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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

100 days of kindness

The first 100 days of a presidency are meaningful. The president elect announces, “In my first 100 days…” and everyone watches to see if he follows through. The first 100 days can set the tone for the rest of his term. That’s why I want to challenge everyone to 100 days of kindness.

President-elect Trump has spoken proudly about his dislike of foreigners and Muslims. He has denigrated women and mocked people with disabilities. His tone has made it okay for white supremacists and misogynists to harass people of color and women. Even people who don’t think of themselves as racist now believe it’s fine to tell racists jokes in public. Lashing out at your neighbor is allowed.

But I believe we can set a new tone simply by being as vocal about kindness as Trump is about hate. Trump has embraced social media as his platform of intolerance. We need to take it away and turn it into a platform of kindness.All you have to do is report kindness on social media with the hash tag #100daysofkindness. Share a kind word with the world. Take a picture of an act of kindness and post it. Not to show off how “good” you are, but to drown out some of the hate speech filling the internet. This isn’t about making you look better to your friends, it’s about spreading generosity and compassion.

You don’t have to share anything on social media, though. Just commit to being especially kind to others for the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. If thousands of people did that, imagine what could be achieved. While Trump continues to insult and denigrate, we could completely ignore him simply by being kind to a stranger. Go ahead and bellow, Mr. Trump. No one is listening.

#100daysofkindness. Imagine the possibilities

Dear Trump supporters, I understand why you voted for him, but can you understand why I’m angry?

Dear Trump supporters,

I understand why you voted for Trump. I live in a rural area and work in one of the poorest counties in California, a county with no jobs, substandard housing and dirt roads. This is the kind of place Obama’s promises never reached. The people here are angry, and wanted to send a clear, loud message to Washington DC.

I understand, but can you try to understand why I’m angry?

My daughter has severe disabilities and is one of those people Trump mocked while campaigning. She is a woman who depends on government services for her survival. She lives with me and I depend on services to take care of her. Without the support of Social Security, MediCare and In Home Support Services, I would be forced to put my child in an institution. I thank my government every day for the help my family receives. Trump wants to take that help away.

My husband is a cancer survivor. “Obamacare” saved him and our family. Without subsidized health care and the changes in health care law, he probably would have died and I know our family would be bankrupt. So again, thank you government. I know it is not a perfect plan, but it saved my family. Trump wants to take that away too.

I am a rape survivor. Many women have accused Trump of sexual assault and rape. He brags about it, and now, a sexual predator will be president. What message does that send to women in our country? Our voices and our bodies don’t matter. Men can abuse us and we are powerless to stop it.

Trump is racist. He openly hates Mexicans and Muslims. He thinks black people should shut up about racist cops. And his win of the presidency sends a message to other racists that it’s okay to write swastikas on walls and beat up immigrants.

Many of the people I love are gay, lesbian and transgender. Will they now be denied legal protection to work and live peacefully? Will families be destroyed?

Again, I understand why you voted for Trump, and I know a lot of you aren’t racist or misogynist. But in voting for him, you told people who are racist and misogynist that it’s okay.

You can be the biggest bigot in town and  people will still respect you. Hell, they might even elect you president.

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.

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(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?

If you like Trump I won’t be your friend anymore, and other extremist ideas.

Polarization doesn’t just effect politics, it also effects friendships.

Recently I’ve seen a lot of chatter on Facebook and Twitter about unfriending/unfollowing people who like Donald Trump. Many people I know have said “A fan of Trump is no friend of mine.” This disturbs me.

I dislike Trump. I would love it if he would stop opening his mouth and saying ridiculous things that make people worship him. And I’m fearful of the hatred his words have fueled. Targeting an entire religion and ethnic group with mistrust and fear is dangerous. Anyone remember WW2? It’s a cliche to compare people to Hitler, but there is a frightening historical similarity between the United States of today and Germany of the 1930’s. People are looking for a savior, someone to “make America great again.” It was the same in Germany in 1929.

Donald Trump and his followers scare me. However, I will not turn my back on a friend or acquaintance who admires him. I will not feed the polarization that threatens my country. Instead, I will try to understand why my friend likes Trump. I will try to engage in conversation, keep communication open, reach out and combat fear and stigma one connection at a time.

“But if you talk to that person, aren’t you supporting them, and in so doing, supporting Trump?” you ask.

No. I do not like, trust, admire or even consider Donald Trump a human being. He represents everything I loath in my country: ignorant wealth. But if I refuse to engage with someone who thinks Donald Trump is the greatest thing since frozen orange juice, how am I different from any extremist in America? Extremists cling to their own world view and hate what they don’t understand. I refuse to hate people.

Even Donald Trump.

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.