Why do we ignore Veterans?

Today is Veteran’s Day in the United States, the one day of the year we honor those who served in the military. On the other days of the year, we forget them. We step over homeless vets as they sleep on the street. We complain about the budget deficit while our country fights a war in Afghanistan. We underfund the VA. We ignore the thousands of families living on military bases while their loved ones fight far away from home. We’re all patriotic when we see a young person in a military uniform but as soon as they’re out of sight we forget them.

Thank a Veteran for fighting for you. Thank a Veteran’s family for letting them go. Thank a Veteran for the years they dedicated and the hours they spent facing death. Do it today, but do it tomorrow, too. These men and women sacrificed for you and their beliefs. Sometimes they joined the military because they didn’t have any other choice; these are kids from rural areas with no money for college or a job waiting for them after high school. Some of them were drafted. Some fought because it was the right thing to do. Some fought even when they knew there was no good reason to.

They deserve our respect, not pity. They deserve to be remembered and honored every day, not just once a year with a flag wave. Thank a Veteran for their service, and then call your Congressperson and let them know you stand with Veterans. Demand fair treatment. That’s the best way we can say thank you.

Veterans-Day-2016

Image from Business Wire http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20161110006634/en/Ryder-Marks-Veterans-Day-4500-Military-Veteran

Lobbying for Healthcare in a bizarre world called Congress.

My plane landed in Washington DC at 5:30 AM. I’d never taken a “red eye” before and I was surprised I’d managed to get a little sleep on the flight from San Francisco. Grabbing my suitcase I found my shuttle and rode the 20 minutes to my hotel. In the lobby, the clerk said cheerfully, “Good morning. Checking in?”

I held up a finger. “Just a minute. Where’s the bathroom?” She pointed down the hall to my left.

Quickly I changed out of my yoga pants and tshirt and put on my professional looking dress, one I had chosen because it didn’t wrinkle. I brushed my teeth, put on earrings, slippped into heels, and added lipstick. After leaving my overstuffed suitcase with the front desk I joined the group of people heading to Congress to fight for health care for people with Mitochondrial Disease. It was 7 AM and I needed coffee bad. But I was ready.

19702009_10155567028774515_4647985694440954007_n

This was day one of the UMDF conference. I joined my assigned group, a doctor and a mom from California and a man who had LHON. We were to meet with 5 of our political representatives or their staff,  in the Senate and the House. At first we weren’t sure what to do, but once we got to Senator Feinstein’s office our group found its voice. The doctor in our group explained about Mitochondrial disease and the research efforts of the National Institute of Health. The mom talked about supplements and the need for insurance companies to provide them. The man with LHON talked about being affected with a disease. And I talked about the day-to-day-caring for my child and how important MediCare was for her life. The staffer took notes and asked numerous questions. We four felt like we’d made an impact.

The next staffer was either new or simply overwhelmed. He took a few notes, but mostly looked like he had no idea what was happening. We were all crammed into the reception room of Kamala Harris’s offices and people came and went and chatted over our heads as we tried to give our presentation. I couldn’t blame the poor guy; it was Thursday and all week people had been yelling about the GOP Healthcare Bill. Everyone was desperate to go home for the 4th of July break and I suspect at 10 am he’d already worked 5 hours.

From the Senate building we walked across the Capital grounds toward The House of Representatives Building We had to take the long way because the Capital building was blocked off by armed military police. Our local escort shrugged it off;  road closures and the military on alert was just an ordinary day in Washington DC.

At the Offices of the House of Representatives we gave the same presentation, this time directly to Judy Chu. She was extremely kind and appeared interested in what we had to say. Here was a real pro, someone who could listen to people talking health care during a week the words “health care” made people scream. At the end of our meeting, I thanked her.

“I really appreciate how hard you and other Democrats are fighting for people with disabilities like my daughter.”

She shook my hand and smiled. I wonder if politicians get many thank you’s?

19665197_10155567022479515_8029605538222205210_n

Then we met with a Republican staffer from New York who was obviously fed up with the words “health care” and gave us 4 minutes of his time. By then our group had split up. I met my Representative, Jared Huffman, on my own. Our meeting time had been changed but I didn’t know, so I sat with a staffer and talked about my daughter. By then it was 3:00 and my brain was so fried I couldn’t remember my part of the presentation, let alone how to explain Mitochondrial disease and the National Institute of Health. I’d walked up and down and around the halls so many times I lost track of which building I was in. But this staffer sat at the table with me, smiled warmly and asked questions. And then Jared Huffman himself stepped out of a meeting for 2 minutes to shake my hand. I wanted to hug him, but instead, I thanked him.

Walking around those buildings, I passed office after office of congresspeople from every state. Climbing the stairs, I detected that the marble steps closest to the hand rail were slightly grooved; thousands of footsteps over hundreds of years had slowly worn down the lip of each step. Every conversation crashed into the next, echoing down the stone halls. There wasn’t a moment of quiet, not even inside the offices where we met people who at least appeared to want to help. Once, I used the wrong elevator, accidentally hopping on the one reserved for elected officials. An older gentlemen in a nice suit smiled but didn’t reprimand me. I wonder which state he represents?

By the end of the day, I was worn out, confused, and ready to finally check into my hotel room for a shower. But I was also exhilarated. Here I was, actually talking to people in Congress about healthcare the same week Congress was debating healthcare. I shook the hands of people fighting for my daughter. I don’t know how they do it, day in and day out.

And I have a better understanding of our democracy, at least the ideal of democracy. A thriving democracy is more than just voting every few years; it requires participation. It needs us to talk and listen and debate and argue. We need to interact with our Senators and Representatives and make sure they hear us. Otherwise the only people they’ll hear are the people with the checkbook.

I love Washington DC. This makes the second time I’ve been there since January and I have a feeling I’ll be back.

Bury My Heart at Standing Rock

mordant-standingrock-01

images from North Country Public Radio

When I heard the news, I cried.

After a year of peaceful protest, millions of supporters, veterans providing protection, celebrities raising awarenes, and Native Tribes from all over the world joining together to fight for clean water, the oil company won. The North Dakota Access Pipeline is being built as I write this and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it.

youngmanpolice

Image from Democracy Now

Does money always win?

When I saw the police rolling in on miliatary style troop carriers to surround the Oceti Sakowin camp, complete with riot gear and assault rifles, I cried. How many times in our history have Native People faced this exact situation?

nationalguardteepee

Image from Voice of America

All the People wanted was clean water. That’s it. They didn’t want to annex the land back to the reservation or build a casino or anything more than a guarantee that they and their grandchildren would have clean water to drink. Clean water. One of the basic requirements of survival.

And now there’s no guarantee they’ll have clean water next year.

regina-brave

Image from Native News Online

I feel powerless, angry and sad. I sent money to help the Water Protectors buy supplies for winter and then more money to hire lawyers. Thousands of people did the same. But none of us have enough power or wealth to fight oil companies and protect clean water.

Then I saw this: https://twitter.com/the_orangeidiot/status/834590610644402177  This the final message from Raymond Kingfisher, leader of the Cheyenne People and of Oceti Sacowin Camp. With tears in his eyes and a voice filled with emotion, he led the final prayers and thanked everyone for their support. He also promised that the fight wasn’t over.

raymondkingfisher

Image from WhiteWolfPack.com

This powerful video recorded on the last day of the protest shook me. If these people can walk away peacefully and proclaim the battle isn’t over, then so can I. If they can face that stark grief but still have hope, then so can I.

I will fight for people with disabilities, for equality, for compassion, for freedom of the press and of speech. I will fight for healthcare and education. And yes, for clean water.

raisedfists

Image from CNN

I will fight for the welfare of future generations, just as the tribes at Standing Rock did.

Here is another powerful report from the last days of  Oceti Sacowin Camp from Intercept, by Jihan Hafiz: https://theintercept.com/2017/02/25/video-a-closing-prayer-for-standing-rocks-oceti-sakowin/

And here is how you can help the battle:https://medium.com/@ShaunKing/please-support-these-5-standing-rock-legal-defense-funds-to-stop-the-dakota-access-pipeline-754be4674ec2#.b6nzwtxnh  (thank you Shaun King for putting this list together)

How to be Kind.

dchitwood_noactofkindness

(image from http://madison.citymomsblog.com/kindness/)

 

Someone said, “You’re a better person than I am,” when I told him about my 100 days of kindness challenge. He said he couldn’t imagine just ignoring all the hatred going around. But that’s not what the challenge is about. Staying silent when you see injustice is not being kind. Speak up. Speak out. Protest. Fight. But do it in a way that shows your strength and integrity.The challenge is to not feed the anger and hatred.

How?

No name calling. If someone says something you disagree with, or you find offensive, tell them. But don’t stoop to calling them stupid or idiot or something worse. If they say something bad about you, tell them to stop. If they don’t, ignore them. People who have no better argument than calling you a “libtard” aren’t worth your energy.

Practice empathy. Take two minutes while you’re waiting in line to imagine what it must feel like to be the girl bagging up your groceries. Or how hard it must be for the person using a wheel chair to get all her shopping done. Instead of zoning out on your phone, look at the people around you. Everyone is struggling, not just you.

Hold the door for someone who’s hands are full.

Give up your seat on the bus if someone needs it.

Buy a cup of coffee for a homeless person on a cold morning.

When someone cuts you off in traffic or shoves past you in line, take a deep breath and count to ten before reacting. Take that pause to deescalate the anger and keep a clear head. Then decide how to react. Will you let it go, or confront the person? Either way you’ll be in better control of yourself.

Being kind is simple. Just remember all the lessons we were taught in elementary school about respect and bullying and follow them as an adult. It’s no mystery. Stand up for what is right. Refuse to spread hate. Be polite. Be considerate. But take no shit.

 

 

 

Why I won’t run to Canada

My daughter cannot move to Canada; she has multiple disabilities so is considered a drain on resources. No country anywhere will accept her. She is a disabled woman trapped in the United States, a country that doesn’t want her.

DSC_8007.jpg

(photo by Diane Davis https://www.facebook.com/dianedavisphotography/info/?tab=page_info)

So when you talk about moving to Canada if Trump wins, think about what that means. Think about the people who don’t have that option. They are the people who need you to fight for them.

The ability to leave a bad situation is often based on ones resources. Do you have the money to go somewhere else? Do you have people who will help and protect you? You might wonder why a  person living in a bad neighborhood doesn’t move to a better one. Many times, they can’t. If you can, you are blessed. Don’t assume others have the same chance.

My daughter is one of those “losers” Donald Trump talks about. She can’t work and she is dependent on other people to care for her. I am one of those losers because I need social service supports and welfare to help me take care of her. Call me a welfare mom and I’ll agree proudly. We are not “winners,”as Trump would say, and there are a lot of people in this country who are the same.

But that doesn’t make us bad people. That doesn’t make my daughter worthless.

My daughter can’t fight for herself, but I can fight for her. And I will stand by her and fight with all my strength to protect her from the rise of hate and intolerance permeating the United States. Racists and fascists will not touch her.

Will you help? Or will you hide?

People with Disabilities vs. Caregivers. No one wins.

On August 21, 2015 a Federal Appeals Court reversed a Lower Court ruling regarding overtime pay for Home Health Care Workers. In the ruling, the court ended the exemption  of home care workers from overtime pay. The long term caregivers union is rejoicing. Advocates for people with disabilities are angry. The fight isn’t over.

People with disabilities are concerned that they will lose caregiver hours because agencies will stop paying the full hours people need to stay in their homes. Private pay employers won’t be able to afford their workers. Caregivers are angry because they are paid low wages but must work more than 8 hours a day. Caregivers are fighting for a livable wage and people with disabilities are fighting to live.

When people with disabilities are pitted against the people who care for them, who wins?

This battle reflects a deeper problem. People with disabilities are not considered viable members of society and therefor have no value.  The people who care for them are primarily people of color and women, groups traditionally considered low status. The system of caring for people with disabilities is structured around “cost savings.” As long as it is shown that keeping people in their homes saves society money, then doing so is considered important. But what cost do you place on respect and dignity?

Caregivers work as nurses, housekeepers, drivers, secretaries and cooks. They often bathe, dress, and help toilet severely disabled people and are paid minimum wage. Despite the long hours, most caregivers are dedicated to their clients and feel that they are making a difference in the world.

People with disabilities rely on their caregivers to not only support their physical needs, but to also help them engage with the world and enjoy their lives. The threat that they may lose their supports if a pay increase is mandated is real. State budgets are strapped and agencies run with minimal staff. Where will the money come from? And for those who have  to pay out of pocket for caregivers, will the changes force them to go into an institution simply because their insurance will pay for it?

I am my daughter’s caregiver. I also rely on other caregivers to help me keep my daughter in our home. I gladly work far more hours than I am paid, and I know other caregivers who do the same. Many of these workers are not family members, but they know if they didn’t donate hours their clients would suffer.

It’s time for caregivers and people with disabilities to stop fighting each other. People need to stay in their homes and workers need a livable wage. Rather than suing each other, it is time for both groups to unite and demand increased funding for programs that support the disabled. We need to examine our society and ask why we are so willing to throw people away simply because they can’t care for themselves.

Nurses: stuck between patient’s needs and doctor’s demands.

i am sitting next to my husband’s hospital bed watching his nurse try to take care of him. He’s being treated for cancer with Brachytherapy and must in the hospital for two days. Since his arrival yesterday, his pain has been awful. The nurses desperately paged various doctors to authorize more medication, but they could only decrease the pain, not stop it. 

Today his day nurse has been doing the same thing. 

The Resident came and went. A Nurse Practitioner came and went. Promises were made. Meds were increased a little. The Pain Management Team was supposed to be here over an hour ago. The nurse keeps calling. And in between calls she takes care of him. I can see the frustration on her face. 

I don’t know who to yell at, so I keep asking the nurse when the doctor will come. “15 minutes,” she says. The doctor doesn’t come. She pages again. “15 minutes,” she tells me again. He doesn’t come. After an hour I stop asking. She’s as upset as I am.

Nursing must be one of the hardest jobs on the planet. They take care of frightened people in pain while dealing with frightened family members and disappearing doctors. They must answer questions they don’t have the answers to and handle angry outbursts when the doctor doesn’t show up. And if they make a mistake, they could create more suffering for their patients.

Nurses work in the mine field between the needs of their patients and the demands of the doctors.

Throw in hospital regulations and redundant paperwork and it’s a miracle your nurse doesn’t go crazy. Maybe she does, but it’s part of her training to hide it well.

Thank you nurses at UCSF Mission Bay. Thank you nurses everywhere.