What You Should Know From A Woman You Know

Editor’s note: Language and Graphic Descriptions. This post was also not edited for grammar and spelling.

My Story

I have a reputation for being bold (fine, crass) and saying exactly what I think. I want to premise this article with a warning – if you are of the faint of heart, stop reading. I’m about to get very real with you.

I grew up with a rock-and-roll dad and a bartender mom. My dad was diagnosed with MS when I was four and we were poor. Like, government cheese and roaches you could ride on in our section 8 apartment poor. My mom worked hard to put herself through school to give us a better life. This made me ambitious and tough, sometimes to a fault. I don’t back down from a fight and I have a passion for advocating for those who are bullied and intentionally marginalized. Many people call me a bitch, which I actually quite appreciate. I am terrified of spiders but other than that, I’ve lost loved ones, lived in poverty, worked three jobs to put myself through undergraduate and graduate school, and I am a survivor of sexual assault. Nothing much scares me.

Or so I thought.

Right now I am fucking terrified. I am terrified of the conservative agenda to regulate my body and take my rights away. I am terrified in the lack of basic understanding around the way our bodies work on a fundamental level. I wake up every morning wondering if “Avonna” will turn into “Ofmike”. I fear the day where the red robes and white caps will become mandatory.

You might think I am being hysterical or over dramatic. But stick with me, I’ll explain.

Pregnant at 19

Mike and I found out I was pregnant when I was 19 and he was 20. I was desperately, violently ill almost immediately. My hair fell out, my fingernails turned yellow and stopped growing, and I was so dehydrated that I couldn’t urinate. It was difficult for me to be alone because I would get dizzy when I walked. I had a few friends that took the time to sit with me while I spent the day throwing up and crying. I was finally rushed to the hospital after I passed out in the bathroom and a friend found me. In the emergency room the doctors explained that my child would likely “be deficient” because I hadn’t been able to bring in any nutrition. They explained that the fetal brain may not have the opportunity to develop properly and I could be facing a child with lifelong disabilities.

At this point I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be a mother. I had plans to leave Minnesota for the rest of college. This was an unexpected turn in my roadmap of life and I wasn’t happy about it at all. I talked to my mother about abortion and she called a few clinics for me. I remember her explaining the waiting period and abortion process over the phone. I was curled up in a ball in the bottom of my bathtub, the bright orange stomach bile I was throwing up making its way slowly to the drain. I watched the thick substance ooze out of sight and I was too weak to even cry while her voice stayed even and calm.

In the ER, after the doctor told me my child would more than likely have special needs, they forced me to look at the ultrasound monitor. They told me that I was required to look at the fetus before I made a final decision. Even though they recommended that I terminate the pregnancy, I had to look at the fetus. I had seen the tiny thing growing inside of me before, when it was a small blob. It was still a blob, but a bit longer and slightly resembling a shrimp. The nurse pointed out the fluttering of the “heart” and and explained what everything was on the screen.

This is where my abortion story changes. Because I didn’t have one. I made the choice for myself that I just knew everything would be ok. I figured I had gone this far, I might as well plough ahead. I think my actual words were, “fuck it. I guess I’m doing this.” If you know me, you are probably smiling and nodding your head because you can picture me saying this.

Flash forward a few months. I started to bleed. Some bleeding in pregnancy is normal. My level of bleeding was not. From the very beginning of my pregnancy my older, white, male doctor (no offense to the white guys in my life) told me that I was young and in shape so I would have no problem with my pregnancy. This was in 2003/2004 and smartphones and instant internet didn’t exist in my world. My doctor never talked to me about what really happened in pregnancy. So when I started to bleed I went home from work and the nurse line told me that I should lay down and rest. I was miscarrying and there wasn’t anything they could do. Once I was confident the process was over, I should go in to the doctor and they would clean up the rest.The nurse was cold and distant on the phone, losing patience with my crying quickly.  

When I finally made it into the doctor there was still a heartbeat. I had actually been carrying twins, which, I was told, was probably why I was so sick and my hormone levels were so high.

I was 20 years old when Dylan was born. I was in college. Mike and I didn’t have two pennies to rub together. We were clueless. We were terrified. We were nowhere near ready. I wonder all the time how women without support systems do it. Without my friends and family we would have been homeless. Literally. I completely understand how women, in desperate times, end up stripping, selling themselves, living on the streets, and stuck in abusive relationships. A parent will do anything to survive and provide for their child.

Dylan is 15 now and I just bought my second house. I have a master’s degree and I work for a political consulting firm based in Washington DC. My story isn’t typical. I understand that I have privileges that other women don’t have. I recognize the sacrifice my mother made to help us raise Dylan. I had the ability to be on birth control at 19 – I actually found out I was pregnant three days before my birth control appointment. I understand the choices I made that put me into the situation I lived through.

The Importance of Education

Until the ACA I had to use Planned Parenthood for my birth control because I couldn’t afford it, even with insurance. Planned Parenthood prevented additional pregnancies for me and they helped me manage very heavy periods. They also provided me with needed breast exams, my grandmother died of breast cancer and before I was pregnant I had one cyst removed from my left breast. Planned Parenthood helped me own my health and understand my body’s needs better. Staying on birth control to prevent pregnancy was vital because my labor and delivery was…less than ideal. I tried to vaginally deliver but ended up with an emergency c-section, where I almost died. My doctor told me that I “wasn’t very good at having babies” and that I probably shouldn’t do it again. I also have a non-cancerous brain tumor that feeds off the types of hormones released in pregnancy. These hormones also turn non-cancerous tumors into cancer. In short, without birth control I’d die. If organizations like Planned Parenthood are defunded, women will die.

There is case after case showing that when a Planned Parenthood location closes, STD’s, and birthrates skyrocket. Read HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE for more information.

Under these new anti-choice laws I could be tried for murder because my body couldn’t maintain one of the two fetuses. I would be punished for advocating for my own life. Even more concerning for me, as a school board member, is the lack of understanding I see in basic reproductive health for men and women. Here is where I get on my soapbox about the importance of funding public education that is applicable to daily life.

Ohio State Representative Baker claimed that an ectopic pregnancy could be moved from the fallopian tube to the womb (false, an ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants in a place other than the uterus, typically the fallopian tubes. As the implanted egg grows it can become fatal to the woman). Texas State Representative Strickland claims that vaccines are sorcery (please don’t make me explain why this is false).  All I could do when I heard these stories in the news was scream at my TV, “THAT ISN’T HOW IT WORKS!” While these two examples are rather extreme – they are symptom of a larger problem – the unwillingness to have uncomfortable conversations.

Talking about sex and oral sex with your teenager is uncomfortable, I know this from first hand experience, but considering that 20% of American youth don’t consider oral sex to be sex, and thus “safer” than conventional sex, they open themselves up to STDs and life altering illness. Talking about race and the fact that African American women are more likely to die from complications due to childbirth isn’t easy. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that we are so caught up in being politically correct and so hyper aware of the potential for words to go viral, that we are afraid to be vulnerable and have these vital discussions. We live in a time where really good, productive, and honest conversations that could lead to real progressive change are censored because of the fear of a ten second sound bite being taken out of context.

We’ve ignored tough conversations and public education for a generation, and now uneducated, incompetent, religious zealots are growing up and running for office. Because civics has been cut over and over in schools and big money has taken over even the smallest level of political campaigns, the average person who genuinely cares about their community is too intimidated to run for office.

So now we have uneducated religious zealots creating policy at the local, state, and federal level. The separation of church and state is gone – wave goodbye because that shit isn’t coming back anytime soon. Big churches and powerful pastors are directly influencing policy and laughing all the way to the bank while they do it. They are working with conservative candidates and lawmakers to use veiled racism, classism, and sexism as a way to build political power.

Being a Woman in Trump’s America

What does this mean for women?

That we are pretty fucking scared. Just existing in our bodies can be considered a crime. Fetuses spontaneously abort themselves (miscarriage) because nature knows what it is doing (oh god, I can’t wait for a conservative to pull that sentence out and use it against me). When there is a defect with the fetus and it is no longer viable, a woman’s body terminates the pregnancy naturally and expresses it out of her. In short, it miscarries. It is bloody. It is painful. It is traumatic. Imagine suffering through this process while in your office, driving in your car, or sitting in class. Sometimes it is a slow process, and sometimes it swoops in quickly and violently. Now imagine pressing criminal charges against a woman after suffering through such a traumatic event.

Let’s also call this out for what this is. Restricting reproductive health care and attacking a woman’s right to choose isn’t about abortion and saving babies. It’s about controlling a portion of society. When an individual no longer has autonomy over their healthcare decisions and their bodies you’ve created a slave class of people. If the conservatives cared about babies they wouldn’t throw poor people off welfare, defund inner city schools, fight universal healthcare, and separate babies from their families at the border. Creating a system of laws that focuses on incarcerating young black men doesn’t help children. Allowing the NRA to influence gun policy and refuse to take action when schools are shot up by young men doesn’t save babies. Conservatives have proven that they are fine with babies sacrificing themselves in a mass shooting to save their peers. Restricting abortion access is about controlling women. Plain and simple.  

Moreover, a ban on abortions after six weeks is ultimately a ban on all abortions. A woman who is six weeks pregnant might not even realize their period is late. Some women still menstruate during their pregnancy, or at least early into it. A sex week old fetus is about the size of a sweet pea. When people say that their heart or other organs are starting to form, this means that the cells that will become those characteristics are forming, six week old fetuses do not resemble a baby, it looks more like a shrimp learn more HERE. The six week ban in Georgia doesn’t even allow for a woman who has survived a rape or incest to terminate a pregnancy. Note that a fetus isn’t viable outside of the womb until at least 24 weeks. Some six week abortion bans have been struck down as unconstitutional and the ACLU has begun lawsuits against many of the states where the bills were signed into laws. HERE is the ruling that struck down Iowa’s ban as unconstitutional. Google “ACLU Fetal Heartbeat Lawsuit” and a whole page of results pop up.

Having the Maturity to Agree to Disagree

My mom and I argue about politics a lot and when she’s ready to end our conversation she always says, “the beauty of our country is that we have the right to disagree.” While she uses this as a cheap ploy to shut me up, she’s also right. Conservatives have a right to believe in their god and use those guiding principles to influence them. We all are influenced by our morals and values, some people get their morals and values from religion. Some people are like me, my grandfather taught me the golden rule of treating people how I want to be treated.

I appreciate people who hold religion close to their heart – and I know plenty of lawmakers who go to church and keep religion separate from governing. We can disagree on the morality of abortion. You can believe that no abortion should never take place for any reason and I can respect that. But your religious beliefs should not govern how others live. If you think a person who has an abortion is going to hell, leave that between them and god – unless you think you have the authority to speak for god.

The conservatives who scream in fear about Sharia law and the dangers of governing through Islam are the same lawmakers who want to forcefully impose their Christian values through the action of creating religiously based laws that dictate the role of a woman’s body. So it’s time to have the tough conversations and enlighten ourselves and one another. It’s time to fight back with knowledge. Move out from behind the computer screen and knock on doors, engage community, vote, and run for office. The conservatives groom one another carefully and they start in local office. They build support and institutional knowledge, making them hard to beat at the state and federal level. We have to start today, or else we won’t recognize tomorrow.

Standing up to the Bully

By Jonathan Rehlander

Unless you were the bully in grade school, you had at least one kid growing up that made school miserable sometimes.  They would tease you, trip you, threaten to beat you up after school.  There was an apprehension that came when you would see them, hoping they didn’t see you.  In my case, I had one of these kids who make crude nicknames, hit me with his shoulder when he passed me in the hall, “stack my locker” so my books would fall out when I opened it.

One day, I was hanging out with my friends when this bully said he was riding my bus after school to fight me.  One million thoughts flashed through my mind; I considered telling the teachers which would have meant bringing in parents, the principal, and likely more ridicule from the bully and peers.  I considered actually walking home, no small task since it would take an hour.  The possibilities swirled until one word crystallized in my mind:  Enough.  I had had enough.

I took the bus home as usual; the bully looked surprised to see me.  I didn’t talk to anyone during the ride; I looked straight ahead and waited for my stop.  When we got off the bus, he looked like he expected me to run, anything to avoid the conflict, but I just stood there waiting for him.  The clash that followed left me with a few scrapes, but one moment still sticks in my memory; I landed one solid shot right to his nose, the kind of shot that makes the head go back and stagger the receiver.  That one shot to the nose changed my life.  I was no longer the victim, and I showed I could give as well as I got.

I am not saying fighting is always the answer, and I have certainly encouraged my children to follow the example I try to set on a consistent basis; be the better person, don’t get yourself in trouble or a reputation as a troublemaker, but I also tell them they should never have to back down to a bully or feel like they can’t say something clever to turn the tables on whoever is tormenting them.  I have also told them that if circumstances don’t let them peacefully disengage, they have every right to defend themselves.

Women who have been through sexual harassment have known this feeling forever.  They were ridiculed for calling men on their lewd behavior, labeled too sensitive, and made to feel they had no right to suggest things should be otherwise.  Victims were blamed for encouraging or inviting behavior and made to question what they could have done to prevent it rather than the attacker.  Democrats had been treated largely the same way; ‘Democrat’ and ‘liberal’ had become synonymous with ‘wimp’.  As a character in the television series the West Wing put it, Democrats ended up curling in a ball and saying, ‘Please don’t hurt me’.  Then last week, both women and Democrats threw a punch and hit the bully right in the nose.  You could see it in the defensive, ludicrous performance by Kavanaugh after Dr. Ford gave her courageous testimony.  That Dr. Ford went into the lion’s den at all had shaken the GOP members of the Judiciary committee already; they hid behind their ‘female assistant’ rather than take her on themselves.  Sure, they ranted and raved later when Kavanaugh was being questioned, but they didn’t dare take on the woman who didn’t run, didn’t hide, and with a quavering voice brought the boys club to its knees.

Her voice perhaps shook at times, but Dr. Ford was the personification of the word ‘resolve’.  She knew there was a good chance her testimony would change nothing in regards to Kavanaugh being confirmed, and she was already taking the slings and arrows from faceless cowards before she even got to the microphone.  To borrow a phrase, and yet she persisted.  I don’t know if I have seen a delivery this brave in my lifetime.  Dr. Ford’s time at the microphone was all the more powerful for her vulnerability and authenticity.  The contrast with Kavanaugh’s testimony later made it that much more clear.

The man who clearly felt and still feels he is entitled to the position raged against any and all who might dare to deny this man of privilege his station in life.  He took the punch straight to the nose, and his testimony showed he was reeling.  It brought his true nature to the surface as he belligerently challenged Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.  That one moment, and the disdain with which he grudgingly accepted his obligation to answer to her, spoke more clearly than his free-range rambling in his prepared statement.  Lashing out at the Clintons, Democrats, conspiracies and women in general, it was an unraveling of composure to rival the worst performances of the man who had nominated him for the position.

So when Senator Lindsey Graham, President Trump, and others like them talk about how unfair this process has been to Kavanaugh just remember this:  When the bully gets punched in the nose by the kid they were trying to bully, the first thing they usually wail is, “No fair!”

Ninety-Nine Percent Paulsen (leaked communication from the Committee to Elect Republicans to Congress)

Dear Erik,

That’s the branding me and the boys on the committee have come up with for your part in a new campaign initiative we’ve cooked up. This initiative should make it a lot easier for Republican candidates this election year who, like you, are afraid to hold town hall meetings to defend your votes, and reveal to their constituents what spineless cowards you are. It does this by taking away a lot of the pain involved in campaigning, allowing you access to the latest Republican strategies for distracting the voters from what you’ve actually done for them and, in your case, from the fact you haven’t really done much of anything at all, other than suck up to the money guys.

We call this initiative the Ninety-Nine Percent Club, and it’s open to Republicans in Congress who’ve sided with our history-making President at least ninety-nine percent of the time. You are receiving this communication because, Erik, already on your own you’ve racked up impressive stats in that sucking-up category. Based on your performance to date, I and the boys on the committee are confident that you have the courage, or rather lack of it, that will enable you to become a full-fledged member of the Ninety-Nine Percent Club, and enjoy all its benefits and privileges.

Naturally you will need to re-commit yourself to Republican party principles, especially the one that them that has must always have more, and the devil take the hindmost. You’ve already done pretty well in that department, haven’t you Erik?

But although we can sympathize with your desire not to meet with or listen to anyone unless they have a lot of money, you might want to take some steps to avoid leaving the impression that you’re a ginormous tool: of big money, big corporations, Republican donors and, above all, of our history-making President, whose boots you’ve helped polish to a fine spittle sheen.

And it goes without saying that you will need to up your loyalty quotient to our history-making President. Ninety-seven or ninety-eight percent is a good start, but you’ll need to up your game to join the Ninety-Nine Percent Club. Just vote for anything our history-making President supports; we’ll read the bill for you so you don’t have to, and score it according to how much it pays to you and your donors.

We also have ready a pre-set strategy to distract the voters from paying attention to any of the multitude of shortcomings you exhibit as a waste of space in Washington, or your near slavish subservience to our history-making President.  This will involve a heavy dose of good old-fashioned Republican scare tactics and conspiracy theories, tactics especially useful for this election year. Some of the conspiracy theories to be aired, in addition to the spooky Deeeep State, will include:

That the Democrats want to eliminate Christmas (again), and replace it with Gay Pride Day, where everyone has to attend a same-sex wedding, and enjoy it.

That the Democrats will require every American household to host, free of charge, at least one MS-13 gang member for life, or death, whichever comes first.

And, that the Democrats plan to release a gang of flying attack monkeys who’ve been converted to Islam, to spread Sharia law across the country.

Of course, we’ll sprinkle all this with generous helpings of Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Barack Hussein Obama, Stephen Colbert, Democratic Deeeep State spies, the janitor who cleans your office, the Tooth Fairy, and/or Puff the Magic Dragon. Distraction’s always worked wonders for you in the past, Erik; why fix it if it ain’t broke?

That’s what we’ve come up with so far, Erik, but I’m sure we’ll come up with more crazy stuff as the campaign progresses.  We’ll need to do this sooner or later in the campaign, that is, throw everything at Phillips to see what sticks.

We have to do this, because, Erik, let’s face it, otherwise, we got nothing.

As to what we’re for, other than more money for the rich, we can point to our current proposal to amend the Constitution so as to remove all the text except for the Second Amendment; we don’t pay attention to all that other stuff in there, anyway. In addition, we propose to translate the Second Amendment into Russian, for the benefit of some of our biggest donors.

And, last but not least, membership in the Ninety-Nine Percent Club entitles you to an automatic promotion from boot-licker to ring-kisser of our history-making President.

I’d like to spend more time with you about this initiative, Erik, but me and the boys on the committee have a meeting this morning with our defense attorneys.  Here’s hoping the money pours in for you, and that we stay out of jail.

Sterling Weezil,

Ninety-Nine Percent Club Campaign Coordinator

My Name is Alayna

Today we saw the the ugly side of the Pro-gun movement with Rep Mary Franson comparing those attending this past weekend’s rallies to Hitler Youth. The adults here in the Fighting 41 thought that was wrong, but we wanted to ask the youth who attended what they thought. We present to you our newest guest blogger Alayna Smieja, a senior at Blaine High School.

My name is Alayna Smieja and I took part in the Minneapolis “March for our Lives” march on Saturday. My experience was wonderful. I am a senior at Blaine High School and have not experienced an actual shooting, but I can say that the threat is real. Last year, my school had a gun brought into it, only two weeks after someone had written “Blaine’s Bloodest Day” on the walls of the school bathroom. Although it was misspelled, the threat was clear, and many parents pulled their children out of school that day. The school did not seem to take extra precautions, as a gun was brought in so soon after. This was a major reason why I chose to take part in the March. I have a younger sister who is six years my junior, and I don’t want to worry about her while I am in college.

Citizens carrying signs travel up Wabasha St. in downtown St. Paul on the way to the Minnesota State Capitol during the March for our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018. (Tom Webb / Special to the Pioneer Press)

The march itself was very welcoming and powerful. Most of those who marched were students, and the rest were either parents who came to support their children, or teachers. The speeches given were powerful and resonated a message about action we wanted to see within the government. The people giving speeches were not giving orders towards those rallied or threatening them. They were simply giving first hand accounts of why they were there, and to tell our local government why all of us had rallied there. The message we sent out to our government was that we are constituents and we will not support those who do not support us. It is an overall peaceful movement. A movement demanding change because the old ways are hurting us, American citizens. The March was organized so that people would pay attention to us, and hear our voices as one people. Not as a cult with a vengeful leader.

 

I also took place in the women’s march in Minneapolis after Trump was inaugurated. It was my first march and I enjoyed it very much. However, I felt the March for our Lives was more powerful. As I said before, the March was mostly students, and it was a very empowering experience to see the faces of people who were growing up with me hold so much ambition. I watched them not only tackle the task of ending school shootings, but gun violence in general. There was definitely an emphasis not to leave behind people of color, who are facing gun violence much worse than the rest of us.

 

I have had the hope to one day work in the capital since I was about fifteen, and this weekend only refueled that dream. I have such faith in the people that marched beside me and showed me what democracy looks like. I hope one day to be worthy of the position to help them change the world. The youth truly are our future.

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Of Children and Of Light

The Democratic “Big Tent” has room for all kinds of believers, including those who don’t. So I hope y’all don’t mind some reflections on two Bible verses that’ve been on my mind of late, verses among the noblest and most inspiring in that book, both from the prophet Isaiah.

“And a little child shall lead them.”

The NRA, in its valiant crusade to seem more hip – and not so much the bunkered refuge of testosterone-addled white males – has even – gasp! – hired a black spokesman. This guy attacked the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high schoolers for exploiting their white privilege to gain celebrity for their modest cause of surviving long enough to take their algebra test.

First, I’m truly heartened to learn that Republicans and NRA-zealots are finally admitting that there is even such a thing as white privilege.

Second, if white privilege can be used in the service of those students’ modest cause, then, yes, guilty as charged.

Whatever it takes. And just to take the March For Our Lives rally at the capitol in St. Paul last Saturday – thousands “braving” the wind of early spring in Minnesota – although MSD students did speak, it wasn’t all about them and their “white privilege” of being gunned down between classes. Names and images of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, and others, also appeared, a list too long already, and lengthening by the day.

Speaker after speaker reiterated the point that this movement isn’t just about school shootings, bad as they are. The reason why increasing millions gravitate to a certain slogan of the movement – a slogan that’s such a red flag to those who see guns as a way to maintain control – the reason why the slogan “gun control” has such a hold on us is that plainly guns are OUT of control.

And just as plainly the NRA answer that we need even more guns – their antidote for all ills – is nuts.

But, folks, all that ain’t even the heart of it. An MSD student, 15-year old girl, spoke of her last conversation with a friend, who was planning her classes next term, classes she will never take. The 15-year old survivor, in a voice often breaking with grief and anger, told how she now writes her friend’s name on every homework assignment she hands in.

About then some water somehow got on my cheeks, and I just had to wipe it off because, you know, it made my cheeks cold in the wind of early spring in Minnesota.

We have failed our children. I usually oppose assigning collective responsibility, but here the case fits.

So since we have failed our children, people especially of my generation have a moral responsibility to join hands with these our courageous children and grandchildren, and combat this spiral of madness abetted by the NRA – a domestic terrorist organization if ever there was one – as well as quash the sociopathic cruelty of their political allies, the national Republican party.

I’m sorry … was that too mean?

Here’s what’s happening: The younger of us are overcoming their distrust of politics, and planning to vote, and vote Democratic. For them, how could that choice, now, be plainer?

Democrats are registering new voters, and need to do more. Besides signing up eighteen-year olds, we also need to, systematically, reach out to those UNDER eighteen, and enlist them also as participants in this historic moment.

Of course, there’s a practical point to tapping into youthful idealism; thereby we recruit Democratic voters for years to come, not just for this year.

Speaking of this year …

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those that dwell in a land of darkness, light has dawned.”

Anger is vain and futile unless translated to action. There are times, especially in a democracy, when vast, subterranean currents intersect with individual people and events; the result is transformation and reform.

In a dark land, THIS is such a time. Not 2020 … who really cares that much, now, about who bears the party banner for president?  The Democratic base, that isn’t their passion right now.

THIS is the year, THIS is the year we fight back.

Besides, if we don’t, THIS year, really take it to them, what good is 2020?

If we can’t, THIS year, rock the Republicans back on their heels, when can we?

And if we can’t, or won’t, do all in our power to win race after race after race, in districts blue and red and purple and all the colors in between, what does that say about our country, let alone our party?

In a dark land, where the Republicans and the NRA are busying themselves with thoughts and prayers, while our schools – our schools! – have to become hardened fortresses against the madness THEY condone and defend … in that dark land, a light has dawned.

That light is in the voices of the young, of immigrants, of people of color, of women, and yes, of even many white men, voices angry and aggrieved at what our country is becoming.

This isn’t the country we want. This IS the year that light shines in the darkness, a light already fiercely ablaze.

We as Democrats need, THIS YEAR, to do what we can to cause that light to blaze all the brighter.

Blue wave? Republicans, you wish.

 

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Blue Wave… Or Volcanic Eruption?

Sometimes an “outsider” can see more clearly in Minnesotans what those born here might miss;
sometimes a loner senses more keenly what the gregarious lose in the constant background hum
of social intercourse. I am both: a transplant from the South who moved here almost forty years
ago, and a man usually content with a tiny circle of family and friends.

So how did a “non-native” Minnesotan, how did someone who’s a bit of a social introvert end up
at the Senate District 41 convention last Saturday? The answer is pretty straightforward, and is
provided by the date: Year Two of The Abomination.

For like many this year, I’ve come to the horrifying realization that our beloved republic is in
danger; that our beautiful democracy is being dismantled right before our eyes. And if anyone
thinks that language is overblown, I humbly submit that they haven’t been paying attention.

Like so many there last Saturday, I felt bound and determined to get off my keister and do
something about it. To get out of my comfort zone, and raise holy hell.

Minnesotans tend to be a phlegmatic bunch, doubtless due to the Scandinavian influence. Keep
calm, be gracious, just go quietly about your business. Sometimes known as Minnesota Nice.

I’ve got news for you. The era of Minnesota Nice has faded into yesterday.

What I saw at the district convention was what a false choice it is between focusing on local
issues as opposed to “nationalizing” this fall’s elections. I could see among the delegates what so
many Minnesota Democrats may not see themselves.

That there is an almost crazy anger raging just beneath the surface of Minnesota Nice, a boiling
anger at what the party of The Abomination is doing to our country and to our state.

Others who were there must have seen what happened whenever a speaker even merely nodded
in the general direction of the outermost suburbs of the unmentionable name of The
Abomination. I sensed in the crowd a foot-stomping, almost animalistic fury that, if they hadn’t
been Minnesotans, might have torn down the auditorium. I don’t blame the speakers for treading
lightly on the subject, for otherwise the convention delegates, Minnesotans or not, might have
simply exploded.

And yet, I’m even now not sure that all our DFL elected officials fully grasp what they are
dealing with. The constant, daily drumbeat of atrocities perpetrated by The Abomination and his
party, made in his image, not just at the national level, but even here in our beloved state, have
finally transgressed upon a hidden chamber of the heart, a violation that they must be made to
regret.

To put it mildly.

I’ve heard talk of a “Blue Wave” that is building, that will begin to turn back the depredations of
The Abomination and his band of buccaneers, gangsters, and traitors. But I’m starting to think
we’ve got it wrong.

What’s happening is looking to me more and more like the buildup to the volcanic eruption of a
barely suppressed fury. When I saw in our subcaucus the face of a mild-mannered, middle-aged
Minnesota woman twisted with outrage at the daily desecrations of our democracy – something
I’ve not seen before, and especially here in Minnesota – then I can feel the tectonic plates
shifting.

I’m starting to wonder, fellow DFLers, if a large part of our work hasn’t already been done for
us. Sure, we have to work our butts off to register new voters, and kick our fellow Democrats in
their mid-term butts to get them to the voting booth.

So don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a counsel of over-confidence.

We have been dealt, by our opponents, an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often in a
democracy. An opportunity that enables us to move beyond the idea of merely defeating the
Republicans this November.

We must do our damnedest to harness this volcanic energy out there …

To crush them.

 

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Raina Meyer’s heartbreaking and inspiring story

On occasion, SD41 publishes guest blogs. This is the story of Raina Meyer. She’s a Member of the Minnesota Youth Council and a Student at St Catherine’s University. Her account is both riveting and inspiring, and we at SD41 are eternally grateful that she chose to share her story with us.

 

On Valentine’s Day, while I was in school, I got an alert on my phone that read, “17 Killed in Florida School Shooting.” Later that day, I received a video clip from a friend which showed a friend of hers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lying dead in a pool of his own blood while his classmates screamed in terror during the chaos of the active shooting. This was such a terrifying thing to view, even though it happened nearly 2,000 miles away from me. I was shocked to learn recently that since Columbine, more than 150,000 children have survived similar mass school shootings. This is entirely unacceptable and, I believe, largely preventable.

In this country, we’ve grown accustomed to losing children to killing machines that were designed to be used by soldiers at war. And we, our nation’s children, are expected to sit in school, trying to learn, trying to pretend that everything is normal, when there’s a terrifying reality constantly weighing on us. Because this has become so normal, so accepted, we’re always waiting with baited breath until the next massacre.

But what if we didn’t have to? Is that such a radical idea? Going to school without worries of dying or seeing our friends, teachers, or coaches die, knowing that we’re safe from harm? Our biggest worry should be whether we’re going to do well on an upcoming test or term paper. Not whether we’ll be alive to return home to our families at the end of the day.

This is not such a radical idea. The people who would like to continue to profit from the nearly unfettered sales of assault weapons to anyone willing to purchase them would like us to believe that these killings are just an unfortunate, but inevitable, consequence of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. However, no other country on earth suffers through the number of mass shootings that we do, not even close. Other countries have figured this out, and we can, too. In fact, we did partially figure this out…for about a decade. During the assault weapons ban from 1994-2004, both the number of mass shooting incidents and total body counts declined significantly. After the ban ended, the number of mass shootings nearly tripled in the decade that followed, and the number of people killed more than tripled. This should be a no-brainer.

Americans know better than to settle for this any longer. I believe we have reached a tipping point with this latest massacre. Actually, we would have reached this point much, much earlier, if some of our politicians weren’t so easily influenced by NRA money. However, I feel that influence is waning as our voices grow stronger and more insistent that we will no longer settle for this horrific status quo. I was at the Protect Minnesota rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on February 22nd, just a week after the massacre in Parkland. The energy was electric, and the voices deafening with outrage and incredible resolve. After leaving the Capitol, my mom and I drove to Eden Prairie, where we joined a large group of protesters outside Erik Paulsen’s office protesting his acceptance of NRA campaign contributions. Hundreds of people driving by honked their horns, cheered us on and raised their fists out of their windows in solidarity. Only one driver gave us the middle finger; it appears the odds are in our favor.

After the Parkland shooting, I became curious about how my friends from around the globe feel in their schools, so I asked them. My friend, Sofia, lives in Colombia, considered for many years to be one of the most dangerous countries on earth. When asked if she feels safe in her school, she told me that because it is so much more difficult to buy a gun in Colombia that mass killings in schools are virtually unheard of. She acknowledged that, of course, robberies and other individual gun crimes happen, but never in public places, like schools or concerts.

She said she thought that school shootings in the U.S. were heartbreaking, shocking and unacceptable.

I have two friends who live in Kurdistan, which is also considered a very dangerous country. They both told me that while they don’t always feel safe outside of their homes or school due to political unrest and violence, school is actually a safe haven for them. They feel very safe in school and don’t recall a school shooting ever happening in their country. Not one.

 My friend, Solgunn, who lives in Norway, known for being very safe with regard to gun violence. Why? Because they recognized the problem after their horrific 2011 mass shooting and made it virtually impossible for guns to be used to massacre. Solgunn told me that the idea of someone coming into her school and gunning students and staff down is completely unthinkable, and, to her knowledge, has never happened. She described the Parkland shooting as “horrifying, devastating, and heartbreaking.” She told me she will likely not travel to the U.S. because doesn’t want to put herself at risk. It is incredibly sad to me that every friend I have outside of the U.S. feels safe in class while I sometimes feel afraid to go to school in what we consider the greatest country on earth.

I am outraged that I feel like a sitting duck in my classrooms. More importantly, my parents (who vote in every election), are fed up with the lack of initiative taken by the lawmakers that currently representing them. I believe that we need to help our lawmakers get out from under the thumb of the NRA by making it clear that our parents plan to vote them out if they accept NRA money. Then, when people my age become eligible to vote in the next election cycle, we will multiply those votes against NRA-backed candidates and for those candidates who are courageous enough to reject NRA contributions and run on better platforms. We are not going away this time. We will always remember the children we have lost in the numerous school massacres we have lived through. We will also remember those candidates who are willing to accept this dangerous status quo. We will show them their time is up with our votes, which are actually much more powerful than NRA dollars.

We know we can do better, and I believe we will. I am heartened to hear of the many major companies which have recently cut ties with the NRA and others which are starting to self-impose gun regulations. I am also so happy to hear that colleges are beginning to release statements indicating that they will not penalize students who participate in upcoming national student walkouts. They will be on the right side of history, right alongside me, my fellow classmates and the adults who care about us and our future. My generation is one ripe with extraordinary power, and our time has nearly come to exercise it. Watch us rise.

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Keep your prayers and give me women in office

I grew up with my grandfather’s rifle hanging over the toy box in my grandparent’s play room. My fear of what grandpa would do to me if I touched it far outweighed my curiosity about it. All my cousins felt that way. When our family would come together at the lake, grandpa would gingerly take the gun down and the uncles would assemble their arsenal in the lower garden. It was time to learn. We learned to hold each gun, load each gun, and shoot each gun. I remember being 9 or 10 when my uncle Curt screamed at someone for standing in front of a loaded weapon. I was the closest kid within reach so he grabbed me and had me lay next to him in the grass as he shot through a full pop can. I watched it explode before he looked at me tenderly, yet sternly, and said, “imagine if that was your head.”

As a woman, a mother, a politico, a feminist, a school board member, a community member, a daughter, a sister, and general human being, I have my own unique perspective and opinions about guns and gun violence. I don’t want to discuss what qualifications should be met for someone to legally own a gun or what types of guns or amounts of ammunition should be allowed on the market. If I did discuss those issues right now I’d be doing nothing but adding to the divisive and polarizing noise currently overwhelming us all.

I do believe that when women speak, we are heard, and change is made. Right now, as our children are under attack and those we currently send to Washington and our state capitols do nothing to protect us, I hope you hear my rally cry: RUN FOR OFFICE. I have been fortunate to manage campaigns for brilliant women who are now making real change as political leaders in their communities. I have seen the impact we have when we join forces to achieve a common goal. While we are taught that all people are equal, I want to challenge that idea. Because I do think as women we are different. I think we have a fire that burns inside us that frightens the status quo. We have a fierce nature that creates and grows life. We can withstand physical and emotional pain that mere words cannot describe. We are braver than the status quo wants to admit. When we lose we get up, dust ourselves off, and fight again.

When women run, women vote, and women win. But what does running for office really accomplish, you ask? It allows us to be the change makers on the front lines. On average a woman needs to be asked to run for office seven times before they consider it, compared to a man requiring one ask. Even if you run against an entrenched incumbent with an army of supporters you are making change by bringing attention to your platform issues. You are also sending a message that there is a group of voters in that district/state that is upset with the status quo that will devote time, energy, and money to making change. This can be very unnerving to incumbents. Women enter into races with deep fears of being a failure because of losing an election. Running itself is a win. Every time a woman runs there is a little girl that is inspired, an incumbent receives the message that we demand to control our own narrative, and we take one giant step towards laws that will actually protect our children. Weeks before the Florida school shooting the governor admitted on camera that he did not have an active shooter plan when asked. Chew on that for a minute.    

46 children and teens are shot everyday. 315 adults are victims of gun violence everyday (www.bradycampaign.org). The United States is the most dangerous country in the developed world for women when it comes to gun violence, leaving us 16 times more likely to be murdered by a domestic partner with a gun (everytownresearch.org). If you are like me, after years of slowly numbing to the truth of gun violence these stats don’t mean a whole lot until you know someone who has been injured or killed by a gun.

Whether you are like me and you actually enjoy shooting recreationally, or if you believe that all guns should be melted down, we can agree that the American approach to guns is flawed. We fall into the talking points Congressional and NRA leaders want us to focus on instead of addressing rational and reasonable solutions. We have limited ourselves to a black and white view of an issue that is very grey. Developed countries around the world have experienced mass shootings, the difference is that they learned from the horror and enacted policies that, to this point, have effectively protected their citizens. We need leaders that are brave enough to tackle this issue head on until our children can once again be safe in their schools, movie theaters, and concerts.

Sisters, I say to you – be angry, be motivated, and be intentional in all that you do. Take trainings, reach out to experts, find a race, and run it. We must take back our communities and reclaim our power. We give life and now we must protect it. I won’t tell you that I have the perfect policy solution in mind right now, but I feel it in my soul that this is a problem that needs a woman’s touch.  

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