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

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.

The Politics of Mardi Gras Beads

Not only was my trip to New Orleans during Mardi Gras fun and fascinating, it was also educational. I learned about hierarchy and power through the glorification of strands of beautiful, plastic, beads.

photo by Ronald Losure via Panaramio

Mardi Gras beads come with rules. The beads with the name of the Krew throwing them are more desirable than just plain beads, even if the plain beads are a more beautiful color. And the ones with medallions are even more valuable. People will brawl over a strand of gold beads with a Bacchus medallion. I kid you not. A woman gouged my hand with her long, lethal finger nails to snatch a strand of beads from me. But there is also a wild camaraderie in the crowds begging for beads and people will often congratulate you for  catching a good one. Someone draped with 20 pounds of beads is viewed with cheerful respect (25 pounds is not an exaggeration. Real Mardi Gras beads are heavy!). The Krews earn respect by the amount and variety of beads they throw.

The cost of those beads determines who gets to throw them. The wealthy can afford a seat on a float in a Krew while the poor either march in one of the marching bands or stand on the road begging for beads. Young, blond women get the most beads because most of the riders on the floats are wealthy, white men. Not all, and the Krews are becoming more egalitarian as times change in New Orleans. Sadly, I witnessed two young black girls, probably about 10, become heartbroken when they weren’t thrown beads like all the other, whiter children. I talked with their grandfather who explained how black people get fewer beads. He grew up in New Orleans and was now in his late 60’s; his entire family has dealt with the reality and now his granddaughters were feeling it first hand.

The power of the beads extends throughout the French Quarter. Bourbon Street is notorious for young women showing their breasts for strands of beads. This year, the police were writing tickets to anyone who bared her breasts, but women still did it. On one night, I stood on a balcony far above the chaos and watched the people beside me toss beads at partiers below. One young man had a huge strand of large beads and he waived it above the crowd like a fisherman waiving bait at a trout. A young girl stood below him and danced for the beads. He demanded she show her “tits”. She didn’t want to, but the young men she was with on the street coaxed and teased until she hesitantly lifted her shirt. Everyone cheered. The man on the balcony smiled and then tossed her a strand of thin, cheap beads, not the ones she had shown her boobs for. He laughed at her disappointed face. I turned to him and said, “Wow. You’re an asshole.” He called me a bitch. I walked away before I hit him with his giant strand of plastic beads.

The fight for beads was more intense this year because of the dockworker’s strike in Los Angeles. The city of New Orleans had ordered an extra shipment of beads from China, but the container holding millions of strands of beads was stuck in the LA harbor while the dockworkers and the port fought over a labor contract. That meant many of the people in the crowds were from other Krew’s hoping to fill up their bead stock before their parade the following day. No Krew wants to be known as stingy with beads. A group of women in matching yellow t-shirts held a large basket hoop with a box attachment to encourage bead throwers to aim for them. I was told they were from a rival Krew.

After four parades and numerous tours around “the Quarter” I had about 40 pounds of beads to haul home. I tried giving some away but was told by my husband (a native of New Orleans) “No!” Our beads were our booty, something to brag about and hang proudly in the window of our living room. The more you have, the better.

I wonder what will happen to the shipping container of beads now that Mardi Gras is over?

Thank you, and Happy Birthday Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was alive when I was born. The following year, he was murdered. Despite the attempt to silence him, I grew up listening to his words and reading his story. His message resonated deeply within me.  But why had this black man affected the life of a little white girl growing up in California?

Because I am white, there is no way I can fully comprehend the power of his message. But his words about unity, freedom, and love are for everyone, black and white, male or female. I am awed by his willingness to stand up for the rights of black people in a world that hated him for being black. He was a man with a family and I’m sure he was scared most of the time. But he couldn’t stay silent. His strength is why a gun couldn’t stop  him.

My parents were hippies in the 1970’s so I was lucky enough to learn about Dr. King and Vietnam and integration at the dinner table. I knew who The Black Panthers were and I could find Saigon on a map. But no one impressed me more than Dr. Martin Luther King.

Today, I continue to educate myself about freedom and equality in my country. As a white woman, I can never understand how it feels to be black in this country. I try not to speak for the black community. Dr. King’s message of equality should inspire us all to do better. Recognize racism wherever it is and fight to end it. Don’t turn your back on injustice.

Dr. King would be marching in the streets for justice today. He would also be preaching about love and forgiveness. America can not exist with an “us vs them” mentality. We must work together.

A bullet killed the man in 1968. Don’t let apathy kill the message.

The Day of Giving: Are We Giving to the Right Places?

food pantry

image from Press Democrat, Health Report shows Lake County’s Death Rate Twice the National Average. http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20130904/articles/130909815

The Day of Giving falls after the four days of extreme shopping, and though I’m happy there is a day acknowledging the need for charity, it angers me. I don’t have a problem with charity itself, I have a problem with where much of the charity goes. Too much charity in the United States feeds the myth that we are the country of wealth and there are no poor people here. Well, maybe there are a few, which is sad, but they are much better off than the poor starving children in Africa.

Bullshit.

First, let me acknowledge the fact that there are millions of people in the world who need help. Millions of people are starving, living in refuge camps, dying of treatable diseases, living in war zones… I am not negating any of that. People do indeed need our help, and I don’t want to take away any of the support given to desperate people in Africa and Asia. But just sending money “over there” without a thought to the needs of the hungry children in our own nation perpetuates the fantasy that there is enough support here and no one lives in squalor like they do in Afghanistan.

Again, Bullshit.

When I worked for Easter Seals in Lake County as an early interventionist, visiting families with young, special needs children (under 3), teaching them the skills needed to help their children thrive, I witnessed American poverty.  In the 2 years I did this work, I met many families living in trailers with broken windows and blue tarps covering their falling roofs, families who had to choose between heat and food, families in need of medical care without access to a doctor. There were large families who lived together, ten people crammed into a two bedroom house, because that was the only way they could afford housing. One little girl I worked with cried when her color crayons melted from the summer heat because she lived in a house without electricity; there was electricity available, but her family couldn’t pay the bill. Most of these families lived in the City of Clearlake, the largest city in Lake County (pop. 15,000), which still has dirt roads, poor sanitation, and mercury contaminated drinking water.

Whenever I hear someone living in beautiful Sonoma County talk about how sad it is that children are starving in Africa, I want to shout, “What about the children starving just one hour away from you?” To those who sponsor children in Mexico, is there a way to sponsor a child in Clearlake? Or Detroit? The schools could use new text books, heat, and repairs. The clinics could use more doctors. The roads could use pavement.

It is important that we try to help people in poverty all over the world. But when it’s time to send money overseas, lets not forget the hungry child who is probably living two blocks away from you.