Why I Marched

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The election was a gut punch for me. It hit me hard and the future felt dark. I heard about the Women’s March on Washington later that week and knew I had to go. It felt like an imperative to me.

I shared that plan with a friend when we were taking a cooking class last November. What had been planned to be a fun evening ended up being a somber discussion about the state of the country and the impact the election had on each of us. I told India that I was planning to go to the march because it was a tangible way to demonstrate how I felt about the president-elect and the plans he was laying out for our country. She said she had been feeling too down to even think about it, but might consider going.

After the class, she told me about how her husband’s family, who are Japanese Americans, had already experienced comments of discrimination, telling them in Trump’s America, they should go back to where they belong. Their family has been in the US for generations and already endured the internment camps during WWII. A few days later, she texted me and said I’d better be serious about going to DC because she was now committed. Her sisters-in-law were on board and if I wanted, I had a place to stay with them in Philadelphia. I reserved my flight that day.

I didn’t hit me until about the week before just how big the march had become. The numbers expected in DC were several hundred thousand – and there were marches in almost every major city. I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the outpouring of frustration and resistance that was generating this very unified reaction. This was bigger than me being pissed off. This was bigger than a few women who felt compelled to stand up. This was a movement on a massive scale. And I was thrilled to think I’d be a part of it.

One thing to know about me – I hate crowds. I hate them because I have enough claustrophobia that I find them overwhelming. I avoid them whenever possible, and for me to voluntarily sign up for something that involves a boatload and half of people is really out of my comfort zone. That’s how much this march mattered to me.

My trip east was through Chicago. I started to see pink hats at O’Hare and realized that flights directly to DC were packed with women. Since I was staying in Philadelphia and taking a Rally bus into the capital, there were fewer on my plane. But the fact was clear – people were mobilizing. I felt encouraged and uplifted. I arrived at my hosts’ home and immediately felt welcome. They’d been making signs to carry – the group consisted of 6 of us ranging in age from 73 to 33 and included Americans of Japanese,  Chinese, and  European descent. We were all there to say we weren’t OK with policies and plans the new administration intends to enact.

For me, I was there because I can speak up. I don’t fear my government because I have been privileged all my life. There are other voices, however, who don’t feel that same way. I intend to stand up for any voice that feels threatened or marginalized or at risk. That means people from every walk of life and interest. I will not sit by while groups are targeted and think “well, that’s not me, so I’m OK…” The time to speak up is now.

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The march itself started out for me at 4:30 a.m. We had to be at the bus by 5:15, as I’d volunteered to be a bus captain. That meant helping to get the buses loaded and then be a point of contact as needed. We had 45 people on our bus and we were the lightest of the 5 buses that left that part of Philadelphia. In all, 1400 buses were expected in DC. The ride there was about 2.5 hours and we arrived at RFK stadium about 9 a.m. From there, we walked to the Armory metro station and headed into town. The crowd was thick getting into the station and the trains were packed, but everyone was cooperative and helpful.

We got off at the Federal Center stop and walked toward 6th street. Once there, we saw the crowds and heard the speakers, so we moved in as close as we could. We ended up standing in a section where pea patches had been set up, so we made sure to not stand on the plants. After listening to several of the speakers, including Gloria Steinem, we decided to move and we headed back toward 6th street. This was harder than expected, as the crowd was shoulder to shoulder and moving through them was an effort. We decided to look for a toilet and ended up at L’Enfant plaza where there was a little more breathing room.

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Everywhere we went, there were marchers. And to a person, they were helpful, supportive, and positive. Even with all the people, there was no time where I felt concerned about safety (other than the sheer volume of people). We ended up heading toward the American Association of University Women, as they’d offered their offices as a place to step out of the crowds for a break. Once there, we were able to use their restrooms, recharge phones, have some snacks and watch a live stream of the event. We watched several speakers from there, including Maxine Waters. She was amazing. We left AAUW to head back toward the rally and meet up with Anna. We had lunch with her and as we left the restaurant, we saw the rally had finally begun moving – and it was coming right toward us. We joined in and marched from I street all the way down Massachusetts to where it finally petered out at about Union Station. People were cheering us on, the marchers were chanting and waving. I had an overpowering feeling of ‘this is what it’s all about’.

At the end of it all, the count was almost half a million people there in DC with us. There was a women’s march on every continent around the world – 600 marches in 57 countries. An estimated total of 5 million people marched – and in the US, the marches were in cities everywhere, almost 470 cities spread throughout the country, not on the coasts as you might hear from some news outlets. This was a global movement and the marches were only the beginning. Activism is alive and well and something that will continue on. I know it will for me.

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Everywhere we went, people were exuberant. The pink hats were a common theme, along with some of the best collection of homemade signs. It was great fun to read what people had put together. I used one that was created by local artists from Kirkland and added another from NOW on rights for LGBTQIA. The march was a pot pourri of ideas and issues, but that’s what made it great. The metro workers were kind and helpful, the police and National Guard waved and supported us, the atmosphere was rich with positive energy. I thought to myself at one point that I needed to soak it up like sunshine to sustain me in the dark, cold days ahead. This resistance is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m in training to make it to the end.

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We arrived back in Philadelphia at 9:30 p.m. and I was exhausted – still buzzing, but bone tired. I had to fly out the next morning, and slept soundly knowing I’d done my part. My trip home was great – I saw lots of women in both the Philadelphia and Chicago airports and connected with them, sharing stories and our enthusiasm. One woman asked me to sign her poster – she was an artist and was trying to gather as many signatures as possible. She was taking the poster back to an art gallery outside of Chicago to hang on the wall. I was thrilled to add my name to the board.

Stepping out of my comfort zone was rewarding. I spent 32 hours travelling and was in DC for about 9 hours. It was a whirlwind trip, but I helped make history. And I will keep working to effect change however I can – and I do it because of what I believe in, for the people I love and for those whose voices need to be heard. This is just the beginning. I have been reactivated and I will not stand by quietly.

To all the people who marched on January 21 and to all who will stand up for the right things when the time comes, I salute you.

Starfish

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One of our family stories from my childhood is about a trip I made to Portland with my dad when I was just a little thing, maybe 3 or 4. I only have fuzzy memories of the trip. What I remember most is the retelling of the tale every time we crossed the Columbia River heading south into Portland.

The way my dad told the story, I was taking swimming lessons at the Y and they’d taught me to float by doing the Starfish. A Starfish was basically a dead man’s float, where you put your arms and legs out and float on top of the water. I was really proud of that accomplishment and I remember feeling competent and very grown up.

While we were going across the river, my dad asked me if I thought I could swim across that large stretch of water. As a fairly serious child, I looked down at it, gauging its size and considering the question. I said I wasn’t sure I could swim it yet, but I was pretty sure I could starfish across it. In my dad’s retelling, he always got a good laugh at my seriousness, my determination, and my strategy for how I would succeed. It made me both proud and a little embarrassed as he chuckled at my 4 year old confidence. To this day, I can’t cross the Columbia River into Oregon without thinking about that story with a smile. It’s a piece of my dad that lives on in my heart.

The other day, as I was determined to do something all by myself, my husband offered to help. I told him I just needed to prove that I could do it alone and he replied, “Of course you do, Starfish.” And I stopped – he’d never called me that before, but somehow, in that moment it fit. And I smiled. And couldn’t stop smiling. It was a link back to that childhood story that had been passed on to our kids, and it made me feel close to my father again.

The truth is, I am still that very determined little girl. I consider my strengths, my options, and my strategy when I take something on. I don’t like to fail (see Random Facts About me here) and being careful about what I take on helps me ensure success. That doesn’t mean I haven’t take a run at some pretty wild things in the past, but for the most part, I utilize my very rational thought process as I approach something that seems to be difficult or unwieldy.

As I look at the future and the challenges ahead, I plan to continue to be a Starfish. It will be my warrior name as I take on the self-imposed role of truth teller, light shiner, and torch bearer for hope. I will be tenacious in my resolve to stand up for what is right, to protect those who need protecting, and to take action instead of being passive. I have been awakened from a state of comfort that I know is not going to return. And I intend to add my voice to the mix whenever I can, speaking up clearly and logically. I will use facts, data, and verifiable sources to ensure I am not a part of sharing propaganda. I will hold myself accountable to do my homework as I expect others to. I will not live in an echo chamber of my own making, but I will seek out information and make my own conclusions. I will Starfish the HELL out this thing and make it through.

I think about that little girl (most likely riding in the front seat with my dad, without a seat belt going 70 miles an hour on the interstate…) and I want to feel that kind of certainty and confidence. I can do this. I’ve always known I am capable and now is the time to practice what I preach and get busy.

Critical Thinking – 5 Easy Steps

think

crit·i·cal think·ing

noun
noun: critical thinking
  1. the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

Five easy steps to critical thinking and reading critically

Now more than ever, it matters that we all think critically and apply that to what information we ingest. In light of recent exposure of false news being shared that has had an impact on national elections, believing everything we read comes with extreme consequences. To that end, I am more convinced than ever that one thing I can do is to apply what I learned in my schooling about reading critically.

The internet is a source of a lot of information and misinformation. A data point from meetings I attended this week – over 90% of the content that is on the Internet has been created in the past 2 years. It will continue to proliferate and grow, making it harder and harder to filter and fact check. We all want to believe that what we read is true, but that can’t be the case. To quote my mom (and many others), fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.

Here are my suggestions – I’m sure there are many others, but I wanted to keep this brief. Feel free to add your own to the list.

  1. Read broadly. If you only get your news from a single source, you run the risk of getting tunnel vision.
  2. If a topic or story seems ludicrous, fact check it. Look at other sites to see if they are reporting it as well. Select sites that have conflicting views and see how it’s being reported from their perspective.
  3. Know who is behind your news. Look at who the publishers and editors are – you can very quickly get a sense of bias or point of view by doing this. Many media sources use names in ways that make them seem like other sources – this can be intentional or not, but it is important to understand what you are reading and who is sharing it.
  4. If you find yourself only ever saying “Yeah – that’s my kind of news” you are probably in an echo chamber. News that is based on the basic journalistic principle of “Who, What, Where, Why, and How” will often give you news that makes you uncomfortable because it runs counter to your personal beliefs or bias.
  5. Synthesize what you read – get the various sources, look for themes, and then THINK. I can’t stress this enough. News should not tell you how to think or feel. It should inform and you need to draw your own conclusions. It’s why I stopped watching any local or network news. I can’t abide being told how I should feel or think. I use my brain every day to do this. The minute I stop, I become part of the problem. And that’s not OK with me.

Why Women Rock

Twain Quote

In my “About Me” section on this here blog, I have a list of 25 Things About Me. Number 5 on that list is “I sometimes think that I relate better to males than females but I wouldn’t revoke my membership in the sisterhood for anything. Women rock.” and that sums up my thinking about my women friends to a tee. I have some amazing women friends and I count myself lucky to be in their company.

Some of these women have known me since I was a child – Laurie J. and I met in second grade. Lori M. and I were college roommates. Others are from high school, college, various jobs I’ve had along the way in my career – but all of them have a singular theme: With these women, I have given up pretense. I am my true self, imperfections and all. That is why they are so meaningful to me.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure (and it really was just plain old fun) to spend a weekend in Coronado with 23 women from my college days at Stanford. Some I knew really well. Some I was just meeting that weekend. But the fun part was we could all be ourselves and show up at breakfast in PJs or running clothes or fully decked out and ready for the day and be equally accepted. It’s the best feeling in the world to be with people who just let you be you.

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This group has been doing this in one form or another for over 25 years. It was something that started as people realized seeing each other only every 5 years at a reunion wasn’t going to cut it. Now it happens when someone plans the weekend, not on a set schedule. Sometimes it is only a handful of women going somewhere truly exotic – but at the core, it is this bond of familiarity that keeps people coming back.

My first outing with the group was white water rafting in Oregon about 15 years ago. Lori invited me and I figured it was a great way to spend a few days with her, never really factoring in the rest of the group. I had a great time with everyone and I felt comfortable being in their company. I remember one trip to Lake Tahoe a few years later where I was really struggling with my sister’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and had a very heartfelt, honest conversation with one of the women there who happens to be a doctor. Her compassion and truth touched me deeply – and helped me prepare for what was ahead in a way I might never have been able to do.

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When we get together, there is always laughter and stories and wine and food. We are a loud group to be around, but the kind of group you look at and think “I’ll have what they’re having.” We just have fun. We talk about kids and work and parents and challenges and successes – no subject is off the table. And your feelings are always allowed.

This particular group includes some amazingly accomplished women – doctors, lawyers, finance professionals, education professionals, stay at home moms – it’s a cross section of talent. This diversity means you get some really different perspectives and ideas. I have loved seeing how conversations ebb and flow when I am with these women. And following one get together, someone shared this article, an excerpt of which is below. Apparently, we’re not the only ones to believe in the power of female friendship.

A friend of a friend wrote last summer that she just finished taking an evening class at Stanford. The last lecture was on the mind-body connection – the relationship between stress and disease. The speaker (head of psychiatry at Stanford) said, among other things, that one of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman, whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends.

At first everyone laughed, but he was serious.

Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences.

Physically this “quality girlfriend time” helps us to create more serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well-being.

Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities. They rarely sit down with a buddy and talk about how they feel about certain things or how their personal lives are going. Jobs? Yes. Sports? Yes. Cars? Yes. Fishing, hunting, golf? Yes. But their feelings? Rarely.

Women do it all of the time. We share from our souls with our sisters/mothers, and evidently that is very good for our health. He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym.

There’s a tendency to think that when we are “exercising” we are doing something good for our bodies, but when we are hanging out with friends, we are wasting our time and should be more productively engaged – not true. In fact, he said that failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking!

Talking with a girlfriend is as good as going to the gym? Sign me up.  In another article sent by one of this last gathering’s attendees focuses on the value of women friends as we grow older. It’s safe to say I don’t need any convincing at this point – I know the power of these friendships first hand. They have held me up through all the slings and arrows of life’s misfortune and cheered me on when I was riding high.

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I have women friends that I do weekends away with who are from earlier in my life and we can pick up where we left off in a heartbeat. It’s comforting to be with people who know your whole story and see you for not just who you are today, but that younger woman you once were. That makes me feel connected in a way that is truly special. It’s something I realized I really missed when I lost my parents and sister – these women know me through and through. As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I know it matters to be fully known by someone else.

I’ve often thought that I would love to be able to gather all the women who are special to me in one place for a Grand Salon – to have them mix and mingle with the sole purpose to be to bond with each other and become a larger support system. That may have to stay a dream, but I think it might be time for me to at least plan the next weekend adventure.

I remember my mom talking about “the girls” when she would plan an afternoon of bridge or a lunch at our house. These women were from her younger days, the mysterious time of her life when she wasn’t just our mother, but her own person. Those girls have all passed away, but mom kept her female friends going strong until her own death. She must have figured all this out long ago.

I plan to follow her example and so to my dear friends, old and new – thank you for being in my life, thank you for all you have shared with me, and thank you for letting me be me. Every single one of you rock.

 

50 Happy Things for 2015: Bloggers Unite in Flood of Gratitude

Me, at the beginning

Me, at the beginning

Me, today

Me, today

 

 

 

50 Things I’m Grateful For

LIFE
1. For the gift of life itself, thanks Mom & Dad!
2. Being alive – for my health
3. For learning to live with my limitations but not being defined by them
4. Being loved and loving others
5. My senses – being able to smell, see, taste, touch and hear all the wonders around me
6. My heart – for feeling things, for beating every second of every day
7. Freedom to choose my life’s path
8. Being told I could be anything I wanted to be and believing it
9. Taking the time to relish simple and pure moments
10. Safety – I don’t take that for granted
11. My home – and for feeling warm and cozy on a cold night.
12. My garden – for healing my wounds when I need it mostgarden
13. For learning when to say enough; for knowing when to keep trying.

 

 

 

FAMILY & FRIENDS
14. For my parents again, for being wonderful examples of how to live a good life
15. For my brothers and sisters – my first tribe and my support system
16. For my children, for being my heart and soul3 Amigos
17. For my first husband, for the gift of our two oldest children
18. For my husband, for staying the course and working toward true partnership; for our shared history
19. For my very best friend in the entire universe (the world just wasn’t big enough), Lori. You know why.
20. For my dear friends who hold me up and smack me down when I need it most. Thank you all.
21. For the family I’ve created along the way – those people who are a part of my life and history
22. My pets. My life is enriched by them daily, in spite of the shedding, the puking, the scratching – they are true and loyal and pure love
23. For my memories – all the people who have come and gone from my life, leaving behind their imprint, some large and some small. My life is better for having known them.
24. For our family reunions each Labor Day – they are an anchor in my life and my story
25. For becoming more compassionate with age and knowing how much each of us carry with us as we go through life

EXPERIENCES
26. My upbringing in a chaotic, action packed household – it shaped me and made me resilient.
27. My education and love of learning – I can’t imagine what I’d be like without that
28. Spending four years at Stanford. What an amazing place and what amazing people I met while there. I am still pinching myself about that time.
29. My time as a mother – something I thought I wasn’t going to be very good at, but the single thing that has made me a much better person.
30. My work – my accidental career in technology, as an entrepreneur, and mostly as a mentor to others. I have enjoyed it more than I ever imagined.
31. Living in the Northwest surrounded by some of the most beautiful places in the whole world. How lucky is that?
32. Learning to arrange flowers – who knew this would be a passion?
33. My recommitment to being a writer and the courage to say it out loud.
34. Travel – what a joy that has been – seeing the world, being in places I’d only dreamed of being.Slano
35. Sports – I can’t go through this whole list without that! They are a central part of my life experiences, as a player, as a coach, as a fan.
36. Reading – this is my daily vice; I can’t imagine a world without books to read.
37. Helping others. Nothing makes me happier than when I put others first to be of service.

MISCELLANEOUS

38. Coffee…it is a daily pleasure
39. Chocolate…no longer daily, but still something to savor
40. Creating things – food, art, a garden – these are the small creations that make life a joyIMG_00000425
41. Seeing the sunrise or sunset and being reminded that beauty is everywhere
42. Taking the time to walk barefoot in sand or grass and remembering the miles I ran barefoot as a child
43. Seeing a smile on a relative’s face who has become the spitting image of my grandmother or aunt who are no longer with us
44. Continuing to learn and stretch my mind
45. Relaxed moments of companionship, whether with people, a good book, or my furry friends
46. For the rain and the good it does the earth
47. For the sun, which is so welcome after the rain
48. For the ground, for what grows is both beautiful and essential to life
49. For believing that miracles can happen and that sometimes the impossible can be achieved.
50. For Life. I’ve now come full circle.

Thanks to Dawn Quyle Landau at Tales From the Motherland for initiating this!  You can find other bloggers’ posts here.  To participate, follow these rules and then click on the Blue Frog Guy below.

If you’d like to join in, here’s how it works: set a timer for 10 minutes; timing this is critical. Once you start the timer, start your list (the timer doesn’t matter for filling in the instructions, intro, etc). The goal is to write 50 things that made you happy in 2015, or 50 thing that you feel grateful for. The idea is to not think too hard; write what comes to mind in the time allotted. When the timer’s done, stop writing. If you haven’t written 50 things, that’s OK. If you have more than 50 things and still have time, keep writing; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! When I finished my list, I took a few extra minutes to add links and photos.

To join us for this project: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste the instructions from this post, into yours) 2) Click on the blue frog at the very bottom of this post. 3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. 4) Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List. Please note: the InLinkz will expire on January 15, 2015. After that date, no blogs can be added.

Please note that only blog posts that include a list of 50 (or an attempt to write 50) things that made you feel Happy or 50 things that you are Grateful for, will be included. Please don’t add a link to a post that isn’t part of this exercise; I will remove it. Aside from that one caveat, there is no such thing as too much positivity. Share your happy thoughts, your gratitude; help us flood the blogosphere with both!

May your holidays be filled with happiness and gratitude!

http://www.inlinkz.com/new/view.php?id=592585

 

April 28 – A Tribute to my Father

When Jan was born she was so small my father could cradle her in one hand. He told us this story with reverence and awe, even 30 years after the fact. My sister was a premie before it was a given she’d live. She was my parents’ first child, their longed for baby, and they were scared. But she was determined to make it and she fought and she thrived and lived her life fully. The image of my father’s hands protecting her with love endured in my mind. His hands were big enough to hold us all, even when we were all fully grown. He was a good dad that way.

One of my favorite memories of my dad were his pajama adventures. He would load us older kids (3 or 4 of us) and take us out for a drive in the station wagon after we’d put on our pajamas. It wasn’t every night nor was there a common destination, but he made every trip seem like the most fun thing we’d ever done. He’d tell us stories and ask us riddles or on the really special nights, there was a stop for ice cream. At home, our mother could focus on getting the baby to bed without the noise and disruption of the rest of us bouncing around the house.

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I’m the youngest child in this photo.

As a parent, I see now what his real motive must have been; however, as a child, it was dad at his best – all ours for that special time. His stories weren’t like mom’s – his were more dark and a little scary, full of personalization – we starred in them and they seemed so much more real that way. He did all the voices and had us laughing in spite of any worries.

Today marks his 87th birthday. He’s been gone almost 3 years, which is still hard to believe. He is alive in my thoughts and  memories and his hand is still there, protecting us all. I held his hand when he left his life and held Jan’s when she left hers. I stood in as his proxy, knowing he would be there if he could.

I still feel him behind me knowing that sometimes his hand is there to help and other times to motivate me. He loved me like no other and always wanted the best for me – and wanted me to aim for the best for myself as well. I was lucky to have him on my side. On his birthday, I’m sharing a little bit of him with you.

Flash Friday Fiction

Photo Courtesy of Lubyanka

Union Station, Washington DC – Photo Courtesy of Lubyanka

I passed through Union Station in DC last June on my way to meet with our state’s representatives and senators.  It is a monument to both change and endurance.  The activity level is steady, as passengers embark and disembark in droves – 40 million each year.  The building continues to serve as a hub of busy business into its second century.  It could be seen as the heart of our nation’s capital – or at least a part of the circulatory system!

Word Count: 102

Soldiering On

I rise from the basement where the Metro station is located, footsore and weary.  Like being born anew, I emerge from a narrow tunnel into the light, the heat, the frenzy that is DC in session.  Blinking, I adjust to this new world, steeling myself for action.

I carry with me facts and figures, details to persuade, cajole, and encourage my legislators to continue funding cancer research.  What they cannot see are the hearts I carry with me.  Father, mother, sister – I am their standard bearer, their voice, advocating for those who can no longer speak.

Time to soldier on.

Please check out the links to all the other Flash Friday Fictioneers, which can be found here.

© Erin Leary