on PG&E turns my stomach. They're still lying and cheating and hiding things and basically doing terrible things to the residents of California. Unbelievable. I may have to adopt her saying, "I'm just here to cut through the bullshit." May I never lose perspective that the reason I do what I do is because someone is sick or hurt and I'm looking for a way to make that better and prevent it from happening to someone else.
The best session was called "The Integrity of Science: How Political Agendas Impact Public Health." Three case studies were presented by scientists who's research results ran contrary to industry's best interests, and who therefore were pressured to shut up. All three involved either the FDA or EPA or both. The bottom line is, our government has endorsed poisoning us. I know that sounds reactionary and melodramatic, but I tell you, it's not. (seriously, the studies this company and the government are using to defend claims that the pesticide Atrazine is harmless are so bad they would have flunked my ninth grade science class; we're talking about case-control studies in which all the controls died, the water for both groups was completely contaminated, and the results were turned down at four peer-reviewed journals before being published in a journal that the principle investigator on the study is an editor of, and these are the only
studies that have found this pesticide to be harmless, other studies have found all sorts of problems in vertebrates and mammals as a result of exposure; separately, government experts analyzing the effects of mercury poisoning are being told not to analyze the impacts of various legislative and regulatory proposals and their work and presentations, down to the individual power point slides, are reviewed by White House political appointees) For those really interested in the gritty details, I'm happy to send references. Also, the "Clear Skies" act is BAD! And the new exceptions written into it are even worse. If you have the opportunity to influence this particular piece of legislation, please do!
At another session, on the potential impact of the election on public health, Chris Jennings, former senior health advisor to Clinton and health advisor to the Kerry campaign, offered these bits of advice:
1) lower your expectations
2) make the best of limited opportunities
3) identify real threats and be prepared to fight
Also, all that crap about how malpractice suits are what's running up the cost of healthcare and how caps on non-economic awards from lawsuits will fix everything? Mostly bunk. Currently 26 states have such caps and they are no better off financially/healthcare-wise than the other states. (I say mostly because malpractice insurance is certainly a problem, but there are better fixes than this one)
I also attended a session on reproductive healthcare in crisis situations, and the sad, true statement was made that violence against women in crisis situations is as predictable as measles - we know it's going to happen, it's practically guaranteed to happen, and we have to start being better about preventing it before it happens and dealing with it if/after it happens.
Other session topics included human rights in prisons (mental health problems are so over-represented in prison populations that the state prison is the largest "mental health hospital" in the entire state of California), defining personhood - ethical and public policy implications for reproductive health services and biogenetic research, speaking truth to power - advocacy in action, the latest influenza stuff, bioterrorism and epidemiology, and the evolution of statistics at the FDA (where I met two very cool, famous old female statisticians who know my grandfather). Lastly, I took part in "walking the hill" where they set us up with the health legislative assistant for our local representatives, so we could meet, exchange contact information, tell them how important public health is to us, and establish a relationship so that, hopefully, someday, we can influence legislation that is important to us. All in all, it was a great big orgy of public health/statistics/political activism goodness.
The non-conference part
As expected, had a blast in DC. Managed to see a special installation
at the National Gallery and go to the Library of Congress and, as usual, was moved simply being on the mall and staring up at the Capitol. It's a great thing, this idea of a country that our founding fathers created.
Had a good time hanging out with the brother, debated politics and social issues more than usual, which was actually pretty fun. (though he's probably really tired of hearing about public health, poor guy. he was a good sport about humoring me and my excitement after each day of the conference.) Also talked about our parents much more than usual, which on the one hand makes me hopefuly that someday we'll actually hash out the whole mess and on other hand, leaves me with a dilemma. He divulged some pretty serious dislike for my parents, and while I would obviously never betray his trust, I know my parents are completely clueless about his feelings, and I feel like, at least in a few specific instances, minor improvements might be made in the relationship if they were a little more aware of his feelings. So...do I say anything to them while I'm home over Thanksgiving? Or do I just butt out because we're all grown-ups and they're free to carry on in their disfuntional way if they choose to? But it does affect me too, as the tension when all four of us are together is really no fun at all, and don't I deserve a little lessening of that tension? Blarg.
Also, spent some quality time with Bryan, who's living in DC now and going to school at UMD. Good grief that kid is great fun. Kisses Bryan!
All in all, had a fantastic six days wherein I ate way too much, drank a reasonable amount, and slept far too little. Thankfully, I'll be making up for that last part this weekend (one tiny positive about the post-November 2-world - I can sleep in on a Saturday morning with minimal guilt). Alas, I'll also be making up for the first part as I bought a bitchin' pink (yes, I said PINK) dress at H&M and probably shouldn't eat between now and "public health prom" if I have any hope of fitting into it again. thank goodness that's only 2 weeks away.
Ok, time to close with some wise words from Carrie
. Two of the many, many reasons I love her are her insight into complicated and weighty topics and her ability quote scripture in support of really grand, kind ideas.
Liberals believe in being as tolerant as possible, a position that always leaves us open to the accusation of hypocrisy because we can't, after all, tolerate everything.
For example, how far will a liberal go in defending the practice of forced female circumcision? On one hand, it's someone else's culture and I don't understand it. On the other, it's hard to see it as anything other than torture. If I condemn forced female circumcision, I could be accused of hypocrisy quite accurately. Brooks can accuse liberals of being hypocrites because, in a way, we are. There are limits to what we think is okay. Conservatives are willing to exploit our open-mindedness as lazy morality, but the instant we put a foot down, we become hypocrites.
When I was young, I was in the Baptist church, where I was taught that the Commandments were a part of ancient law that could be useful to me if I needed guidance, but that the only real Commandments were the two Jesus stated in Matthew 22:37-39, to love God and to love one's neighbor. The problem, I was told, was that this kind of morality is harder to interpret. What are the limits of self-sacrifice? Do you give everything you have to other people? Is no Christian allowed to have a job? To believe in a morality that is based on positive actions rather than behavioral limitations is constantly to risk hypocrisy. However, the good of positive love outweighs the benefit of a clear-cut morality.