Friday, February 3, 2017

A 72 Hour Case Study of How Bizarre it is to Live in DC These Days

Day 1 - Sunday, 1/29

It started last Saturday night.  The Muslim ban.  Or whatever you want to call it.  Unless your head has been completely buried in the sand (in which case, I wouldn't completely blame you), you know about it.  And if you agree with it, then you can stop reading.  Because I am not going to attempt to change your mind, and honestly, if that's where you're at, you probably shouldn't be reading my blog. We probably wouldn't be friends in real life.

Five year olds in handcuffs?  Green card holders stuck overseas?  Mothers separated from their nursing infants?  And an American immigration policy based completely on prejudice?

There really should be no debate here.

In any event, I was a tad distraught over this.  Freaked out.  Twilight zone kind of stuff.  When I woke up on Sunday morning, I wanted to do something.  So I went to the second march of my life (the first one being one week prior), organized on a day's notice in direct response to the Muslim Ban.  And this time, I brought the whole family.

I didn't bring my family to the women's march, and I'm glad I didn't.  It was crowded and hectic and I didn't want to have to worry about all of the things that young kids require - bathroom breaks, snacks, general entertainment.  But this march was more about solidarity than a day downtown.  I told my hesitant husband that it didn't matter how long we stayed - I just wanted the kids to go.  To see it.  And to understand what is happening, and why it is important that we take a stand.

And so the kids made signs.  I told them they could write whatever they wanted.

I couldn't have said it better myself.  

Most poignant sign of the day.

A proud mom.  

Casey on the shoulders of our dear friend - who happens to be an immigrant from Iran.
We made it about a half an hour before the kids started to get restless and ask to leave.  And so we did.  But for the half hour we were there, I never once felt unsafe or nervous for the safety of my children.  As with the women's march, the crowd was peaceful, kind, and supportive.  We chanted in solidarity and I left feeling a bit better than I had when I woke up that morning.

And then we returned to the Bethesda suburbs and continued on with our privileged Sunday evening, of swim meets and meals out and watching Homeland, while the world around us continued to unravel.

Day 2 - Monday, 1/30

I was still reeling from the day before, but I was very much looking forward to my Monday evening plans.  As part of the perks of being a blogger, I was invited to a screening of Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric, at the National Geographic Headquarters in DC.  The documentary looks at the complexities of gender, transgender issues, and gender identity.  It was to be followed by a Q&A panel with documentary participants, including Katie Couric herself.  I invited my dear friend, Valerie, who is a policy wonk when it comes to public policy and gender.

We clean up well.  
In an effort to escape the witching hour with my children get downtown with ample time, I met my friend Valerie beforehand at a fancy shmancy hotel bar at the Jefferson.  I had just ordered my first glass of bubbly, when I glanced over at the table next to me, and who was it?  None other than Katie Couric herself.

Us native Washingtonians know better than to approach a "celebrity" in public places, as politicians and the like are a dime a dozen in these parts.  So I played it cool and pretended I had way better things to do than try to eavesdrop or catch an extra glimpse.  But by the time I got to the reception at National Geographic and had gotten a little tipsy gained some confidence, I asked her for a selfie, and she obliged.

As cool as it was to meet Katie Couric, that was the superficial part of the evening.  The real depth came from the documentary itself, which explored the lives of transgendered individuals, and what they face.  I was inspired by stories of parents of transgendered children, who have embraced them wholeheartedly, of transgendered youth speaking out for their rights, and of the bravery exhibited by this marginalized and misunderstood segment of society.  The evening was about acceptance and love and having an open mind, and I think pretty much everyone in the audience was moved to tears at some point in the evening.

With the depression of the days that had passed since January 20th, it was refreshing.  If you need your faith in humanity restored a bit, I highly recommend watching it when it premieres on February 6, on NatGeo.

Day 3 - Tuesday, 1/31

My husband and I are notorious for going to random concerts.  Richard Marx, Lionel Ritchie, and Neil Diamond, are a few of the gems that my husband has dragged me to we have attended recently.  But we were both on board when we bought tickets to see Five For Fighting at the Birchmere, a small concert venue in Alexandria, VA, with no assigned seats and table service. Five For Fighting sings one of my favorite songs of all time -  World.

It was supposed to be a random, fun night, for my husband and I to drink wine and eat some nachos. Then, two things happened:

1)  In September of 2015, when I was just coming off of my this crazy, Whole 30 diet, I broke my sobriety with another Five For Fighting concert at the Birchmere.  And unfortunately, in my tipsy state at the end of the night, my arm knocked a glass of water and it spilled all over the lap of the woman sitting across from me.  It was one of those shameful, shameful moments that an apology would never suffice to fix, and you live with it and cringe at the memory, but are thankful for the anonymity of the world.


I locked eyes with the woman.  And just like that.  She remembered.  I remembered.  And the shame flushed over me again, 18 months later.

In addition to shame, I also found this to be absolutely hysterical.  I mean, who spills water over a random woman, and then sees them at the same place again, over a year later?  I proceeded to text all of my friends all over the world the story, thinking it was going to be the big story of the evening.


2) About 5 minutes before the concert started, a party of 6 sat at the table behind us that had been marked "Reserved."  I took a quick glance and then a double take, grabbed my husband's leg, and proclaimed:

That's Betsy DeVos at the table behind us.  

My husband smirked, assuming that it was yet another instance of false identification, which I am known for.  He took an unassuming glance.

Holy shit.  That is Betsy DeVos.  


I'm not going to go all crazy political on here.  But suffice it to say that I loathe Betsy DeVos. LOATHE.  I think she is the most unqualified person to ever be nominated for a cabinet position and would absolutely ruin the public school system in our country.  I feel so strongly about it that I had spent the bulk of my afternoon reading about her and getting all fired up about it.

And what are the odds, there she was.

Apologies for picture quality.  I was trying to be conspicuous.
I don't mean to be melodramatic, but this woman literally ruined my night.

I could feel her behind me.  And since I could feel her, I couldn't escape the nightmare that is reality right now.  Five For Fighting was singing about oceans and love and riddles and all I could think about was Donald Trump and the Muslim Ban and the transgender community from the documentary the night prior that he is going to screw over.  And I periodically would look back at her, wondering - Does she actually think this is normal? Is this really what she wants? Is she a rational human being?  

I was waiting for the band to play my favorite song, and they saved it for last.  I was looking forward to being lost in the music, and then it came.

John Ondrasik, the singer, dedicated the song - MY FAVORITE SONG OF ALL TIME - to his old friends "Betsy and Dick," and thanked them for their service.

The audience applauded.  I booed.

And then he sang the song.

Look, everyone is entitled to their opinion.  I have since found out that John Ondrasik is a die hard Republican, and that's cool and all.

But now my favorite song is tainted.  Forever.  I will never again hear the song "World" without thinking of Betsy DeVos.  And that just sucks.


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Monday, January 23, 2017

I Mourned, and Then I Marched

The last time I wrote a post on my blog it was three days after the election.  I was depressed and angry and in a general funk and it was rainy all damn week.  I stopped watching the news.  I drank too much wine.  And I broke down crying in a Whole Foods parking lot for no apparent reason other than the depressing state of the world.

And then life returned to normal, with school pick ups and swim practices and the holidays.  I subscribed to all sorts of Facebook pages that gave me numbers to call, movements to join, and checklists to go through to take a stand, send a message, and affect some kind of change.  And I did do some of those things, which made me feel better.  My depression lifted and turned to a solemn acceptance.  I still refused to watch the news, but would click on the occasional news clip on my Facebook feed, in between reading narratives from Pantsuit Nation.  Watching Saturday Night Live each week became a religious, cathartic experience (and it still is - did you see Aziz Ansari's monologue this week?).

I had heard about the Women's March from its inception, and I always had plans to attend.  It seemed like a simple thing to do to get more involved, and it happens to be in the city I call home. But as the march approached, and I started thinking about logistics, I have to say I had some second thoughts.  I worried about the crowds.  I worried about how I would get downtown, and how I would get home.  I worried about terrorism.  I wondered if it was worth any kind of risk to go, because after all, I am only one person.  What difference would it make if I went or not?

Ultimately I put those fears aside and on Saturday morning, I dressed up in my gear.  Maybe it was because of peer pressure, or of shame of not going.  Maybe it was because my father still glows with pride when he recalls when he participated in the March on Washington in 1963. But mostly, it's because I wanted my children to know that I went.  That there are things bigger than us, and that there are times in life where we have to take a stand.  They don't yet understand what is going on in our country right now, but when they do, I want them to remember that their mother knew that is was not okay.

I had made plans to meet up with a few friends as part of the Moms Demand Action Group, a group that advocates for gun sense and gun control.  We met at the Woodley Park Metro at 8:30 am, and I could tell already that this was going to be a big day.  There was a buzz, a sense of excitement, and I even got a cool hat that made me look a bit like Waldo.

There was also a crowd.  A huge crowd.  So huge, that by the time we got downstairs to get on the metro, it was closed.  It was at full capacity.  At that point, we started weighing our options.  Bus? Uber? Walk?  We did a combination, and ultimately made it downtown by around 10am when the speakers were scheduled to start.

I don't know what I expected.  I truly don't.  I guess I thought it would be similar to an outdoor concert venue?

It wasn't.

It. Was. Jam. Packed.

This was my view when we first joined the crowd, and it doesn't do it justice:

So let me poach from CNN for a much better photo:

It was so crowded it was hard to orient myself.  What street was I on (still not sure)?  Where was the stage (I never saw it)?  Where was the screen (I managed to see the smallest slice of one eventually, obstructed by a tree)?  Where were the porta potties (I never used one)?  Where was the exit, should I want to get out (good luck with that)?

I'm not going to lie - I had an internal fight with my mild claustrophobia for a few minutes there.

But then I relaxed into it, and took it all in.  And I started to get intermittent chills - not from the cold, but from the energy, the love, and the power of it all.

One thing that struck me almost immediately was how nice everyone was.  Everyone was so nice. If this was a concert or sports event or any other crowd, and people were trying to weave in and out, stepping on toes and rubbing elbows, you can bet that there would be curse words flying around. Or at least some dirty looks.  But not so - people were kind, helpful, and friendly.  We struck up conversations with people around us in each corner we ended up in, and learned that most people came from far away. We met people that flew in from California, from Ohio, from New York, from Florida.

There were old people and young people.  There were women and men.  There were black people and transgendered people and Muslims and people in wheelchairs and privileged white women like myself and we all just hung there together.  We all applauded for the same things - for acceptance, for Planned Parenthood, for immigrants, for our environment, for black lives, for health care, for religious freedom, for free speech, and for each other.

There was such a camaraderie, and it wasn't about anger.  Sure, there were some boo's when our current President, and his policy agenda, were mentioned.  But it was more about love.  About cheering.  About a movement of people who are going to look out for each other.  About peaceful protest - I never once felt unsafe, not once.  And how incredible that with all of those people - estimates are at over 500,000 people at the DC march- not a single person was arrested.

Saying that this is what democracy is all about is a cliche, but I felt it, especially at the most surreal moment of the day.  After not eating or drinking for about 6 hours (note to self, pack lunch next time), my friends and I stopped in the Willard Hotel hoping to get something to eat and a glass of bubbly.  Unfortunately it was packed to capacity and they weren't allowing anyone into the restaurant, so my friends and I found a couch to sit on in the lobby to rest for a brief moment. Sitting with us on the couch was an older man with a "Make America Great Again" hat.

Until that moment, I had forgotten that there had actually been an inauguration the day before, and that many people staying at the Willard Hotel were there for the event.  This particular man was waiting for a car to arrive to take him to the airport to go home.  We exchanged some niceties ("Do you mind if we sit here?"  "How is it outside?"), and then we were on our way.

I didn't feel any hostility towards that man, and I didn't feel any coming from him, notwithstanding how differently we felt about the state of our country.  He cared enough to fly into town for the inauguration.  And I cared enough to spend my day in a massive crowd on the National Mall.

But at the end of the day, don't we have more in common than not?  Don't we all just want to be happy, to be healthy, to be respected, to protect our families, and to live in peace?  We disagree on how to get there.  But I have to believe that if we can come together with an open mind, we can all march together with a unified goal.

One of best speakers of the day was Van Jones (can someone please convince him to run for office?).  When talking about reconciling our differences, he said:

When it gets harder to love, let's love harder.

And that's what the march left me with - a whole lot of love.  And hope.  I watched the news yesterday, albeit briefly.  And I didn't get angry.  I looked at the aerial views of the hundreds of cities around the world participating in the march, and I felt a solidarity with strangers, which is a pretty awesome feeling.

In the meantime, I return to my normal suburban life, but I'm spicing it up a bit and getting more involved.  The People's Climate March is on April 29th here in DC.  Who's with me?

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