Now! Now! Now! or Three years high and rising

What this post is really about is the third annual Rising Tide Conference in New Orleans, set to happen this weekend.

But first I want to talk about a dream I had last week, most of which was forgotten the instant I woke up. The part I do remember has stuck with me ever since, and yes, it is related to Rising Tide, so bear with me.

Ashley Morris was in that dream, the part I remember. I say he was in the dream to emphasize that it was not a dream about Ashley. In the spirit of “a vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend,” let me just say up front:  I never met Ashley, and I intend no misappropriation or trivialization of his memory.  The extent to which I knew him, compared to that of others who knew, loved,  worked and fought alongside, him was fairly slight. It centered around a shared obsession that we two and a few others blogged about for an all too brief bit of time. As it happened, that brief bit of time was at the very end of Ashley’s life, which amplified my experience of knowing him.  In that Internet relationship way of valid but skewed immediacy, our friendship was 5 miles deep and about 3 feet wide.

That said, that slice, that appetizer, of Ashley, was enough to get me hooked. It was strong-tasting stuff, Ashley was nothing if not intense. It was evident even from a distance.  A good man with a big heart and a lot of righteous zeal, and not a little bit of anger at the ready to smite the fucking fuckmook fuckers who betrayed anyone and anything to which he was devoted; he was all that, and a little twisted.

And now that he’s gone, he remains, for me anyway, a symbol. I have one of those iconic pictures of him (taken by his brother-in-arms Ray Shea) tacked on the wall in my office.

Who Dat, originally uploaded by Ray in New Orleans.

I put it up there during a bad patch.  I had to fight my share of fuckmooks this year. It sucked and it earned me no popularity points but I was right, I knew it, and I persevered and ultimately won my tiny little war. That photo, in a little “power corner” with some other totemic objects and images, helped me keep my focus.

The picture also always reminded me of something or someone…I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, then one day I realized what it was. The pose, the striped shirt!  It was Artie. The Strongest Man in the World! from that long-gone gem, The Adventures of Pete and Pete. A more (or less) ordinary looking guy, kind of a spaz really, that just happened to be a superhero, Artie was on the lookout to protect kids everywhere with his odd assortment of superhuman powers. He once helped Pete beat up the Atlantic Ocean, revenge for allowing summer to end.

And that’s what Ashley remains for me, a bit of a legend, an ordinary superhero, a motivator to fight the good fight, to remember that people do have the power, we can be heroes, a call to action.  Which brings me to the dream.

It was one of those tedious dreams full of seemingly pointless details, things I had been worried about in waking life,  which in the dream seemed critically important and loaded with portent, but tedious and neverending at the same time, sort of like a loop of worrying. Then I looked out my window and saw a man in my back yard.  I walked out onto the porch and recognized Ashley. In the dream, I knew he was dead, I assumed he was a ghost, but he looked pretty damned corporeal. He was holding something in his arms, clear in the dream but I can’t remember what it was.  Maybe a child, or a cat or dog?   I ran down the steps toward him, to give him a hug.  As I got closer, from out of nowhere, in the way dream action can happen,  he pulled out a shovel. One of those big square flat ones, for shoveling snow, or manure.  I remember wondering in the slowmotion climax of the dream…just maybe, since he was a ghost, maybe that shovel he was swinging wasn’t really real.

It was.  And he hit me in the face with it.

There wasn’t an iota of real violence or aggression implied, even in the dream.  It was very cartoonlike, ala Coyote and Roadrunner. Or Tom and Jerry. Complete with sound effects.

Then, I woke up.  Entirely appropriate because that’s what I take Ashley’s appearance in the dream to be:  a wake up call.  My subconscious’ way of saying, “Whatever all this is supposed to mean, fuck it. This stuff isn’t what’s important.  Wake the fuck up!”

There’s a Buddhist story about a rich, vain woman seeking enlightenment. She tries all the usual shortcuts, then eventually someone tells her about the inevitable old guru on the top of the mountain. She clambers and climbs up the mountain in her finery and finds herself standing in front a wise old woman.  She begs the old crone for the key to enlightenment.  “Are you sure?” the old woman asked. Of course, the seeker vigorously assures her, she is ready to receive enlightenment.  The crone shrugs, then instantly turns into a screeching demon, shrieking, “Now! Now! Now!”  She chases the terrified pilgrim down the mountain, hollering, “Now! Now! Now!” every step of the way.  The point being that true enlightenment is always right in front of us. Right now is where we can start. Right now, in this minute, there’s much to do.

Which brings me back to Rising Tide.  Katrina hit the Gulf Coast three years ago. To most people going about their lives, sitting in front of their televisions, worrying about their own stuff, the disaster was over after a few weeks, when the water finally went down, when the news cameras left.  In New Orleans, Katrina is still right now. Even after the changes that three years have brought, right now is a disaster. Entire communities disappeared. Families torn apart, spread all over the country. Schools, housing, crime, corruption, failure of government. The levees. The fucking levees, inadequate before, being rebuilt at great cost, still inadequate.

There is much to do now, and when tomorrow and next month, and next year are now, in New Orleans there will still be much to do, and there will still be people in New Orleans doing it. Mostly all by themselves. Ordinary superheroes, like Ashley was, getting up every day and facing now. Some of them are part of the   amazing NOLA blogging community.

Rising Tide started in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding of the city when a small group of New Orleans, La.-based bloggers decided to expand their on-line advocacy for the rebirth of New Orleans into a public event.

Easier said than done, but they did it.  And this year, they’re doing it again. Without Ashley this time —  I’ve heard through the grapevine that his absence has been keenly felt.

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re interested in Internet community, the netroots, online activism. That’s what Rising Tide is about. So, in Ashley’s honor, in his memory, if you haven’t thought much about New Orleans lately, please allow the NOLA bloggers to hit you in the face with a big cartoon shovel.

We will come together to dispel myths, promote facts, share personal testimonies, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels. We aim to be a “real life” demonstration of internet activism as we continue to recover from a massive failure of government on all levels

Especially if you’re not in New Orleans, pay attention to what happens there this weekend, what comes after that.  Watch the videos, bookmark the blog, drop them some cash, go get John Barry’s book, get familiar with the NOLA blogroll. They are on the front lines, hitting the world in the face with their shovels, trying to make it wake up and see that things are not over down in New Orleans.

You’re not going to get this stuff from Anderson Cooper, folks. This is happening right now. Three years high and rising.

Why we keep fighting, Reason #4,561

Via Feministing, an anonymous reader, who happens to be a pharmacist at an unidentified Wal-Mart, brings up a behind-the-pharmacy-counter horror story.

Here’s a bit of background: We have a male pharmacist who works at our store and he is a fundamentalist, Conservative (yes, with a capital ‘C’) Christian. We have 2 female pharmacists and our former manager was male. All of the pharmacy techs at our store are women, ranging in age from 25 to 45, most married/divorced with children.

When Plan B went over the counter a couple of years ago, the Conservative pharmacist brought in a couple of things he had found on ‘pro-life’ websites that said Plan B was an abortifacient. He had talked to our manager at the time about his feelings on the matter and the fact that he didn’t want to dispense Plan B, citing his religious beliefs.

Okay, you say, we’ve heard this story. Guy’s a fruitcake zealot.  One at every pharmacy, right?  Is he the only person behind the counter?  Why, as a matter of fact, he is not.  None of the other pharmacy employees, all women, had a problem with dispensing Plan B.

And neither did the store manager.

And as some of you may already know, Wal-Mart has an official policy for this situation:

Wal-Mart’s official policy, however, is that even if no one in the pharmacy wants to sell Plan B, we have to have it stocked on the shelf.

So, what’s the problem? Emphasis below, mine.

The manager did not have a problem selling it, but he thought that the best thing to do would be to not stock it at all, that way the Conservative pharmacist wouldn’t be put in a situation where he felt compromised.

The women in the pharmacy, despite our political and/or religious beliefs, all agreed that we had no problem selling it, if for no other reason than the fact that there may be a girl or woman who needs Plan B because she has been raped. But this one particular pharmacist has blocked it. We are not allowed to order it, and if some does come in our order from the warehouse, he immediately arranges for it to be sent back to the warehouse. If someone calls asking for Plan B, we’re supposed to say that we’ve run out of stock. Im ashamed to admit that I have told people this, but I do always refer them to one of the many other pharmacies in town (there are literally about 30 others, ranging from small independents to large chains, some that are open 24-hours) that definitely carry it. We had a woman bring in a prescription for her 16-year-old daughter for Plan B, and we had to tell her to go to another pharmacy.


I also wanted to say that it’s not just Plan B that pharmacists will refuse to fill/dispense. There have been 2 specific occasions that I can recall where women have brought in prescriptions for Cytotec (misoprostol) and a pain pill, which is often used when women have had a miscarriage to pass any tissue that may be left. This pharmacist immediately began to question the doctor’s prescription and whether it was being used to cause an abortion.

As truly odious as that last bit is, I still think the real villain in this piece is the manager.  Guy violates a company-wide policy, changes the supply situation, instructs employees to lie, and refuses a vital service to deserving customers.

All this to accommodate one pharmacist w/ a personal religious issue.

Oh, and, in the why-am-I-not-surprised department,

This pharmacist apparently has NO problem dispensing birth control or Viagra/Cialis/Levitra, however.

“All we have to lay on the line”

Consider this a prelude to my Wednesday guest post at First Draft tomorrow.

There are few people on earth I admire more than the small woman in this video. A warrior, growing frailer each year though she may be, Adrienne Rich’s poetry has been, and likely will continue to be, a powerful guiding force for generations (and those yet to come) of women, men, activists, risk takers. Rich read this poem of hers, Transparencies, at a ceremony last year where she and others were honored for being risk takers.

Risk, safety, fear, injury, and courage- of, and by, words and bodies.  This is what’s on my mind. Seeya tomorrow.

Viral… get it?

Give Move On some bucks, and watch a Republican’s head explode.

And hey, holla! to Amber Benson! Tara’s … alive?!!!!

Running for freedom, Year 232

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Music: Mavis Staples

Video by: modernfreedom

Pride 08 Post #10: Trans Equality “in the streets and on Capitol Hill”

Another first-ever! A historic one it is, too.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives held the first Congressional Hearing on transgender issues: “An Examination of Discrimination Against Transgender Americans in the Workplace.” Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ) called the hearing as Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) subcommittee of the Committee on Education and Labor.

From the T-Equality blog:

Listening to the testimony before Congress is an amazing experience. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of jobs and families lost and the pain that transgender people have been through. At the same time, however, it is incredibly liberating to see trans people taking such a powerful stand for our community, speaking directly to members of Congress about the need for employment protections.

On the eve of the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we can reflect on how we’ve come from the days when people of diverse gender expressions fought discrimination with fists and beer bottles. Now we are advocating for ourselves in the halls of Congress. May the work we’re doing now honor those who began the struggle because we need to be in the streets and on Capitol Hill.

Retired U. S. Army Colonel Diane Schroer was among those who testified before the committee. The highly-decorated veteran with a quarter century of experience in counterterrorism for U. S. Special Operations recalled how her job offer as a terrorism research analyst at the Library of Congress was immediately rescinded after she told her future supervisor that she was in the process of gender transition.

In 24 hours, I had gone from a welcome addition to the staff to someone who was “not a good fit” because I was a woman. Hero to zero in 24 hours.

Over at the Blend, Autumn’s first impressions

quenchzine liveblogged it, here and here.

08 Pride Post #3: What stream are we talking about here?

This has been percolating for a while. I think it’s relevant, given the Pride Holiday Season.

A couple months ago, a writer friend was researching an article on women’s music festivals and emailed me with some questions. She’s a married straight woman, has a very successful career, and I knew her to be insightful, intelligent, and probably more sensitive than a lot of people re the various “isms” in America (racism, sexism, etc).

I’m not much of an expert on women’s/womyn’s music festivals, having only ever attended one, so I wasn’t much help with specifics, but we talked about some general things, including why these events so important to so many lesbians. She asked “what is the need for a gay women’s festival at a time when gay women have gone so mainstream?” and cited how “accepted” Rosie, Ellen, Melissa Etheridge, and others have become.

Now as I said, this is a woman I admire and she intended no harm but what she said gave me one of those uber-queer awareness moments, you know? We’ve all had them, turned that corner and walked right into that heteronormative brick wall. Even it was constructed with the best of intentions, it’s still brick.

Which was ironic, since I had obviously internalized that “mainstream” idea to a much greater extent than I would have thought, otherwise what she said would not have impacted me the same way. It was a good reminder that we all have a lot of work to do with respect to those hetero-queer dividing lines.

Anyway, here’s part of my answer to her:

I don’t think any straight person can truly/accurately judge how “mainstream” or accepted GLBTQ people are now.

I have it pretty easy- I can be out at my job, I live in a very hippy-dippy-liberal little arty town where i don’t have to worry about looking too queer, I’m near Austin, which is groovy. Even so, there are dozens of reminders every day that I’m not like most people I am surrounded by.

Some days those are more acute than others. When my ex and I wanted to have a child? Very acute.

When my ex got cancer and had to undergo surgery, hospitalization and treatment? Very acute.

When I go visit my sister who lives in Tom DeLay’s old district east of Houston? Very acute.

When [a mutual friend who is both transgendered and lesbian] called me at 3:30 a.m. after we’d spent a night out in Austin to tell me she’d run out of gas on her way back home, and was stuck on a pitch black country highway outside of LaGrange? Very acute.

When you are “the other” and 98 percent of the people around you aren’t like you ALL THE TIME, it doesn’t much matter what Ellen or Melissa or Rosie are doing.

So yeah, being in a space like a festival, or a pride march, is a rare and exhilarating thing. One thing a lot of people mention and I’ve experienced as well, is the experience of attending a national pride march in Washington DC. Everyone drives in from their various places, then as they near DC, suddenly you see that there are more and more obviously queer/gay people passing you on the turnpike, then it’s every third car, then it’s 75 percent of the people at the rest stop, then it’s more and more and more. Then you’re in the Metro station on the way to the mall, and literally everyone you see is queer, and everyone is silly and exhilarated and high as a kite because this kind of security in numbers, experience as a majority, doesn’t happen very often.

Not trying to get all doctrinaire on you, really. It’s just that I have never once in my life felt like I was in the mainstream of much of anything. And like I said, I have it easier than most.

Just married

“This is an extraordinary moment in history and extraordinary moment in time.”

(Music: It’s Only Time, The Magnetic Fields)

Tonight, in the fullness of spring

I was thinking about this in the Crack Van last night, so trust me, it is not that profound. That said, if we notice them at all, it’s usually the simplest things that we resist the most, or that we dismiss.

Just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy for us.

You are the young people who’ve been inspired for the very first time and those not-so-young folks who’ve been inspired for the first time in a long time.

There has been much criticism of Obama that focused on his “pretty speeches,” dismissed his masses of supporters as kool-aid drinkers, claimed his oratory was no substitute for substance and experience.

I know, Christ we all know, that American governance has become a hardball, lowdown wrestling match of brawn and exquisitely orchestrated greed. And we all know also that like calls to like. Greed rewards greed and the thug life is engineered such that only thugs can win.

And for the past decade, we’ve been given one message, over and over and over. It’s been called many things and described in a thousand euphemisms and disguised in a hundred different government programs, but it’s the same message that’s been repeated to us, the citizens of this country:

Suck on it.

We’ve been deliberately and painstakingly conditioned to be cynical and dispirited and complacent. No one in this administration gives a rat’s ass that Bush stumbles and slurs and tap dances his way through another press conference, that every speech and interview is just a succession of nervous tics and malapropisms. They don’t care any more than anyone cared when your principal would stammer through the morning announcements over the school intercom. No one in this administration wants us to be inspired. If they want anything from us, it’s our disinterest.

And in truth, we know the Dems in power have been conditioned to lead the same way. What else explains Reid and Pelosi the last two years? They got handed a mandate and they opened the top drawer of their desks and stuffed it inside, then went down the hall to play the game like the game is played. And we sucked on it some more.

Clinton reads her way through her campaign speeches and drinks the boilermakers and panders to the apathetic and the tired. She wants to win the game like the game is played. No one can argue that she lacks that experience. We recognize it in her and she knows it and she reminds us she is tested and ready.

The pundits were talking on the television last night about those Americans, the one that vote for Hillary and say that they’ll defect to McCain when she loses the nomination. We laughed in the van when they said that there were people who didn’t know Obama, didn’t recognize him as something they might want. It’s true, though.

We are so risk averse in this country, so afraid to settle on something that might not be the right thing, we hedge our every fucking step. Drive giant tank SUVs so we can walk away from unforeseen disasters, watch picture-in-picture televisions so we don’t miss what’s on the other channels. We do not like the unknown, we guard against every possible contingency. We assume any choice might be the wrong one, so we don’t choose anything, really. We do not trust the world around us. We do not trust ourselves. We have seldom been asked to do so by the current administration. We’ve been asked instead to be afraid, and then we were told outright, over and over, that we must be afraid. And as if there wasn’t enough in the real world to fear, they invented and hyped new stuff and force fed it to us, straight into our lizard brain.

And we sucked on it.

So here we are. There are plenty of us, including Clinton voters and for that matter, Republicans and Independents, who are weary and beat down and ready for change. The thing is, people want the change to be quantifiable and recognizable, they want to know what they are getting into before they jump. They want their change to look familiar and welcoming, and above all, safe. And if possible, easy.

The thing is, we are miles past that being able to happen. We are so far past safe and easy that it would take the light from safe and easy decades and decades to reach us. Taking our country back is not going to be safe and it certainly isn’t going to be easy and it’s going to take a long time.

We need inspiration to make those changes, not fear. We need leaders that make us feel bigger, stronger, not useless and insignificant. There are valid, time-honored uses for incantation and ritual, for what some call preaching and prayer, for inspiration.

This is not some romantic, kool-aid influenced daydream, nor is it business as usual. The time for either of those is past.

Weekend Warrior

“Wow. Wow. Wow.”


NTodd was on the ground at the Portland rally. See his photos.

Also, an interview with Gore Vidal @ UKTimes:

I ask if he thinks Obama has a similar charisma to that of John F Kennedy, whom Vidal got to know because he was related to his wife, Jackie.

“I never believed in Jack’s charisma,” Vidal says shortly. JFK, he believes, was “one of our worst presidents”; Bobby, his brother, was “a phoney, a little Torquemada”; and their father, Joseph, was “a crook – should have been in jail”.

So much for Camelot. “But Jack had great charm,” he adds. “So has Obama. He’s better educated than Jack. And he’s been a working senator. Jack never went to the office – he wanted the presidency and his father bought it for him.”

Not surprisingly, Vidal has no love for McCain:

His views on the man the Democratic candidate will have to beat are even more brutal than his views on Hillary: “ You could beat McCain! I’ve never met anyone in America who has the slightest respect for him. He went to a private school and came bottom of his class. He smashed up his aeroplane and became a prisoner of war, which he is trying to parlay into ‘war hero’.”

In his view, McCain is “a goddamned fool. He was on television talking about mortgages, and it was quite clear he does not know what a mortgage is. His head rattles as he walks”

Photo: Reuters