‘I am a refugee’

Far too many Americans have forgotten what it means to seek refuge in a land far from home, with nothing but hope and whatever they were fortunate enough to travel with and carry. Far too many have demonised those who simply want a better life for themselves and their children.

Why?

Whilst thankfully I’ve not (yet) had to flee violence nor war nor a government persecuting me or my people, as a migrant I did find myself in the position of needing refuge in a land not my own. And, for nearly a year, my husband and I were what you could consider undocumented — we were neither illegally staying in Finland nor did we hold valid residents permits or travel documents. We could neither travel, nor really feel as if we were safe from deportation. It was the most unsettling and precarious time of my life. And, one I’d not wish on anyone.

After much paperwork, worry and many meetings, things eventually worked out fine for us — and we’ve been granted permanent residence and a place to call home in Finland. At one point during that year, we were asked and offered the possibility of seeking asylum given the circumstances of our specific case. Neither one of us considered ourselves refugees or asylum seekers. Our life was relatively stable and we understood our position of privilege compared to the millions of refugees seeking shelter across the globe.

As an American from the land of plenty, that moment and possibility was a very odd and surreal moment and a rather gut-wrenching realisation for me. It also allowed me to understand that a refugee can be literally anyone and they can be anywhere — there is no one type of individual who seeks refuge. Lives can and do change in the oddest and most tragic of ways and for a variety of reasons.

Refugees embark on journeys that are heartbreaking and unique, varied and often dangerous; and their entry into any country is not without a mountain of paperwork and enduring patience. They need not be demonised nor feared; they should be welcomed and heard and seen.

In the land of plenty, there is room for those who are tired, poor and yearning to breathe free. Most of us who were fortunate enough to born there more than likely have refugees of one sort or another amongst our ancestors.

At the very least, we can extend a hand of friendship and offer kindness. We can offer a seat at our table, the chance to break bread and share a plate with others less fortunate than us, and a warm blanket and safe haven from which to escape the horrors other have faced on their journeys to safety.

When we faced our own immigration woes, the kindness of friends and strangers alike helped us as we navigated incredibly uncertain waters. On some days, those kindnesses were the only things which made us feel human and worthy.

Protest Postcard #11 of 50

Continuing the fight for Civil Rights

In the past few years, I’ve been rereading much of the writings from the  civil rights era in the US. Familiar names like Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis along with the works of  James Baldwin, Angela Davis and Malcom X and histories detailing the lives of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers have featured amongst my reading lists.

It’s crazy how relevant those works are today despite being 50 or more years old. Many of these writings could have just as easily been written today. We still need to make further progress vis-à-vis racial equality, basic rights and justice, particularly in making right generations and centuries of oppression and injustice along with a fair amount of racial violence.

Granting further for others does not intimidate me nor leave me fearful that my own rights will be somehow diminished or limited. More rights for you means I will not enjoy a benefit or privilege based simply on my race or class or standing granted by birth within a particular category. Understanding my own privileges helps me understand what systemic changes are necessary in order to achieve equity and in order to right historical wrongs, whether perpetrated by myself or my ancestors. Generational pain is real and persistent. Understanding that helps me do better and helps my communities become more inclusive and more just.

I’m thankful for a new generation of writers like Ta-nehisi Coates
and Ibram X Kendi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’m enormously grateful to the many writers and activists who share their histories and their guidance on how we can be better allies and antiracists.

But, I’d be even happier if such works highlighting our need to continually work towards a more just society were unnecessary.

Protest postcard #10 of 50

We should all be feminists

We should all be feminists.

There’s a brilliant little book by the same name by one of my favourite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She’s far more eloquent than I, and I agree with her every word. We should all be feminists.

Indeed. There’s nothing more that I really need to say about this, is there?

If I do, here’s what I have to say: More rights for you does not mean fewer for me. It means we all benefit and enjoy equal rights and protections for and of those rights. And, it might just mean that women will not receive less pay for equal amounts of work, not needing to pull double duty by caring for all things related to the home and childcare whilst also excelling in our careers. And, it might just mean that we are finally be seen as belonging in positions of leadership. That we are capable.

Because, we are more than capable. And, we do it wearing heals and whilst also taking on the primary household management responsibilities.

I’m not sure why ‘feminism’ as a word conjures up man-hating women with no tolerance for men. But, it does. And, that fundamentally speaks to the primary reason why we need feminism.

And, why we should all be feminists.

Protest postcard #9 of 50

In this house…

I’m a bit behind — work and rest both kept me from posting a daily protest postcard here. [In my defence, I’ve done so elsewhere!]

In our house, we live by each of these phrases, particularly the phrase in the middle.

We are not threatened by equality; we embrace and work towards it. And, those individuals who strive towards equality are truly quality folks we’d like in our circle.

We seek to ensure that all human rights are honoured, particularly amongst and for women and girls.

Black lives matter. Full fucking stop.

Love is love, and it is a thing to behold and celebrate. The day marriage equality became a reality for all in the US was an incredibly happy day for us.

And humans can never be illegal. Their reasons for being undocumented are varied and complex, and largely depend on bureaucracies just as difficult to navigate as their journeys and attempts to escape unnamed or unknown horrors.

Standing up for any one of these principles doesn’t negate us or any of our own struggles nor does it diminish our own worth. In fact, standing up for the rights of others strengthens rights for all and helps to enshrine these principles into our society and community. And, that renders each of us more valuable and our communities more just and inclusive.

Protest Postcard #8 of 50

Intersectionality

Does the intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality really need further explanation?

Spend five minutes on social media and it’s clear that it does.

Perhaps it’s the anthropologist in me, or just a matter of my personality. I’ve long been interested in the interconnection between things, particularly the social constructs we humans use to inform our realities and world views. Specifically, how we decide who represents us versus who we view as them fascinates — and, at times, horrifies — me. But, those intersections and interconnections between categories, which place each us in various positions of privilege or groups to which discrimination and stigma are directed, are also used to divide us by the powers that be.

If we’re fighting one another, we cannot fight them. Hell, we might just miss what exactly they are doing to begin with.

My feminism is one which examines those intersections and attempts to empower those with the least power. It gives voice to the voiceless. Makes visible the invisible. Accepts the unacceptable.

I cannot divorce my ethnicity from my class from my gender from my sexuality. In my world, no one should need to. But, I can and try as much as possible to recognise where I fall along the intersectionality continuum. And, I attempt to work towards minimising the distance between categories along that scale for those less advantaged whilst aiming for the creation of an equitable, just and empowering society for all.

Pro-choice is pro-life

Today’s postcard is perhaps one of the issues that I feel most strongly about since for me it’s connected to just about every other aspect of my life and belief system.

One of the first national-level protests I took part in was the Women’s Rights March in Washington, DC in ’91 or ’92. The reason I took part was because I felt then and still believe today that no one has a right to decide what happens in my uterus or to my body besides me. My physician is naturally involved when medically necessary. And, my husband, of course, is apart of those conversations and discussions. But, the ultimate decisions and consequences are mine and mine alone to make and to bare.

Simply put: this is my body and this is my choice.

And, yet, here we are in 2020 continuing to wage war over women’s rights to do with their bodies what they want.

Women seeking refuge in the US from violence and war in their homelands have had their uteruses literally ripped out of them, forcibly and unknowingly and without their consent. Why? Because they are poor, vulnerable and other. Because they are considered unworthy.

That’s not pro-life — that’s limiting their reproductive freedom, and its tantamount to genocide. Persecuting Muslims because of the actions of some, murdering black and LGBTQI individuals because of racist and sexist and cisgender stereotypes are also not pro-life attitudes.

I am not pro-abortion; I’m pro-choice, because it allows girls and women the ability to make choices which have lasting impacts on their lives. I support allowing women to decide when and how they reproduce as well as how they prevent unwanted and unplanned pregnancies from occurring in the first place. And to me that’s always been a pro-life perspective,since it keeps abortion safe and ultimately protects women and their children from unnecessary harm. But it also allows for the means to prevent unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, thereby diminishing the need for abortion. Isn’t that the point? Minimising the need?

Against abortion? No one is forcing you to have one. Similarly, no one should force me or any woman to have a child she does not want nor feel she can care for. No one should be forced to continue a pregnancy and carry it to term if they do not want to. Women are not (yet) handmaids. I’ll fight like hell to make sure they never become them.

If you consider yourself pro-life, then do you also support and work to protect Muslim women and babies? Immigrants whether documented or not? Refugees? Black lives? And LGBTQI lives?

If the answer to any of those questions was anything other than an unqualified ‘yes’, then you are not pro-life. You are pro-foetus. But, what of that foetus once it is out of the womb? Do you still fight to protect it? Is that life still sacred?

It makes me incredibly angry that we still need to fight for this specific freedom. But I’ll continue fighting, not just for women in the US. But, for women everywhere.

Abortion should be legal. It must remain safe. And, it should be rare. But, that requires freedom for women to make decisions regarding their own reproductive lives.

The real #MarchforLife — Protest Postcard #5 of 50

Health care is a human right

Today’s image from the 50 protest postcards resonates with me for various reasons: some personal, others professional. And, all based on evidence.

I’ve long worked in public health. But, I’ve been an advocate and activist for universal healthcare for all for even longer.

One of the first issues which informed and guided my own political compass was health care. It astounded me then (late ’80s and early ’90s) that the United States was the only developed, high-income country in the world to not have a national healthcare system. It astounds me even more that we continue to occupy that bit of exceptionalism and that the discussions still rage on today in 2020.

I’ve also benefited from living in a country with a well-functioning, high-quality national healthcare system. It’s inconceivable to the average Finn that a resident or citizen wouldn’t be cared for from cradle to grave or that millions face financial ruin or death because they can’t afford the care they need. Or that individuals would need to subsidise and fundraise to afford care when faced with an emergency or life-threatening illness. This reality has become more stark to many in the face of Covid 19.

In the richest country on the planet, in 2020, we spend more on health care per capita than any other country by far, and yet perform worse far poorer countries on just about every single health metric. In fact, the only metric we outperform other countries on is spending.

What good is fantastic care if no one or very few can access it?

I support Medicare 4 All. That said, I’d be happy with a hybrid system, one which features both public and private options because I understand complete change may take time, and be somewhat scary for my fellow Americans.

To me, it makes sense and represents a more humane approach to offer everyone basic, universal healthcare coverage from birth through the end of life. And, if individuals wish to, they may also purchase private insurance and coverage. Choosing between a meal and insulin, a roof or cancer treatment, a tooth extraction or an electric bill should not be a viable or acceptable system. Not for the proclaimed richest nation.

No one should be granted care only because they are privileged enough to afford it. No one should be barred care because they are too poor.

People — all people — will be healthier if they are all able to access the care they need when they need it. And that’s good for all of us.

Postcard #3 of 50.

‘This land was made for you and me’

Today’s image from 50 protest postcards reminded me of the power of music and the simple messages they bring, along with some rather treasured childhood memories.

Amongst all the patriotic songs I learned as a child, this was my favourite.

This land is your land, and this land is my land
From the California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters;
This land was mad for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway;
Saw below me the golden valley;
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
All around me a voice was sounding;
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun come shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was changing:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there,
And on the sign it said, ‘No Trespassing’
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing.
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Woody Guthrie


My grandparents in their retirement afforded me an incredible gift: in addition to their time and love, each summer they took me on journeys across the US to see it all. We’d pick a region and go explore it. Along the way in their ginormous motor home, which was bigger than some flats I’ve lived in as an adult, we’d learn factoids and history about each state we visited, stop in at the visitor’s centres as we crossed state lines to gather key info, and ‘camp’ (or glamp in today’s vernacular) in various national parks.

I didn’t just learn history; that history was situated in a context that included physical places and actual people who take shape in the individuals who populated those places during those summers.

I credit those summers as some of my most treasured family moments (even when I was a total shit). But, also, those journeys instilled in me a deep sense of pride in the rich diversity of the United States, both its geography and its people. Those summers also created a love of the road and adventure, and an understanding that the view from the ground even in parts unknown isn’t so scary. Before moving abroad, I spent a lot of time in national parks camping and exploring as well as simply relaxing and marvelling at how beautiful the US is and how incredibly varied its landscape and people are. And, if I’m completely honest, I miss being there and hitting the road to find some off-the-beaten path dinner with food that taste like nothing I will have had before or since.

Nefarious interests have divided us, far more than I suspect we really are. Those interests have pitted us against one another rather than against those who continue to pilfer and profit from us and from the land upon which we live.

But, I believe still there is room for and a place for us all in our country. And I believe it’s worth protecting and working towards making it more just and more perfect: not just for me or you, but for us all.

And, fundamentally, I believe it is still worth fighting to preserve — the land itself and the institutions designed to foster and establish that more perfect union promised to us all.

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.