I have felt nauseous for two days, a feeling that’s pretty unusual for me since I stopped eating gluten over ten years ago. It’s pretty rare that I have any stomach issues, to be honest, and when I first started feeling off, i instantly began running through what I’d eaten in the last 24 hours in an effort to figure it out.
Since a week ago, I’ve been careful about what I look at on social media. I needed to step back from the Kavanaugh hearings because of some difficulties in my life that were closer, more personal. And frankly, I had noticed that even seeing the ubiquitous photos of his angry, red, yelling face in every other Facebook post made my chest constrict uncomfortably.
Angry men are frightening
I don’t know if that’s something they know and use as a tool, but for most women and girls, male anger is tremendously upsetting. Men in our culture are taught to translate their anger and frustration in to physical outlets – hitting, throwing, slamming, shooting.
And yesterday, Lola and I got on a plane to fly across the country to visit Eve who is in her first year of college. I couldn’t afford to be angry or rage-filled or incapacitated by grief. I was filled with joy at the thought of being in her presence again, the presence of both of these young women who love each other and make each other laugh. We travel together well, easing in to activities and rest with comfort, somehow managing each others’ desires without fighting.
I woke up nauseous again, desperately pleading with the Universe to help me be 100%, to feel ok, to be able to enjoy my girls this weekend. Before my feet touched the floor, I took a deep breath and tried to pinpoint the feeling of unease and when it became clear that it wasn’t inside me, but surrounding me, I finally acknowledged it. I am receiving the energy of others outside me – the overwhelming despair and rage and fury of women everywhere who know they can’t stop this confirmation despite all our efforts.
Lola and Eve politely waited until I’d hugged Eve to fall in to each others’ arms and stay there for a minute. Little do they know that while I loved hugging Eve myself, witnessing the two of them resting together, holding each other up, was the biggest gift. My heart is full.
Not far in to the day, things turned. The ride to breakfast was a bumpy one and Lola felt carsick. Eve wanted to know what the plan was after breakfast. The weather forecast was horrid – humid and thunderstorms. The wait for breakfast seemed interminable. They exchanged (quiet) sarcastic words and there were tears. As we sat at the table, the girls ignoring each other on their phones, I remembered family trips where our parents were angry with us for being “spoiled brats.”
We are spending money to bring you to this place and have a vacation, an adventure, and you repay us by bickering and complaining? Knock it off right now or you can forget about us taking you on any more trips.
I nearly laughed out loud, knowing that I could never say something like that to my girls. Not only would they think I’d been inhabited by some alien life form, but I know better. The very air is tainted right now, with anger and frustration and despair. And we are all entitled to feel overwhelmed, sad, confused, upset.
We soldiered on. And many hours later, as we sat eating lunch, our phones all pinged with the notification that Kavanaugh had been confirmed by the Senate. And I was reminded that what we are learning is valuable. We are learning, over and over again, that the solutions we can come up with within the paradigm of the current system are limited.
Had I threatened the girls, made them feel small and embarrassed, it might have made them less likely to express their frustrations outwardly, behave slightly better in public, but it wouldn’t have addressed the root of the issues. Had I dug in to the “root” of the issues, things would likely have gotten a lot worse in the short term (and they probably would have both turned on me instead of being angry with each other). Those were tactics my parents used. My tactic shifted – I created a new system. I decided that since I’m the grownup here, I would trust my girls to let me know if they needed my help sorting out their emotions, and in the meantime, I would forge ahead, doing what I thought would make me happy. We headed to a burgeoning neighborhood and wandered through bookstores, thrift shops, stationery stores. I stopped to pet an adorable puppy, mused about birthday gifts for my nieces, begged Lola to try on an outrageously gorgeous, outrageously tiny pantsuit that she looked phenomenal wearing. By lunch time, we were doing ok. Good, even. And when I suggested we head back to the hotel so Eve could have a hot bath (there’s no tub in her dorm, so it’s been a long time since she had a therapeutic soak), Lola could chill by herself and watch TV, and I would head to the lobby and write, there were huge smiles all around.
Protesting, signing petitions, calling our representatives, those are all things we do to address the problems within the system. And I’m certainly not saying that those efforts are useless. But it’s the system itself that allows for these things to happen. The system that was created by white men for white men will always benefit white men. We need to get rid of that system. We need to dismantle (smash? burn?) the set of rules and mores that keep us small and compliant. We need to get a lot more comfortable imagining what a different paradigm would look like – one that is created for all of us – and work vigorously toward that end. Especially those of us who have benefited a great deal from this system, by playing by the rules and excusing the white men who make those rules.
It won’t be easy. And it won’t be comfortable. But we can’t make substantive changes within this system that will end up benefitting all of us. While I am still furiously angry that Kavanaugh was confirmed, there is a tiny sense of relief in that now I know that this fire will forge steel. Should we still work our asses off to get out the vote in November? Absolutely! When we take back the House, should we start impeachment proceedings on Kavanaugh and Drumpf? First. Fucking. Order. Of. Business.
And then, we should not rest. We should not think we’ve won. Small victories within this broken, broken system are not enough. We have to burn this SOB down.
It is not like a rock in your shoe – rolling free in the arch where you can’t feel it until it somehow lodges beneath your heel and annoys you. It’s not like that. That is a memory from when I was seven and a neighbor kid stole my new bike. Pissing me off decades later, but really just an annoyance.
This is sexual assault.
The fact that I couldn’t sleep last night from the ache in my lower back. It’s not some metaphor or literary device – it’s the seat of my shame, of my pain, of my sexual assault. This is where it lives in me, dormant until triggered. Once released, it is overwhelming.
It is why I cannot watch the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee because that feels like drinking castor oil when you have the flu. Why would I want to make myself puke even more?
It is why, even though I’m not watching, I can’t stop crying.
It is why I took the dogs for a very long walk this morning; because movement makes me feel better – gives me the illusion that I am not trapped like I once was, or twice, or three times. Outside, headed for the park, at least I’m not in the car with my boss groping me – unable to get away because we’re on the highway and I’m buckled in and I need that job. At least I’m not in the dark back bedroom at the babysitter’s house, floating away in my mind while her 17-year old son does what he does to my 8-year old body.
There is a war between my bones and my mind that I cannot reconcile.
My mind wants me to tell, to release the stories, to join the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport movements – to add to the ground swell. It knows the power of story. It says it will make a difference.
My bones push back. They know that telling is not a guarantee of release. That doing so is not like picking that small rock out of my shoe and flinging it away. These stories will always be with me. They are a virus.
There is another part of me, a part whose name I don’t know, that is enraged. This part of me, she is furious at the idea that more stories will get us to some tipping point – that there is some magical number of reported rapes and molestations and assaults that will flip a switch, turn the tide, change the cultural narrative. She wonders why we have to continue to rip our scars open and present them to others to be believed. SHE IS ANGRY BECAUSE WE NEED THEM TO BELIEVE US. Because it means that we are captive again – trapped until they “believe” us and release us. Because it reinforces the power differential.
The stories live within us. Always.
It is why some of us drink too much, because numb is better sometimes.
It is why some of us cut ourselves, because the idea of release is so tempting.
It is why others deny themselves food or eat too much, because anything we can do to be in control of our own physical bodies feels like taking back power.
It is why some of us talk and talk and talk when we tell our stories, to still the questions waiting to tumble from your lips. Believe me, we’ve asked ourselves those questions over and over again and we still don’t have the answers. Because the answer lies outside us – with the perpetrators – while the pain lives inside.
And yet, no recounting of the story will matter if you’re not listening. If you are only waiting to turn this in to a philosophical debate or thought experiment, our stories will never matter, because your “What ifs” (she is lying/he was drunk/she was drunk/this is a setup/he thought he had consent/you’re not remembering right) are about you and your discomfort with our stories. Turning it in to a “conversation” means you’re not willing to listen to our lived experience. And if you’re uncomfortable with the details hitting your ears, imagine how we feel with them living in our bones.
|The Earth seen from Apollo 17. Wikimedia Commons|
Tuesday night, I joined a room full of people of all different faiths to talk about how we can help the immigrants in our community – both the ones in the local federal detention center and those in our midst who have been living here and working here for months, years, sometimes decades. It was an amazing gathering with people of all ages and religions and backgrounds, and some of the individuals who have direct experience as immigrants were asked to share their stories.
While this meeting came up as an effort to build a Rapid Response Network to meet the needs of families separated at the border, it was also acknowledged that the immigrants who are living here are not safe from ICE, either. While I knew that, the stories I heard shook me.
One Somalian woman spoke about her experience translating for another Somali woman – a mother of four children who immigrated to this country via Kenya after the death of her husband. She came her with her four kids to try and build a new life for all of them and secure some sort of future in a land not plagued by war or drought. She knew that if she stayed home, she and her children would be in jeopardy. They’ve been here for more than ten years, integrated into the community, part of it. One day, not too long ago, she received a frantic phone call from her teenage son. He had been picked up on the light rail with a group of other teens (also Somalian) and instantly moved to a federal detention center in Tacoma. They were told that they would be sent back to Somalia the next morning on a plane that was already full. ICE had performed a set of raids specifically to round up Somalians in the area and send them back. This young man has been in the US since he was two years old. He doesn’t speak Somalian. He has no recollection of that country. His mother had no time to contact an attorney and no recourse. He was flown back to Somalia where he and the other young people (all unaccompanied minors) were dumped at the international airport in Mogadishu without food or money and left to their own devices. She has not seen him since.
Another man spoke of living in an apartment building with many Latino families. While he is not Latino, he has befriended them and gotten to know their children. It is a tight community of neighbors who all help each other (this man is physically disabled) and look out for each other. His voice broke as he told us of the gatherings they have to socialize where talk eventually turns to plans for what will happen when ICE shows up. Many of the parents have had to teach their children where to hide and how to be silent if a stranger comes to the door when the parents are at work or at the store. Many of them are citizens or are waiting on green cards to complete their legal process, but ICE does not discriminate, and with their unchecked powers, they are able to round up and deport or detain people before a legal defense can be mounted.
I heard a Kenyan man who has been here for much of his adult life speak of the refugee camps in his country and the people who come through them looking for a better life. He explained that even though Kenya is a beautiful, mostly peaceful country, the exchange rate for their currency is 100:1. That means that someone coming to the United States can make 100 times the amount of money here working in the same job as they can if they stay in Kenya. Is it any wonder that people are willing to trek through the unknown to get here?
There were more stories that broke me wide open, and the support and energy in that room was tremendous. It is tempting to succumb to the overwhelm and realize that there is so much happening behind the scenes on a daily basis that we can’t even know about, but then I remember that even one family protected is vital. I will continue to work with these people to demonstrate my American dream – the dream that we all remember we belong to each other in profound ways and we all deserve to live our best lives, regardless of where on this planet we happen to have been born. I hope you’ll find ways to help, too.
I had a dream last night that I volunteered my car and my services to transport kids who’d been separated from their parents back to reunite with them. I have a car that seats seven and I was eager to help in any way I could with the family reunifications.
When I got to the detention center, I couldn’t look at any of the children. I suddenly felt very white and wealthy and American and I wondered how much I scared the kids. I felt complicit. I wanted to apologize, to take them all into my arms and sob and tell them that I never wanted any of this, that I didn’t vote for the monster in the White House, that I marched and protested and wrote on their behalf. But in the dream, I didn’t touch any of them, because it’s not about me. I had to stay in my own lane and remember that doing this work isn’t focused on making me feel better or less guilty. And so I bowed my head and opened up the back of the car and didn’t make eye contact. I let the kids in and made sure their seat belts were all buckled tightly and then I went around to my side of the car, climbed in, put my glasses on, and drove them to their families.
I spent most of Friday throwing up – for real, not in a dream. I have been agitated and on edge all week. I spent Sunday – Father’s Day – at a rally in the hot sun, tears streaming down my face as I listened to stories relayed to my Congressperson from parents in the federal detention center in Seattle.
I spent Tuesday writing my story of family separation, finally understanding why this is hitting me so hard (not that it shouldn’t hit every single person on the fucking planet right between the eyes – this tearing apart of families). I spent Wednesday and Thursday trying to get someone to publish my story, to hear the devastating effects of family separation.
But it’s not about me. And I can’t make it about me. There is much work to do to get these kids back to their families, to repair the damage we’ve wrought. Today, I will find others who can help, band together with them, and bow my head as I do the work.
If you want to help, please look over this article and find something that fits your skillset.
|By Father of JGKlein, used with permission – Father of JGKlein, used with permission, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10787084|
Sometimes, I have a view in to PTSD that I haven’t ever seen before. Generally, at this point in my life, it’s a pretty distanced view, and for that I am grateful.
As I was getting ready to take the dogs for a walk this morning, I was putting my shoes and socks on and having to contend with Chivito to keep possession of both socks. He loves nothing more than watching me separate a pair of socks and waiting until I begin to put the first one on and my attention is diverted so he can snatch the other sock and run away with it to a corner of the room. As I chased him to retrieve it, I was suddenly reminded of something I used to muse on as a kid.
Is it better to put both socks on first and then start on your shoes, or one sock and one shoe first and then the other sock/shoe combo?
Seems fairly philosophical, except that, as a kid, when you’re living in fear, it’s not. It’s practical. I always chose one sock and one shoe and then the other pair and here is why – if I got interrupted halfway through and had to run, at least one foot would be entirely covered. If I did both socks first and had to run, those socks wouldn’t protect my feet for long as I ran away, but, I reasoned, I could always give the bare foot a break by hopping on the foot with the shoe for a little bit if necessary.
These days I can look back at the kid who thought that way most mornings and smile with compassion. I no longer feel that sharp spike of adrenaline in my chest as I imagine what she was afraid of. I know I’m safe these days. I am filled with appreciation for that little girl’s survival skills and for the fact that I made it through that time and am no longer forced to think that way.
I wonder what else that little girl could have done with her time and intellect if she hadn’t been so afraid all the time, so focused on fight or flight, and it makes me determined to do what I can to keep other kids from living that way.
This is a pretty ham-handed segue in to a discussion about gun control, but here you have it: this is one of the reasons I find it unconscionable that there are lawmakers considering adding more guns to the landscape of our kids’ lives. Between active-shooter drills and actual mass shootings in schools, churches, and other public places, our kids are traumatized, and we are letting it happen. Consider this post by a teacher named Danae Ray (taken from Facebook postings made by her FB friends – I don’t know her):
“Today in school we practiced our active shooter lockdown. One of my first graders was scared and I had to hold him. Today is his birthday. He kept whispering “When will it be over?” into my ear. I kept responding “Soon” as I rocked him and tried to keep his birthday crown from stabbing me.I had a mix of 1-5 graders in my classroom because we have a million tests that need to be taken. My fifth grader patted the back of the 2nd grader huddled next to him under a table. A 3rd grade girl cried silently and clutched the hand of her friend. The rest of the kids sat quietly (casket quiet) and stared aimlessly in the dark.As the”intruder” tried to break into our room twice, several of them jumped, but remained silently. The 1st grader in my lap began to pant and his heart was beating out of his chest, but he didn’t make a peep. Eventually, the principal announced the lockdown was lifted.I turned on the lights, removed the table from in front of the door, opened the blinds and announced “Let’s get back to work. ” I was greeted with blank faces… petrified faces…. tear stained faces… confused faces… elated faces…and one “bitch REALLY?” face.This is teaching in 2018. And no… I don’t want a gun.” #teacherlyfe
Now consider those children coming to school every morning, passing through metal detectors staffed by men and women with guns. Think about what it must take to walk through the halls of school with armed personnel in your periphery. Think about what it might feel like to be a child of color, whose family history might be peppered with stories of police officers using undue force. Imagine how incredibly difficult it might be to focus on what your teacher is saying or relax enough to joke with your friends or cut up in the lunchroom.
Think about what it would be like, as you get older and begin to draw conclusions based on subtle societal cues, and you notice that your teachers are working two or three jobs just to afford their rent and your classmates are holding bake sales and car washes to raise money for field trips or band uniforms, but the government seems to have plenty of money for school police officers and ammunition and bullet proof vests. What would your conclusions be about where our priorities lie?
Human beings can’t learn when they are in fear-mode. They can only react. Schools need to be a place of learning. They need to be safe places to experiment, and they should be places of joy. In order to create the best conditions for creative thought, problem-solving, and collaboration, we need teachers who are not afraid and who feel as though their efforts are appreciated and well-rewarded. We need students who are well-nourished, relaxed, and who feel safe and optimistic.
Banning assault weapons (or whatever you choose to call them – I know there is some petty argument about whether bump stocks or AR-15s should be called “assault weapons” – but I’m clear on the fact that these are not simple hunting rifles unless you’re hunting human beings) is not an affront to anyone’s Second Amendment rights. Banning assault weapons is simply a way to incrementally increase the safety and security of every single person in this country. Is it a perfect solution? No. That doesn’t exist. Is it a key part of the puzzle? Yes. It is. And if we can take that step toward reducing the amount of fear our children have as they simply get dressed in the morning to go to school, it’s the least we can do.
#guncontrolnow #notonemore #neveragain
I am so tired of “systems.” So tired of bureaucracy, protocols, and guidelines. Tired of “procedure” superseding common decency.
When the leader of a country can speak openly about other human beings and their homes in vulgar terms and dismiss an entire population with “shithole,” never suffering a consequence worse than outrage in print, we’ve gone too far.
When four security guards can wheel a sick, unclothed patient out in to the freezing weather of Baltimore and dump her off without a thought, we are broken.
When a state can, without any research or due diligence, simply begin requiring its Medicaid recipients to work for their benefits, our systems have taken over our humanity.
I wish I knew what it was going to take to bring it back. I want to live in a place where the systems and protocols are secondary. Where we check in with each other, where we feel comfortable saying, “Hmm, I know that is what the paperwork says we’re supposed to do, but this doesn’t feel right.”
I don’t want to live in a place where one person in a room is horrified that the president speaks of Haitians with disdain and disgust instead of ALL of the people in that room being horrified. I don’t want to live in a place where the narrative becomes about politics and not humans. I don’t want to listen to reasons why this is strategic (to keep us from thinking about the corruption investigation) or unimportant “in the grand scheme of things.” I want to be in a place where someone speaks ill of others or decides to deposit a woman on the sidewalk in winter without clothes on and EVERYONE around them remembers that we are talking about fellow humans, sentient beings, not people of color or poor people or some other “class” or “group” of people.
We are all sentient beings.
We all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
We are more important than protocols or guidelines or rules or budgets.
We are not illegal.
We are not lazy.
We are not addicts or millennials or Democrats or Republicans or liberals or …
We are human beings who have different strengths and needs and stories and dreams. And the systems were put into place in order to help us, but the systems have taken over, become a means to manipulate the human beings they were supposed to serve.
Anyone who can watch this video and shrug, not see a fellow person in need of help and feel absolutely sick that she was treated this way has lost their humanity and needs to go back and find it, STAT.
Anyone who can laugh at or dismiss Drumpf’s callous, hateful remarks in a meeting of fellow leaders of this country as unimportant is missing the point. The only job our government has is to serve its people, and when the focus becomes maintaining the status quo or disparaging the people it is supposed to serve, the government has become part of the problem.
Do me a favor and really look at every person you see today. Take a second and remind yourself that regardless of their circumstances or their appearance or their heritage, they are first and foremost, human, and they deserve your respect. It seems so elemental, but it is so vital. If we are ever to swing the needle back to a place of peace, we have to reaffirm each others’ humanity and stop pandering to the systems that keep us from really seeing each other. Please.
Everywhere I’ve ever lived there has been at least one neighbor who is way out of the norm. They have all been unique in their own way, and now that I think about it, they’ve all been male. Hmmm.
Anyway, in this particular neighborhood, the guy who makes me raise my eyebrows doesn’t actually live here – he’s just here a lot. His 90-something-year-old father owns the house – a 100+ year-old, 4500 square foot house that has clearly been neglected for at least a decade. The owner has lived in assisted living since before I moved here five years ago, but his two sons come by to mow the lawn and do the bare minimum to maintain the house until their dad passes and they can sell it for a million bucks (I’m not exaggerating – this is the Seattle housing market. You can sell your dilapidated, likely tear-down home for $1M + in my neighborhood. Thanks (?) Amazon). But, I digress.
The son who is here several times a week has been dubbed “no-pants neighbor-man” because, depending on the season, he either wears shorts or sweatpants with the side and/or back seams completely split open. And when he bends over to pull weeds or wind the hose back up, he reveals his personal preference for not wearing any underwear. At all. Even in the winter when the breeze must surely remind him that HIS BACKSIDE IS COMPLETELY UNCOVERED AND REVEALING ALL OF HIS ANATOMY DOWN THERE TO EVERYONE WHO IS WITHIN SIGHT LINES OF IT.
Did I mention that this house happens to be less than a block away from an all-girls Catholic high school? The students park along the side streets in the area and walk to school and this guy is a legend. To a girl, every single one of them crosses the street before they have to walk on the sidewalk in front of the house because they all know about this quirk of his.
He seems harmless. He never calls out to anyone or seems to purposely bend over and display himself to anyone – it just happens as he’s working in the yard. He has had some prolonged projects in the yard and on the front porch and occasionally sleeps in the house. Every once in a while, I walk the dogs and simply can’t avoid him and, except for his attire, he mostly just seems like a lonely old man who feels the need to mansplain to me why my small terrier should be a “house only” dog because when I take him outside I run the risk of having him carried off by a hawk, among other head-shaking things. (I’m not sure where he thinks my dog should relieve himself if I never let him outside, and that’s not the kind of thing I’d ever muse out loud about, anyway, because generally I’m most interested in keeping the interaction brief).
Yesterday, I was driving away from the house when he stood in front of my car and flagged me down. When I stopped and rolled down the window, my attention was first captivated by his really awful DIY dye-job, probably because I was working hard to keep my eyes averted from his scandalous shorts that came nowhere near covering what they should have. The hair he has is perhaps 2″ long, and it starts just about 2″ above his ears. The top of his head would be perfect for a comb-over if he decided to go that route. But so far, he hasn’t, and so the top 1/2″ of his hair is lily-white while the rest is some shiny black, from a box look. Because I was so absorbed in wondering how often he dyes his hair and how he does it, I missed the first part of what he was saying, but my attention snapped back to his words when he uttered, “…he’s a homeless.”
No, I thought, he’s a person. A human.
I finally realized that the neighbor was warning me that he had just discovered a sleeping bag and some clothing in the backyard of his dad’s house and when he went to throw them in the garbage, he ran in to the owner of the items who seemed to be high or really struggling with reality. Of course, he didn’t use those terms, and the terms he did use just made me tired and sad.
I endured the next five minutes of the rant/warning/educational seminar on how “the homeless work,” cringing inwardly. I admit to having a moment of concern, wondering whether this person who had been summarily kicked out of my neighbor’s backyard would seek refuge in mine, but mostly I just felt ill. Every reference to this young man was couched in language that was designed to set him apart, dehumanize him, set up a dynamic that puts us as neighbors on one side and “vagrants,” “derelicts,” “homeless” on the other. In the end, I nodded my thanks for the warning, rolled up the window, and drove on.
I have often wondered how this neighbor came to be in the position he is in – unable to convince his elderly father to sell his house but responsible for taking care of it, lonely and a little out of touch with social norms. I have worked to have compassion for him and also talked to Eve and Lola about how to graciously and cautiously interact with him if he speaks to them. I have, a time or two, laughed about him with Bubba or another neighbor, and I will admit that I wish I hadn’t. I know that making fun of someone is a step on the road to dehumanizing them and I’m sad that it took his dehumanization of a homeless person to remind me of that.
It is perfectly natural to have a fear-based reaction when you discover something like my neighbor did. I can’t honestly say that I’d have been able to keep my wits about me if I walked into my backyard to find someone sleeping back there. I would certainly have ordered him out and perhaps called the police. I struggle with the line between knowing that everyone deserves compassion and respect and protecting myself from potential harm. On the one hand, I know that what the young man likely needs most is resources to help him, and on the other hand, if he was under the influence of some sort of drug, I can’t predict what he would do if I let him stay so that I could call someone to help him.
I know that I will continue to struggle with these kinds of situations, with how to put my beliefs into action. One thing I have gotten significantly better at, though, is recognizing my own tendencies to see certain people as ‘other’ and resist them. Whatever he has done or experienced, wherever he sleeps, this young man is not “a homeless.” He is a human being.
|Photo from The Guardian
It’s been a while since I posted anything even remotely political here – likely due to the daily onslaught of information a la the Drumpf shitshow. Generally, when I post something in response to the political goings-on, it is after much thought and reflection, because often these things are murky and I like to have a clear head when I write about my positions. With the fast and furious, continual chocolates-on-a-conveyer-belt (think I Love Lucy) nature of our current administration, it has been nearly impossible for me to clear my head long enough to say anything coherent. I know I’m not alone.
However, one issue that keeps coming up in my world is the $15/hour minimum wage conversation. It was passed in Washington state, is being pushed in other states, was recently passed in British Columbia, has been analyzed by several university studies, and is hotly debated even as a national standard. I’ve read the news coverage of the studies, observed debates online, listened to folks talk about it on NPR, and am having a really hard time not being cynical about all of this.
For me, what it comes down to is humanity. (Ok, most everything comes down to that for me.) The simple fact is, even though some places have passed minimum wage legislation, there is nobody that I know of who works a minimum wage job and is currently being paid $15/hour. All of these measures are “phased in” over a period of time. And to be clear, $15/hour is NOT A LIVING WAGE in most places. $15/hour for a 40-hour week means that you are making $600 a week before taxes. That means that you’re making less than $30,000 a year before taxes. Depending on how many people are in your household (would have to be five or more), that doesn’t even qualify you for Medicaid without extenuating circumstances because the federal poverty level for 2017 for a family of four is $28,200.
So, the places that are passing these minimum wage bills are generally the ones where the standard of living is higher (ie. Seattle), which makes sense, given that if you want to live in Seattle and you’re making $15/hour, your entire paycheck will go toward your rent. But since you don’t hit the federal poverty level, you don’t qualify for SNAP benefits, so I hope you like the taste of carpet, because that’s all you’ll be able to eat. Unless you work in a restaurant and you can nick some food there.
But, oops, remember, that these laws are being phased in. So if you’re working a minimum wage job in Seattle right now, you aren’t making $15/hour yet.
So. Yeah. Humanity.
One of the most vehement arguments against the $15/hour minimum wage I’ve seen in my liberal enclave of Seattle comes from small business owners like restaurateurs and hipster shop owners. They “can’t afford” to pay folks that much and stay in business.
Go out of business.
I mean it. That might sound harsh, but if you can’t afford to pay the people who work for you, the people in your own damn community, the people who are the face of your American dream, enough money so that they can live with a roof over their heads, know where their next meal is coming from (and it’s not the trash can), and get to work without a 90-minute bus ride, you don’t have a solid business plan and you should probably go back to the drawing board.
Businesses are not more important than people.
Just because you have a great idea for a small business that you think hipsters in Seattle will flock to doesn’t mean you deserve to be in business. It should be part of your business plan to analyze whether you can pay your workers enough to live on, and offer them paid leave and health insurance. If you can’t, find a place that’s cheaper to set up shop so you can or go back to your day job. I have a dream, too. Lots of them. But if I am going to build those dreams on the backs of people whose lives depend on Medicaid funding and SNAP benefits (in this administration? Oy), then I’m living with blinders on. Big, white privilege blinders.
The studies that say that the $15/hour minimum wage will “hurt the economy,” are putting businesses before humans. They are putting some nebulous, unpredictable “economy” before humans. Are we really a country that is so concerned with an idealized, unsustainable, continually growing pile of money that we are willing to let the people who work in entry-level and service jobs live on the streets? If we continue to argue that these kinds of policies will hurt businesses while we cut social services, that is exactly what we are saying. And in Seattle, it is what we’re living. There are recent studies showing that the majority of people living on the streets are those who were working in low-wage jobs, with families, who simply couldn’t afford to pay their rent – either because of some unforeseen medical catastrophe or by some slow attrition of their ability to pay their bills despite working at least one full time job.
I am not an economist (thank God!), and I appreciate that this is a complicated issue in some ways. But in the way that is most important, it is not complicated at all. If we care about our fellow human beings, we will find a way to make sure that they are taken care of. Period. We will lead with our morality and common humanity and figure out a way to make it work. That is how all dreams are made. Follow the dream and work out the details as you go.