Remembering Dr. Tiller 4 Years Later

Four years ago today, I was teaching high school. I heard on the radio or read an article about a doctor being murdered.

I didn’t consider myself a religious person, not then. I was just starting out on my spiritual journey. But even then, I heard the news and thought: aren’t churches meant to be safe places?

Even The Wire, after all, depicts Sundays as a ceasefire day.

I heard about a doctor being murdered while volunteering at his church, among his community, before God. He was murdered. The story stuck with me. It started following me around, interrupting my tasks with questions and worries.

I emailed my feminist friends. Four of us  gathered for weeks to have Tiller Talks, conversations about what Dr. Tiller’s death meant, what role we could play in preventing future murders, what we as individuals – as young feminist women – could do.

We wrote long lists of ideas — hosting movie nights, supporting abortion funds, cultivating dialogues with “the other side”, signing petitions, training to be abortion providers or airplane pilots — and debated what our tiny contingent could do, all of us young and eager, just starting out in our adult lives.

We didn’t have money or clout, but we had passion and conviction.

In the intervening years, one of us volunteered for an abortion fund, one conducted research on abortion, another sent thank you cards to other late-term abortion providers. We all did the tiny and not so tiny things we could, in Dr. Tiller’s memory and honor. But for ourselves as well.

tillerThank you, 4000 Years for Choice.

It feels right, real and good to work under the light of our passions. The flame that ignites from learning of an injustice grows to a fire with time. We do not live in a world where we murder people whom we disagree with, and as a religious person, as a feminist, as a woman it is my duty to stand up and say “this is wrong.”

Today I also think about Beatriz in El Salvador, who has lupus and is 24 weeks pregnant with a fetus that has no chance of surviving after birth. I think of the Salvadoran Supreme Court, who is denying her a life-saving procedure.

I think of Savita. I think of the countless women whose names we do not know, who died because they had no access to a simple medical procedure, who self-induced abortions, got unsafe abortions, who had no one to stand up for them. History is filled with these women. They are our ancestors, our relatives, our neighbors.

I think of what it means to live in a world where we let women die.

I think of the accident of birth — here, in LA, I have a say over what happens to my body, have access to the medical care I need, can afford an abortion; but in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile — if I’m pregnant there and need an abortion, I have no say. I wouldn’t have control over my own body there, wouldn’t have a say about my own health. Someone else would get to decide what happens to me – a court, a president, a doctor, a husband – determining whether I live or die.

I think of the abortion providers I know and love. I think of their courage and conviction. I think of the legacy Dr. Tiller left us, how he trusted women.

If you don’t own your body, what do you really own?


Gloria Steinem on “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Votes” at UCLA: The Quick Notes Version

Yesterday, I saw Gloria Steinem give her “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Votes” talk at UCLA. It reminded me of seeing Eve Ensler speak at Clark in 2008. It was the feeling of feminists gathering in one spot to hear a superstar speak, speak to us, in our language. It was riveting, electrifying. In all her glory, Gloria Steinem at 78 speaking to a full auditorium. She got two standing ovations before she even began speaking.

To set the scene: she began by commenting that lecture halls are based on hierarchy, which is based on patriarchy, with the audience seeing each others’ backs and unable to interact with each other. She prefers a circle (like all feminist teachers I know), and said “we [women]are linked, not ranked.” I took 5 pages of notes and rather than dump all the details onto you, I’ll share with you the tastiest morsels:

1. The central theme of the talk was “seizing control of reproduction” and how this control is fundamental to racist, classist and nationalist divisions. By isolating the women of the “superior” group and exploiting the women of the “inferior” group, all women are controlled. The gender imbalance caused by preferring one gender over the other (as is in China) causes destabilization, where all divisions are normalized and racism, classism and other forms of structural violence become normalized.

2. Attacks on abortion providers is large-scale domestic terrorism. The anti-choice activists responsible for this terrorism have now taken to the legislatures. 55% of women of reproductive age now live in states with restrictions on reproductive rights. The current Republican platform includes the Human Life Amendment plank, where a pregnant women’s body becomes nationalized, can be searched and detained (as is done now with addicted or jailed pregnant women).

3. Legislators have “real jobs” before they came into office, and many worked in insurance, the prison industry and liquor. Using their legislative power, they push through the regulations that benefit them. For example, despite numerous legislators campaigning on the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution in the 1970s, it was never ratified. Legislators must be held accountable by those who vote them into office.

4. The biggest economic stimulus would be mandating equal pay for men and women…because women would spend the money. (From progressive to reductionist in one sentence!)

5. The night’s most interesting tangent: Most religious buildings are built as the body of a woman, with the inner and outer labia entrances, the vaginal aisle, the ovarian side structures, and the pulpit womb. Men in skirts take over the cartel of giving birth, by taking over the mythic significance of reproduction. While women may give life, these men give everlasting life. The message is: heaven is superior to, is better than women.

6. Best quips: Abstinence-only sexual health education is the only federally funded program that rewards ignorance with taxpayer money. Voting matters – it’s when the least powerful has just as much power as the most powerful. Women didn’t leave the Republican Party, it left them. The means we choose dictate the ends; the means are the ends. Loss of memory is the root of oppression.The best decisions come from mixed-gender groups because there is no masculinity to prove. National boundaries don’t stop pollution and immigration. We have more in common than we think; ask what others need and support them. How is it that men can be CEOs without having been pregnant?

7. Recommended reading: Sex and World Peace by Valerie Hudson et al, which argues that polarized sex roles are correlated with race and class divisions.

8. Piece of advice:  Say “how interesting that you feel that way” when disagreeing.

9. The US is the only democracy with no national childcare, which puts pressure on the individual rather than the social policy.

10. Lastly, feminists have been too nice. We would have accomplished more! Persuading and asking takes longer than doing. We need to harness our consumer power. The AA group structure may be useful – it’s everywhere, it’s leader-less and there is a strong community.

Despite my enthusiasm about the talk and the speaker, it’s important to note that some claims were cherry-picked. Steinem made several claims that didn’t hold up to light questioning after the talk: First, that 70% of native women were sterilized because the government told them they wouldn’t understand how to use birth control. The highest I could find was 25-40%, in the 1970s. Though even that is questionable. Second, that in Europe, 6 million witches were killed for sharing dangerous knowledge that helped women. Access to, and knowledge of, contraception and abortifacients allows women – not the state – to decide when to procreate. (Not the church, not the state!) But, it looks like it was closer to 35,000 or 110,000200,000 at the most. Lastly, she contrasted civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who was sterilized without her consent, and Hamer’s grandmother, who had 22 children (20 as a result of rape). Steinem argued that farm equipment was the difference; the bodies of Hamer’s grandmother’s children were needed to work the land; Hamer’s reproductive capabilities weren’t necessary. Yes,  it’s true that Hamer was sterilized…at the age of 44. It’s a much less compelling argument when understood within the context of the average woman reproductive life: from 15 – 45 years old. Sterilizing someone without their consent is wrong at any age, but the contrast with her grandmother’s experience is less powerful in this new context. Despite these poorly chosen examples, it’s true that compulsory sterilization has happened and is happening all over the world, and that women continue to be targeted for violence. I just wish she had chosen her examples with the help of a fact-checker.

PS She looks jaw-dropping-ly great for someone two years shy of 80. I was sitting towards the back, but she looked no older than 60 to me. Take away message: wear black and do what you love?

Book Review of Elizabeth Warren’s The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke, Plus Some Unsolicited Commentary

I added this book to my reading list after seeing Elizabeth Warren speak at the DNC. It appealed to my sense that the rules have changed out from under people’s feet, and that there needs to be a new way forward. I’m also a planner, so thinking ahead about owning a home and having kids appeals to me. (I’m likely the youngest person I know to have a notarized advance health care directive, but that’s for another post).
Before I share recommendations and stories from the book, it’s important to note that Warren and her daughter published this book in 2003. This information was prescient before the 2008 global financial collapse, and is even more on-point now. There is a lot of clarifying myths and giving suggestions. First, some background on bankruptcy:

One out of seven families with kids will file for bankruptcy. That’s a lot of people that we know, and that aren’t talking about it. And it’s not because they’re overspending. Warren calls it an arms race for quality education: families are sending both parents to work, and using the second paycheck to pay for the mortgage in a good neighborhood so their kids can go to good schools. It’s a sound investment, until the inevitable thing happens and the family’s income unexpectedly drops. Then they’re stuck with a mortgage they can’t afford on one person’s salary. There’s no amount of bringing your own lunch or cutting out the morning coffee run that is going to make that situation better. Families are going bankrupt because they did the right thing for their kids, and when disaster hit there was no safety net.

With that in mind, here’s a recap of the book’s recommendations, with my suggestions thrown in:

1. Don’t have kids.

You already know they’re wicked expensive. Some quick stats: remember how one out of seven families with kids will file for bankruptcy? Well, for every family who files, seven more are struggling so much that they would be better off if they filed. That’s more kids dealing with their parents going through bankruptcy than going through a divorce. Where is the awkward playground support group for that? So aside from kids no longer contributing to the family finances, now they’re going to be suffering and costing you future therapy bills. Plus there’s a college tuition bubble that isn’t looking to pop anytime soon.

2. Don’t get a mortgage.

Or any other fixed, long-term expense. If you have a mortgage, you can’t peace out on that expense quickly. You’re stuck with it. On the other hand, as a renter you can move to a less expensive place or move in with more people. The same idea can be applied to any other expense that lasts a year or longer: work out at home instead of getting a gym membership, drive your used car long after you’ve paid off your loan instead of getting a new one, borrow magazines from the library instead of getting a subscription…but the biggest expense for most families is housing.

3. Plan for the worst; hope for the best. (cue Jay-Z and Mr. Hudson)

I like planning ahead, so this part spoke to me. 87% of bankruptcies are caused by one or more of these three factors: family separation or divorce, job loss, or a medical problem. I’m not going to go into why we should have single-payer in this country, or why the public option is the way to go, but it’s infuriating that medical bills are even on the list. Health is a commodity in the US, no doubt. So, how do you protect yourself against getting a divorce? Don’t get married. What? Oh. Fine, relax. What I’m saying is: mixing up your finances with another person may seem like a great idea through the hazy rose-colored lenses of looooove, but in reality it’s hard to untangle and it’s even harder to get used to living on one income when you used to have two. Plus court fees are mad dollars, not to mention the wedding itself. Get your potluck on in your backyard, yo! How do you protect yourself against losing your job? Have 6 months of living expenses saved up in an emergency fund. Don’t let your skills atrophy. Warren suggests saving 100% of one of the incomes if you are in a two-income household, so that if one earner loses his/her job, you’ll be okay. Have a plan ahead of time, of big things you’re willing/able to give up in case you must cut back. If you’re getting close to bankruptcy, you’d rather make those decisions than have them made for you.

4. Have a three-income household (short-term solution)

This is not a suggestion from the book, rather it’s the direction I see us headed in. Since two incomes aren’t enough to safeguard a middle-income family, the next step is to have three-income households. Maybe grandparents will continue working and will live with their children, kids will find jobs as soon as they legally can to contribute to the family pool, or adultery will become socially acceptable as long as it comes with financial support. Check the stat: the two-income family earns 75% more than a single-income family a generation ago, but has less to spend. The advantage of having a three-income household would be temporary, until everyone had three earners.

5. Fix the system (long-term solution)

First, banks: the banks are out to screw you, and their practices should be illegal. They can offer “credit protection” where you pay more for protection you already legally have (your heirs won’t be required to pay off your balance if you die, even without credit protection). If you file for bankruptcy, they call and harass your family to pay back the debts you legally don’t have to pay back. One out of four families fall for this. It’s disgusting how unregulated and normalized these practices are. I also believe in “freedom from” alongside “freedom to”: families should be protected from offers for mortgages that balloon exponentially, that leave them homeless when the bank takes the house back. It’s not freedom to be offered a line of credit for something you can’t afford. That’s someone smiling sweetly while they rob you.

Second, education: Warren makes a compelling point that parents who can afford an expensive home in a “good” school district are paying for their child’s public education with their mortgage. She proposes a voucher system (breathe and stay with me here) which disconnects the neighborhood where a child lives from the school district s/he attends. Warren suggests a taxpayer-funded voucher that pays the entire cost of a child’s education (not a partial subsidy as has been suggested by others). The parents would send the child to the public school of their choice, regardless of what zip code the child lives in. Students could be admitted via a lottery system or on the basis of their interests or talents. It reminds me of the magnet school I attended for elementary school, where children from all over the city were welcome.

The two other book-ends of the education system – preschool and college – must also be addressed. We need taxpayer-funded preschool and daycare. It’s not in Warren’s book, but we need stringent requirements for who can work with young children, and we need to compensate them well. (You couldn’t pay me enough to be exposed to feces and crying all day; these people are saints.) On the other end, a college degree has become essential to landing even an entry-level job. To fix the college bubble, Warren suggests that public colleges need to specialize rather than trying to do it all. Not every college needs to have all of the best sports programs and teams, nor all the newest specialized equipment. Every college is trying to have it all, to be it all to each student, and that isn’t sustainable. It’s reasonable to expect one college to focus on engineering and another to focus on liberal arts.

Lastly, health: we need to remove that last reason for bankruptcy.  It kills me that people are forced to make decisions about their health through the lens of money. It’s no longer about pride when refusing to go to the doctor’s office; it’s about money. Can I afford to find out what’s wrong with me? Does insurance cover my hospital stay? Due to our history, it’s nearly impossible to move to the public option, where healthcare is a right, is available to all, and is taken for granted. There’s no easy solution to this last one. PPACA, also known as Obamacare, is a step in the right direction. But it doesn’t begin to solve the problem of health insurance companies controlling access to healthcare.

In summary: it’s a quick read, with lots of examples and stories that demonstrate the economic arguments. I’ve heard couples say they read it before deciding to have children, or before merging their finances. It makes sense to read this both at the onset of home ownership and childbearing, as well as in the midst. It’s never too late to take care of yourself, your family, and your money!