succumbing to peer pressure

Friday, July 06, 2007

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Oh dear readers, I can hear you now - Megan, enough with the nostalgia! No one cares! Tell us about the rest of the US Social Forum! Well, ask and you shall receive.

On Friday morning (after forking over an offensive amount of cash to the carpet cleaners) I hit my first workshop of the day, called 8 in '08, and organized by the Backbone Campaign. The idea was to come up with eight broad topics that were important to us as progressives and then flesh that out into a workable agenda that we can use to put pressure on politicians. Presidential candidates specifically, but really any candidates at any level. Of course, I worked on the healthcare part, and I'm so excited about it I almost want to run for office myself! We said:

Pass HR 676
Include/improve mental health parity
add nutrition to the urban planning agenda - no more McDonalds and Taco Bells outnumbering grocery stores with fruits and vegetables!
transfer funds from abstinence only education to expanded sexual education programs
increase funding for public clinics
increase funding for screening (physical and mental!)
recruit a more diverse population to healthcare professions
include/add incentives to serve underserved communities/populations

Sure, it's pie in the sky and includes all sorts of money that we clearly don't have, and we didn't even get to re-vamping elder care. But it's a list of concrete things that we could be doing to improve the health of everyone in America.

We ran through the other topics too quickly for me to take adequate notes, but the Backbone campaign will eventually have all this stuff up on their website. One suggestion that really piqued my interest was to make election day a federal holiday. Makes sense to me, but I have to confess I haven't given it a lot of thought. Anyone know any reasons why it currently isn't?

That afternoon I caught the beginning of "From Hillary to Nancy" before sneaking out for a beer with Daniel before he headed to the airport. The afternoon workshop was organized by CodePink, and I have to say those ladies have some moxy! They snuck into a Hillary Clinton fundraiser by disguising themselves as caterers! Once inside they unfurled big signs asking Hillary to stop funding the war (before they got arrested). Turns out they're well known enough now that there's such a thing a "pink profiling," where people will get thrown out of events just for wearing pink! A couple of links, for those who are interested: provides a list of all of Clinton's campaign stops (part of codepink) tracks Clinton's voting record

Friday night was spoken word in Little Five Points, a beautiful release of anger and frustration and joy and sadness, on a million and one topics, from gender and sexual identity to skin color, from putting food on the table to the war. I bought Doria Roberts's cd (fans of Melissa Ferrick, April, I'm looking at you, will love her) and plan to buy Grub by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry because it fits perfectly with my latest pet project to get nutrition included more often in the broader healthcare agenda.

"Yeah I've got a choice, but my choice sucks! If I lose my GI bill, are you guys going to pay my bills?"
-Jabbar Magruder

Saturday morning was all about organizing the peace movement. Magruder is part of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, and he told us about the spectrum of resistance available, even to men and women still serving. For example, military members have a right to sign the Appeal for Redress. For sources on other military rights go here or here. Magruder also provided us with this sound bite, "Soldiers are indoctrinated with the idea that they defend freedom, they don't practice it."

Fernando Suarez del Solar also bravely spoke about losing his son to the war in Iraq. He said the US military provides support (financial, emotional, etc.) to significant others and children of soldiers, but not parents of soldiers. That was is needed is outreach and support to extended friends and family because they are all affected. He says what he's doing is not anti-war, it's pro-life! While speaking at colleges del Solar also makes a point to visit high schools, to talk to teenagers about the potential ramifications of signing up for military service.

I know this has been a mostly dry re-hashing of workshops, but I've got a whole 'nother set of notes about impressions and inspirations. One thing at a time.

I found an old essay I started writing about the Footlighters. It was an exercise for class - to start writing about something you loved, as a way to just let the words stream out. This is my blog, so I'm indulging in re-typing it here, just to save a version for me. What I found is a rough draft, I don't even remember if I ever finished it, so you get disjointed paragraphs.

I walk into the room and immediately feel my throat constricting. One person sits at the piano, while two more lean on either side of it. They ask me to sing one of Mary's songs, which is above my miniscule vocal range. Pleading for something an octave lower we settle on King Herod's song. The other three graciously agree to accompany my timid voice so that I won't have to suffer through the sound of its smallness bouncing around the room. "Sing louder, please," from the director, as I stumble over the notes. It's been eight years since I tried to read music and I've forgotten which are the half rests and which are only a quarter. After a painful few minutes they politely say thank you and send me back to my new friends waiting in the hallway. We've quickly bonded over the trauma we share - we are all auditioning.


When we go to see shows together you can tell what aspect of theater we each typically work on. Seth wonders why the director had the lead use that accent. JP loves the dramatic climax of Mein Heir when Sally gets to throw the microphone stand. Mark and I marvel at the shadow cast on the floor as if light was streaming past a slowly rotating fan.


Standing in the back of the chapel I pause a moment to watch the cast work. Pieces of wood get screwed together on stage left, a flat is erected stage right. Slowly the church is transformed into a moonlit forest as more set pieces are put together. I change the CD to yet another musical and watch Ken and Jared painting, Beth and Christine sewing, Josh doing homework in the corner, Nate cleaning. This show has become our lives. A half dozen extra people have moved into the Ford apartment, and it's beginning to resemble a commune. We've all been taking shot little naps before wandering bleary-eyed and fuzzy-headed to class. We have to remind each other to eat at least one meal everyday - I swear forcing Seth to consume something, anything, other than coffee has become one of my official stage manager duties. Yet not a single one of us would change a thing about our current lives. After the show is over, we'll walk around in a daze, feeling lost and disconnected from people we've come to rely on.

Why would someone put herself through that? Only those who haven't could think to ask such a question. Only those who's hearts have never pounded moments before bursting into the light on stage could ponder life without it.

Damn. I miss that.

Holy crap, sometimes I'm really glad that I save bloody everything. When Mom came up a couple of weeks ago she brought some boxes I'd been storing at my parents' place. Mostly just old books that I didn't really have room for in my previous (studio) apartment, but also a couple of boxes labeled "Nostalgia items." (I do this sort of thing. I'm not really a scrap-booker, but I hang on to stuff for sentimental reasons, hoping to one day have some brilliant idea as to what to do with it all) Anyway, so I'm cleaning up the basement today and going through those boxes, and I come across this notebook from my junior year of college. And it's a jumble of notes from my journalism class, interviews, book, restaurant, and theater reviews, all mixed in with blocking notes from my gig as stage manager for "Into the Woods." I remember doing all those things, but part of me did sort of forget that I knew how to do all those things. The writing sounds totally different from my style these days and there are all these diagrams and theatrical notes for ITW. I remember how intense those rehearsals were, how I practically lived and died to please the theater kids. I had just forgotten that I was that person, for a period of time. That locked away in my brain somewhere is knowledge about constructing a scene and setting a rehearsal schedule and building sets and sewing costumes.

And then there's stuff that I really, truly, do not remember at all. Apparently I was invited to take part in a journalism conference in DC my senior year of high school! I have absolutely no memory of this whatsoever. It makes sense that I didn't go (it cost over $900 to attend and was in April - a scheduling nightmare with AP exams and finals and whatnot). And I'm sure it's nothing nefarious - like my parents just not telling me about it or something. They're not like that. So I'm sure I opened the invitation, and made the decision, and then it's like my brain just jettisoned that piece of information entirely. Weird.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness -- and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we're being brainwashed to believe.

Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

Arundhati Roy
Porto Alegre, Brazil
January 27, 2003

(from the first Social Forum, as quoted on the proj-ectPRO:JECT website)

Thursday afternoon we provided space in the tent for people to talk about health and environmental injustices that they, or people they knew and cared about, had suffered. Us health policy wonks kept touting passing HR 676, when a young man spoke up - yeah, that's great, but how's that going to help me right now? I am so damn tired of talking! I don't want to go to any more town hall meetings where we all agree that the system is broken! That doesn't help me feed my kids or pay for my insulin shots! And he's right. It's easy to forget that being an activist is actually a form of luxury. It requires that you have a few minutes and brain space to spare, it means that you can stop worrying for two seconds about how to put dinner on the table and avoid eviction and instead take that time to call your congress person.

Not that I'm knocking activism. Or change through legal, bureaucratic channels. Influencing your representatives and the policies they endorse is one of the best ways to achieve long-lasting change. But it requires patience. And sometimes we need to step back and recognize that the groups we purport to argue for, the people we are claiming to help, need other kinds of help. Need more immediate salves. Sometimes you need both the bandaid and the cure.

The Immaculate Dictatorship

That's what Elizabeth 'Betita' Martinez, from the Institute for MultiRacial Justice, calls America. It's what keeps us down, it's why we aren't rioting in the streets. Because so many of the most righteously pissed off don't have the time or energy to indulge their righteous anger. Just treading water, just getting through the day, consumes them.

Which is why I find shit like this so damn offensive (even momentarily setting aside Wooten's misguided attempt to critique a movie he hasn't seen):
If it’s possible to bring that element of authority that keeps women from abusing their bodies with drugs and potato-chip diets while pregnant, the health of newborns could be improved immeasurably.

Well, ok, yes, there is an element of truth in that statement. But how about replacing authority with empowered choice? Or just, gee, I don't know, a tiny scrap of compassion and understanding for the shitty sets of circumstances that culminate to land people in shitty situations? As AWB says so passionately:

You not only have to suffer the physical pain of being sick; you have to pay a bill for it. And since you can’t come to work, you get fired. And since you’ve been fired, you can’t pay the bill. And since you can’t pay the bill, you become a burden to others. Since you’re a burden to others, you lose all your friends.

Sure, someone along this line of suffering could have given you a break, paid you an easy ounce of compassion, but no one has to. No one is morally or even socially obligated to do a fucking thing, because you need to learn your lesson about, e.g. smoking or whatever.

Say and believe what you want about Michael Moore, he asks the right question in "Sicko" - Who are we? Nevermind the comparisons to other countries, nevermind whether you find the whole thing horribly biased and manipulative (well, yes, he never really claims to be anything else). How is it possible that we as a society ended up in a place where it's ok to refuse to treat a sick person because they can't afford to pay? Where it's ok to put a sick person in a cab and drive them to another hospital because they don't have insurance? Where this happens?

I wish to begin by making a public confession: In the spring of 1987, as a physician, I caused the death of a man.

Although this was known to many people, I have not been taken before any court of law or called to account for this in any professional or public forum. In fact, just the opposite occurred: I was "rewarded" for this. It bought me an improved reputation in my job, and contributed to my advancement afterwards. Not only did I demonstrate I could indeed do what was expected of me, I exemplified the "good" company doctor: I saved a half million dollars!

Since that day, I have lived with this act, and many others, eating into my heart and soul. For me, a physician is a professional charged with the care, or healing, of his or her fellow human beings. The primary ethical norm is: do no harm. I did worse: I caused a death. Instead of using a clumsy, bloody weapon, I used the simplest, cleanest of tools: my words. The man died because I denied him a necessary operation to save his heart. I felt little pain or remorse at the time. The man's faceless distance soothed my conscience. Like a skilled soldier, I was trained for this moment. When any moral qualms arose, I was to remember: I am not denying care; I am only denying payment.

(testimony from Dr. Linda Peeno, see video from congression hearing here)

I'm pragmatic enough to recognize that we also have to talk costs, and there are plenty of financial reasons to fix our current healthcare-business-plan model - we spend more per capita than any other industrialized nation and still don't provide care to millions of people, it's cheaper to pay for preventative measures like regular check-ups and screenings than major procedures required when a health condition goes unchecked for months or years, etc. etc. But let's just talk about the fucking moral reasons for a minute, ok? Yeah, that's right, I'm a bleeding heart liberal. I have this crazy idea that we should take care of each other, without judgement. That if someone gets cancer, it's not their fault. They should receive the treatment they need, regardless of their ability to personally pay for that treatment (yes, to have a sustainable healthcare system someone needs to pay, but there should be a lot of someones chipping in). Ooh, socialism! That's big, scary, pinko word! Well, you know what else is socialized in this country? The mail. The Fire Department and Police Force. Education. Ok, so public education is perhaps not the poster child for a well-run government entity, but let's just pause a moment and recall that we all agreed, as a society, that educating our children was important enough that we were willing to pay for it as tax payers, and provide it, free of charge, to everyone. Why can't we agree that healthcare is just as important? Could you imagine if you called 911 because someone was breaking into your house, and instead of sending over a cop car they first asked for your security insurance number? And if your insurance company was in cahoots with a different police force, one further away, you'd have to wait for them to get there? Would that make any sense at all? Would we accept that as a reasonable policy and just shake our heads and think, well, it's not great, but anything else would just cost too much money!

Happy 4th

I know sometimes it's hard, and feels like nothing ever changes, but I swear the work we do really does matter (even if we can't see it just yet; from my local young dems):

Speaking for myself, but recognizing my efforts as merely representative of all of you reading my words - I stood with a handful, maybe twenty other people at Dr. King’s grave when the war started. We all 20 of us stood in protest, when Bush and his lies had everyone else beating the war drums. We stood on the other side of the line from the vast majority of our fellow citizens. And then I listened for literally years while politicians and the media fed us all lines that anyone opposing the war hated the troops and hated America. My own family questioned my loyalty to my country, cutting me to the quick. I have marched, oh how I have marched, to protest the policies of this administration. We hear that now we torture prisoners – the pictures from Abu Ghraib are sickening and no one pays. We hear that we tap Americans’ phones without due process and no one pays. We see with our own eyes that we haplessly and carelessly abandon our own brothers and sisters literally to die in New Orleans. And we abandon our veterans to miserable conditions as they come, wounded and maimed, back from Afghanistan and Iraq. No ones pays. We fire federal prosecutors on a whim and no one pays. We stack the courts – buy the refs – thereby ensuring that NO ONE PAYS.

What are we to do? I have canvassed, OH how I have canvassed – all over North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, doing the only things I know how to change the representation we have. I took vacation from work over and over to speak, to lobby, to write, to call, to protest. And the outrage continues. I have written checks. I have blogged. I have cried, oh how I have cried. I have put my flag out on every holiday, as I will do today, and have done my very very very best to follow in the footsteps of our best patriots by raising my voice in dissent.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

We interrupt this USSF re-cap for an ethical dilemma:

At one of my (many) part-time jobs, I just sort of unintentionally lobbied for higher pay. My boss mentioned that due to some recent expenses we would all be taking a modest pay cut, to which I replied that that was perfectly understandable and not a problem for me, for now (this is not my primary bill-paying income), but that given my other commitments and generally hectic lifestyle, in a few months when I start to get even busier I would have to take this into account and figure out whether this particular job was still a cost-effective decision for me. Typing that out, I realize that sounds sort of like a threat, but I honestly did not intend it to be so (and in fact worded things differently in my original reply). I was just trying to provide a reasonable heads up that in a few months there was the possibility that I would give my notice. So the boss wrote back and said if I could make a commitment for x number of months I could maintain my old pay scale. Which is great, for me, but makes me feel guilty about my coworkers. Do I owe it to them to say thanks but no thanks and volunteer for the pay cut? Should I assume that they're all grown-ups and will negotiate or not for a higher salary as they feel comfortable?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

USSF Reflections

Seriously, I think I'm on brain overload. I'll try to do a re-cap, but it may be scattered...

On Wednesday, the first day of the forum, I spent nearly 12 hours in our team's tent (Health, Healing, and Environmental Justice - HHEJ). Most of the day, indeed most of the forum, was like a lesson in toning down my type A personality. Which drives me nuts, but is good for me. I got there early to help set up the first aid station, then helped set up the HHEJ tent, then sat around waiting as the various groups who had requested space to hand out information slowly trickled in throughout the day (they were supposed to be there 10-6, but hey, 12-6, 2-5, whatever floats your boat. I didn't get out of bed super early to set things up for you or anything). I stepped outside to watch the parade go by (rumor has it there were 1,000 marchers) and was pleasantly surprised when my friend Daniel*, from Drug Policy Alliance, literally launched himself from the crowd and wrapped me in a bear hug. We knew we were both going to be at the forum, but had yet to set up a specific plan to meet. Spotting each other in the giant crowd was just a lovely bit of luck.

After the parade a group of musicians set up right outside our tent, and I was treated to the site of two elderly women, one white, one Indian, smiling and singing along as the band played "We shall overcome."

The whole conference was like that. Sure, of course, there were moments when I was hot and tired and people were getting on my nerves or failing to be polite. But so much more often people were warm and interested and interesting and it was all the things the USSF purported to be - a gathering of progressive activists from a wide variety of backgrounds getting together to share ideas and strength. It was overwhelming and inspiring.

Seriously, I'm so excited about the healthcare platform we came up with in one of the workshops that I want to run for office just so I can use it! But I'll get around to that...

On Thursday I woke up at dawn again to help my friend Punam carry things over to the first aid station, did some mediating at our tent, and joined the women's working group in some much needed early morning yoga and meditation. We played this game, where you shake both your hands, and one person in the circle shakes one hand and pretends to hold a tennis ball in her other hand. She then pretends to throw it to someone in the circle, who must catch it, while continuing to shake her other hand. You toss it around the circle, or bounce or juggle it yourself. It's very silly, and makes everyone laugh, but it's sort of like patting your head and rubbing your belly - it's very difficult to think about anything else at the same time. So its a fun trick to clear your head.

Afterward I walked downtown to pop my head in to Daniel's workshop (mostly so I could make faces at him from the back). On the way I met Steven, who looked clearly like a man who needed directions (I was clearly marked as a social forum volunteer, and I was all crazy southern hospitality all week - stopping people to ask if they needed help finding anything, if they were feeling ok, did they need some water, or know where the air conditioned first aid station was if they needed to rest and cool off?). Turns out he's heading to the same downtown hotel, in fact, he's on the panel in Daniel's workshop! So we walk to the westin together and he tells me about the War Resisters League (which has been around since 1923!) and about the link between the war on drugs and the militarization of America.

The rest of the afternoon is back in the tent, and discussing healthcare and environmental injustices. So stay tuned!

*Daniel and I originally met at the wonderful National Advocates for Pregnant Women conference back in January.