When Hate Came to Laguna Beach

I always wondered what I would have done were I a simple housewife in Germany as the Nazis were rising. Or if I had been a young mother during the American Civil Rights era. Would I have answered the call? Like Unitarian Universalist Viola Liuzzo? Would I have given in to fear? Appeasement? Head down, staying busy with my life?

I’m not sure if this “America Great-ifying” time is comparable to those pivotal moments in history; we probably will not know for a while. But it feels different. The Tuesday after the Women’s March a few of my Indivisible Facebook neighbors and I casually plotted to show up at our congressman’s district office.

“I think at 1pm, that’s over my lunch hour.” “We have to be out by 2 because that’s when they shut down Main Street for Taco Tuesday.” “Oh right, OK, let’s meet at Jack’s at 1.” “OK! See you then!”

40 people showed up.

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Suited up for our weekly protests at Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s office.

We’ve been there every Tuesday since January.

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Indivisible OC 48, August 22nd. Huntington Beach Pier. Photo by Larry Tenney

So after violence by neo-Nazi groups killed a young woman in Charlottesville, I knew I could not stand down from a planned “America First” rally two towns down the coast. The ACLU said “Stay Away.” My Indivisible group said “Stay Away.” People commented on social media “Stay Away.”

Nope.

I needed to face this group even if I was the only person who showed up. I am done. No more. No more standing down from HATE.

Mid-week I heard about a faith based response to the hate rally. There would be a two hour deescalation/ non-violence training followed by an inter-faith worship and then a march down to the beach where the rally was happening. Leading? The local UU and UCC ministers. Yep. Sign me up.

I work in a faith based organization, so sometimes going to church for me still feels like a work day. Not this day. This day we were led by trainers from PICO  and local organizers from OCCCO and then Emma’s Revolution came to sing at our worship. We heard from a pack of leaders of different faiths–blessings, song, some jokes. And then we walked down to the beach where the “America First” rally was taking place.

The winding trail of people headed down through the streets of Laguna Beach were met with cheers, cars honking in support, people even honking in time with our chants: “No Nazis, No KKK, No Racist USA” “When Immigrant rights are under attack what do we do? STAND UP! FIGHT BACK!”

We had a plan to march around the racist rally, linking arms to stay in touch, sending messages back through the lines. But none of that was needed.

As we made the final turn off the Pacific Coast Highway turning toward the beautiful Pacific Ocean we were met by the crowd of people. Tears poured down my face. I came ready to face fists or spitting-mad white men in riot gear, ready to face pepper spray or even a deranged man in a car. But I was met with a crowd of my friends and neighbors saying “NO MORE!”

The official count put the “America First” rally at about 50 participants. Our side? 2,500.

A chant that Rev. Ben McBride from PICO taught us “We! Have Already! WON!”

Yes, there is a lot to be done, this is not a time for rest. But at this rally, this night, this time. We had already won.

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The “America First” rally was cordoned off on a specific part of the beach, but this group stood off from the protected group.
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The “America First” rally in the sandy area.

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Pat and Sandy from Emma’s Revolution marched down with us and led the group in song.
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Oh God, Oh God, Oh God! (Or, you know, spirit of life and of love, known by many names…)

Oh God, Oh God, Oh God. I can’t believe what I woke up to this morning. I thought this woman was my friend! Why would she do this to me. I mean, really! Publishing a post to WorshipWeb’s Facebook Page that makes me feel such horrible shame!

Because, you know, submitting a piece for a book and then agreeing to it being published. That’s a good way to hide something. Right?

Yeah. No.

I wrote this piece and submitted it to what has now been published as “To Wake to Rise” from Skinner House. In this piece I tell the story about working in a Unitarian Universalist church with no BA/MA/MS/MDiv/MEd where we might not worship God but we sure do seem to worship advanced education. I was never outwardly shamed, and in fact, the minister I served with was wildly adamant that a degree had nothing at all to do with my worth as a professional religious educator. But still. It was ever present and limited my career in a huge way, not having any letters after my name.

So, I knew people might read this piece. But still, having people, today, this morning, in my daily world, having them KNOW that I didn’t have a degree is a kick in the gut of shame and horror.

I’d love to tell you that shame is just a door to a new awakening and a sense of worth and dignity. But it’s not. It feels like a hangover on top of a panic attack.

OK, OK, the truth is I really do love that WorshipWeb curator, even if she has to go and TELL everyone. And I love the weird life that brought me to this place. And I love the people who are telling their own stories on the WorshipWeb Facebook page that shared my post. Big love.

My story is not over, but there is more. I left that church mentioned in the piece five whole years ago. And while I didn’t talk about it much, the first thing I did after I left was to go and finish that damn degree. My grad ceremony was three days before my oldest son’s college graduation (as well as my middle son’s high school ceremony). Which is neither here nor there.

Except it is. It totally is. 20776442_10155092057369125_6815078458146598201_o.jpg

To Clarify

Last month I wrote a piece about traveling back to the state I come from. I wrote about my experience of hearing the stories from my precious nieces about some of the painful things that have happened to them. Not my stories. Not mine to tell. But mine to hold because I love them.

I wrote about how it reminded me about why we left. I wrote about my regret that over time I wish I would have stopped some of my white relatives with a gentle word when they said something that, in my view, was biased.

After the piece had been out in the little world for a few days I got a phone call from a family member who was upset. They thought I was talking about sitting around a table with them and hearing them be racist. I wasn’t. The stories that made my heart ache were from my family folks who are people of color. Not white folks. The experiences they shared happened because they are not white.

I pulled the piece down, though. Some things aren’t worth a fight. And I apologized. I explained. I shared the words and their context again.

But maybe,  maybe, other folks read it too. And maybe they thought that I was talking about my white family. So I want to be clear. I was not referring to any person at all on my side of the family. I can’t share the stories I heard. They are not mine to share.

Maybe this is still not enough. For that I’m sorry. I wrote about my experience. I wrote about my feelings. But I wasn’t as clear as I should have been.  I’ll share the original words below so there is no confusion about what I’m taking back.

May the healing balm of time help us all move forward.

July 12th

My husband’s family is pretty diverse. His late mom and his dad are both descended from Eastern European folks, but through adoption, marriage/relationships and the children of those folks it’s a pretty mixed group. Somehow sitting around a table after a funeral opens doors for real conversations. My heart is still aching for the stories I heard.

Minnesota nice, the pretense that we are all good people and it’s important to be nice, becomes the cover for some horrible actions. These are not my stories to tell. I wish they were. I wish they’d happened to me and not to these people I love. But, of course, I’m white. They don’t happen to me.

I mourn for missed opportunities to counter things said by some of my white family. I mourn for the missed moments when people might deeply understand one another. I mourn for the time lost fighting this racism we should have destroyed by now. I mourn for lives compressed by bias that is hammered into the walls and stirred into the water.

Tired and tired and tired and tired and tired.

You know the kind of exhausted where you feel like the earth is moving beneath your feet? Even just a kind word or beautiful thing can make you cry?

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No?

I do. That’s me. Today. Right now. I am so wrung out and wrenched empty of every ounce of life or energy or joy I have ever in my life possessed that I think I’m going to split in two. Or take a nap at the back of this exhibit hall booth that I live in now.

The work. It’s not easy. But I love seeing the faces that belong to the names I move around on a screen all the time. And a chance to feed them chocolate or invite them to sit in a comfortable chair for a moment of respite during a very, very busy and fraught time? Well, that’s about as good as it gets.

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Amen, baby. Amen.

Thunderstorm on the Prairie

Sweet Sixteen.pngWhere I grew up, just past the place where the glaciers scraped the Midwest prairies flat, you can sometimes see a storm coming all day long. A look out the window shows the clouds forming, and you can probably still get the wash out hung out on the line with plenty of time for it to dry.

But sometimes, if it’s a hot day with lots of humidity and lots of sun, you can see the clouds go from fluffy little dabs of cotton floating along to roiling black with lightning zinging between top and bottom, sometimes you can even watch them drop a funnel.

I wish depression did the day long thing; let you know it was coming, gave you time to order your life, get the laundry done, before it hits.

But it doesn’t. It just blows up like rolling thunderstorm on a steamy Minnesota afternoon; shutting things down like a tornado warning.

Here’s the thing though, it also clears the air like a storm. Clean rain, clear thoughts. Hope that there won’t be another storm, for a while anyway now that all that nasty air has been purged.

This weekend was one of those clear times. Busy. Happy errands, happy family gathered. No storms on the horizon. What feels like clear air. And a little time to build the shelter, safe harbor of family, in preparation for the next storm.

Take Care, Now.

I have an EVENT coming up in my work life. An EVENT with travel and multiple meetings and a huge exhibit hall. That plus ALL THE THINGS that go with it is starting to feel like an elephant sat down on my chest to do her nails.

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Heavy.

So today I made a list of things I can do to take care of myself during the elephant time.

  1. Be gentle inside. No hate.
  2. Notice beautiful things.
  3. Listen to inspiring women.
  4. Wear beautiful clothes.
  5. Eat delicious food.
  6. Drink delicious drinks.
  7. Rest.
  8. Go see the ocean.
  9. Breathe all the way to the belly.
  10. Be patient.
  11. Talk to the dog.
  12. Nap.

Soon it will be July and it will all be over.

The Bumpy Ride and the Last of the Lasts

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So many friends are walking through the litany of the lasts.

The last game.

The last final.

The last concert.

The last time you’ll send your child off to high school. The last time you are the mother of a high school student.

And finally, the graduation.

I feel the wrench, the tug, the feeling of tearing apart all that the family has built. The scaffolding around milestones and markers splintering as it smashes apart.

I want to say “I know, I know, I felt it, too.” And I did. I felt called to be a mother the way some feel called to climb mountains or heal broken bodies. It was all I wanted, who I was and all I knew myself to be, or at least that was how it felt.

The thought of that child stepping out to make their way, which of course has been the path they were on from the first breath, first step, first word, first everything, feels like stepping off a cliff. You’re happy for them, exhilarated with the knowledge that obstacles have been beaten down or maybe sidestepped. Troubles navigated. This is what you wanted; a child who was ready for the next thing, whatever that might be.

But oh God, it’s so hard.

My youngest son comes home from his first  year away this week. I have survived this three times over. For me it was different each time; different people, different scenarios they headed off to, different levels of leaving; some thousands of miles away, some closer, some staunchly proclaiming they were not coming home often, some wishing they could just stay but knowing they had to go.

We not only survived. We thrived. We seek time together now, I think, not because they feel obligated but because it feeds us all to be together, whether it’s weekly video chat or the few times a year we can all be physically in the same space. The inside jokes come out, the family roles are tried on, adjusted, discarded, or embraced. We notice that we are connected in bigger ways than any of us, even me, ever expected.

May all those who are reaching a toe over the cliff of the last of the lasts and the first of the firsts know to hang on. Be patient. Stay connected even if that means on the terms set by your offspring for now.

Hold them with great respect, they have worked so hard to grow up and while there is more growing up to do (for all of us, in truth) celebrate this one for now. Go see fireworks and drive-in movies together this summer. Spring for a week at a beach house, or a camping extravaganza. Hold them close and then LET GO. It’s going to be a lovely ride, worth every bump along the way.

Muddy Dust on the Windshield

18485327_10154832302689125_5606031839612231471_n.jpgI drove to San Diego yesterday, roughly a three hour round trip during a quiet weekday. The sky was clear blue and the sweeping turns with nothing but ocean in view made me smile, right there, alone in my car.

The podcasts I chose for the drive were about resilience and connection: two things that aren’t always easy for me. Coming home I was struck, maybe loosened by the wise words of sages or the beauty of this earth. It was as clear as the dirt on the windshield, the spray of the ocean muddying the dust of the hills: this–the connection of earth, sky, planet, people, animals, ocean– is everything.

There is not you and me. No I and thou. There is not a right and a left or a right and a wrong. There is just us. All of us. ALL of us.

We are here, together, for better or for worse. I cannot separate my air from yours, clean water from dirty, it all flows downstream eventually, mingles with what I have breathed in and you have breathed out.

We are one.

I pray for you and me, for our earth and our leaders; both great and wretched. Because there are not winners and losers; we are all them. We are all those people. We are one.

It’s almost too simple. We are one. May we remember this as we fight for justice and equality and clean air and clean water and for people to be awakened to what is right and good instead of what will bring the most money and power. May we remember. May we remember.

We are one.

Hello? Hello? Is Anyone THERE?

I can only imagine what it was like. A new and loud device was installed in the house. It had it’s own table maybe with a beautiful lace doily, just to brighten it up or maybe it was on the wall–you know, with those early adopters. The young people in the home were excited. But the folks who had done just fine, thank you, without one–well, they were not so happy. old-phone.jpg

I know my mom, who was born 11 years after women got the vote, grew up without a phone in the house when she was young.

I know that now she’s an avid Facebook user and can text better than any other person in their 80s, except maybe my hero Senator Dianne Feinstein. Dianne can do anything, including getting a pacemaker and being back at work two days later, but….I digress.

But still. Not everyone adapts. Not everyone gets used to the new things like my mom. Electric lights over gas lights? Electric typewriter over manual? Running water over a hand pump. OK, not that one. Everyone likes that one. But when the telephone came along, I know that not everyone was happy.

It’s like that with social media. Today. Now. With people who should know better.

You cannot post a big, loud, statement that brings huge commentary without curating the comments and spinoffs. If you’re going to make an inflammatory tweet, or Facebook or Instagram post, you have to stay in the conversation.

I am absolutely certain that there were phone calls that went along the lines of a loud lecture and ended with a click of the receiver. I’m sure that sometimes there was not a conversation. There was the delivery of a message. Click. That’s it. Period.

When people told that new telephone user that you were supposed to stay ON the telephone to have some back and forth with the person you had reached out to communicate with; that it was rude and just not acceptable to just holler your statement into the telephone and then hang up, folks didn’t understand. They said “when I write a letter, there’s no back and forth” or “that’s just what you think, this is how I am doing this” there might have been some frustration. Some angst.

That’s what I see today. On social media.

New users, or newish users will throw out an inflammatory statement that brings about hundreds of comments, some downright nasty, and they will just stay the hell out of it.

“I said my piece, I’m out.”

But they’re not. On social media you can’t just post and then check out. When you dump a big, explosive thing onto social media and then just let the flames build, that’s your fault. You did that.

If you don’t want to curate and tend, then do not post. It’s that simple. You don’t have to continue to engage. Lord knows sometimes silence is the most powerful message. But you have to at least answer questions and respond when someone points out abusive trolls and inflammatory language. That’s the bare minimum.

Today I removed an inappropriate comment from a post I made on Facebook. It was a comment that made no sense, by someone who was not a friend or a friend of a friend. They assumed when I said GA I meant Georgia, when almost anyone who knows me at all knows that I am going to New Orleans for an org’s General Assembly–GA. So, not worth engaging. I removed the comment and changed the privacy to Friends. Because who cares?

Later in the day I was tagged in a pretty inflammatory comment about the emerging candidates in our upcoming congressional primary on our district Indivisible Facebook page. Yes, I had to respond to that. I am a huge fan of one candidate (GO TEAM LAURA!) but this page is not the place to campaign or disparage one of the other candidates. So I took some time to reflect and carefully craft my response. I would not have even looked at the comment if I were not tagged, but I was. So I did. And I responded as best I could. Flames doused, tempers cooled. All good.

That’s current common decency. That’s polite public discourse. That is how we behave. Or how responsible, caring, people respond.

We do not write explosive commentary and then check out. That, friends, is not OK.

If you are going to write something important on social media, you must stay in the conversation, at a minimum to reduce the harm you may cause, at best, to bring meaningful dialogue and discourse.

The White Mamas

Middle aged, middle class, white woman from the midwest. Biggest demographic group around, right? Right.

Except for one thing.

No one in my world understands what it is like to be white and have children who are not white, not really, no one but other white mamas of brown babies.

When my husband finally stopped running hard and fast from his identity as a transracially adopted Asian man it was the loneliest I’ve ever been. My story was such a tiny slice of life, no one else had gone through standing on the sidelines while their spouse stormed and railed like a banshee against all he had been taught and all he knew.

Until I found a comment on an old blog; someone else who had been through this. She gave her email address and invited other spouses of Asian adoptees to reach out to her. By the time I did, her marriage had ended. But we’ve remained Facebook friends for years now. When something comes up for me, she’s on it. No one else would understand what his business trip to Japan would mean for me, but she does. Still. Long since re-married and moved on in her own world, she gets it. She’s the mama of a Hapa kid, trying to do the very best she can.

I’ve met other white mamas of children of color over the years, and when the Trump team and their explicit racism claimed the presidency, I needed the other mamas more than ever. We started a group and a Facebook page. It’s a whole thing. But it sure wasn’t the start.

Years and years ago, I met one stalwart mama of mixed race kids.  I think it was through a blog she had about raising mixed race kids; curly kidz. She was a fierce powerhouse. I can’t remember if she commented on my blog or I commented on hers. I do remember we were frustrated with the big systems in our shared faith, Unitarian Universalism, around kids who are mixed race.

It must have been not long after my son was given the option to sit in the circle of white folks or the circle of people of color and my boy, a proud Asian son of his proud Asian father who listed himself as Corean (with a C, there’s a story there….) on his Myspace profile, caucused with the white folks. I didn’t know what to think or do or how to react. It seemed like something was very wrong, but of course I wasn’t THERE, I just heard about it later.

I think I wrote a blog about wondering if they’d take the queer kids and tell them to choose gay or straight and if they weren’t able to pick a circle, would then tell them to sit in the group that society sees them in. Yeah. Not a lot of nuance there from me. But she got it. Mama instinct is powerful. She understood.

This was the start of a nice white-mama-of-kids-of-color Facebook friendship. I watched her kids grow. I watched her fight like hell for justice and against white supremacy, white privilege and racism. I watched her kids break her heart and drink all the milk in the fridge.

On Sunday I learned that she’d been hit by a car while riding her bike. And died.

Funny how you can know someone only online but their loss feels really real. If you know Cyndi Whitmore, or you are a Unitarian Universalist or you are the white parent of your own children of color, or you know if you’re just a human–say a little “thank you” prayer that this woman lived, once. And maybe, if you’re so moved, join me in chipping in to help her very young adult son manage this next stage of family life.

May we remember how blessed we are to live in such a time of connection and to remember how short life can be.

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