The so-called war on Christmas

It’s that time of year when some of my “Friends” on Facebook have posted, “Nobody’s going to make me say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas,” and “Where’s our President when Christmas is erased from our schools’ calendar because of Muslims?” (attributed to Chuck Norris).

In fact, no one’s keeping me from saying Merry Christmas. I can send Christmas cards. I can light up the nativity scene on my lawn. I can say Merry Christmas to everyone I greet. If, however, I am a keeper of the public trust in our religiously diverse nation—i.e., a mayor, a public school teacher, a county, state, or country employee—I may not use public funds or public space to promote my religious beliefs.

Orlando of the 1950s had a large Jewish population. How did Jewish children feel singing “The First Noel” and “O Holy Night” in our annual Christmas concerts? For the sixth-grade Christmas gift exchange a Jewish boy drew my name.

In our high school a sound system broadcast daily devotions into each classroom. Scripture and an inspirational thought for the day were read. We concluded by reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” and pledging allegiance to the flag. I sometimes wonder how my Jewish classmates felt about that part of each morning.

People complain they can’t use language that is “politically correct”: not say the “n-word,” not say “retard” or “fag,” not use “man” when they mean woman too. While “Christmas” has not been added to the list, we’re in the process of learning there are times and places where the sensitive person does not say it.

Why? Because words, symbols too, have the power to hurt and exclude. It doesn’t matter what the speaker intended.

A manger scene in a town square, the words Merry Christmas on a public building, a card sent by a public official (at the tax payer’s expense) wishing the constituency a Merry Christmas—what effect do these have on those who practice a different faith, whose beliefs are as important to them as mine are to me?

Stamped on our coins is “E pluribus unum,” meaning “of many one.” This doesn’t mean that to become one all newcomers must adopt the religious practices of our western European forebears. I believe it means that all people of good will who come to these shores, no matter their faith, are invited to be one with the rest of us.

So, to my Christian friends: Merry Christmas. To my non-Christian friends: Happy Holidays.

If you don’t have time to…

I remember what it was like to have a full-time job and two kids, with no extra time to keep up with the news. I was then and continue to be cynical about government and the integrity of politicians. Yet over the years I’ve discovered that nearly every aspect of my life is decided by elected officials besides the President.

That’s why, even though this coming election doesn’t have the excitement of a presidential year, it’s as important. Here are issues I consider most important as we approach the 2014 election:

1) Clean air to breath and clear water to drink. Yet many legislators oppose efforts to prevent oil-fired power plants from emitting dangerous toxins into the air. Regulations, they say, cost jobs.

2) A safe food supply and access to basic medical care. Yet many legislators keep calling for the repeal of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and try to weaken the power of the FDA and the Department of Agriculture.

3) A fair wage for the work people do, including equal pay for women. Many people work two or three jobs to provide their family with basics. Yet some candidates continue to oppose a higher minimum wage. (Beware of those who in the past week announced they are for a minimum wage increase—after learning much of the public favors it.)

4) A solid education that will allow children to become leaders in ingenuity and production. Yet pledges not to increase taxes are forcing teacher layoffs, denying schools the resources they need for effective teaching, and increasing class size.

I urge you to vote. If you haven’t had time to keep up, google to learn the endorsements of organizations who share your values. Examples include Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, local chapters of the American Bar Association

If political advertising can’t be trusted—what to do

You studied them in middle school. Probably took a multiple-choice test on which is which. I’m talking about propaganda, that is persuasion techniques that rely on manipulating information to suit the purposes of advertisers, politicians, etc.

While I advise voters not to listen to political advertising this time of year, we’re surrounded by it. So it’s especially important that we recognize techniques candidates are using.

Namecalling or demonizing the enemy: “Ultra-liberal,” “ socialist,” “friend of the rich.”

Repetition: “Obama’s approval rating, Obama’s approval rating, Obama’s approval rating.” “Helps big corporations, helps big corporations, helps big corporations.” The idea is to repeat a message so often that uninformed citizens will accept it as truth.

Showing part of the picture: Often pieces of legislation are bundled together. A senator or representative opposed to one part may have to vote against the whole thing. A vote against a transportation bill doesn’t mean a representative is opposed to filling potholes.

Testimonials: A celebrity endorses a candidate.

Plain folks: An ordinary person who has encountered an extraordinary situation tells what the candidate did or how the candidate’s position would benefit common people in similar situations.

There are too many kinds of techniques to mention them all. You get the idea.

So what do we do instead of paying attention to advertising? Most of us don’t have time to research each candidate’s positions. I can think of two alternatives: 1) Ask someone whose opinions on issues match your own. 2) Search the internet for endorsements by organizations you trust.

Since my politics are progressive, and I live in North Carolina, I google my county and “Democratic Party.” The site tells me what representatives and judges are likely to be progressive. (Don’t ignore the important role judges play.) Women’s organizations, police, educators, lawyers, environmental groups, unions—many have posted candidates they endorse. Most are state or county specific.

In most states early voting starts soon, which makes it easier for you to go at a convenient time. The environment, a woman’s right to make her own health decisions, rights for African-Americans and the LGBTQ community—these are all at risk.
This is one midterm election we dare not miss.

2014 voting made easy (well, at least easier)

The future of our environment, educational systems, gay marriage, and women’s health is decided by people we elect. The list of offices to be filled is long, overwhelming when it comes to deciding who to vote for.

The internet has made it easier to cast an informed ballot. Here are a few suggestions.

1)  First, be sure what district you live in and the voting location. This can usually be done by Googling “voter guide” for your state. Remember, it may be easier to cast an absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters also lists rules. For example, in North Carolina you do NOT need a photo ID this time, but you will the next.

2)  Find the website of an organization that shares your primary concerns. Many organizations, such as the Missouri NEA (National Educational Association) endorse candidates.

environment: http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements. Most endorsements are listed by states.

women’s reproductive rights endorsements: google that or “Planned Parenthood Endorsements” and locate your state or region.

education endorsements 2014: state teachers unions or organizations often keep track of who is education friendly.

workers’ rights , workplace safety, consumer protection: google “aflcio endorsements,” then find your state.

3)  I find it especially hard to decide what judges to vote for. They make a lot of      important decisions, though. State Bar associations, while not endorsing judges, do evaluate their professionalism. Again, some special interest groups, such as LGBT lawyers or Hispanic lawyers, make endorsements.

4)  The following sites are for North Carolina, but each state has similar resources that are easy to find.
If you are concerned about equal rights for gays and lesbians, go to:   http://equalitync.org/pac/voterguide2014/index.html

If you are concerned about jobs, workplace safety, workers’ rights: aflcionc.org

Voting isn’t just a privilege. It’s one of the few tools you have for deciding the country’s future.

For those thinking it’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot

In 1986 I was a young working mother too overwhelmed by responsibility to keep up with politics. But I felt an obligation to vote. In the Illinois primary election I entered the booth knowing nothing about the candidates. Afterward, I discovered that out of ignorance I had cast my ballot for a man running for lieutenant governor whose extremist views were abhorrent to me. Fortunately, though he won in the primary, he lost in the general election.

Since the 2014 election doesn’t include a candidate for President, a lot of people haven’t been paying much attention to politics. They’re thinking, like one young woman I recently spoke with, “It’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot.”

Instead of choosing between not voting or casting an ignorant ballot, consider a third possibility: Take some shortcuts to getting the information you need for making an informed vote.

  1. Check the website of an organization whose opinion you trust. During election time many special interest groups post endorsements. If the environment is the issue that most concerns you, seek out the guidance of an organization such as the Sierra Club (http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements) or a local environmental group. If you’re particularly concerned about equal pay for equal work, check the National Women’s Political Caucus (http://www.nwpc.org/2014endorsements) or see if your area has a Women’s Chamber of Commerce. State Bar associations often evaluate candidates for judicial positions.
  2. Get a sample ballot ahead of time and fill it out. One is usually available online, at a party precinct office, or at the poll. Have your choices recorded on that ballot, so that all you have to do is transfer them. And yes, it is better to leave some blanks than make an uninformed guess.
  3. When you get to the voting booth, take along the sample ballot.

Whoever wins the 2014 elections will make laws related to the environment, the workplace, reproductive rights (accessibility to contraception as well as abortion), education, college loans, and immigration.

It’s your life—your future, your children’s future—that’s being determined. Vote.

Why the November election is important for young women, part 2

You’ve just changed jobs, and this one’s really demanding. You recently moved. Maybe you struggle just to get by financially: work, sleep, work, maybe socialize on weekends. A romantic breakup has you tied up emotionally. In any of these scenarios you feel too stressed out to give much thought to voting in November. And you certainly don’t want to cast an uninformed ballot.

But the November, 2014, elections are especially important to women. While we won’t be electing a President, we will elect women and men whose decisions impact our daily life.

Here are suggestions on how you can quickly find out which candidates best represent you:

1) Choose one or two issues that are most important to you: the environment, education, reproductive rights, income inequality, the national debt, immigration, racial justice, gay rights, taxes, health. There may be another issue that personally affects you.

2) Find out who’s running for office. You’ll need to know what district you’re in. votesmart.org is a helpful site, or Google your state’s name and “voting districts.”

Yes, there are a lot of positions to be filled, but don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. I suggest you pay particular attention to just five office holders: at the federal level, U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative from your district; in your state government, governor, your state senator, and your state representative. Your U.S. Senator has a six-year term so may not be running this year. Your governor might not be running either. In this case you only need to learn about candidates for three or four positions.

3) Now begin matching the issues you’re concerned about to the person. Again, votesmart.org is a helpful site, though it does seem to give the person currently holding the office more prominence. Also, it can be a little confusing in that it identifies individuals who already lost in primary elections.

4) Go to candidates’ websites. Check them out in social media, Facebook in particular.

5) Ask someone whose opinion you value who they’re voting for and why. Then go to the candidates’ websites to make sure their stance on issues agrees with yours.

Only a hundred years ago women fought hard for the right to vote. Some went to jail, many were publicly humiliated. (My grandmother was among the first generation of women to cast a ballot.) When they did finally get the right, many relied on their husband to tell them who to vote for.

As a woman today, you have more education and experience “out in the world.” You can decide for yourself who supports your values, what candidates will work to ensure the best future for you, your children, our country, and our world.

Don’t let a few individuals determine the future for you.

Contraception and why you must vote in November

When it come to your reproductive rights, not voting in November makes as much sense as having sex without protection. Sure, you can take your chances, hope you don’t get pregnant. Likewise, you can risk letting other voters decide who will make laws that directly effect you. In fact, those most strongly opposed to women’s reproductive rights can be depended on to show up at the polls.

In the oldest section of many cemeteries you’ll find the graves of young women next to stone slabs inscribed with “Infant daughter” or “Infant son.” Only a hundred years ago, when my grandmother was in the early years of her marriage, Margaret Sanger was arrested for giving out information about birth control. Deaths related to childbearing were not rare, and large families overwhelmed many women. I was among the first generation of women to have access to birth control pills.

Last September Cosmopolitan ran an article, “11 Politicians Standing Between You and Your Birth Control” http://www.cosmopolitan.com/health-fitness/advice/a4845/politicians-anti-birth-control/. In primaries leading up to the last presidential election, Republican candidate Rick Santorum openly spoke of his opposition to many forms of birth control, including the pill. Legislatures in several states keep whittling away at women’s rights to contraception and abortion.

Check now to make sure your voter registration is up to date. You must change your registration if you’ve changed your legal name or moved to a different precinct. This site may answer your questions: http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/ive_moved_recently_can_i_still_vote.aspx

And be sure to vote November 4.

 

Putting our tax refund to good use

I’d like a second TV. My husband wants a more up-to-date cell phone. We’ve talked about using our tax refund for new porch furniture. I wouldn’t mind a day at the mall. No matter how we resolve this dilemma, one thing for certain: we’re likely to spend our refund on STUFF we don’t need.

Googling “quality of life,” I found nothing affirming the importance of STUFF. Instead, sites mention health, safety, education, political freedom, employment that pays a living wage. I’ve added beauty to the list. But for all of these things there is a cost, in most cases made possible through taxes administered by local, state, and national governments.

Medicare, created and overseen by the government, contributes to keeping many of my generation healthy. The Affordable Care Act has the potential to do the same. The safety of our community depends on police and fire personnel. Governmental agencies monitor toxins in the air and water, bacteria in our food. (I don’t trust Duke Energy, Chevron Corporation, or Armour Meats to monitor themselves.) Of course, someone has to enforce laws related to air, water, and food. Our community’s quality of life depends on schools providing a competent workforce that can read directions, make accurate calculations, apply critical reasoning. Our political freedom is guarded by people we elect to office and in worse-scene scenarios, by the military.

Beauty connects us to the Holy. I added it to the list because we need places undisturbed by urbanization or corporations that exploit the land. Through parks and environmental monitoring government protects mountain vistas, clean waterways, ancient trees, and threatened species. Beauty is also found in museums and concert halls. When not subsidized by taxes, access is available only to the wealthy.

All of these quality-of-life issues cost money.

North Carolina has a $445 million shortfall this fiscal year. Yet legislators keep promising not to raise taxes. Yes, taxes are a burden on those who struggle to pay for basic needs. For those of us, though, who aren’t wealthy but keep accumulating STUFF—paying a few extra dollars in taxes would not create hardship. And surely millionaires can contribute more to guarantee a quality of life all can enjoy. How many houses does a person need? How many cars? How many designer dresses?

What is good citizenship, if not doing what we can to support the common good?

Republicans, please give us reasoned information.

“Have you always had such strong political opinions?” a new friend asked. Not until the last presidential election, when Republican candidates started opening their mouths. Like Herman Cain, with his, “When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan…” And Rick Santorum’s “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.” Need I mention Michele Bachmann’s and Rick Perry’s remarks?

Now, in getting ready for the next election, the GOP is again insulting the electorate’s intelligence.

When I taught middle school, most language arts curricula included a unit on propaganda, that is persuasion techniques that rely on manipulating information to suit the purposes of advertisers, politicians, etc. If a recent Op-Ed piece by Buncombe County GOP chairman, Henry Mitchell, is any example (“King Obama is above the law,” Asheville Citizen Times, Mar. 28), it appears that Republicans are counting on readers having forgotten those lessons. Mitchell resorts to the following:

Namecalling: “King Obama,” he writes; “ultra-liberal N.C. Sen. Kay Hagan,” “cowardly media” and “the Obama/Hagan/Asheville ultra-liberal progressive political machine” (so many words strung together in hopes that one might contaminate the others).

Repetition: The Republican talking points against Obamacare have been repeated so often that polls show uninformed citizens accepting the criticisms as fact.

Showing part of the picture: (See Repetition, above.) Mitchell says nothing about North Carolina’s Republican legislators and Republican governor sabotaging Obamacare at every turn, or about the national GOP’s refusal to help develop a viable health system. He does not mention that 9.5 million previously uninsured Americans are now covered through Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

Demonizing the enemy: In using the term King Obama and referring to “stunning law-breaking power abuse” Mitchell loyally follows Republican talking points about an imperial presidency. Again he fails to mention the obstructionist tactics of the GOP, which have left Obama with no choice but to use the power the law allows.

Creating false dichotomies: He would have us believe that Obama does not value the Constitution while Republicans, of course, do.

Citizens deserve more than propaganda and emotional tirades. We deserve well reasoned arguments about real issues. But we also have responsibilities. We must wean ourselves from relying on sound bytes and become better informed about the issues. We must do the hard work of critical thinking.

 

Change that scares the dickens out of me

Growing up in the segregated South of the 1950s, I lived in an insulated world where everyone in my circle of influence was white, working class, and, as far as I knew, heterosexual. A “good” black man stayed on his side of town. A “good” white woman bought the best detergent for her family. Girls who got pregnant suddenly disappeared. Aspirin was the drug of choice.

Change we can believe in? How about change that scares the dickens out of me? For I’m part of the Silent generation, Americans between the ages of 66 and 83 who need a map to navigate this new world. OK, not a map: a GPS. My identity can be stolen, my whereabouts tracked, my private conversations monitored. And there’s all that technology I don’t know how to manage: the DVR, features on my cell phone, having to plan my own itinerary on the internet.

But equally disconcerting for me and my generation is the change in values. Teens and young adults engage in sexting and get hooked on drugs. Children are murdered at school. Sex and violence permeate TV programming. It’s little surprise that my generation, which has witnessed such enormous change, tends to hold conservative positions on social issues and is either angry or frustrated with government (http://www.people-press.org/2011/11/03/the-generation-gap-and-the-2012-election-3/).  We fear for the future of our families, our country, and our world.

What do frightened people do? They place blame. It’s the government, It’s the schools. It’s the parents. It’s Obama’s fault. Behind the blame is a yearning for simple solutions. If we just allowed prayer in the schools. If young women would just say no to premarital sex. If poor people would just go out and find a job. If the government would just quit interfering.

But to stay stuck in simple solutions perpetuates stereotypes of—yes, I’ll say the words—old people as complainers. It also makes us irrelevant.

An alternative is to live in the NOW. That is, we can seek opportunities to be with people who represent our changing society: those who are younger, of a different race, ethnic group, or sexual orientation. Not to preach or speak fondly of the past, but to listen and withhold judgment. Standing with them rather than against them might just make a heap of difference.