Political debates make me anxious. Maybe it’s all the not answering of questions or the off-topic attacks or the tick-tock of the answer clock. Nevertheless, I feel that they’re important to watch. So how, then, shall we all survive the election season?

Four Debate Viewing Tips

  • Watch with friends and community.
    It takes the edge off to be around people you know and love. And it helps remind you that the world is not completely crazy. And maybe your friends, like mine, are snarky and clever, and will make you laugh in the midst of it.
  • Talk to the TV.
    Political debates can be endlessly frustrating and angry making (e.g., “Did he really just say THAT?!”). Sometimes it just helps to talk back.
  • Have a drink.
    Beer, wine, pineapple juice, ginger ale, whatever the drink of your choice. Might loosen the tension that slowly builds over the course of the debate or keep you hydrated, depending on your preferences. Both of which can come in handy.
  • Pay attention.
    Even though they can be crazy making, they give you a clear picture of candidates’ talking points and approach to an election. And they give you a starting point for further research. Be an informed voter. I should have paid more attention when I watched the first Warren-Brown debate, but I wasn’t following my other tips and I just got too stressed out by the whole hullabaloo. Next time I will be prepared!

Why Even Watch the Debates?

The political is personal, and knowledge is power. The decisions that are made every day by lawmakers and people in power affect our lives in a very real way. The Affordable Care Act means people close to me will have access to affordable health care (imagine that!) that they didn’t before. Scary laws being proposed (and unfortunately too often passed) limiting access to reproductive freedom, from abortion to birth control, have very real practical consequences. Yes, the political system in our country is effed up—but we’re not going to change it by disengaging.

The Details

If you’re in Massachusetts, don’t miss the rest of the debates between Elizabeth Warren (love her!) and Scott Brown (really don’t love him):

And the Obama-Romney presidential debates:

On a related note: make sure you’re registered to vote and know what you need at the polls!

I am sitting at the window counter of a coffee shop in the square. The stool I sit on is too tall for the counter—or the other way around—so that I bend my back to assume my regular writing posture. I’m auditioning places to write regularly (need one close to home for weekends; my house is too distracting), and I realize that if I were to go with this choice, I’d need to forego this window view—of not much, of the street, of the commuter rail—for a seat at a small table. My would never survive otherwise.

I like this place. I am entranced a bit by the unbroken buzz of voices speaking a language I don’t understand. Albanian, I believe, based on the small flag that hangs behind the register. Today, my heart sank when I saw a framed photograph of the owner and Scott Brown hanging next to it. “Great food, service, and smile,” Brown had written next to his signature. Autograph, in this case, I suppose.

The chai here isn’t quite right, either. The mix is too sweet. They have another kind, but I suspect from the “tiger spice” title that it may be too strong, a little too spicy. I feel like Goldilocks when it comes to chai.

A couple’s voices speaking English breaks into my space here at the counter. An older couple, drinking cappuccinos. I hear talk of the gunk in one of their eyes, of the performance of Beatrice last night in a Shakespeare play I can’t remember the name of. I feel a bit like Harriet the Spy. The woman rocks herself back and forth to propel herself out of the chair, grabbing her canes to make her way back out the door.

It’s not an ideal place to write. It’s not without faults. But perhaps that makes it perfect? Will I need to wait until Elizabeth Warren wins the election to make myself a regular? Decide on a different drink of choice? Find another spot nearby? Or realize that it’s all besides the point? A writer writes. (What cranky old writer said that? It escapes me.) I need to just write.

*     *     *     *     *

Things I dream about related to writing:

Bitch Issue 53

Bitch Issue 53: The Underground Issue

Looking for thought-provoking feminist perspectives, recommendations, and reflections on pop culture? Bitch magazine, a project of Bitch Media (they have an active online presence with blogs, podcasts, and more) is exactly what you’re looking for. I devour each new issue on my commute to work (don’t worry, I take the T), wondering how many people will notice I’m reading a magazine entitled Bitch, how many strange looks might be cast my way, and how many approving, conspiratorial nods I might be getting. I wonder this because I’m too wrapped up in reading to notice. From in-depth analyses of current pop-culture trends and politics to recommendations on the latest awesome music, movies, and books, they offer such a range of compelling fodder for feminists—and everyone else, too!

I love the frame that Bitch Media uses to look at our modern world and the ways they creates such rich dialogue. That’s why I was especially excited to open the new issue (53) and see a letter to the editor I wrote! After reading an article in the last issue that posited the word “victim” is a powerful tool for people who’ve survived sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of violence, I sent the following response:

I appreciated Carrie A. Rentschler’s desire for powerful language that can describe “the harms, injuries, and experiences of oppression and domination” (“Waking Wounded,” no. 52), but I find it curious and worrisome that she doesn’t mention using “survivor” language as a way to do that (for cases in which the person is alive, of course, such as with survivors of sexual assault that were mentioned). Using “survivor” acknowledges the negative power of oppression and domination while also highlighting the strength of the person who has endured them. In work that I’ve done as an advocate and volunteer for organizations supporting survivors of domestic violence, I’ve found such language important and empowering.

Language is so important and powerful—we use it to shape our worlds, our lives, our experiences. That’s one reason I think “survivor” is such an vital word when we’re talking about domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of oppression. And that power of language is also one reason I am so glad that Bitch Media is out there, empowering people with their contributors’ compelling words, cultivating discussion, and just generally totally rocking.

If you are still making last-minute decisions re: end-of-year donations, definitely consider donating to Bitch Media—or if you’re looking for a perfect gift for your favorite feminist friend (or maybe someone who might not think of themselves as a feminist), a subscription is an awesome way to go!

PS. Goal for 2012: submit a piece to Bitch!

This past weekend, I was on a super-short visit in the Shire to spend some time with my parents. After my mom and I went to Whitney’s Farm to pick out carving pumpkins, we were driving back to her house when we passed this billboard:

Billboard for M. Edward Jewelers in Berkshire County

It reads: “Hardware Store for Women,” with a photo of a big, huge diamond and the name of the business: M. Edward Jewelers. “Wow, that’s a sexist ad,” I said. “That’s exactly what I was just thinking!” my mom responded.

The implication that women have no place or interest in actual hardware stores — you know, the ones with hammers and nails and duct tape — is preposterous, of course. I was just in a real hardware store the other day, picking up flashlights and screws for Occupy Boston.

When I think of hardware stores and women, I think of my mom buying canning supplies, gardening tools, and chicken wire. I think of Mimine, a 30-year-old woman who is the lead construction engineer at the building site of the eco-village the Papaye Peasant Movement is creating in rural Haiti.

It makes me sad — and, yes, angry too — to see a local business using old, tired gender stereotypes to try to sell its products. Even if I were interested in buying a diamond, I’d choose another place to do so after seeing this ad. But really, I much more need a hammer than a diamond, thank you.

I’ll be posting more about Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston soon, but quickly, here’s the letter I just e-mailed to Mayor Menino. Voice your support! You can call him at 617-635-4500, or e-mail him at mayor@cityofboston.gov or via the city’s website.

Dear Mayor Menino,

I’m writing to vocalize my support for Occupy Boston and to strongly urge you to respect the protesters’ constitutional right to peaceful assembly. They are using nonviolent action to call attention to corporate greed, to undue influence of corporations on the political process, and to the sickening gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and the 99 percent that have been disenfranchised by this country’s broken systems. Occupy Boston is what democracy looks like. This is nonviolent collective action at its best.

Thank you,

[Insert your name here]

Wow, it’s been awhile. What the heck have I been doing? Well, I guess there’s work. And union stuff. And volunteer stuff. And live-music adventures (that blog needs updating, too). And awesome friends. And some travel. And exploring Boston. So, in two words (yes, two words): a lot.

But I’m going to make an effort to stop by here more often. It feels important. Or if not important, useful. I’m aiming for baby steps. So, for now, I’ll just say: hello!

I’ve been down an online rabbit hole this morning—articles, links, videos, all sorts of inspiration. Which is great for a Saturday morning when you’re up at 7:00 a.m. for no discernible reason. I’ve been stocking up on things I have to share and say over the past two months of not posting, which I’ll slowly get around to, but for now, I must share these two videos that totally rock.

First: Dan Savage and his husband, Terry

I think Dan Savage is pretty cool; his willingness to talk about sex and sexuality in an open and honest way and encourage dialogue on the topic is refreshing. This video totally just upped his cool quotient. His encouragement to young LGBTQ people facing really hard times is not only heartwarming but truly important. “It gets better.

Second: Chimamanda Adichie in her 2009 TED talk.

Articulate and engaging, Adichie highlights why it’s so vital that we each tell our stories, seek out the many stories of others, and do what we can to make it possible for all those stories to be heard. One story is not only boring, it’s dangerous.

Feminist Hulk

"HULK SAYS FUCK PATRIARCHY. HULK HERE TO SMASH GENDER BINARY."

If you haven’t met the delightful genius that is Feminist Hulk on Twitter, you are truly missing out. Feminist Hulk self-identifies as a cisgendered male that totally digs feminism and taking down all sorts of oppression. His motto? “HULK SAYS FUCK PATRIARCHY. HULK HERE TO SMASH GENDER BINARY.” Feminist Hulk even extends his desire to end oppression to language (with an exception for bell hooks): “HULK USE ALL-CAPS. HULK CHOOSE NOT TO IMPOSE HIERARCHY ON LANGUAGE. PLUS, BIG HULK FINGERS MAKE SHIFT-KEY PROBLEMATIC.” Feminist Hulk’s hero is Judith Butler (who I haven’t read, but it’s about time). He says things like, “HULK VALUE THE RISK IT TAKE TO SHARE DELICATE HULK FEELINGS.” He likes to smash things that need smashing. Plus there’s the tiny purple shorts. What’s not to love?

I highly recommend reading Feminist Hulk’s tweets from the very beginning. And once you do, if you want more, check out the Ms. interview and Salon highlight. Then enjoy the daily musings of Feminist Hulk from here on out.

Democracy Day

Support real democracy this Wednesday!

When I was watching Rachel Maddow’s coverage of California’s gubernatorial (awesome word, by the way) primary several weeks ago, I heard a number that I still haven’t been able to get out of my head: $70 million. Meg Whitman, one of the Republican candidates running for her party’s nomination, had spent  more than $70 million of her own money on her campaign. Let me say it again: more than $70 million of her own money. Add donations to that for a grand total of more than $81 million spent during her primary campaign. I can’t even imagine how much she’s going to spend now that she won the Republican nomination.

What does it say about our country, about our electoral system, about our campaign-finance system that a candidate for governor can spend that much money—a number that defies true comprehension—to get elected? And what kind of chance does that give candidates without seemingly unlimited funds at their disposal?

From what I can tell, progressive people don’t usually have that kind of money. They’re too busy trying to make a real difference in people’s lives to accumulate that kind of bank. What does that mean? I think that, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decision blocking a ban on corporate spending in elections, the danger of money corrupting the political process and drowning out progressive voices that are calling for real change is greater than ever before.

Here in Massachusetts, Jill Stein—Green-Rainbow candidate for governor—is the progressive voice the big-money candidates are trying to drown out. I know what a lot of you will say: she won’t win; what’s the point? It’s about so much more than winning. It’s about changing the conversation. How are we ever going to get the change that we want to see in our government if our views on the issues that we care about don’t even get a chance to be heard and discussed?

So, it’s time to help change the conversation here in Massachusetts. Add your voice to those calling for real democracy. Democracy Days, an offshoot of Jill Stein’s campaign, is gearing up for their second Democracy Day: Wednesday, June 30. Pledge just $10 to start changing the conversation and taking back our elections from special interests. I’m not even telling you to vote for her in November. Just pack your lunch one day and give the money you would have spent on lunch out to Jill Stein instead—so her voice can be heard, so your voice can be heard.

Prompt: There I found myself . . .
Time: 10 minutes

There I found myself, lost. Walking up a small winding street with muddy boots. There was a misty rain, the kind that makes an umbrella feel silly, which was convenient since I didn’t have one. On some level, I knew where I was—on a tiny side street in Howth, a small coastal town north of Dublin. But I didn’t know how to get where I was going. Couldn’t locate the rocky path to the cliff walks that my friend told me I must experience. Of course, I didn’t know where I was going in the bigger ways, too. But that was less disconcerting and more refreshing, amazingly full of daunting but real possibility. I ducked into a small shop that appeared, under the guise of buying a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, a name that only just now occurs to me as redundant. Shy of only asking directions—appearing right off like the lone, lost wandering tourist and seeker that I was, even though the moment I walked in the door, I appeared as such—I first perused the shelves, made my selection, paid for it, and thanked the shopkeeper before I asked offhandedly about directions. She kindly pointed me in the right direction and told me to be careful—the trails were slippery with all the rain. She may have said something about being alone, I’m not sure. Either way, I set off with new purpose in my step, appreciating the concern for my safety, knowing that I would be fine, I would be great, I would be exactly where I needed to be no matter how lost I was.

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