Friday, February 21, 2014

Girl On Girl

I took my 11 year old daughter to the movies a few nights ago. The film was Girl Rising, screened in the gymnasium of her former elementary school. Beautifully told, it profiles several girls in developing countries who are fighting for the right to gain an education. What I expected was to experience a sense of gratitude that my own daughters will never have to wage such a war, and perhaps to put some of the junior high school girl angst that my daughter has been recently exhibiting into some perspective as she compared her own life with girls her age in less fortunate circumstances. I mean, millions of girls around the world are fighting to simply learn the alphabet of their language, to understand basic math, for entry into a world of words much safer and more vibrant than her own, where poems float across the page and ancient fables keep her company. They'd love to be sitting where my daughter is, even to endure the torment that American sixth grade girls inflict on each other so regularly.

She gets it. I am raising her to be a champion of justice. I got part of what I bargained for. My daughter was moved. She felt grateful, appreciative even, of the comfortable privileges and pleasures she is afforded as a citizen of the developed world, and incensed that those privileges aren't a guarantee for every girl.

Me? Not so much. I should have emerged with a sense of gratitude that my daughters have shoes on their feet, let alone a school to welcome them. Instead I left infuriated and inspired to consider the truth for them. How much better off are they than the girls on the screen? Is it good enough? Are we, as a nation, doing enough in the arena of gender equality and the promotion of women's rights that I can relax into complacency? Am I comfortable that they will be cared for when they're not in my line of sight? In pouring over statistics on the websites of the U.S. Department of Justice, The State Department, The Centers for Disease Control, my local newspaper, and having sifted through the painful evidence of my own personal experiences, I find that the answer is a resounding NO. We've come a long way, baby, but there is much work still to be done.

Every day in the U.S., nearly 1,500 girls go missing. 74% of victims of non-family abductions are girls. 94% of victims of human sex trafficking in America are women, and the average age of entry into forcible prostitution is 12-14. 98% of all reported survivors of sex trafficking have previous involvement with Child Welfare Services, and many of them were in the custody of the state when they while they were being prostituted. This is a billion dollar a year industry, the sexual exploitation of very young girls. The basic principle of economics in a capitalist society means someone is paying. It's basic supply and demand. Enough men recognize young girls as sub-human sexual objects that millions of them are spending billions of dollars a year for a chance to abuse them. Others, short on cash perhaps, just rape them. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1 in 5 women in this country will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Some studies cite this likelihood as an underestimate, that 1 in 4 is more probably accurate. 1 in 4 women in America report having experienced violence in an intimate relationship. It is accurate to say that 1 in 4 women will experience sexual assault, an attempted assault, threatening, stalking, domestic abuse or some combination thereof.

One of every Four. I have Three daughters. I am One mad mama.

So I've set about asking myself why this should be so. How is it acceptable in this wealthy nation, this technologically evolved nation, this educated nation, this nation founded in Christian principles, that we treat 20-25%of our women and girls as throw away objects and punching bags? Wait. Back up the truck... this Christian nation. Let's pop the lid off this one, shall we? Stir some shit up and see what sinks and what floats. If we're going to elect representatives (as we've done en masse in 2010 and 2012) who promote scripture-based legislation, how should we expect that to play out for women and girls? How does the bible weigh in on the role of women? There's lots of great stuff in there about the honoring of husbands and wives, about people glorifying God in their treatment of each other. But even in all that, there is also this long, dark shadow cast by Eve, who, through no invitation of her own, was created from, by and for the patriarch. Then she was like, Hey Man, none of this was my idea, I didn't ask to be born and you can't tell me what to do! (the war-cry of every 14 year old girl ever)... I'm going to eat this pomegranate.  After that, woman is often described as "weaker" in the bible, and implied to be more prone to stepping out of line. The role of a husband then is to keep his wife in said line.
1 Corintihians 11:8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake but woman was created for the man's sake.
(Then there's something about her needing to keep her head covered because of the angels. I think that is likely the source of frat boys' insistence that women aren't hot if they don't have long hair... very few of those dudes are angels.)
There's plenty of mention of woman's submissiveness, her servitude to man, and always with paying it back for that goddamned pomegranate.
1 Timothy 2:11-15 Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; She is to keep silent; For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
It's antiquated, of course, and progressive Christians know better than to impose a literal application of these passages. I'm not suggesting that contemporary Christians have a problem with women being teachers, or that they expect them to keep their heads covered, or even that they consider them lower in esteem than men. Unlike some of its more obvious and overbearing religious counterparts to the east, Christianity has steeped itself in American culture more subtly. That old separation of church and state is a very thin membrane... in some states it's more of a mesh these days, really. Like the midriff net shirts Madonna wore with suspenders in the 80s. In a far more subversive way than extreme religions impose restrictions on women, there is simply a current running through our culture that tells us we are here to serve man, and not to expect too much in the way of change.

In some countries, there is a blatant and overt attempt by governments and men to keep women in submissive roles. Those women know exactly where they stand. Our situation is a confounding juxtaposition of pop culture with emphasis on bare-it-all girl power, and a Christian heritage that subliminally pits women a peg below their male partners and counterparts. Is it any surprise then, that politicians who promote a Christian agenda should be systematically attacking our rights at state level?

I know that I'm tipping sacred cows here. I understand that I am stepping on the toes of some of the people I love most in the world. To them I can only say this: I understand that you are a person of faith. My intention is not to shake that faith. I am also a person of faith. Like you, I also believe in things that I can't see: my daughters' boundless potential, their possibilities, future accomplishments, the strength and wisdom that will come to them as they grow. I also see something more tangible. I see recent laws, rooted in Christian scripture, which limit them, oppress them, shame them, and undo protections of their health. I'm not asking anyone to question their faith. Rather, I am searching for the consequences of the Word as it manifests in a world that is increasingly dangerous for girls. I want to explore the caves of culturally acceptable norms that do not vanquish evil and wrongdoing, but encourage it. A sort of cultural spiritual spelunking, if you will.

I recognize that thousands upon thousands of faith-based organizations are committed to helping women who are the victims of poverty and assault. But where have we, through bible-based legislation, been complicit in abetting the criminals and blaming the victims? Where have we assumed that our experience is universal, and that our sense of morality can be spread like buttercream across the nation? Where have we aided in shaming girls, in boxing them in? Where have we created the very poverty and abuse we seek to amend? Where have we placed female modesty and patriarchal reverence ahead of womens' safety?

Steubenville, Maryville, small-town USA, somehow we continue to hear of girls being raped, the crimes against them photographed and digitally distributed in evidence of HER shame. And of police investigators and a compliant township who still hold some bizarre 14th century notion that the onus is on a girl to keep from "getting herself raped" while the rest of us look on, some of us in horror and disbelief, others in agreement with such backward logic. She shouldn't have had so much to drink; she shouldn't have been wearing that; she should never have been there in the first place...

Attacks of our wombs on the street and in the fraternity yard are met with equal ferocity where ambitious Tea Party politicians preach from the pulpit of our state houses about the sins of birth control, abortion, sex-education and welfare. Make no mistake, the scripture-based lobby has tremendous influence over policy, most notably policy that affects women and children. I listened to Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (one of D.C.'s most influential Christian lobbys), on his radio show a few weeks ago as he labeled food stamps for single mothers a "surrogate husband." The implication being that if we remove supplemental food assistance from a mother and her children, she will be encouraged to "find a man to take care of her" and be in compliance with biblical family values. Today in this country, 41% of women live at or below the poverty level. Cases of extreme poverty more often affect women, and the rate for single mothers is especially alarming. Mr. Perkins, I'm not sure where you're keeping this stash of princes on white stallions, but for God's sake, let them out. I bet it reeks like hell in that storage unit! There must be millions of them in there!

Fundamentalists like Tony Perkins and scores of Tea Party legislators argue that a return to Traditional Family Values is the cure for the ails of women, and I submit that those are what got us here in the first place. The assumption that women have men to take care of them resulted in lower wages for equal effort, in inferior legal recourse for abuse inside her home, in pushing her to the margins of society. In such a system, she is less likely to be educated, less likely to contribute to the GDP, less likely to seek justice for transgressions against her. Her thoughts matter less. Her inclinations outside the home are seen as trivial. Isn't it nice that she has a hobby, sacking groceries at the corner store on her feet for 9 hours a day? 

What say you, Mr. Vonnegut?
Women are so useless and unimaginative, aren't they? All they ever think of planting in the dirt is the seed of something beautiful or edible. The only missile they can ever think of throwing at anybody is a ball or a bridal bouquet.
While the men of the world were busy bloodying the earth, shouting about boundaries and resources, women have been quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) planting the seeds of what is beautiful and edible. Women in what is now the developed world have been slowly but steadily rising from the shadow of Eve for centuries. In the last hundred years we've witnessed the fight to vote, to own property, to make decisions about our own bodies. We've fought for equal treatment in the workplace. We've taken the witness stand in testimony against our objectification, our harassment, our right to make decisions for our families and our communities. And the women who do the fighting? They're the lucky ones who aren't being physically or psychologically restrained from participating.

Policy steeped in patriarchal religious scripture is dangerous. The effect is to demean women, to marginalize us, to revoke our hard-fought rights, to enable our abuse and mistreatment. Power up, sisters (and brothers, thank you!). Vote. Vote. Vote. Someone's life is a stake. And until we vote out every last motherfucker who is complicit in creating or continuing policies that are killing women and contributing to their disempowerment, their spiritual and economic poverty, donate. Formula, diapers, time and money to organizations that are helping at street level.

I am not learning quietly, I'm asking questions. I am not modest. I am not servile. I will not submit while my sisters are raped, beaten, impoverished, marginalized. One in Four. One in Four.

One in Four is not a park bench to pause and catch my breath.

I am the face of feminism. On the outside, I may not look like much. I smile and pour coffee. I nourish and nurture anyone I can get my flour-dusted hands on. I wear a bra. Most days. Okay, not today, but yesterday I did. I look like almost any other lady, but my guts look like this:

I want you to be nice until it's time to not be nice.
I am the face of feminism, and someday I'm going to blow the lid clean fucking off this joint.
I will read. I will study. I will learn. If you try to stop me, I will just try harder. If you stop me, there will be other girls who will rise up and take my place. - Girl Rising

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

From Kansas, I'm Sorry

Dear Whole Entire Planet Earth,

Hello. My name is Kansas.

Until recently, I went almost entirely unnoticed by the rest of the you, just sitting here in the middle of fly-over country. Every spring, the winds swell up from Oklahoma and tumble down the Rockies to roll across my wheat fields and turn cartwheels in my tall grasses. Other than that, I don't see a lot in the way of tourism. No one thought much of me unless it was basketball season.

But lately I've been getting noticed. A discriminatory bill in the Kansas House of Reps last week was profiled on some major progressive media outlets around the country. I wish I could say that I loved the attention, but everyone was saying things like "What's the fucking matter with Kansas?" and "Shame on you, Kansas!" and I was like, hey man, I'm just sitting here, same as always. It's these assholes walking around the capitol that you should be shaming. What's the matter with them, not what's the matter with me!

The people of Kansas reacted swiftly. Petitions against the bill were drafted, representatives were flooded with calls and emails, protests were organized. A Facebook page opposing the bill garnered something like 40,000 likes in a single day. That may not sound like much to folks on the coast, but remember, this is the Heartland. For every one person who sounds off about something they don't agree with, there are ten more who are too polite to say anything.

Then the news broke that the Kansas Senate has no interest in taking up the bill in its current form, that it will likely die in committee there. A collective sigh of relief rose from many who opposed it. Whew! they said, Common sense prevailed in Kansas. But that's not really the deal. The real deal is that it's a gubernatorial election year in Kansas. The current governor is running for re-election and he was like Shitballs, people are really freaked out about this anti-gay policy stuff! Hello, Senate: this bill better not see the inside of my office...yet. Wait until after the election. 

There are several measures in the Kansas legislature right now that have Kansans equally disgusted. Let's see... there's HR 6043 urging that Congress Oppose the President's Climate Action Plan. This resolution was introduced by the state Committee on Environment and Energy. The chairman of that committee is Dennis Hedke, a geophysicist who contracts for the oil industry. Last year he authored a bill outlawing sustainable endeavors by any government or municipal agency in Kansas. The chair of the committee on environment is a climate change denier, and he wants to make certain that the oil and gas industries have full access in Kansas. I know. Gross, right?

There are others. So many others. Bills which seek to eliminate protections of my people and my natural resources; measures that will hurt my children, the impoverished, the elderly, the disabled; bills that would dismantle the balance of power by stripping the rights of the courts in Kansas, which are the last remaining treasure of a bygone era of moderate politics here.

The last four years has been an experiment in industry-funded Tea Party politics, and it has failed the people of Kansas. The latest piece of hate-laced, openly discriminatory legislation was met with a fury. Kansans woke from an exhausted state of disbelief and rallied against it. It's not dead yet. It is still open to amendment or revision, but it would be impossible to disguise its hateful intent now. Its opponents are vigilant. They are collectively stomping the bill into the ground in front of the capitol. Once buried, they'll spit on its grave and dance down to the bar.

I could not be more proud.

To the rest of the world, I'd like to issue a formal apology from the state of Kansas since my elected officials won't. I'm sorry if this feels like a hostile place. It's not. The latest bill preserving religious freedom made it sound as though Kansans have been hoping for a law that makes it legal for them to say that they won't sell a gay person a bowl of soup. I assure you that is not the case. The people here are kind. They're smart, mostly. Kansas has a long history of championing civil rights. Prejudice is not a pronounced mindset here, contrary to what our leaders would have you believe.

Currently in Kansas, our representatives...don't. They're not speaking for us. I can hear the dying breath of their radical, scripture-based agenda gasping out over the prairie. To the people of Kansas: thank you for leading the charge in protecting your fellow Kansans. Stay angry and remember to vote the bastards out so I can resume being ignored by the rest of the world. All this attention makes me uncomfortable. Love, Kansas.

Dear everyone, I'm sorry my House of Reps is stupid. I got you this kitten. I also got you a cake, but I ate it. I'm sorry about that, too. Sort of. Love, Kansas

Monday, February 10, 2014

Impure Thoughts: Taking Shame Out Of Sex

Last week my husband and I talked to our oldest kid about sex. We've had an open dialogue about anatomy and biology and the basic clinical facts of human sexuality for many years. My husband and I are affectionate. There is a nearly constant line of innuendo around here that no longer goes over the older kids' heads. They know that if they wake up in the middle of the night for a drink of water and hear grown ups on the pool deck, they shouldn't come out there. But the time has come to talk about sex as it applies to him, and the real issues that surround teenage sexuality in contemporary American society. He's started kissing his girlfriend regularly. I hope (and he assures me) that he's several years from even making the leap to heavy petting, but you know what they say about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of not-having-a-baby-when-you're-in-high-school... we need to talk about it. You know: It.

I suspect that most people, even those who grow up with very conservative parents, eventually find their way into their own sexual comfort zone. It's not supposed to happen when you're a teenager. Don't misunderstand and think that I'm trying to rush any of my kids into being sexually active. I'm not. 

But listen, when I look at the current legislative agenda in my home state, I see a whole lot of really uptight policy rooted in sexual shame. Some people might call it salvation, but I don't think that legislating discriminatory policy is saving anyone. Generating hate-filled laws centered around sexual identity, or stripping women's rights to make their own choices about birth control and health care is not going to save the environment nor the economy from destructive corporate practices. It's not going to make our kids smarter. All this sexual repression happening at the state level is distracting us from the real issues we need to be paying attention to. Maybe that's their agenda. Just smoke and mirrors to get us riled up so we won't pay attention to all the shady shit they're pulling with defunding education, degrading the environment, and shifting the tax burden onto the middle and lower classes. And we are like moths to the flame.

My job as a Kansas mama is to raise kids who aren't uptight about sex. Maybe they'll do a better job of staying focused than the current moral majority.

I don't ascribe to a set of religious principles to guide me through the discourse, but I have a code of morals, nonetheless, and I'm leaning heavily on them for inspiration on how to best guide them. My son listened while I lectured about condoms and watching for signs that the girl wants you to stop. He participated with mild embarrassment, but he seems pretty comfortable talking about sex with us. The fact that he could hold the conversation without once giggling or rolling his eyes means I was right. It was time.

How we address sex will ultimately help shape our kids' attitudes about it. It's like priming the canvas so the colors of their own growth and experience will be bold, bright and not flaky. I can't impose my morality on my kids, nor would I want to, but I can introduce them to my thoughts on the subject of sex. First, I had to define my objective. That part was easy for me, it's like everything else I want for him: to be happy and to be kind.

So here's the deal, kid:

As you know, sex is something all mammals do to propagate their respective species. Human mammals do it for lots of other reasons, too, some simple reasons and some not so. Sex between a male and female sometimes results in pregnancy. Pregnancy is miraculous. It's mysterious. And in my case, it's usually a bit of a fluke. Some couples try and try for many years. Others have two too many margaritas on the porch on a fine spring night, and miscalculate their ovulatory cycle in the heat of passion. That's how your baby sister got the nickname Tequila Bad Math.

Rules Number One, Two and Three: Don't Leave It Up To Your Partner To Be In Charge Of Birth Control. Until you are old enough and experienced enough to confidently rely on alternate birth control methods, you simply must use a condom and spermicide every time you have sex, no matter what, no matter what, no matter what... My husband will read this and nod gravely in agreement, silently mouthing the words every time.

I'm not giving my 13 year old son permission to have sex. On the contrary (and I know this would freak the knickers off of the Purity Movement folks), I'm telling him that he doesn't need my permission. He needs his own and his partner's. The same applies to my daughters. I don't want them to rush, but when the time comes I do want my kids to be prepared, unashamed, and supplied with what they need to be safe and responsible. The more comfortable and empowered they feel about sexuality (their own and others) the better. Rule Number Four: Get To Know Yourself. Good luck. It's a long and winding road, my friend.

I talked to my son about how to talk about sex with his partner. Before, during, after: Is this okay? Do you want me to do this? Sometimes body language will be all you need to communicate, but it's important to address any hesitation immediately. Rule Number Five: Talk About It. Your girlfriend needs to hear that you won't think she's stupid or immature if she's uncomfortable with something. She needs to know that you value her more than the sex. You deserve to know how she feels about you.

Sex is not vile. Sex is not filth. Sex does not demean educated, consenting participants. Sex does not defile them nor damage them. Rule Number Six: Treat The People You Sleep With As A National Park. Leave nothing but footprints - transmit no std's (in fact, last month my son voluntarily began the vaccination process for HPV, the little sweetheart!); kill nothing but time - be kind with your words and deeds; and protect the enjoyment of future generations - when you're old enough to vote, support legislation that promotes women's reproductive health and comprehensive sex education in public school.

However, your partner is not actually a National Park, so take no pictures. I repeat: take no pictures! And please gently discourage any teenage girl who wants to send you a racy picture. She's not ready for that, please just take my word for it. That's Rule Number Seven: Take NO Pictures. 

I understand the precept of the Purity Movement, of promoting virginity until marriage. I don't agree with it, but I understand it. To me, the emphasis on maintaining purity as a measure of the genuineness of one's faith seems misguided at best. At worst, it is a brand of slut shaming that can deeply scar a young woman if she strays from her promise. We have taken her sexuality out of her hands and placed it in the hands of men. If we say that a girl's virginity, her purity, belongs to Jesus (or in some extra creepy cases, her father!) until the Charming Prince comes along to claim it, we have effectively made the contents of her panties a dowry. Some of these girls make purity promises as young as age five. When I was five, I promised my friend I could climb to the top of the biggest building in town and fly back to our driveway.

What exactly is the point? Is the Purity Movement an effort to circumvent the overtly sexual onslaught American girls face in the everyday media and advertising? If so, I find it ironic that the method of combat is to further reduce them to their sexuality. Why can't a girl be sexual and smart? Why wouldn't I want my daughters to know that about themselves? That their worth has nothing to do with the state of their hymens. Just yesterday, my five year old daughter promised me that she will never grow up, that she'll stay little forever. She said it because she knows I want it to be true. I love her fivey-ness. She's so fivey!! But that is a promise she can't keep. And I told her that it's okay for her to grow up. I'm not going to ask her to promise me something today and hold to it until she's 25 years old! Rule Number Eight: You Do Not Belong To Me. You don't belong to me, and neither does your virginity. Those are yours. You don't owe me anything but honesty and respect, the same things you owe the rest of the world.

The leaders of the Purity Movement talk about sacrifice and morality as though they are a uniform circumstance. It’s very convenient to don a cloak of morality that fits you well, but it’s impossible for some of us to squeeze in there. I’ve tried to shimmy into those skin tight values. I couldn’t even get them over my hips. That one-size-fits-all code of morals? It doesn’t. The tag lied.

I don’t expect everyone to try on the suit I’m wearing. Actually, if I could call my morality any article of clothing, it’s more like a wrap-around dress. My experiences and observations have changed my shape over the years, and the ties allow for this. Also, there’s usually a lot of cleavage showing because I have a pretty nice rack. But I’m not saying to anyone: you have to wear my dress! Rule Number Nine: You Do Not Have To Wear My Dress. If you decide that a stricter code of morals than mine (or looser, if you can find one) is in order, you go for it. As long as you're following the rules above, you are entitled to decide for yourself what feels right to you. Experiment with different philosophies. Read spiritual texts. Talk to people. Meditate. Above all, take your time. There's no hurry. You'll be amazed how much there is to learn about yourself and life through sex. This works especially well if you don't start out with some pre-supposed notion that you already have all the answers about what is "right" and what is "wrong."

Which brings us full circle, back to the Kansas House of Reps... and to Rule Number Ten: Your Sexual Morality Is Yours To Explore, To Define, And To Redefine. For your whole life. Don't be ashamed of it. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

To Get to the Other Side

Why did the chicken cross the road? He didn't. Chickens don't migrate.

A few days ago I wrote an essay calling attention to the introduction of Kansas SB 276, which would enact state sovereignty over the control and management of the Lesser and Greater Prairie Chickens in Kansas. I urged Kansans to consider this issue and weigh in on the ramifications of such a bill. I also made fun of Kris Kobach, because he just makes it so damn easy. The post has been widely read, but I am greedy, and I want to expand the audience. Truly, I believe that this little bird, native to the plains, is a national symbol and a champion against corporate greed and corruption in our state houses. With the chicken as my mascot, I am trying to call attention to a broader issue, one that concerns us all. And I don't mean just Kansans, I mean everyone.

Three days ago, I knew little of Prairie Chickens, but I'm quite familiar with the inclination of my home state's legislature to draft bills in favor of the energy industry. Maybe you live in a state with a similarly inclined body of representation. If so, you should be standing with the Prairie Chicken of Kansas. (I'm looking at you, Wisconsin and North Carolina)

Of course this a complicated issue that pits wildlife conservationists against the ag and energy industries. On one side, farmers and ranchers are concerned that their ability to graze and make a living will be compromised if federal regulations inhibit their land use. They're like, hey, I have all these cattle and I need to feed them this grass. That's valid.  And on the other side, environmentalists and natural conservationists are concerned that the degradation of a native species has ramifications beyond our current scope. Also valid. I want to understand all sides of the argument, because I genuinely feel that bridging that gap is not out of the question. There are also a hysterical few who predict that federal regulations in favor of the Prairie Chicken will mean that our electric bills will be $10,000 a month, but I'm going to take those yahoos out of the argument, because they're just silly. In response to the more valid concerns, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has offered to compensate farmers, ranchers and energy companies for their efforts at conserving habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chickens. They're all, hey guys, try to save some scrub brush for the chickens to nest, and we won't fine you for a few dead birds. We'll try to make sure you don't go broke over a chicken. 

Creating initiative for farmers and ranchers to reserve some land for the Prairie Chicken is really the only way to ensure his survival. Why does the Prairie Chicken matter to his grassland home? For starters, he eats a lot of seed, which means he fertilizes and redeposits a lot of seed. We can all dig the need for seed, right? It's so much nicer than dust.

Okay, so currently, the State of Kansas is considering a bill establishing sovereignty over the (ahem) management of the bird. Effectively, they are saying that there is no constitutional requirement for the state to comply with federal regulation of a native species. And the feds are saying that they have a lot of experience protecting threatened species without destroying whole economies. In fact, they currently oversee the conservation of several species in Kansas listed as endangered, and sky hasn't fallen yet. And I'm saying that the precedent of a state establishing sole command over it's native species or resources is a very dangerous one. The USFWS is offering to bridge the gap between economic development and conservation of a threatened species, and the state of Kansas is trying to maneuver itself out of the deal.

There are three possible reasons why. First, Kobach might really love Prairie Chickens and perhaps he's concerned that the feds won't take the measures necessary to protect them. It could be that Kansas's constitutionally Quixotic Secretary of State and his pals are a secret squad of environmental superheroes, complete with matching tights and capes. A second possibility is that Kobach has rightly deduced that the word prairie is french, that the birds must therefore be illegal Canadians, and must be extracted from the boundaries of the U.S. before they clog up the social services and send their kids to public school. But if that's not the reason, then it's probably because the Lesser Prairie Chicken currently resides in some pretty prime real estate if you're into drilling and fracking.

This is why the Lesser Prairie Chicken matters. It's not just about the chicken. It's about a state declaring eminent domain on its resources, and flipping off a federal agency concerned with preserving said resources. And if Kansas can do it, your state can do it too.

The Lesser Prairie Chicken is the perfect mascot for anyone who is freaked out by the notion that corporatocracy has permeated several state governments, and that many native species are potentially poised to be seen as little more than a nuisance to economy. There is a middle ground around here somewhere.

I am certainly not as well versed in constitutional law as Kris Kobach, but it's predictable that if the state of Kansas passes this bill, its constitutionality will be challenged at the federal level. It will cost the citizens of Kansas to pay for the litigation, and hopefully justice and reason will prevail. But what if they don't? What we have here is a potential precedent for any state to throw their native species down a well if they're in the way of corporate profit.

What if this: as goes the Prairie Chicken, so goes Kansas. As goes Kansas, so go the rest of the tea party strongholds. Yikes, man. This chicken matters.

This is not strictly an animal rights issue. Not strictly an environmental issue. Not a liberal vs. conservative issue. This is an issue of finding a balance between provision and conservation of resources. It's about being responsible stewards.

Please consider signing this petition to the Kansas Senate opposing SB 276.  Please consider telling your friends to sign it, too.

The toll of small environmental victories can amount to plenty. Maybe many years from now, there will be a Koch skull discovered in a patch of scrub brush in Western Kansas, with the stone from a Prairie Chicken's slingshot still lodged in its forehead.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Most Important Chicken in Kansas

Kansas, have you met this guy? This is the Lesser Prairie Chicken. He lives here on the prairie in western Kansas. That's why they call him a Prairie Chicken. The forename is to differentiate him from the Greater Prairie Chicken, but he's not insecure about that or anything. Something about the motion of the ocean.

Les used to live in the big brown space pictured in the map above, but they kicked him out of Texas after too many bar fights. Then he made some poor investment decisions and they cut his hours back at the plant, so he had to move into a smaller pad. He lives in the little green spaces now, primarily in Kansas and Oklahoma. The green space is going the way of the brown space, shrinking all the time due to agricultural and energy developments.

As tough as he is, and in spite of the Lesser Prairie Chicken's record of 41-2 in the Texas bar fights, he is up against his toughest opponent. This is the guy who is gunning for the big K.O.

Chicken Hawk: Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach 

Kris Kobach has the Lesser Prairie Chicken in his sights. In fairness, it would be a lot of trouble to shoot them all one at a time, so he's urging legislators to pass a bill titled Enacting State Sovereignty Over Non-Migratory Wildlife Act. This bill will expose Les the Prairie Chicken to the cruelest of Kansas elements... the energy industry.

This was supposed to slip by us, I think. We are not supposed to care about something like this. It is, after all, a chicken. It's a chicken. I ate one for dinner last night. But this chicken really needs our help, and in turn, he might be able to do something big for us.

Like many of us Kansans, the Lesser Prairie Chicken is, as the bill mentions, non-migratory. This is his home year round. He has no place else to go. He plays a critical role in the ecology of the grassland, as does every species on the prairie. Because no one has been looking out for him, he has lost most of his native grassland habitat and will very likely be added to the list of threatened species in the U.S. this year if the federal agencies in charge of such things are allowed to advocate for him.

Senate Bill 276 would prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service imposing regulations to save the Prairie Chickens' native habitat from destruction at the hands of industry. If you read the language of SB 276, you'll see that Kobach presents that Kansas has been doing a fine job of protecting the Lesser and Greater Prairie Chickens as yet, and that the State would prefer no Federal agencies peeking in on them. In fact, the language of the bill makes it a felony for any federal agency to intervene on behalf of the Greater or Lesser Prairie Chickens. If you compare the above map with Kobach's assertion that the birds are thriving, it's pretty clear that few Prairie Chickens will take comfort in the hands that are trying to get ahold of their fate.

If SB 276 passes, the survival of our native nonmigratory bird species will rest solely with the Kansas legislature. Why is Kobach concerning himself with the Lesser and Greater Prairie Chickens? The answer is pretty simple. If their home becomes a federally protected habitat, the energy industries will be forced to reign in their to plan to desecrate what remains of it. Already more than 600 farmers and ranchers are participating in the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative, and have restored and protected more than one million acres on their behalf. SB 276 threatens to undo all that.

The Lesser Prairie Chicken is caught up in the fight of his life against the State of Kansas and the big energy companies (read: Koch Industries) that are designing legislation intended to put corporate profit ahead of the well being of the citizens of this state. Saving him, protecting his native home, would be a victory for us all and a message to Kobach that we are not going to passively accept the degradation of our prairie.

It's like that scene in Annie where the bad guy (Rooster) and his girlfriend pose as Annie's real parents so they can get the reward money from Daddy Warbucks, and you're watching them take her away and you're like No! No Annie! Don't go with them! Daddy Warbucks, don't let her go with them! Except in this situation Annie is a Prairie Chicken and Rooster is a shady Secretary of State. The Feds are Daddy Warbucks and we, the people of Kansas, we're Punjab. It's up to us to rescue Annie from the bad people and place her in the care of someone who can look out for her best interests.

We have to be this guy.

It's upon all of us to call bullshit on this one. This is an incredibly transparent effort on Kobach's part to protect the interests of industry at the expense of our environment. I've said it before and I'll say it until I die: they will not take this prairie without a fight from me. I started by contacting my state senate representatives, but I don't always know if they really hear me, so I'm inclined to do something more for the Prairie Chicken. I'm still thinking about what that will be, and pricing chicken suits for my one-man protest, but upon measuring my level of commitment to the Lesser Prairie Chicken, I find that I feel entirely hell bent on saving him from the bad guys. If we can convince our fellow statesmen to notice what's happening to a chicken out west, maybe we can reclaim a small part of our home from the greedy hands that would abuse it. 

Save the Prairie Chickens!!!

Update 1/27  Sign the petition to end this bill in the Kansas Senate.
I will forward the petition to the members of the Committee on Natural Resources and the rest of the senate. Then I will deliver a copy to the Secretary of State's office wearing this chicken suit:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

In Defense of Millennials

One effect of working for 25 years in an job dominated by twenty-somethings is that I keep getting older while my co-workers stay the same age. When I first entered the job force in my teens, I was a Gen Xer surrounded by older Gen Xers. In print, we were touted by the Boomers as cynical, hopeless, frustrated and unmotivated, over-educated, underemployed, and yes, selfish. Ah, but time is a great equalizer. We have grown from bored, philosophical convenience store clerks and angsty Nirvana concert-goers into a generation that is widely characterized as happy, free thinking, balanced, family oriented... and hard working. Yet Gen X seems to have forgotten that we were once on the offensive, and are ourselves leading the attack on the new kids, tearing them down in print articles with titles like The Millennial in the Basement and A Generation of Idle Trophy Kids.

The Millennials. Gen Y. The Trophy Kids. The Me-Me-Me Generation. The Selfies. Everyone feels like the most important person in the room. Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, famously famous for being brats. Rhetorical articles cite analyses which conclude that Millennials are far less inclined to be civic minded, and more apt to possess a delusional sense of entitlement. They are hastening the end times through laziness and self-absorption! Word on the street is that 30 is the new 18, that Millennials are too self-involved, too entitled and too lazy to go out and work. They're waiting in their helicopter mamas' houses for the trophy to land in their laps, the way it did after every pee wee soccer tournament of their youth, regardless of performance. I've read multiple articles in the last weeks about the narcissism of an entire generation, and while I agree that it makes for amusing copy, and maybe it is true in the wealthy suburbs of the Big City, I can't agree that it has been my experience.

I am a Gen Xer surrounded by Gen Y and I can attest that, though it may sometimes come in response to a nip on the haunch from an Alpha, these puppies are as hard working as any I've seen. Also, I find them to be creative, industrious and very, very sweet. Maybe things are different on the coasts. Maybe what I'm seeing is the product of a lengthy lineage soaked in Mid-Western ethic. Nevertheless, I'm going to take a crack at unraveling the blanket of myth that 6 million twenty-somethings are sitting around their parents houses snapping pictures of themselves in $200.00 vintage jean jackets.

Millennials Think They're Special Because of All Those Trophies
Sure, some of them. But I thought I was special when I was twenty-five. I was smart and pretty and got a lot of validation from people about how smart and pretty I was. So I felt smart and pretty and special, and I'd never gotten a single trophy in my whole life. But I was special. Still am special (somewhat less smart and pretty, those decay a bit with age). So's everyone else. Everybody is special. Everyone is someone to somebody. Including Paris Hilton (maybe not her, actually). I suspect that the Millennials, more than any generation before them, are aware that everyone is special. After all, everybody got the same damn trophies. Sort of takes the luster off your own. The argument that we ruined 6 million kids with cheap plastic trophies is stupid. They didn't even keep them. They knew when they lost.

Millennials Are Not Civic Minded
And when we were twenty, we were all out crusading to save the world, right? I remember when I was twenty-one and I spent that summer campaigning for Prop Blahblahblah. Wait... No. I didn't do that. I occasionally wondered what I was going to do with my life (wasted time, I'm still a waitress) or which boy I was going to chase after (no matter, he got away). Semesters at school flew by so quickly and there was work and there were new bands to see and beers to try. It's even harder for these poor Gen Yers. We expect them to know which products are fair trade and what foods are sustainably sourced and then we make fun of them for not knowing about good wine!?

Jesus. Lighten up a little, man.

Do you understand the absolute mess that these guys have exposure to? They are painfully aware of the mess they're inheriting. We Gen Xers, with our breezy internet-free adolescence and early adulthood, we had to go out and buy magazines and newspapers if we wanted to know how fucked everything was. New kids would be like: what is this black shit all over my fingertips?? The Millennials are under a constant inundation of negative information. A barrage of ink-free headlines every day comes across their twitter feeds: drastic climate change, bloody conflict in countries that don't seem so far away anymore, daily murders in every city in America, massive food and water shortages, people doing horrible things to each other, environmental destruction at the hands of corporations... where exactly do we expect them to start? I'm sure many of them will get around to their own private crusades, just not necessarily in their mid-twenties.

Millennials Can't Face Adulthood
The image of the hipster evading the work force, compiling his Spotify playlist while surrounded by PBR cans in the posh basement apartment beneath his mom's kitchen is one of the more common projections of the recent articles I've read that criticize Millennials. I haven't met this guy. I guess he just stays there in the basement. The twenty-somethings that I work with do just that. They work. Some of them work damn hard. Some of them work damn hard while they're still in school. Some of them work damn hard and then play damn hard the rest of the time. Yeah, maybe some of them don't work all that hard, but I'd say the proportion is perfectly relative to the co-workers of my twenties.

First, consider that the job market is way, way softer than it was in the 90s, a decade that saw the unemployment rate drop to 4%. Today we're supposed to be grateful to see it at 7%. These kids are stepping out on the street with their (sometimes very expensive) diplomas in hand and looking around at a work force that can't make room for all of them. I've watched many of them step way, way outside the box, starting their own ventures, scraping to capitalize on their talent and potential in a market that doesn't cushion them from cold reality. I've seen them keep their heads down and work hard.

Also consider that the parenting fads that dominated these kids childhoods encouraged parents to hold their hands and provide non-stop cheerleading at every freaking milestone, no matter how mundane. I read a lot of parenting books when my oldest kids (who are themselves at the tail end of the Millennial age range) were little, and they all pushed for parenting that would set my kids up for academic success, priming them to feel confident through academic achievement. There's nothing wrong with that, but academic success doesn't necessarily translate to life skillz, and there's a lot to learn outside the classroom. I ditched most of those books and followed my own maternal compass, which told me that I don't care how well they perform on tests. I just want them to find an author or two that they love. And I don't care if they perform at the top of their second grade class, but I want them to tie their shoes by themselves. And I don't care if they get into an ivy league school, but I do want them to be able to be able to write a paper and do a load of laundry in the same 24 hour period without having a breakdown from having so much to do. Because guess what? Someday, even if they're fucking rocket scientists, they are going to come home to a stack of bills and field trip permission slips and a bathroom floor full of wet towels and a refrigerator that is emitting a strange odor from one of the two dozen containers of leftovers in there (hint: start with the broccoli) and they're going to have to know how to handle that shit. It's my job to teach them how, and I can't do that with flashcards.

Anyway, there was a whole movement of suburban parents who weren't worried about all that in the 90s. They were like, put your baby in this Bjorn and don't put it down until it goes to college. And then in 2012 some of those kids were like, oh shit, I got great grades, but there are no jobs for people who majored in Bards of the Renaissance at Fancy Pants U, and I don't know how to do anything. Can I trade this Adderall for some Zoloft? I'll be in the basement if anyone calls.

If that scenario is playing out by the millions, as we're led to believe by hysterical Millennial-bashing journalists (psst, it's not), if twenty-somethings are taking their moms along to job interviews and seeking medication for depression and anxiety because they can't handle conflict or wash a plate or think for themselves outside a scantron, then it is the fault of well-intended but seriously misguided childhood development publications of the 90s. (My best advice is to go ahead and take the straps off the Bjorn now and teach them how to do laundry. They're probably more capable than they know.)

But I don't see it. I work with Millennials who handle multiple responsibilities without melting down. They work, some have two or three jobs, some go to school, some occasionally volunteer, and most of them still find time to get scandalously wasted and laid with decent frequency... from what I hear.

Millennials Are Obsessed With Themselves
(SO WHAT? They're pretty. Let them be.)

A couple months ago I held a baby food and diaper drive for the local assistance center. Millennials showed up with packs of diapers and cans of formula by the score. To my knowledge, none of them took a selfie on my porch of themselves making a donation. They quietly dropped off dozens of contributions for people they will never meet, and who will never be able to thank them personally or give them a trophy. That's not self-obsession. That's concern for hungry babies. For a generation of people who only care about themselves, I see an awful lot of Millennials encouraging and validating others. And not just Oh My Gawd, I loooove that headband... They ask me about my kids, my this and that, where I've been, what I saw there... things that have nothing at all to do with them.

Okay, some of them talk about themselves a whole lot, but again, not disproportionate to the norm.

Every generation looks upon the next with an air of suspicion: What if they screw it up? Oh God, I just know they're going to screw it all up. It's hard to let go. Between the lines of every essay that talks trash on Millennials is:  I'm stomping my feet, I don't want to pass the torch of youth and vigor on to those dim-witted clods in tight pants who listen to such stupid music. Take heart, Gen X. They said that about us, too. It makes us sound like a bunch of cranky-pants old people, you complaining about 6 million kids like that. It's not constructive, you shouting Get Off My Lawn! in The Boston Herald. We're not exactly washed up. I agree that youth is wasted on the wrong people. Hindsight being what it is, my own youth was squandered on a wishy-washy redhead who might have forseen the consequences of rising corporate globalization if she hadn't been so self involved. But I wouldn't take that away from her. And I won't attempt to strip it from the Me Kids, either. We were once the Me Kids, we just didn't have camera phones to prove it.

In conclusion, I think that I should have a trophy for no reason, since I never got one. A golden trophy. With my own face on it, except without the wrinkles. A golden trophy engraved with my face if my face had no wrinkles. And just go ahead and fill it up with good wine.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Prodigal Son Test

"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you." Thank you, Joseph Heller. Catch-22 has always been a favorite of mine.

Just as true is this: "Your mind is working at its best when you're being paranoid. You explore every avenue and possibility of your situation at high speed and with total clarity."  That's Bansky. I would only add that a paranoid mindset under the influence of a couple glasses of red wine heightens my clarity to near brilliance, sharpens my mind like a perfectly cut diamond. Rather, that is what the wine tells me.

Bansky also said "We can't do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves," which brings us to today's Buttered Toast.

Today the American Legislative Exchange Council began a three day conference to discuss their agenda for 2014. If you don't know, ALEC is a conservative think tank whose gig operates under the auspices of furthering free-market policies while undermining public services... like education. Really, though, they're about maximizing corporate profit, and would like nothing more than the end of and/or privatization of public services... like education. Last April I wrote a piece titled Calling All Kansans!  In that post I discussed the introduction of a bill in the Kansas House which sought to prohibit state funds for any sustainable development. That asinine bill was predictably tossed out, but the fact that it was proposed at all (by an ALEC affiliated representative who chairs the House Energy and Environment Committee) was enough to raise more than one eyebrow about the influence ALEC has on our legislators. ALEC drafts "model legislation," then presses to see it into law.

Because they are "consultants" and don't identify themselves as a lobby, they are not taxed due to their 501(c)(3) charitable status. But make no mistake, ALEC is a lobby. A very powerful lobby. (Interesting side note: ALEC does so much actual lobbying that they've caught the attention of the IRS, and are in the process of setting up a sister organization called the Jeffersonian Project which would be classified 501(c)(4) welfare organization, to protect their money. If that don't beat the band! A group that is dead set on influencing policy that will disenfranchise millions of workers, unravel labor unions, defund public education, eliminate environmental regulations and redirect tax dollars in favor of billionaires and wealthy corporations: a social welfare organization.)

ALEC is Koch funded, and their primary objective is to wrestle power out of the hands of voters by influencing elections at the state level. Once they have their lackeys in place, they act as "consultants" to shape the face of legislation, state by state. Republican lawmakers seem to be the most common recipients of their wise direction. Weird, I know. Current members include Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan, who share matching lettermen jackets with alumni John Boehner and Scott Walker. Actually, I heard Paul Ryan had to borrow Boehner's jacket for the conference today because he mistakenly grabbed the wrong GTL bag when he left the 24 Hour Fitness before his flight. When he got to the hotel and unzipped it, he couldn't find his ALEC jacket, his Percocet or his copy of Atlas Shrugged anywhere. He borrowed Boehner's jacket, but he had to settle for some crappy Xanax from the front desk clerk.

I managed to secure a copy of the agenda for this week's ALEC conference. I didn't have time to make a copy, but today's itinerary went something like:

8:00 - Breakfast banquet with blahbity-blah from a middle-aged, pasty white keynote speaker

11:30 - Head circumference measurement and fittings for hooded cloaks

1:15 - Announcement of the raffle winner who gets to disembowel the virgin at the TGIFridays midnight sacrifice (I heard Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson bought 2,000 tickets. Dude is into the freaky stuff.)

There was also time allotted to introduce The Prodigal Son Project.

Hey, I was just yanking your chains about that stuff. Not the Paul Ryan gym bag stuff, that really happened. But I don't think they really have cloaks* or virgin sacrifices. The Prodigal Son Project, however, is real... and that's really what they're calling it. On the list of Prodigal Sons are the names of dozens of corporations who have suspended contributions to ALEC and in other ways distanced themselves from the organization. (*they probably do have cloaks)

Their reasons may vary, but it appears that ALEC experienced a sharp decline in corporate financial support and private membership following the George Zimmerman trial last year. One of ALEC's legislative models is the stand-your-ground law that got an armed man off the hook for shooting an unarmed teenager. Amid a flurry of public outrage surrounding Trayvon Martin's death, several companies discontinued their support of ALEC. I'm not supposing a definite correlation, maybe times was just tough for Pepsi and McDonald's and Walmart, but since those companies all reported growth in 2012... well...

So the Prodigal Son Project is ALEC's effort to reinstate relationships with the companies who have distanced themselves in the wake of a horrific incident that brought ALEC sponsored legislation, specifically that of gun owners' rights to shoot unarmed kids and Alzheimer's afflicted septuagenarians (if they can prove that they felt a little squeamish before they pulled the trigger) into a national spotlight. Corporations don't want to risk losing the support of our consumer dollars due to their affiliation with an organization that is associated with shady, closed door deals between lobbyists and lawmakers.

They are shrewd and clever and deliberate and cunning and truly harbor abhorrent selfishness, but I sense that they are at a point of weakness. The truth is that ALEC, which experienced a 17% rate of growth in 2011, saw a 3% drop in 2012 and another 9% in 2013. The first bits of sand are shaking out of the mortar, and I think they're pretty freaked out. Why else would they draft a form letter for all the attendees of this week's conference to take home, to fill in the blanks, and to beg for money from corporations who have dropped out? The letter, which asks for support for ALEC's State Reimbursement Fund, asserts that this fund "helps legislators understand the impact that state and national policies have on our businesses." In Marmalade Megspeak: this is the money we use to buy elections. Here's the kicker: they are targeting a group of businesses that you and I have tremendous influence over. Holler, bitchez... we got the dollerz, bitchez! And guess what? I can write a letter, too. And so can you. In fact, I can write a letter, right here, right now, and you can copy and paste that shit into an email and send it to every company on their list. And if we all did that, it would be a straight up kick in Chuck Koch's dentures.

Of course I believe that the best way to fight big business influence on government is by spending our money locally, with small businesses. A mere two days ago, I railed against the corporate takeover of Christmas and announced my boycott. For me, of all people, to encourage communication in the form of a Thank You to big business... well, I realize the perceived hypocrisy therein. I don't really care how I look. My ego is not at stake here.

Further, I'm not asking you to actually go out and spend your dollars with these people, I'm just asking you to tell them that you support their abstinence from corrupting the legislative process.

Here is the list of companies on the Prodigal Son Project list:

Arizona Public Service
American Traffic
Blue Cross Blue Shield
Yum! Brands
Procter and Gamble
Scantron Corporation
Scantron Corporation
Johnson & Johnson
Dell Computers
John Deere
CVS Caremark
Hewlett Packard
Best Buy
Express Scripts/Medco
General Electric
Western Union
Wells Fargo
Bank of America
Bristol Myers Squibb
Brown-Foreman Company
Publix Supermarkets
Conoco Phillips

I was going to compile all their email addresses for you, but most of them have a site you have to visit first and enter your name and email, because they're corporate people and they make everything too complicated. Besides, like I said, I've had some wine, and I don't want to screw it up and give you the address for the wrong pharmaceutical company. That would be embarrassing. I have a reputation for precision. But I wrote a quick note to each of them and it only took me a little over an hour to paste the following statement onto all of their pages:

Thank you for discontinuing your financial support of the American Legislative Exchange Council. It was wise of you to recognize that ALEC was using your donations to influence elections and affect legislation. I agree with you that is a poor business model to contribute to organizations that manipulate the American political process. I will continue to support your business as long as you are not affiliated with ALEC. 

Imagine the weight of these words if we all said them, and especially if we all meant them. Even if you only have time to send a message to one of them. Or maybe one a day? If these companies hear from consumers that we will take our dollars away if they fail the Prodigal Son Test and resume sponsorship of ALEC, I think we can motivate them to keep their distance. I know it's a hassle, but I really think it can work. So tell your friends. Tell everyone. Even your laziest friend. Your laziest friend can send an email.

Now go get em! Then go shopping.

Shop til you Drop -Bansky