A Sad Day in Our Nation’s History

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Fifty-three years ago today, I sat in my English class in Dallas and doodled spirals on my notebook. The next week would be Thanksgiving, and I was dreaming about my four-day holiday. One year earlier, my family had moved to Dallas from Baltimore, and I thought we had landed in a different universe — in a place where kids of color attended separate schools, in a place where drinking fountains were marked “white” and “colored.” I had never seen those signs before.

A few of desks were empty that day. The President of the United States was in town, and my classmates had gone to Dealey Plaza to watch the motorcade. Our teacher, Mrs. Rudd, always followed her lesson plans, but that day was different. She turned on the radio. “Our president and our governor have been shot,” the announcer said. Then he said something about Parkland Hospital. And then, “The President is dead.”

I didn’t hear anything after that. I stared out the window looking for signs of life. The playground was empty. There were no cars on the street. It was as if a bomb had dropped. (I feel much the same way now.)

We weren’t dismissed from school. After English, I went to Latin where Mrs. Vernon insisted on giving us a quiz, and then to Geometry for a test. Some children were crying as they tried to calculate circumferences.

Students burst into the halls between classes. I heard one boy say, “I’m glad he was shot, because he was Catholic.” The intensity of his hatred reverberated against the walls, the venom in his voice palpable. I stood frozen in fear as I watched him and his buddies saunter down the hall.

Over fifty years have passed, and I no longer hear about Catholics as the targets of hate. Now that poison is thrust at Muslims and Latinos and African Americans and Gays and People with Disabilities. Anyone and everyone who is labeled different. Have we moved back to signs on drinking fountains?

I’m still frightened by the bigotry that continues to thrive in our country. I see no guidance from the president-elect or his appointees in reversing this trend. After Kennedy was assassinated, I never thought our country lacked leadership. I question that now.

I don’t want to end this post with a lament. It’s not 1963, and I’m not the petrified kid I was then. You’ve probably read the many ways you and I can take a stand against hateful acts and the people who propagate them. Here are only three of the many organizations involved in this effort.

Southern Poverty Law Center

American Civil Liberties Union

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

There are many others. Most important is to do something. Be vigilant. Protest. Join. And don’t leave anyone out.

Don’t Mess With My Yard Sign

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Saturday afternoon, I came home to find my Clinton – Kaine yard sign gone, missing, vanished, stolen from its perch in my front yard, its metal frame tossed in my driveway to damage my tires.

I envisioned someone lurking in the bushes, ready to jump out and confront me. I was certain the thief had targeted me, because I had flown to Pennsylvania to register people to vote. They knew that I spent evenings calling to get out the vote. They knew that a few days ago I went to a local high school and talked to students with disabilities about their voting rights. They hacked my email and saw all the messages I received from MoveOn and Daily Kos.

Okay, I know I can get carried away here. Whoever took my sign doesn’t know anything about me. They don’t appreciate that they violated my first amendment rights and trespassed on my property. They don’t care that I was proud to drive up to my house and see that sign and remember my daughter, who fully understood that her right to vote was hard fought and that the rights of people with disabilities need to be protected. She would be proud of me. And she is why the next day I drove 1-hour round-trip to purchase another yard sign.

This time, I would protect my sign. My first thought was to spray the sign with an acid that might sting whoever touched it, but there are children and other little critters in my neighborhood. Same argument against circling the sign with barbed wire or topping it with broken glass. And this wasn’t the message I wanted to send. Like Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” I opted for a modest deterrent. Honey. “Sweet,” I thought. But the honey dripped down on the N and the T. So I painted the honey with Vicks VapoRub, hoping the mixture of sticky sweetness and the pungent goop would make someone stop and think before they grabbed my sign.

My dog, Rico, watched my handiwork with great interest. He wanted to contribute. I used a little of his gifts to coat the frame. Just at the bottom. You can’t see it, but it’s there. Rico is all about Hillary.

I planted my sign in the same spot as the first sign and stood back to admire my work. A stranger walked by, someone I had never seen before. I smiled and before I could utter “good afternoon,” he came at me with “Are you really going to vote for that criminal?”

My first response was to laugh. I thought he was joking. Who in my quiet neighborhood would be so offensive? Then, it occurred to me he meant it. “Yup,” I said. “I’m a nasty woman and proud of it.”

I’ll let you know if my sign is there tomorrow.

I’m Doing This for Her

election-day

I’ve never volunteered in an election before. OK, I admit, maybe for Eugene McCarthy. Remember him?

This election is too important to sit back and do nothing. I want a future in which everyone’s rights are protected. That includes women and children and people of color, the LGBT community, immigrants, workers, students, and people with disabilities.

My friend, Nina Fendel, and I decided to go to Pennsylvania, a battleground state. I don’t usually think of myself as a battler, but Nina is. She’s an experienced election worker. She pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the streets.

We reported to a small storefront office near Temple University and were sent to the 30th Street Train Station. Nina and I divided the rows of benches. “Are you registered to vote?” we asked. We stood back as people filled out the forms for themselves. We followed the rules. Registration is non-partisan.

We registered five people that first day. And we handed out many more forms to people who wanted to register at home or online. Not a stellar record, but when we turned in our clipboards that evening, we were told that was “pretty good.”

The next day, we rang doorbells in North Philly.  I was intimidated to approach strangers, especially in an unfamiliar neighborhood. You never know how people will respond as they scrutinize you from behind their screen doors. More often than not, we heard, “Thank you for doing what you’re doing.”

I lost track of how many people we encountered. Numbers are important, but what I remember are the individuals I met. I registered one man who handed me his phone. “Take my picture,” he said holding up the registration form. “I want my people to see this.” He told me he had just been released from prison. He had served 22 years. “This is part of my re-entry.”

Then, there were two people with disabilities who had never voted before. And the woman who had changed her name, because she had just gotten married for the first time – at 60. And the many people who gave us directions and cheered us on.

The saddest people were those who felt so powerless that they didn’t want to register. I wished I could have changed their minds. To some I said, “I came 3,000 miles, because without Hillary Clinton’s efforts, without her championing PL94-142, a law assuring equal access to a public education for children with disabilities, my daughter would not have had an education. She wouldn’t have been able to get in the door of a public school.” No need to speak negatively about the other guy.

No one appreciated her education or her right to vote more than my daughter. No one had to explain to her what it was like to be marginalized, to be considered “other.” She lived it every day. Yes, she saw people who mocked and ridiculed her. She had multiple disabilities, but she wasn’t blind.

I’m doing this for her.

Now on YouTube

If you missed me in person, here I am reading at the ‪#‎ListenToYourMother‬ show in San Francisco. http://bit.ly/29HYgaS  Ariela didn’t want me to write about her, but here’s one story she really liked.

The Horse Boy’s Dad

Rupert“Following a child’s interests, going with what motivates them, spending time in nature, and if possible working with animals — these things seem to help all children.” – Rupert Isaacson

Like his bestselling book, The Horse Boy, Rupert Isaacson is intense, inspirational and candid about his courageous journey to help his son with autism.

Motivated by love, faith and desperation, he traveled to Siberia, rode on the backs of reindeers, and sought the healing powers of shamans. The results were life changing for his son and his family.

For me, he represents many parents of children with special needs who would go to the end of the earth to help their children. Nothing is simple when you have a child with special needs, and crazy becomes part of every family’s story.

Rupert is an engaging and generous raconteur. He was visiting SF to promote his new book, The Long Ride Home, and to work with Joell Dunlap of Square Peg, the ranch where my daughter enjoyed many years of therapeutic riding. He took time out to give me much appreciated encouragement and advice.

Beach Tires

crissy fieldI’m very excited to see my story, “Beach Tires”, in Hippocampus Magazine. Ariela was very proud to be a trail docent in Golden Gate National Park. The photo in Hippocampus shows her trail at Crissy Field. Ariela’s painting on my website banner is a view from her trail.
http://www.hippocampusmagazine.com/…/beach-tires-by-harrie…/