It’s up to us now

I was already struggling with election anxiety and news cycles of unending madness and chaos.

From the upheaval at USPS at at time when mail-in voting is potentially life-preserving, to AG Barr’s desire to charge protesters and dissenters with sedition, to forced sterilisation of immigrant women in detention centres, to the non-stop lies and fabrications, to raging fires in both North America and Brazil, on top of a global pandemic as we head into winter, it’s too much, y’all. It’s simply too much.

And, then, Saturday dawns and the news of RBG‘s death greeted me as I scrolled through Twitter (fuck you, Mitch McConnell) whilst waiting for my coffee to brew.

This morning feels incredibly dangerous, not just for women’s rights and reproductive freedom, but for democracy in general. The fragility of the rule of law, immigrant rights, voting rights, environmental and labour justice and the simple idea that laws should not hinge upon the mad ramblings of an individual who would like to be king and a party that allows him to do so all feel just that much closer to disintegration. And the nightmare that is 2020 continues.

Yet, this isn’t some distant land; it’s happening in the United States. It’s just unreal and yet far, far too real.

At some point over the past year or so, I received a packet of 50 protest postcards to benefit the ACLU in a book hookup subscription from Strand Bookstore in NYC. Since my copy of Notorious RBG is currently with a friend, I flipped through those protest postcards looking for hope I suppose or something to give me solace as the tears flowed. I kept returning to this image:

For the next 50 days, I’ll be posting one of these images, primarily to remind myself what I’m fighting for. But, also, to remind us all that we must continue to fight for as long as we can, in whatever way we can and for as long as it takes to create a more perfect union for us all.

RBG provided us with a to-do list. That list is rather simple:

– Work for what you believe in
– But pick your battles
– Don’t burn your bridges
– Don’t be afraid to take charge
– Think about what you want, then do the work
– But, then, enjoy what makes you happy
– Bring along your crew
– Have a sense of humour

from Notorious RBG

So, today, I’ll honour the gigantically iconic yet tiny in stature, courageous righteous, brilliant woman who dedicated her life to making ours better. Then, tomorrow, I’ll dry my eyes, suit up and fight like I’ve never fought before, for myself and everyone else who suffers injustice in whatever form it takes. And, for the country that I love even in these incredibly dark times.

I’m doing this for RBG. She fought for all of us her entire life. Now, it’s up to us to fight for the legacy she forged for us and our children.

It costs me nothing

I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticise her perpetually.’

― James Baldwin

On 28 August 1955, a 14-year-old black boy wrongfully accused of ‘offending’ a white woman was abducted and brutally murdered in Mississippi. ‘Offending’ in that instance merely meant ‘flirting’ or ‘whistling’ at a white woman, an offence later recanted by the would-be accuser. Unfortunately, that recantation came too late for Emmett Till.

Emmett Till was beaten and mutilated, shot in the head and then thrown in the river by those who brutalised him. An all-white jury found the white men who killed Emmett not guilty. Those men later admitted, rather proudly, that they had indeed killed Emmett Till.

Emmett Till was 14. He was lynched, for the ‘crime’ of daring to speak to a white woman.

In 2020, we can now add to the list of names of far, far too many black bodies killed or brutalised first with questions only following later. Their crimes may not involve simply speaking to a white woman in rural Jim Crow Mississippi, but they are largely no less shocking: walking with Skittles in a pocket through a gated (read: white) community. Playing with a toy gun. Driving while black. Running while black. Sleeping in your own bed. Paying for groceries with a counterfeit $20 bill. Selling single ciggies on a street corner. Breaking up a brawl between two women.

A black man who *may* have a knife is shot in the back seven times a fate deemed justifiable because he seemed *threatening*, whilst a white boy carrying an AR-15 through the streets can shoot three people, killing two, is given the benefit of the doubt and granted the justification of ‘self-defence’.

For black bodies, there is no due process. There is no justice. And, there is certainly no peace. But, what sort of self-defence exists for them? They can scream with what little breathe remains, ‘I can’t breathe!’, and still they are choked and prevented the most basic of needs: air to breathe.

What’s worse, those who perpetrate those murders and far too many contemporary brutalities are emboldened by badges and guns or the simple cloak of their whiteness despite being sworn into duty to serve and protect.

Who are they serving? Who are they protecting?

At times, it feels to me like we have progressed so very little from 1955, or that any progress we have made is cosmetic rather than lasting, enduring or systemic. Systemic racism and racial injustice and inequity appear to be more institutionalised rather than less, primarily because we refuse to open our eyes and see the realities lived by those who are not born white.

If we ever hope to be truly free or peaceful or just, these atrocities must be acknowledged and we must accept our collective responsibility for the continued and persistent systemic racism that is woven into the very fabric from which our flags are sewn.

Black lives matter. Emmett Till mattered. Medgar Evers matters. Martin Luther King Jr mattered. Rodney King mattered. Travyon Martin mattered. Sandra Bland mattered. Eric Garner mattered. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor mattered. All of these black lives ended too soon and for no justifiable reason. And, they matter still.

Jacob Blake matters.

That these lives matter does not negate my own. It simply means that I recognise that I am infinitely safer because I am white. That, in and of itself, is the problem.

Yesterday hit a nerve for me. From Emmett Till to Jacob Blake and all those lives in between. We have work to do, y’all. And, it costs me nothing to say so.

Photo taken by Emmett Till’s mother on Christmas Day 1954.

(Un)healthy opposition

Heather Cox Richardson is a hero to me. Her near-daily summations of the daily mayhem in the United States have been not just helpful and insightful, but at times necessary.

Today’s was particularly poignant.

Having lived in Russia and seen the remnants and return of a one-party (or one-leader) system, and being married to a man who grew up in a one-party system and only knew that reality for most of his life, I understand and shiver at the idea of this becoming a reality in my own country.

I think this, more than anything, is what has troubled for me quite some time. Perhaps traces of the demonisation of the opposition reflect the very initial conversations I had with my conservative family, particularly my uncle ca ’92 or ’93, regarding politics, and his insistence that all Democrats are bad. (Never mind that I’ve pretty much self-identified as an independent for most of my adult life.)

Yes, I am a progressive and fall far-left on the US political spectrum; but, I welcome consensus-building and compromise. I understand that ‘my ideals’ are my own and may not work for a behemoth like the very large and diverse United States, thanks to discussions with friends of mine willing to have some tough discussions (I’m looking at you Cissy Walker & Todd Hoven). But, fundamentally, I’ve always believed that we as a country should be ‘united’ — not divided and at each other’s throats, out to destroy and tear one another down. And, beginning with Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, it’s felt increasingly as if anyone who isn’t a Republican is painted as a traitor whilst anyone who openly questions or attempts to compromise on any issues supported by the GOP is some sort of pinko communist who hates America. (I have been labelled as someone who hates her country by people I love, an accusation that cut me to the core.)

It’s probably been more than a month now that Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Know Your Enemy‘ has been on constant repeat in my head. And, every day that I read posts, comments, etc regarding the issue or news de jour, I can’t help but wonder how we are ever going to collectively escape or emerge from this particular moment.

The United States, when it was united and parties worked together rather than with a winner-take-all attitude (think post WWII and during the Civil Rights era) was strongest, when we understood that we were a work in progress and needed to continually do better. Was it perfect? Hell, no. As a feminist, I’m very much happy to be living now rather than then. However, changes were possible (VRA and the Civil Rights Act come to mind along with women’s rights in general), and we could at least image a better future for our children and grandchildren.

But, more importantly, those we elected had that simple notion in mind — working together and collectively towards a better future.

All I see today is a party that is fighting tooth and nail along with its mouthpieces a la various talking heads to rip us apart and create a view of ‘the other’ as the enemy. (And, yes, I am speaking of the Republican party and the likes of Fox and worse.)

I support free speech, the freedom to assemble and the freedom to choose to worship whatever you deity you believe in.
I support fairness and justice. For all.

I love my country and still think the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence are incredible documents, even if they failed to recognise me as a woman or any person of colour as equally deserving of protections — they were designed to be amendable, and that’s bloody brilliant.

And, I desperately want to be able to discuss rationally and reasonably how to make the great experiment that is the United — emphasis on united — States of America a better place for all of us. All. Of. Us.

I understand that those conversations won’t be easy. But, they are necessary. And, even if you choose to elect officials I would not and with whom I disagree or whom I personally find reprehensible, I will fight like hell for you to be able to cast your vote. Why? Because every vote matters and every single vote should be counted, whether it agrees with mine or not.

On ‘The Uncounted’ by Sara ‘Meg’ Davis

The Uncounted by Sara L.M. Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In today’s world in particular, there are days when it seems as though we are drowning in information. Too much data. Too much ‘stuff’ to process and make sense of. That feeling is only partially true, however. Across various areas and arenas, we know far too little, particularly when we focus on issues surrounding health and human rights. All too often we take the absence of information or data or evidence as a sign that we may relax a bit.

We desperately need to shift that thinking. The Uncounted, by Sara ‘Meg’ Davis provides a road map for how we may begin to shift our thinking and perspectives in order to adjust how, amongst whom and what we collect data in a relatively simple way, and in a way which may pay huge dividends, particularly amongst those most in need and previously most neglected in policy planning and financing.

‘The Uncounted’ is a fantastic read, one which profoundly challenges the notion that in the absence of information or evidence we don’t need to worry about issue X. That is, if we carefully examine those variables for which we have no data or evidence, perhaps upon digging deeper and enlisting assistance from those more acutely and intimately aware than we are, we will find previously hidden information and data. And, that data and information are likely to radically shift how we design programmes or policies on various issues. We will no longer be able to simply dismiss an issue as unproblematic. Quite simply, ‘The Uncounted’ provides a profound argument for carefully considering how we examine and apply the absence of evidence as an indicator.

‘The Uncounted’ is rich in ethnographic descriptions, documenting the various assumptions made by multilateral agencies charged with dispersing funding to and establishing guidelines for countries in how they respond to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria (e.g., The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, UNAIDS, WHO, PEPFAR, etc) and local-level agencies and individuals best situated to argue for expanding programmes and funding schemes within communities. For those unfamiliar with such agencies, Dr Davis disentangles these various personalities and agencies rather neatly, making it clear who does what and whose voice is perhaps most necessary in deciding upon programmes and policies to address HIV in particular. Following the progress and steps necessary to count the uncounted within the Caribbean region provides evidence for how we can begin to shift our thinking and truly ensure full inclusion of all individuals affected by HIV and specifically those least likely to date to receive crucial services and support.

Reading ‘The Uncounted’ during a global pandemic proved rather surreal,not simply because some of its key characters are also playing a crucial role in current events vis-a-vis Covid-19. As our global health-related realities have been thrown into chaos this year with the emergence of Covid-19, I’m curious to see how various elements of Dr Davis’ careful and thorough work play out. Whilst focused primarily on HIV, and the very real oversights in counting typically hidden populations such as men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and people who use drugs, certainly many individuals, and perhaps the most vulnerable, will go uncounted in the wake of Covid-19. Will health, social, and economic policy makers and planners at local, national, and international levels solicit the perspectives from those at the community levels most intimately associated with the epidemics and acutely aware of problems in providing treatment, care and support to those affected in order to understand who, what, why and where? Or will they rely on the absence of evidence as evidence of absence simply because individuals are not counted by the powers that be? How will key populations be accounted for? Will they?

My hope is that the powers that be across power structures would heed the advice and road maps provided by Dr Davis. The reality is that in some places, that advice and those road maps are not being considered. And, in those places it seems as those Covid-19 is raging unchallenged. [Insert heavy sigh here.]

‘The Uncounted’ provides this cynic with a bit of hope, however, particularly with regards to HIV. Hope that we expand our perspective ever so slightly, yet in a way which we can make a huge difference to communities and key populations who may have previously faced stigma, discrimination and institutional neglect, and who may finally receive the crucial support to transform structures that place them at the response to HIV. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary. And, to my mind, long overdue.

Clearly, we can no longer that that ‘absence of evidence as evidence of absence’.



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On ‘The Color of Fear’

Yesterday evening as a few fellow American friends and I gathered to simply enjoy in-person company after months of social distancing, we found ourselves reflecting upon current events in the US. It’s hard not to. We shared our frustrations and concerns, and also shared a bit about what we were reading and what has had a profound impact upon each of us. One friend mentioned the documentary film ‘The Color of Fear’, and how ten years later it resonated with her and made a profound impact upon her.

Indeed.

Please spend some time really taking in this powerful, emotional and brutally honest discussion from 1994 on race in the United States among men.

The conversations we need to have will not be easy. They will make us uncomfortable and force us each to confront realities about ourselves and one another which we honestly don’t want to. But once we do, we might also achieve a better understanding of one another, and an understanding of what we need to do in order to achieve equity and justice for all.

Along with acknowledging our own flaws and culpability in how we have consciously or unconsciously sustained a system of racial inequity and inequality along with systemic and institutional racism, we might understand what we can do to dismantle it. And along with that we might just begin to heal long-festering wounds left raw and untended. It is likely we will feel rage and anger, and there will be fear and there will be pain. But, unless we have those conversations, we will never clean out the rot and truly heal. We will not change ourselves or society. And, neither will those institutions.

So,…. Listen. Learn. Do better.

On ‘Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I’m not sure that writing a review of this particular book is necessary. My first reaction can be summed up quite simply: Read this book. Now. Right now.

Given the long-overdue awakening taking place not just in the United States at this moment, but across many former colonisers and countries characterised by white privilege and power at the expense of everyone else, those of us who know nothing about the lived experiences of POC need to listen carefully and silently to their voices now. This book goes a long way in granting us at least one voice rather clearly and unapologetically. She is not angry, although she has every right and reason to be. She is not preachy or admonishing, although I’d certainly expect anyone writing a book like this to be. This book made me uncomfortable and angry, despair and cringe, and it made me mutter again and again, ‘what the fuck is wrong with people’?! Not POC, but those of us who have and know white privilege without ever accepting or acknowledging it.

The simple notion that history and institutions have made it difficult for those of us not lucky enough to have been born white is undeniable. Correcting it, let alone simply accepting it, shouldn’t be a matter of debate. And, yet, here we are in 2020 still wondering why a statue for a slave trader or Confederate general is so offensive to some.

As much as this book angered me, it oddly and rather refreshingly offered up doses of hope. I am a firm believer in knowledge being a powerful weapon if wielded properly. I suspect Reni Eddo-Lodge shares that old adage. She provided me with a bit more information about racism and racist institutions in the UK, and by doing so allowed me to gain a bit of objectivity on institutions which have parallels in my own country, the US. She also understands how we all need to be gentle with ourselves as we disentangle and make sense of atrocities from our historical past in order to do the hard and necessary work of dismantling them as we move forward. This is painful as a process and incredibly uncomfortable at times. As long as we, each of us, does something with the knowledge we gain and the awareness necessary to be and live as antiracists, those small steps collectively can help us to achieve our goals. Let’s move forward rather than stand still in our despair and anger and frustration.

I will read this book again. More so, I will continue to think about every bit of this tiny, powerful book, and how I can be the change and do something and do better every single day.



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One conversation at a time

NB: Like many, I’m genuinely struggling to put into words what I feel or to process what we’re collectively witnessing and experiencing in this moment. This is my own first step, based on a personal experience from this morning and how it might help me, at least, move forward and do something — anything — to affect positive change within my own network. The specifics of this morning’s experience are anonymised in order to protect my friend’s identity. This is my own perspective and reflects that alone.

Uncertain future. Illustration: Chris Riddell

I am not necessarily good at difficult conversations. I have never have been, and it’s perhaps the flaw I recognise as most unfortunate about myself. And, the flaw I struggle with the most.

If I am completely honest, I see the ugliest parts of myself surface during those moments. Specifically, I do not deal with criticism well at all, despite being more critical of myself than anyone else could ever hope to be. Contrary to understanding its necessity in helping me do and be better as a wife, friend, instructor, writer, [insert descriptor/role here], constructive criticism makes me exceedingly uncomfortable in the moment. I have no problem questioning my own beliefs on my own, but publicly I find such instances particularly painful and typically shy away from them whenever and as much as possible. I am also working on this. Because I want to grow as a person and be a better person for those in my life as well as my own community. But, it’s damn hard work.

Given the current backdrop of various bits of chaos that has become 2020, and the unreal events unfolding in the United States specifically, difficult and uncomfortable conversations are necessary. So, when a friend with whom I share very little ideologically reached out to ask me about a sensitive topic, I took a deep breath and dove in head first.

And, you know what? I regret nothing. It felt good. It worked. It was respectful and honest. Unresolved, but solid and a step in a direction we both welcomed. And, that’s something.

Because neither of us approached this conversation from the perspective of needing to be right or correct or proving our point, it worked.

To me, this moment provided an opportunity, not only offering the chance to reach an understanding of a perspective and the thoughts of someone with whom I do not share a world view. But, also, a chance to help someone I know understand a bit more about where to find resources and perhaps look at their own world view in a slightly different way, one which might prove more beneficial to those unlike us who desperately need allies who look like us. This moment hearkened back to a time when liberals and conservatives / Democrats and Republicans / blue states and red states could discuss the issues of the day and find a way forward rather than ripping one another apart.

This friend and I conversed with the intention of listening and gaining insight rather than being heard and judging one another. We challenged one another (I hope), but we also chatted aiming to help one another rather than selfishly and myopically support and validate our respective viewpoints. We did not approach the conversation intending to pick apart everything; instead, we tried to unpack one thing. We asked probing questions and patiently waited for responses. We left labels aside, placed pins in other important topics which were tangential to this specific topic and focused instead upon the meanings we might have missed by using various labels previously.

And, we left the conversation with points to think about and consider, with an agreement return to our discussion later. We did not leave feeling frustrated, angry, hurt of belittled.

We provided ourselves with a way to move ourselves as well as our communities forward. And, that’s huge.

So many of us right now are hurting, whether we agree on what pains us or not. So many of us lament and despair the loss of innocent lives and the inhumanity we are collectively witnessing, all in the middle of a global pandemic that demands social distancing and has impacted our social and economic realities if the not the very fabric of our lives. We may not necessarily agree on what causes the pain or anguish, or indeed upon on what specifically what must change. But, we agree that the wounds run deep and divisions are killing us. And, that change is necessary.

To me, we must also confront continuing injustices such as institutionalised racism and a system rigged to maintain the status quo and extreme power differentials in place. Doing so requires finding common ground and understanding wherever and whenever we can. It won’t be easy, and perhaps might result in more than a little blood, sweat and tears, for some real and for others allegorically and metaphorically. But, the difficult, sensitive and hard conversations and discussions must take place.

So, here’s an invitation: Come talk to me.

I will listen. I will do my best to be open to those difficult conversations, without judgement or justification. I will do my best to be respectful and less reactionary or defensive. Primarily, rather than shy away from them, I invite those discussions and conversations, welcoming them and genuinely consider them. I may not always agree, but I will seek out ways to reach consensus where possible and check my own biases and privileges and assumptions as necessary. I hope all of us will do likewise. Otherwise, nothing will change.

Simple, necessary changes

l’ll be honest — climate change has become one of the things that keeps me up at night. The more I read, the more I fear for the future world we will likely face. It may not be a world I personally face, but I definitely fear the world we leave for the next generation.

So, I’m taking more steps to limit the impact my life has on the lives of those who follow me.

We use LEDs more these days, after seeing first-hand how much brighter they are during the long, cold and beyond-dark winter months in Helsinki. I no longer drive since my US driver’s licence expired more than a decade ago. I walk when I have the time more often than not. And, since last September I’ve been a vegetarian (completely unrelated, but now I can’t imagine going back). For those who understand my undying devotion to every single cheese ever made, I now eat about half if not a quarter of what I once consumed. And, because y’all understand you’ll need to pry my coffee cup from my cold dead hand, oddly, I prefer Oatly for my daily java jolts. I tried it after being dazzled by a rather witty ad blitz earlier this year, and it’s actually quite tasty. Since they also make other non-dairy ‘dairy-like products, I’ve tried them and like them as well.

I’m fairly certain my own carbon footprint sucks. But, I’m working on as many changes as possible to reduce it as much as possible. And, my life is largely unchanged if not fitter. Walking (and running) about 50 km per week has it’s benefits, from reducing my carbon footprint to allowing me to process the anxiety related to it.

You don’t need to go to extremes to reduce your carbon footprint. Small changes can make a huge difference. If you aren’t that concerned about the world you’ll inhabit in your own future, perhaps you’ll pause to think about the world your children and grandchildren will be forced to endure. That world may not be nearly as beautiful nor as hospitable, and that’s on us. Particularly if we continue to shirk our collective responsibility to implement incredibly simple changes in addition to larger ones that might just save us all.

Words matter

Words matter. The words we use and choose reflect where and upon what we place importance. They convey our emotions; they create our narratives, and help others understand our positions as well as our passions. We all need to choose them a bit more carefully and with far more thought, particularly on those issues which are most important to us.

As various white men in the US decide that women must be incubators in some states, the world is melting. Rather than do something that requires immediate action and would potentially save countless thousands if not millions of humans lives (never mind plant and animal species) from the very real possibility of the devastating coming climate crisis we’ve created and accelerated, let’s instead focus on forcing women to breed.

Thank you, The Guardian, for changing your language and not sugar-coating your coverage. Climate crisis, climate heating, species extinction, and all that comes with it petrifies me. Because I’d like to see my friends’ children thrive and live long lives to enjoy their own children and so on.

And, I’d like that world in which they live to feature more than mere pictures of various creatures that once existed.

On ‘The View from Flyover Country’

The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten AmericaThe View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kendzior

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If we ever hope to move beyond that which divides us, we must collectively rip off those band-aids, acknowledge various problems that plague us as a nation and society, and begin the truly difficult discussions in order to find long-term and permanent solutions to address those problems.

This book helps with that first step: ripping off the band-aids, and highlighting how we did not simply arrive at this particular moment. We should have expected it. And, anyone living in or from a flyover region most likely intuitively knows this. Class. Race. Gender. All of these issues have divided us for much longer than the current political rhetoric of divisiveness. Really, rather than collectively rising up against a system rigged from day one to benefit those already in power at the expense of the rest of us, we fight one another based on characteristic X [insert identity here]. Yet, we all continue to struggle. We all continue to lose our footing or positions. And, we all continue to work harder to move towards attaining that American dream as we navigate the worst sort of nightmare.

Thank you, Sarah Kendzior, for this collection of rather timeless essays and commentaries on the condition of life in flyover America. It’s brutal. It’s real. And, it’s completely necessary.

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