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Thoughts on Maintaining a Peaceful Heart While Becoming An Activist

(In other words, finding balance in crazy times!)

Back in January, during the Women's March, I really enjoyed the signs.   They were clever and funny and heartfelt.  

I also recall my overwhelming realization that they covered . . . So. Many. Issues.

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I remember just standing there, just kind of gobsmacked, that this wasn't just a march for women's issues.  Or access to health care.  Or clean water for Flint.  Or saving Planned Parenthood.  Or protecting LGBTQ rights.  Or immigration and refugee issues.  Or support for public education.  Or doing something to slow down climate change.  Or environmental protection.  Or preserving first amendment rights.

No.

I realized it was - suddenly - about ALL THE THINGS.

Because ALL THE THINGS were at risk.

All at once.

Those signs, for me, just brought that fact home.

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I've explained here on the blog that after the shock of the election last November, I felt an overwhelming desire to . . . DO SOMETHING . . . in a way I never had in my life before.  It was like - overnight - an activist was born!  And since the inauguration in January, I have done things I never imagined I would do.

I started joining all the lists and sending all the postcards and making all the calls and reading all the news.

But.

My approach was wearing my down.  Because I don't like being on High Alert all the time.  I've realized that I can't be an activist . . . for All The Things . . . All The Time . . . without sacrificing my internal peace.

Without losing my BALANCE.

I recently found this quote by Richard Rohr of The Center for Action & Contemplation:

                "We need a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action."

This gave me great pause . . . to stop and think and re-evaluate my chicken-with-her-head-cut-off approach.

Because a contemplative mind is not motivated by fear.  Or urgency.  Or my Facebook feed!  Because, well, y'know. . . that just leads to stress, a feeling of impending doom, and RE-action.  Not compassionate action.

A contemplative mind, rather, takes in the situation.  Learns about the situation.  And lines that up with personal values and goals.  In short, a contemplative mind allows for (wait for it) . . . comtemplation! 

Which is HARD.
Because ALL THE THINGS!

But necessary.  Because we need to act from our best and most peaceful place.

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I'm working hard to foster a contemplative space for myself (and - trust me - some days it's much easier to do this than others).  For me, this means that every day, I try to:

  • Meditate (inviting a peaceful heart)
  • Move (working out some of my frustration)
  • Get outside (changing my environment)
  • Limit my news consumption (because overload)

It helps.

By creating space to think, I'm better able to discover and discern just what kind of compassionate action to take.  Because much as I might want to do All The Things, I simply cannot.  I need to choose.  I need to focus.  I need to take aim at specific targets.

I'm finding that having a bit more balance - between my peaceful heart and my new activist mind-set - helps me feel better, speak from the heart, and act more effectively.  By prioritizing my issues, I feel like I'll be able to DO SOMETHING in a way that keeps my values, my passions, my gifts, and my energies in better alignment.

(Balance, my friends!  Turns out it's all about balance.)

"It's not possible to save the world by trying to save it.  You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer before you can make it a better place.  Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge.  The offering of that gift - your true self - is the most you can do to love and serve the world.  And it is all the world needs."
                                                                        ---  Bill Plotkin in Soulcraft

So.

Quiet your mind.
Discern your priorities.
Take compassionate action using your own gifts.
Find your balance.

It's the best we can do.

 

 

 


Drawing a Line

"When you draw the lines, you make the rules."
                                        --- Karl Rove

I was always a good student.

I learned and understood the basic tenets of American government.  You know . . . we the people; separation of church and state; checks and balances.  I was well-versed in all the biggest hits of Schoolhouse Rock.  I lived through the Watergate hearings.  I listen to NPR.  I get it.  I know how things are supposed to work.

Except.

I must have totally fallen asleep at the wheel.  Because I really didn't get this gerrymandering thing.

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But I'm getting it now.

And it's something we ALL should "get."  Because what happens with gerrymandering (drawing those voting district lines in a manipulative way) is, basically, this:  Politicians draw the lines . . . to benefit themselves.  Gerrymandering gives polititicians the power to choose their voters --- instead of giving voters the power to choose their politicians.

Redistricting - the process of drawing electoral district boundaries - should be a non-partisan process.  And in 12 states,* it is -- with independent or non-partisan commissions determining the boundaries.  In 5 more states,** redistricting is proposed by independent commissions, but approved by the state legislature.  Four states - Wyoming, Delaware, South Dakota, and North Dakota have low populations and only one electoral district.

But.

In the remaining 28 states . . . the state legislatures have the authority to determine electoral districts.  And that opens the gate for gerrymandering -- the deliberate manipulation of political boundaries for electoral advantage.

Partisan domination of state legislatures and improved technology to design contiguous districts that pack opponents into as few districts as possible have led to district maps which are skewed towards one party. Consequently, many states including Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas have succeeded in reducing or effectively eliminating competition for most House seats in those states.

So.  If it feels like your elected officials aren't really paying attention to what you have to say, it's probably because gerrymandering is protecting them -- so they DON'T have to listen to what you have to say.

This . . . makes me a crazy person!  This . . . is one of the reasons I decided to join the League of Women Voters.  This . . . makes me want to Do Something.

Here in Michigan, where we have a huge gerrymandering problem, there is an active campaign to bring fairness, impartiality, and transparency back to the electoral districting process.  I've signed up to attend a "virtual town hall" meeting tomorrow night sponsored by Voters Not Politicians.  Their goal is to bring the power back to the people of Michigan through a citizen led ballot initiative. With the help of other grassroots organizations, Voters Not Politician's vision is to establish an Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission through a state constitutional amendment.

I'm going to learn what I can do to help.

And - if you happen to live in Michigan and want to join the town hall tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 22), here's more information on how to sign up.  (And if you can't make it tomorrow night, check the schedule here -- because there are going to be more events - both virtual and IRL.)

Take action!  Do Something!
Learn about the electoral districting process in your state -- and if you don't like what you learn, get involved in redistricting reform!
(Power to the people.)

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Here are some great articles on redistricting and gerrymandering to wet your appetite:

From the Washington Post - This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see

From Slate - Fixing gerrymandering doesn't just make elections more fair

From NPR - Reform advocates say the real 'rigged system' is gerrymandering

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* Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington

** Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia

 

 


Musings on International Women's Day

"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own."
                                                                                        --- Audre Lorde

Today is International Women's Day.

It's also the Day Without A Woman.

And, oh.  I have such mixed feelings about the Day Without A Woman.  I mean . . . if we could all - as in ALL of us identifying as women - actually step away for a day?  Well.  It would truly be something.  But that can't really happen, can it?  For lots of reasons, lots of women will choose not to participate in the Day Without A Woman -- either because they can't or they won't or they forgot or they don't know how.  And then, a day like this kind of loses its impact, y'know?

I'm probably just overthinking.

And I'm also supporting.  

This morning I put on my Nevertheless-She-Persisted t-shirt . . . 

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Layered on a red sweater and my red peace-sign earrings . . . 

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And then agonized over whether I should go out to breakfast with Tom or not.  (Because by going out to breakfast, I was spending money AND possibly contributing to other women having to work . . . and there I go, overthinking again.)  In the end, I went.  Justifying it because we went to a local restaurant serving local fare.  Also woman-owned.  And I was heartened to see . . . only one woman working in the entire place (where there are usually many)!

As for the rest of my day, I'll spend it NOT spending any money, supporting women - all women - no matter their choices, AND . . . thinking about my sisters all over the world.

I'll also be chewing on this for the rest of the day (from the New York Times Wednesday Briefing this morning):

  • Rwanda is the #1 country in the world when it comes to women representatives in parliament, with 61% in their lower house and 38% in their upper house. 
  • Next is Bolivia, with women holding 53% of the seats in their lower house, and 47% in their upper house.
  • (Both of these countries, by the way, have official measures requiring representation by women in elected office.  Bolivia requires there to be at least 50% representation by women in elected office, and Rwanda's stipulates at least 30% representation by women in parliament.)
  • Cuba comes in at #3 -- with women holding nearly half of the seats in their National Assembly.  (Interesting to note that Cuba uses "positive discrimination" to reach that balance.)
  • Iceland, Nicaragua, Sweden, Senegal, Mexico, Finland and South Africa fill out the top 10.
  • As for the US?  (Ahhhh, yes.  I think you know how this is going to come out.) The U.S. is No. 104, with 83 women out of 435 representatives, and 21 of 100 senators.

Yeah.  We've got our work cut out of us, don't we?

"If you're going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers."
                                                                                       --- Ruth Bader Ginsburg

 


Sign of the Times

I have to admit . . . when I first saw the Pussyhat pattern I thought . . . No.Way.  

But it didn't take long for me to, well . . . see the charm!  I jumped right on the Pussyhat bandwagon and churched out 6 hats in a little over a week before the Women's March on January 21.

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I love that KNITTERS have created this incredible symbol of feminism, freedom, and resistance.  I get goosebumps whenever I see the ever-farther-reaching impact of the Pussyhat Project.  

I gasped out loud last week when I heard about Missoni using Pussyhats (and super awesome Pussyhats, at that!) on their runway models at their Milan Fashion Week show.  (They also provided Pussyhats for all in attendance at the show to wear.)

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A knitter on Ravelry has already duplicated the cool Missoni hats (pattern here), so now you can make your own version of the Catwalk Pussyhat.

I mean, really.  How cool is that?


Keeping Up With the News

A while ago, I started listening to Gretchen Rubin's Happier podcast (you can find it here; it's a good one).  Each week, she and her sister, Elizabeth, talk about  being . . . happier.

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(This photo has nothing to do with the podcast or with news . . . but I was out in the garden on Saturday when I found these Japanese anemone seed heads, and I thought they were cool.  And . . . being in the garden again definitely made me happier!)

Anyway.

In the podcast 104 (from February 15), Gretchen and Elizabeth talked about dealing with the emotional toll of the news -- which they call a stumbling block to happiness, or something that takes up a lot of real estate in your brain and limits your ability to "find the good" around you.

They gave the following helpful suggestions for dealing with the news:

  1. Limit your news intake to just one time per day.  Really, that's enough to keep up with what's happening.  
  2. Just read (or watch or listen to) ONE story on a given topic.  Then stop.  You've got the details; you know what's happening.  Taking the same story in from multiple sources just ramps up the drama in your head.
  3. Consider reading the news instead of listening or watching.  Written articles are more "information-dense" than news items produced for radio and tv -- which tend to be far more emotion-driven (and, ultimately, emotionally upsetting).  
  4. Take action.  Take your feelings and make something happen instead.  (Even if it's just baking banana bread.)  Doing something active provides you with distance . . . from the emotional toll of the news.

They also discussed the conundrum some people feel right now . . . should we even be striving to be happy, given the current state of affairs?  Their answer?  An unapologetic YES!  Because happier people are more resilient people -- and better able to manage tough situations with an active response.  Happy people are hopeful people.

My take-aways from the podcast?  Stay informed -- but keep your emotional distance!


From Your Biggest Fan

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Dear Elizabeth Warren,

You are my hero.

Really.  It's that simple.

You are brave!  You are smart!  You are savvy!

You are not afraid to speak out, ask tough questions, demand answers, and insist on being heard.

You are awesome!

You keep right on persisting, Senator Warren.

With love,

Your Biggest Fan

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And . . . you might be interested in reading this excellent article with handy tips and wisdom about getting out of the cycle of outrage in a Trump world.  It's really worth the read -- and provides great insight for all of us right now.

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Today's post is part of Think Write Thursday.  To read more love letters today, click here.  And to sign up to receive the weekly prompts, click here.

 


Action Tuesday: Surviving the Crush

Oh, my.  It is so hard these days - mentally and emotionally - to keep up with all the Really Bad News out there.  (Just scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed is enough to do me in most days.)  (And it has.  Many days.)

So.  As we buckle up for the long haul, it's important to figure out ways to . . . BALANCE . . . (there's my word again) our need-to-know with our need-for-rest.  So we can keep up our strength.  So we can move forward.  

So we don't burn out.  

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We need to figure out how to survive the crush of Really Bad News . . . while maintaining the strength and passion we need to continue taking action.

Here's what I'm doing:

  • I'm recognizing that Being Informed is not the same as Being Immersed.  I'm trying to limit my news-reading to just a few good articles each day (I begin my day with the New York Times daily briefing that shows up in my email inbox), and listen to the latest stories on NPR.  If I start reading all the other . . . stuff . . . well, I might as well just dig a hole for myself in the backyard and crawl in.  I am also limiting my time on social media (especially Facebook).
  • I'm trying to stick to my usual routines.  While it is easy to feel overwhelmed right now, it is best to just keep plugging along with familiar activities that keep us healthy and well-balanced.  So I keep heading to the gym and getting to bed at a reasonable time.
  • I'm looking for opportunties to take action.  I find that if I can do . . . something . . . I feel much better.  I'm glad that there are so many options out there to help me figure out what to DO -- but even that can be overwhelming.  The things I like best: Daily Action (because very focused and concrete), Wall of Us (because good, do-able options each week), my local League of Women Voters chapter (because local).
  • I'm sticking with my daily meditation practice -- because it helps me feel all the feelings.  I think it's really important to allow myself to feel the range of emotions that are surfacing these days, rather than ignoring them or dwelling on them.  Meditation helps me do this; for others it might be prayer or contemplation.  Feelings come and feelings go -- and this is good.  I am not my feelings.
  • I'm working hard to maintain my sense of optimism.  Positive emotions leave the door open -- while negative emotions slam the door shut.  I'm trying to keep things on the positive side by looking for the good and filling my life with people and things that bring me hope and joy.
  • I'm taking care of myself.  Yeah, I know that self-care-is-the-new-black ... but I think it's important to engage in some personal pampering right now, whether it's an afternoon nap, scented hand-cream, or an art class.  It's all about finding some bright spots!
  • I'm finding my people.  It helps me to connect with others who share my concern about what's happening in our country and our world.  Good venting sessions are balm for the soul right now.  Talking with like-minded friends helps process our feelings -- and, we can also talk each other down from the ledge when our feelings overwhelm.
  • I'm working hard at being kind -- to everyone all the time.  We really are in this together, y'know?  So I have decided to be intentionally kind and patient with everyone I encounter -- friends and strangers alike.  It makes me feel better, and I'm hoping it makes the people I interact with feel better, too.

Bottom line?  Take action --- but take care of yourself, too.

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”      --- Noam Chomsky 


Action Tuesday: Awakening

All weekend, this old movie clip from Dune kept running through my mind. 

Yes, it's been a really devastating and horrifying week for our country.  Because things are happening . . . that just don't seem quite real or possible.  I mean, I'm not surprised, really.  (Because these actions were promised.)  But, down deep, I had hoped for better.  (Because America.)

But.  Here we are.

I am heartened, though, by the respose of Americans.  Outraged Americans.

These last 10 days (can it really only be 10?) have forced us to come to grips with . . . what it means to BE American.  What values do we hold dear?  What face do we want to put on in the world?  Who ARE we?  

I would say . . . the sleeper HAS awakened.
(And is likely marching down a street near you.)

It's overwhelming right now.  Hard to keep up.  Things are coming at us fast and furious.  It's time to dig deep, my friends.  These days will test who we really are -- as a people; as a nation.  All of us.

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And. . . if you're looking for yet another way to take action, consider signing up for Daily Action.  (You might also be interested in reading this article about the mom who is behind Daily Action.)  You sign up to receive a daily text with ONE action - one that is targeted especially for the day.  Your text will include information, suggestions for a script, and - best of all - direct dial numbers for you to call.

Stay vigilant.  

Dig Deep.  

Wake up -- and make those calls!

 

 


What Next?

What NOW?  What do we do after the marches on Saturday?  

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How do we take all that energy and passion and and momentum . . . and push a little further?

Well.

The folks who organized the DC March have a plan!  As a follow-up to the Women's March they have launched a new campaign:  10 Actions/100 Days.

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Every 10 days - for the first 100 days of the new administration - Hear Our Voice will take action on a new issue we all care about.  You can read more about the campaign here -- and you can sign up for email alerts.

This week?  Action 1/10:  Write a postcard to your senators about what matters most to YOU -- and how you're going to continue to fight for it in the days and weeks and months ahead.  You can download postcards from the site -- or you can use any old postcard you may already have on hand.  (The postcard design isn't important --- but the message you write on the postcard IS!)  

Just write what's in your heart -- about the issues that matter most to you.

If you don't already know the addresses for you senators, the site has a nifty little tool that will spit out their address if you provide your zip code.

This is a quick, easy action that you can take TODAY.

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Check out the site.

Sign up for future alerts.

Write your postcards TODAY.

YES. WE. CAN.

 


Only the Beginning

Well.

That was pretty awesome!

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Like many of you, I marched on Saturday.

I headed to Lansing - in the fog - with 3 of my friends.  We knew it was going to be BIG . . . when we arrived at our Park-and-Ride meet-up point here in Kalamazoo . . . and found the lot overflowing!  There were women meeting women everywhere -- but no places to park.  (We took the last available spots.)  

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The Michigan March on Lansing organizers were hoping for 2,500 . . . and ended up with a crowd of about 9,000!

Here's a photo (not my photo, and unfortunately, I can't figure out who to credit) of the crowd gathering on the grounds of the capitol building.  Later in the day, we spilled out over the sidewalks and into the streets.

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Lots of energy.

Lots of passion.  

And so many pink hats!

It really was inspiring to be part of this event.

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And the signs?  Oh, they were the best!  Here are a few of my favorites . . .

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And, several signs that are, sadly, especially poignant here in Michigan (because, yes -- the Flint water crisis is still very real) . . .

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So much energy!

 It was wonderful to participate in solidarity with my daughter - marching in Pittsburgh, my sister - marching in Cheyenne, my daughter-in-law - marching in Denver, and all of YOU -- all around the the country . . . and the world! 

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YES. WE. CAN.