Saturday, January 28, 2017

Thoughts After the Women's March on Washington

Many of you had been asking for a recap of the Women's March, but, honestly, I am so depressed this week it is hard to write one.

It's been a week of political (and insane) assault on our democracy and freedom. Our role as an egalitarian, inclusive nation is being completely undermined. It’s the Orwellian stuff of "1984." (Amazon sold out of its copies this week as customers seek a refresher on George Orwell’s dystopian novel.) The new administration has abandoned all aspects of diplomacy and become blatantly blind and insensitive to the world we live in—a global one, an intricately connected, interdependent and symbiotic one. Instead of striving to be a peaceful and welcoming country, the new executive orders being handed down will only create more—and more determined—enemies. Immigrants who have been thoroughly vetted are already being turned away at our borders. Are you fucking kidding me? Unless you are a Native American, we are ALL immigrants here.

Don't even get me started on all the other hair-pulling, primal scream-inducing madness coming out of Washington—the war on education, on the environment, on healthcare, on the media, on science, on immigration, on the basic human rights we have worked so hard for over the decades. Not the least of which is abortion. The conservative-minded righteousness about protecting an unborn fetus is ridiculous when you consider the utter lack of support for the mother and child after an unwanted or unplanned baby is born. Take a look at the foster care system in this country and you will see exactly what I mean. (If you don't believe in abortion, don't have one. But what others choose to do with what’s in their own uterus is their business.)

My brain is so overloaded with all the alarming news this week my head feels as if it will explode. My soul is feeling so crushed I can barely cope.






But for that one day, Saturday, January 21, I felt so empowered, so supported, so encouraged by the huge numbers of people who showed up to protest. Organizers were hoping for at least 100,000 in Washington, D.C., but estimates state it was closer to 500,000. We packed the streets so tightly we could barely move our feet. We listened to intelligent, caring people speak as they took their turns on the stage. We chanted and held up our protest signs and wore our pink pussy hats. (Those pink, cat-eared hats filled airplanes, buses and sidewalks leading up to the march, and on the day of the march they created a sea of pink lighting up a cloudy day with vibrant color.) We made friends. We made headlines. We made it known that we are not going to accept this new (and dangerous) administration.

Even babies marched.
In their pussy hats.
Even more encouraging was that people marched on ALL SEVEN CONTINTENTS—proof that American policy affects the whole planet. And there are a whole lot of people on the planet who don’t want the world to end. Women, men, and various combinations thereof, showed up in person to stand for equality, democracy, and, above all, for world peace. Even in places with temperatures well below zero, people marched. In the hallways of hospital cancer wards, people marched. On board ships, people marched. On rural highways, people marched. All the way around the globe, people protested the new president and his policies. More than 3 million took to the streets. And not one single arrest was made.

As for me personally, marching was never on my bucket list. Normally if I had anything to protest I would simply write about it. But nothing feels normal anymore. So I joined the masses in Washington.

Shoulder to shoulder with like-minded strangers, I joined my fellow marchers in shouts and cheers and warrior-like cries. “Women’s rights are human rights.” “Hey, hey, ho, ho, [you know who] has got to go.” And the one that still runs through my head after saying it so many times—answering the call of “Tell me what democracy looks like”—“THIS is what democracy looks like.”

I felt so proud to be there, saying those words. I felt like I was no longer just me, not caught up in myself or my own needs. For the first time in my life I was part of something so much bigger. I was one tiny speck of a larger organism, a force of life called Humanity.

“This is what democracy looks like.”

I felt so proud of the other people who showed up to say those words. Proud of the solidarity, the camaraderie, and the politeness displayed by all. Proud of the diversity, the vast range of ages, shapes, sizes, colors and costumes.

“This is what democracy looks like.”

During that day, pressed so tightly against the bodies of others, I felt so hopeful that not all of humanity has lost their sense of compassion or care for others’ well being. I felt hopeful that with this huge show of concerned citizens that we can preserve our freedoms, uphold our Constitution, and reestablish our reputation as a country that is united with the Free World and not with New World Order.

“This is what democracy looks like.”
This is what democracy looks like.

Like I said, that was last week. The challenge now—and it’s a big one—is to maintain that positive feeling, to not lose hope, to not let my brain explode or my soul get extinguished. I know I’m not alone in my despair. I know the 3 million people who marched share my sentiments. And I know there are millions more, as not everyone who wanted to march could be out there.

We marched. We turned up in impressive, unprecedented numbers. But now what? What can we do? How can we help? And how can we maintain any sense of optimism going forward?

Keep calling your representatives. Send them letters. Run for office yourself, even your local school board. Donate money to and/or volunteer for the organizations whose causes you care about, especially the ones threatened with de-funding. Organize in your own communities. Sign up for “10 Actions, 100 Days.” Write letters to the editor. Take time for self-care. Keep marching. (To stand up for science. And to demand someone's tax returns.)

Yes, yes. Got it. That’s a list of what I’ve heard and read so far. But what else? I’m sorry for not offering any solutions or salves here. Instead, I am asking YOU for them.

Please write to me and tell me what keeps you going. Tell me what you are doing, what action you are taking, what seems to be working, and especially how you are staying optimistic in this new—and hopefully short-lived—era. Seriously. Please write to me. My email is beth [at] theworldneedsmorepie [dot] com. I promise to compile all the answers and share them with you.

Pink flowers awaited me back on the farm.
It's so nice to have the support of my partner.
In the meantime, I am still doing laundry and catching up on my sleep. There are more marches ahead—and more blog posts to write—and I need to be ready.


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Read this article in the Huffington Post: 10 Things The Women’s March On Washington Accomplished

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Women’s March on Washington: Just Go

Ready for Washington.
"I am woman, hear me roar."
I hate crowds. I avoid rock concerts and rallies. I shy away from situations or gatherings that might put me in harm’s way. Especially now, in today’s increasingly violent, gun-toting, backpack-bombing atmosphere, previously safe situations like going to an airport or a nightclub or a marathon have become tenuous and slightly terrifying. But when the Women’s March on Washington was announced I ran straight to my computer and booked my flight to DC. I didn’t think twice about potential danger (or the possibility of getting arrested). Nor did I even stop to think about needing a concrete reason to go. It was like a calling from a higher power. My gut feeling took over and grabbed my credit card from my purse. And before I even thought about what I was doing--or why--I had already printed out my airline itinerary.

Many of my closest friends are also flying or driving to Washington. Others are marching in other corners of the country, in LA, Austin, New York, Chicago, Portland, Park City and Des Moines. Many of them had the same instinct. “Just go.” 

But I’ve heard rumblings from other women—and from a handful of critics voicing their negativity in the media—about how there is no real mission for the march, no specific agenda. Who are the speakers? What is the unified message? What will we do once we get there? What is the purpose, the take-away? What action will come of this? This kind of response, which I deemed a little too nitpicky, made me feel sad, as if people’s need for control overrides their ability to take a chance on life.

Overthinking creates limitations. Why would you want to know all the answers before you set out on the journey? As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing.” If you had all kinds of pre-set expectations and objectives, what kind of adventure would it be then? Besides, expectations can lead to disappointment.

Ten years ago I heard Alice Brock from Alice’s Restaurant (yes, the one in the Arlo Guthrie song) interviewed on NPR. She was asked about the loose style of running her business and she said, “Not being locked into a ‘plan’ or a prescribed way of doing something leaves room for all kinds of wonderful stuff to happen.”

What I had remembered her saying in that interview (though oddly I couldn't find it in the transcript) is: “If I had known what I was getting into I never would have started it.”

I can think of so many times that “I never would have started” has applied to me: Moving to Germany to marry Marcus, for one. Starting a pie business in the American Gothic House, another. Traveling around the world making pie. Moving onto a farm in rural Iowa—with a farmer. And soon, marching with hundreds of thousands of women and men in Washington. The pattern is clear, the results, obvious: When you step into the unknown magnificent things can happen. I have never regretted taking a risk. Ever.

I’m all for being responsible. And careful. I don’t live entirely on the edge. I exercise. I eat my vegetables. I sleep eight hours a night. I floss (though not as often as I should.) I have health insurance (for now.) I look both ways before crossing the street (both literally and figuratively.) But above and beyond anything else, I honor and follow my guiding forces: my heart, my gut, trust and faith.

In “My Life on the Road,” Gloria Steinem writes, “If you find yourself drawn to an event against all logic, go. The universe is telling you something.”

But someone else—someone I have great respect for—put it in even more succinct terms. (No, not Oprah.) It was Barack Obama who, in his eloquent farewell speech, said, “Show up. Dive in. Stay at it. Believe that you can make a difference. Hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.”

To my mind that “something bigger” is community. Community is the foundation for the even bigger stuff: Democracy. Equality. Women’s rights. Human rights. And if showing up in the nation’s capitol to create a community, to demonstrate just how much those values mean to me--to so many of us-- then, agenda specifics or not, I’m there.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. So on January 21st at 10:00 a.m., bundled up in my down jacket and my hand-knit pussyhat, I will lace up my marching boots and add my body—and my voice—to a sea of humanity as it moves along Independence Avenue. I will go with the belief that just showing up is the first step to making a difference. I will stay positive that it will be a peaceful, safe event. And more than anything, I will stay open to the adventure and all the great new friendships, ideas, power, unity and community that is sure to come from the experience. 

I hope you will join me!


RESOURCES:
Women's March on Washington website
Sister Marches in other cities
Knit or sew your own Pussy Hat
Buy your America Needs Nasty Women gear

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Blogging in a Noisy World: Why it Matters


You may not have noticed my absence but I am fully aware of the neglect of my blog. Aware, I say, because I miss writing here. I miss the process of mulling over topics, asking questions of life and writing my way into the answers. That’s not to say I have not been mulling, asking and writing! I’ve been doing plenty of that by way of meditating, talking with friends and writing in my journal. It’s only that I haven’t been sharing my thoughts and words here.

Why?

Because it’s become such a crowded and noisy app-happy world out there. Besides Blogger (where you are now), there is Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snap Chat, Pinterest and LinkedIn, Tumblr and Google Plus, YouTube and WhatsApp. To name a few. There are so many ways of connecting it makes my head spin. It also makes me want to unplug and crawl back into an electricity-free cave.

It’s not just the plethora of social networking sites; it’s what’s on them. I believe everyone has a story to tell. I believe everyone should have a voice. But when I read some of the mean-spirited stuff out there it gives me pause. Worse, it makes me afraid to put my own words—myself—out there. Not only am I reluctant to heap more on the slush pile of chatter (and, god forbid, with the incoming administration end up on some watchlist), I am reticent to subject myself to the vicious comments of some who feed on ripping others apart—trolls, as they are called, who unleash an unbridled viciousness that is, unfortunately, on the rise. We’ve seen this kind of unseemly behavior growing in the past several years with politicians decimating each other like Barbarians in the Coliseum. We’ve heard the rhetoric sink so low it has been deemed hate speech, only to see it repeated and reprinted as headline news. That’s a lot of noise. Mean-spirited, negative noise.

I got a taste of this negativity, albeit a tiny morsel, a few months ago on Facebook when I posted a photo of President and Michelle Obama that included a caption (not mine) asking people to share if you wanted to thank the Obamas for their grace and dignity through these past eight years. Yes, I did want to thank them. I marveled (still marvel) at their strength and grace, diplomacy, class, and integrity as they’ve handled all the *&$%# that’s been flung their way, all the obstacles so obnoxiously placed in their path. (Which, I consider our path, the path to health, human rights and individual freedoms.) So I posted.

In response to this post I was greeted with comments negating my fond sentiments—and several people voiced some pretty harsh opinions. So I hastened to add, “In the spirit of what this post says about grace and dignity, I will delete any negative comments.” I deleted a disturbing number, including one from a high school classmate—from our Catholic high school. Upon noticing her comment had been removed, she shot back with claims to her right to free speech. In turn, others jumped in on her angry response, until there was a long thread of people arguing back and forth about free speech, about how a person’s Facebook page belongs to that person and therefore exempt from any constitutional rights, followed by more polarized opinions about the Obamas. On my post. A post that was supposed to be positive, an innocent means of saying thanks.

My parents. I appreciate
their old-fashioned values
more than ever
All through my childhood, my mother hammered us kids about minding our manners. I can still hear her voice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.” And her other frequent refrain: “That’s not charitable,” a reprimand in response to any of our unkind or selfish missteps.

Say something nice or don’t say anything. Be charitable. These are the simple rules I learned from my mom. The ones I learned from my dad are just as important: Surround yourself with positive people. And, above all, always remember to say thank you.

But it has become glaringly evident—from my fellow Catholic school classmates to our president-elect—that not everyone was raised with these rules.

I really do believe that each of us has a story to tell. But stories need to be told in a way we can all hear. Shouting doesn’t work. Negativity is unnecessary. And bullying is unacceptable. Without civility and good manners our society will topple faster than a tower of Jenga blocks.  And you shouldn’t need me—or my mother—to tell you that. It should be common sense!

I kept wondering about the high school classmate and why her reaction to my post was so strong, so angry. So I dug a little into her Facebook page and saw that she was divorced and a single mom. I am cautious about making assumptions, but I wondered if her anger had more to do with her and less about the Obamas or free speech. Maybe she was devastated by her divorce. Maybe she was struggling to raise her kids on her own. It made me think of another of those oft-reposted Facebook quotes:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” 

So I held her in my thoughts, sending her telepathic waves of love and compassion. And then, in a proactive move of self-protection, I unfriended her.

Forget your closet, apply this
method to your social media 
My sister would advise, “Garbage in, garbage out. What we take in affects us and we send it back out. So best to avoid the garbage.” I am not saying this in reference to the classmate; I’m referring to the bigger picture. I’ve needed to do a Marie Kondo on social media, my blog included, and tidy up. Sharing my innermost thoughts, my hopes and beliefs, was not sparking joy; it was invoking dread, even fear.

And yet, my profession is writing, communicating, networking. It’s my calling. I need connection the way Simone Biles needs backflips. Even if it means spending time on social media. (And when you live on a farm in rural Iowa, sometimes social media is the only practical means of having a social life.)

Even when I have vowed not to, I have continued to post on Facebook, and sometimes Twitter. I have also continued to break my personal rule about staying politically neutral. For years I have preached that pie was not about politics, that pie creates community, unifies and bridges some of the most disparate gaps. I’m confident that I have proven this principal over and over—all the way around the globe, in fact—by baking pie with people from some of the widest ranges of cultures, socioeconomic groups, religions, and political beliefs.

Making pie with kids in a South African township.

Pie, for me, has always been a metaphor for peace. (As if that wasn’t already obvious.) And because peace is eluding us in our current climate, it’s time for me to drop the “no politics” rule entirely. It is time for me to speak up. To add my voice to the noisy world. To contribute any constructive, positive, peace-making thoughts I can to help counter the dark forces of fear, greed, ignorance, and bullying.

My politics are not about party-based divisiveness. My goal going forward is to keep bringing the conversation back to basic values, like empathy and inclusiveness—you know, the foundations of Christianity—while keeping the conversation polite. My mission is to preserve decency and manners, and to promote respect—for each other, as well as for our environment. We all have to breathe the same oxygen from our atmosphere; we all depend on clean drinking water for our survival. Forget politics. Preserving earth’s limited resources and saving our species starts with remembering we share just one planet, and therefore we all have to get along.

Obviously “getting along” is a hard charge for us. But we can at least try. For example, even if it takes some effort, we can start by restraining ourselves before venting on social media. Instead of making negative, contrarian, inflammatory comments, how about not saying anything at all. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Even a baby step like this is a good start.

And lest I sound like a hypocrite, let me say this blog post is not meant to be a rant or negative commentary. I am simply trying to sort through the confusion of life and use my best means of solution seeking: writing an essay.

Mull over the topic. Ask the questions. Write my way into the answers. In this case, the answers are really very simple, so simple I could have conveyed them in five words instead of 1,500:

Have courage and practice kindness.

And write more. On my blog.

It may be a crowded, noisy world out there but everyone has a story, everyone has a voice. This is my story, my voice. And just like I would with a homemade pie, I’ve put my heart and my best intentions into my words before sharing them. Thank you for reading them.