Saturday, December 23, 2017

Reclaiming Self and Community Care

I was invited to give a presentation on December 11 on the topic of "Reclaiming Self and Community Care: Principles & Practices for Social Change in the Direction of Social Justice." Below are the starting points and principles that I used to introduce and frame some example reflective practices. 

Starting Points: 

1. In a healthy, functioning society, self and community care is integrated into everyday habits, relationships, organizations, and culture. Special actions would not be required except in cases of crisis, trauma, disaster, etc.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Equality: From Principle to Reality

Below is the text of a talk I delivered December 3, 2017, lightly edited. 


For many of us, and perhaps for more and more of us, we live with a familiarity with despair. It's a kind of desperation that silently grows as the injustice around us is heaped like so much kindling, waiting for the spark. We feel it when we hear the news, and we feel it in the experiences of our own lives, when we walk out the door into an unsafe world. It is overwhelming, and has been for a very long time. 

The history of the West, with its complex mix of incredible and awful, is not one thing, despite how our civic myths like to shoehorn every story into a narrative of progress. In reality, this history is also the history of white supremacy, imperialism, and patriarchy. And we are still bearing bad fruit, as recent headlines reveal, through stories of the violent and misogynistic actions of sexual predators (SOURCE), or the late night passage of tax legislation that benefits corporations and the wealthiest 1%.(SOURCE) And, with regard to the latter, we are yet to see what further impact the final form of the tax bill will have on the most vulnerable,(SOURCE) especially since cutting vital social programs is a favorite past time of those in power. Meanwhile, approximately 1,100 people have been killed so far by police in the USA in 2017.(SOURCE) And, according to the FBI, hate crimes continue to be on the rise, with over 6,000 reported cases in the latest numbers from 2016. Of those cases, 58% were motivated by “race, ethnicity, or ancestry”; 21% were based on religion, and 18% were based on sexual orientation.(SOURCE)

We could fill the rest of the day with a litany of these tragedies and injustices, with more than enough sorrow that all of us would feel that creeping desperation, born of grief and rage. But none of this is a surprise; neither is it surprising to say that we humans continue to experience a lot of polarization, growing farther apart. We have a long history to demonstrate how efficient we are in producing new circumstances that fuel those divisions. What we have proven to be less efficient at doing is bringing us together. That’s also not surprising, as it is much easier and faster to destroy than it is to create, to bring death than to nourish life. And yet we have to find ways to keep walking out the door. We have to find ways to live in this very world, while injustice persists, and the water is always at or near boiling. And we have to find ways to do so without either giving up or giving in to the way things are. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

TDOR 2017 Reflection

I was a speaker at our local LGBTQIA+ community center's vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance this year. Below are some of the reflections I shared as an introduction and welcome. 


I’ve been out in an affirming way as a genderqueer person since 2007. And I love it, I love myself, and I love this beautiful community of trans and gender-nonconforming folks. I love how being genderqueer has shaped how I experience and understand the world, and the way it helps me connect and care for people. It is a wonderful gift, and I am grateful every day for it. 

But there is also this grief that goes with it, a persistent awareness of the suffering that makes it necessary to have a Transgender Day of Remembrance every year. Those of us who are here already know it; we know it painfully well. This is the day when we put into words and actions the silent grief that follows us every day. We name the names of those who have been murdered because someone hated them for simply being themselves. Each year, the list takes us around the world. This year, two of those names are of people who lived and died here in Missouri, Kiwi Herring and Ally Steinfeld. 

Our grief is also for those in our family whose names are not on the list. Too many of us suffer from suicide, domestic violence, violence not considered hate crimes, and deaths that also come out of the suffering of being hated and rejected by the world: drug overdoses, dangerous decisions of desperation, and the intersections of oppression with race, gender, and class. We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that trans women of color are especially at risk in a world overflowing with patriarchal, racist, classist violence. There are too many of their names on this list, and we have failed them the most. We must ask, what beautiful and powerful actions can be born of our grief and our rage? 

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Fragile Whole: One Year Later

I offered this reflection year ago, November 13, 2016, in response to the election results. It replaced a presentation I was asked to make on simplicity and ecological justice. Some of the information reflects circumstances of that particular week, such as cabinet candidates, but the points still feel relevant to me. I've only lightly edited it here for brevity and clarity.


This was meant to be a presentation on simplicity, on contentment and joy in the face of a consumer society fueled by injustice and greed and sustained by a culture that values permanent dissatisfaction over gratitude and care. It was meant to grieve how this precious earth, this fragile whole made up of human and natural communities, has been looted and crushed, poisoned and neglected. It was meant to celebrate the ways, little and large, in which we could bring about healing our own fragmented lives and communities. And it was meant to celebrate how the earth itself, this beautiful and terrible hum of living and dying, is worth celebrating and grieving and loving and exploring and protecting. I was going to talk about gardening with my grandparents and parents, and hiking with Holly. There was even a sentimental childhood memory about buying seed potatoes and onion sets with my father.

I really hoped I did not have a compelling reason to put that presentation aside last Tuesday.

Although I was not expecting a Trump victory, I was also not surprised. I have spent a good deal of my life around people that helped carry him to success. Although we can’t generalize to individuals, we can notice the trends. Despite the rhetoric around economic issues, Trump’s victory was not a blow against neoliberalism, evidenced by his willingness to cut taxes, deregulate industry, and bust unions. Instead, Trump’s vision appealed to those who have felt the symptoms and impacts of neoliberalism, such as job loss, and did not like it. Trump offered a message built around the assurance that the spoils of neoliberalism would include the middle class, mainly white folk who have felt their privilege threatened both by an uncertain economic future but also by movements for equality and justice among traditionally marginalized people who are growing in number, visibility, and power. The economic world we have inherited and sustained has always required the suffering and oppression of marginalized people, especially black and brown people and women, as well as the pillaging and destruction of the earth. So even if it carried mainly sentimental, a-historical meanings to most followers, the slogan “Make America Great Again” was a startling reminder of just who has born the cost of that so-called greatness, and who will likely bear it again. If you don’t recognize this as white supremacy at work, then we need to have a conversation.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Access to Meaningful Education: Obstacles and Opportunities in Early Childhood Education

This is the text of a presentation written and delivered with fellow Welcoming Path board member, Holly, at a local conference on August 12, 2017. 


A tale of two children (Holly) 

When he was born, Sam’s parents worked at working-class jobs and lived on the outskirts of town in a low-cost neighborhood. Sam attended a local daycare, but was frequently sent home early with coughs and colds. His mom had to take off work so many times that she lost her job. At a year old, Sam was diagnosed with asthma, aggravated by the smoke from the nearby coal plant. Sam’s mom became determined to move to a different part of the city; after moving, mom began looking for work again. Times were rough, and the job search was difficult. The ongoing stress from having only one income while trying to afford rent in a nicer area strained the family, and Sam’s parents began to argue - a lot. Sam cried when they shouted, and stress hormones washed over his brain time and time again. 

Eventually, the family was evicted for failing to pay rent, and Sam’s parents chose to separate. After weeks of couch-surfing, Sam’s mom managed to find a small apartment (one bedroom, small kitchen, and bathroom) near the airport. The rent was low enough she was able to accept a minimum wage job and just manage to scrape by. Sam spent his days with a neighbor, who made sure his physical needs were met but didn’t play or interact with him much beyond that. The television was a constant background noise, humming just above the buzz of the airport traffic, making it difficult to concentrate. Sam’s mom took extra shifts to try to make ends meet; by the time she got home from work and made dinner, it was time for bed. Each night she lay beside Sam and read to him, but often fell into an exhausted sleep. They would have to wait until tomorrow to read. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

From White Supremacy to Collective Liberation

This is the text of a presentation I gave at a local conference on August 12, 2017. The presentation also included video of and discussion about the violent march by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, not included here. 


I grew up here, in a city with a checkered past and uneasy present with regard to race relations, in a religious denomination founded on the defense of race-based slavery, and among extended family members who often exhibited prejudice. Race became one of those things you could joke about but never talk about, and racism was certainly not an issue that you brought up with others, especially not at a family picnic, a lesson I never seemed to learn. So I grew up surrounded both by white people and a brand of racism that was rarely named but always implied. It was in the jokes told at family gatherings, in the sections of town we were warned to avoid, and in the ways our lives failed to include people of color, unless our coach was recruiting for a sports team. As a child raised on the multicultural worlds of Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact, and with parents that taught me to treat everyone with respect and kindness, I began to notice these contradictions. Slowly, I also noticed how conversations about poverty portrayed low-income white people as 'down on their luck,' while low-income people of color were portrayed as pariahs and leeches. I learned just enough about abolitionism and the civil rights movement in school to know whose side I was on. Yet I never studied history or the arts from a multicultural perspective, and I was ignorant about how complicit I was in systems of oppression. 

As a result, as an adult I found myself opposed to racism but without the tools that I needed to recognize and uproot it in myself or in the structures and cultures of society. It wasn't until graduate school in the late 1990s that I truly began to better understand and finally start to undo all these subtle layers of racist ideas and anxieties within and around me. At first, I became embarrassed that it took me so long to begin to make those changes, and then had to realize that my embarrassment was part of the problem, too, shifting the focus off of racial justice and onto my fragile identity. Slowly, too slowly, I came to realize that understanding and eradicating white supremacy is essential in our continuing struggle for collective liberation. 

Because it’s no secret that racism has been an extremely effective tactic to thwart movements for democracy and justice in the United States, creating a gulf between people who would otherwise be allies. While the history of white supremacy is not simple, it is true that, as Bill Bigelow at the Zinn Education Project put it, 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Climate Justice and Inequality

It's no secret that environmental justice cannot be separated from racial justice and economic justice, so that even the EPA features a page that advocates for the "fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies."

So it's important to keep up with current models and predictions, especially with regard to our growing understandings of the impacts of climate change. A recent study from Rutgers University, "led by Solomon Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley, Robert Kopp of Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Amir Jina of the University of Chicago, and James Rising, also of UC Berkeley," is providing some important glimpses of what those impacts will look like if things proceed on their present course.

And it's not good. As the title puts it, "Climate change damages US economy, increases inequality."

First, there will be winners and losers. The South and lower Midwest, "poor and hot already, will lose the most, with economic opportunity traveling northward and westward. Colder and richer counties along the northern border and in the Rockies could benefit the most as health, agriculture and energy costs are projected to improve."

Second, these losses will be characterized by "economic restructuring and widening inequality." As the temperature goes up, the GDP will go down (.7% per degree Fahrenheit), "with each degree of warming costing more than the last." The social costs of extreme heat will include a tendency to increase "violent crime, slow down workers, amp up air conditioning costs, and threaten people's lives." As Hsiang puts it, "If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country's history."

Third, the impacts will not go away. We are on pace to a 6-10°F warming by the end of this century, which will bring "costs on par with the Great Recession -- except they will not go away afterwards and damages for poor regions will be many times larger. ... Here in the Midwest, we may see agricultural losses similar to the Dustbowl of the 1930s."

The real value of this kind of research is to give us a realistic picture of what we are facing and both motivate us and direct us to act. It is increasingly clear that there are already people who can profit from climate change, valuing their greed over the lives and well-being of the most vulnerable communities both here and abroad.

As Thenjiwe McHarris, a national organizer within the Movement for Black Lives, reminded us at the People’s Climate March,
"This must be a deliberate, strategic choice made as a means to not only end the legacy of injustice in this country, but in an effort to protect the earth." (SOURCE)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Too much support?

Supporting the development of social skills, emotional regulation, and reflective practice in children is an essential part of cultivating cultures and communities that value and embody justice, compassion, and equality. And research on such topics is especially valuable to us as reflective practitioners. 

Research moves in cycles, leading to new questions and explorations, which is why I am curious about the follow up to a recent study about an inverse relationship between a parent's support and a teacher's assessments of a child's social skills. I did not have access to the full study of 203 third graders and their mothers, but the abstract spelled it out a little:
"Mothers’ supportive reactions predicted greater social adjustment in children as reported by mothers. Inverse associations, however, were found with teachers’ reports of children's social adjustment: mothers’ supportive reactions predicted fewer socioemotional skills and more problem behaviors. These contrasting patterns suggest potential unperceived costs associated with mothers’ supportiveness of children's negative emotions for third-grade children's social adjustment in school and highlight the importance of considering associations between socialization practices and children's various social contexts." (SOURCE
Dr. Vanessa Castro, a co-author of the study, suggested three possible reasons for the discrepancies. First, the parents could be the cause of the problem by "hovering or providing too much support." Second, the children need the support because they have "social and emotional problems." Third, the children act differently when at home than at school. The summary ended with an appeal that it "may be helpful for parents to consider other strategies to guide their children to develop their own skills in emotion regulation and social interaction." (SOURCE)

Although it's not possible for me to draw conclusions from a summary like this, it is a useful exercise to identify some of the questions that are raised. For example, why does the study prioritize the assessment of the teachers over the assessment of the parents? What might the discrepancies say about classroom management, school cultures and policies, and social dynamics between students? And who chooses and how do we choose which values are most important socially? 

Similarly, what might we discover if we focus in on family habits? Are the different participants providing similar types of support? Are there any important differences between participants, in circumstance, demography, or skill? And, if so, do those differences correlate with different outcomes? Are teachers and parents using the same measures? Are there different measures, for example, when thinking about long-term development and short-term behavior? 

I observed many of these kinds of dynamics during my brief time (three semesters) as a third grade remedial reading instructor in a public school. I am not suggesting that the answers are clear or easy, which is what makes research like this so important. I am suggesting that it is important for us to always fold the answers back into the process of learning, and keep asking questions. 

In the meantime, Melinda Wenner Moyer's article on some related topics, "Mommy Will Make It Better," is well worth the read, and includes references to other important studies. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Eating Your Feelings

"'We found that employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table, as manifested in eating more than usual and opting for more junk food instead of healthy food,' said Chu-Hsiang 'Daisy' Chang, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author." (SOURCE)

It can be an exhausting cycle, with stress, overeating or eating junk food, and lack of sound sleep all working together to aggravate one another. More than once (more than 100 times?), I found myself reaching for the ice cream during last year's nonstop stress. So many times, I could not find a reasonable way to make the world better, but I could temporarily feel better with a slice of pizza - or three or four slices, and another bowl of ice cream.

Yihao Liu, co-author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois, points out that eating like this is an instinctive strategy to avoid unpleasant feelings, but that feelings of "diminished self-control" can also lead to unhealthy food choices. "When feeling stressed out by work, individuals usually experience inadequacy in exerting effective control over their cognitions and behaviors to be aligned with personal goals and social norms."

In reading and reflecting on this, I became more familiar with the sense of giving up, of giving in to a mild form of despair, of thinking, 'why bother?' when it comes to 'eating my feelings.' And, not surprisingly, I have found it more satisfying to work mindfully with these underlying feelings of grief, frustration, and powerlessness.

And when I do go ahead and eat that ice cream, it is easier to stay with it, savor it, and eat the treat, instead of my suffering.

Michigan State University. "Eating your feelings? The link between job stress, junk food and sleep." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 June 2017. <>.

Starting Things Off

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Our goal is to share articles, resources, ideas, and practices relevant to our mission of "supporting communities to create positive change through reflective and transformative practices."

Best wishes as we work together to cultivate equality in community!