One day while talking about our newborn son who needed to be on oxygen my husband Max and I had an epiphany. "It's like our son is a space explorer! He just needs an oxygen pack to get around." And so the concept of The Littlest Astronaut was born.
Max and I both wanted to be astronauts when we were little, so we found the concept of a baby space explorer very appealing.
It is Down syndrome awareness month and I have to tell you, sometimes I wish that I could be a little less aware of Down syndrome. Some days I don't feel like being an advocate, or a mama bear or a warrior mom. Some days I just want to be a regular old mom.
This weekend is my birthday and I will be spending it at a leadership workshop on how to advocate for people with disabilities.
The next weekend I'll be at the Buddy walk, listening to speeches about Down syndrome and walking with my son Benny.
Personally I would rather people forget that Benny has Down syndrome at all. I wish they could just see him for who he is - a bright and bubbly preschooler.
But even though I'm tired of talking about Down syndrome I keep on doing it. I keep on writing blog posts and sharing in real life and on social media because every day I see how much prejudice there still is against people with Down syndrome.
Disabilities are the last acceptable prejudice and I want to change that in my lifetime. For Benny. And for all of the many people who have disabilities. And so I keep soldiering on this uphill battle, thankful to all who came before me and paved the way for me and my family.
Recently I encountered this prejudice while looking into kindergartens with my friend who has a typical son the same age as Benny. The experience was heartbreaking.
A woman giving a tour at one middle of the road charter school was stumped when my friend asked what kind of services they had for students with special needs. She had just finished waxing poetic about the self-contained classroom for gifted and talented students (GATE) but stuttered "special needs?" and looked completely perplexed as to why we would ask about something so obviously horrifying. (Nevermind that services for gifted students are also under the umbrella of special education.)
"My son has Down syndrome" I explained.
"Oh, we've never had any students with Down syndrome. I don't know what we would be able to provide for a student with Down syndrome." she said looking absolutely petrified at the thought of my son and his potential extra needs coming to her school.
Defensively I told her that I had visited our designated school and that it was far superior to this one, to which she looked relieved and told me that I should "just keep him there".
The next day my friend called me ecstatic about a public Montessori school he had just toured. I listened excitedly as he talked about the open classrooms with multiple grades, the project based learning, the GATE certified teachers in every classroom and the violin training every student receives. Then he mentioned that he had asked and the school didn't have any resources for kids with special needs like Benny.
I got off the phone and cried. I wanted to be happy for my friend, I really did, but in that moment all I could feel was heartbreak that my son wasn't welcome at that school.
And that is what discrimination looks like. These publicly funded schools are actually required by law to provide a free appropriate public education to all students regardless of their extra needs, but they don't want to. So instead they discourage parents of children with disabilities from enrolling their children, despite decades of research that shows undeniably that an inclusion model that provides appropriate accommodations is far superior for every student in the classroom.
Last night the fact that my son is being denied the same opportunities for kindergarten as his peers made me cry.
But tomorrow I will not cry. Tomorrow I will arm myself with an idea. The IDEA specifically, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And I am going to go to the district office and I am going to give them a piece of my mind.
This is what happens to parents of kids who have Down syndrome. You get tired of talking about it. You get tired of bringing everyone's awareness to it. You wish everyone would be less aware of it. But then somebody discriminates against your kid because of it, and they awaken the advocate, the mama bear and the warrior parent inside of you. Soon they will hear your roar and they will know no mercy.
Tomorrow we will be wearing our crazy socks (and shoes) for World Down Syndrome Day to represent the joy that people who are a little bit different bring into our lives. This will be the third World Down Syndrome Day we've celebrated since having our son Benny, and I have to say that in his three short years he's already busted a lot of the stereotypes I had about trisomy 21.
One of the concerns that every parent has for their child is whether or not they will be able to have a career when they grow up. In America the unemployment statistics for people with developmental disabilities is unfortunately very high.
But Benny has already had his first paid job! When he was just two years old Benny landed a modeling gig with Target. He already has his very own bank account.
We had heard that it's rare for people with Down syndrome to be able to drive. This was something my husband was especially concerned about. Watching Benny drive his power wheels around we are pretty certain that he will be able to drive a real car around someday if he wants to.
Another worry has been whether or not Benny will be able to make and keep friends. So far he has proven to be very outgoing, and every day when I pick him up from school his friends say bye to him and give him hugs.
He has also made several friends outside of school who really enjoy his company. Although Benny has limited speech, he is very expressive and imaginative in his play. In most ways he is a pretty typical boy - he and his friends love to play with trains and cars and action figures.
He also loves to play with toy guns, and will pretend to shoot his friends, and very dramatically fall down after getting shot himself. Unfortunately this is starting to get him in trouble at school, so I'm working on redirecting this behavior, although I secretly love that he is such a little stuntman!
Recently we decided that it was time to talk to one of his friends about the fact that Benny has down syndrome.
Because his friend is only four we kept the information very simple, and just explained that Benny has special needs because he has Down syndrome, which means he was born with an extra chromosome. That this little difference means that sometimes it takes him longer to figure out how to do things, and sometimes it's harder for him to understand or communicate. His friend listened to our explanation, said "ok", and moved on to play with his train tracks.
The two have been playing together for over a year now and I had been nervous about how this conversation might go. I feel very lucky that this little boy has such a big, sweet heart that he completely accepted this new information about his friend, and has continued to ask to have playdates with Benny even after finding out about his Down syndrome.
This is the kind of response that I was hoping for, and that I wish everyone would have when they meet someone with Down syndrome. "It's just a little difference, no big deal, let's hang out!"
Healing Our Broken Ideas About Sex
As the mother of two sons, it has been weighing heavily on my mind that by placing the blame for rape culture solely on the hands of uncontrollable men, we are avoiding the true change needed to achieve a healthy sex culture.
As a society we have been sick for a long time when it comes to healthy sexuality. Seeing so many men being held accountable for sexual harassment is a sign that we are ready to address this issue. Many women are feeling hopeful for the first time that we might someday be able to live free from fear of unwanted sexual attention.
While I too would like to see major social change, I am concerned that the current climate of blame is counterproductive to true healing.
My son came home from school the other day and described a class discussion he had that day on the difference between sexual harassment and flirting. His class concluded that the only interaction that can be considered flirting would be saying something positive like giving a compliment...and even that could be considered sexual harassment if you gave too many compliments or the wrong kind of compliments.
While I think that it is huge progress that the subject of sexual harassment is being discussed in high school, I'm also concerned. My son is fourteen and afraid to talk to anyone of the opposite sex for fear that it will be considered sexual harassment, and this breaks my heart. I want my son to understand respect and consent, but I don't want him to think that being nice to someone of the opposite sex is the same as sexual harassment.
The entire topic has been on my mind a lot lately, and I know I'm not alone.
Recently the #metoo social media campaign filled my feeds with women sharing their upsetting experiences of sexual harassment or assault.
This triggered a tidal wave of anger and accusations, and it seems now that every day there is a new revelation of a man in the spotlight who at some point harassed or assaulted someone.
I feel terrible. I feel sad for these women who experienced this and now have to relive it in some way by coming forward with their stories.
I've been on both sides of the equation. And while I don't condone the behavior described in these stories, I do have sympathy for these men because I once had a terrible incident where I was the one on the wrong side of a sexual harassment accusation.
I was mingling at a friend’s wedding reception so I sat and talked with a couple of teenage boys sitting at a table by themselves. They were interesting conversationalists and I enjoyed chatting with them. I invited them to walk around and check out the property with me because it was a lovely place with a view.
After a few minutes I excused myself and moved on to talk to other people at the party. Suddenly out of nowhere the mother of the groom came up to me and shouted “You should be ashamed of yourself!” I was stunned, and asked what she meant. “You know what you did.” She replied, and stomped off in a rage.
I had no idea what she was talking about, but it upset me very much. I cried and went home shortly after.
Later a mutual friend told me that this woman thought that I had been coming on to the teenage boys. What really hurt was that my friend whose wedding it was didn’t defend me, and hasn’t spoken to me since.
The entire experience left me feeling ashamed and defenseless in a way I had never felt before. I was a mother with a son not much younger than these boys, and it had never occurred to me that merely talking to teenagers at a party could be misconstrued as inappropriate sexual behavior. I wracked my brain and the only thing I could come up with that would have warranted this accusation was that I had been friendly and was wearing a low cut dress that showed some cleavage.
The truth is that our society still has serious sexual hangups. I am fortunate that I’m a woman. I can only imagine how much worse it might have been for me if I had been a man accused of flirting with teenage girls.
Because of this experience I no longer automatically assume that every person accused of sexual harassment is a perverted monster.
I am not suggesting that the men currently in the spotlight have done nothing wrong or that we absolve them of their actions, but I would like to suggest that we take into consideration the larger picture.
American sexuality is full of confusion and contradictions. We have a puritanical background, which means that on some fundamental level we have all received some messaging that sex itself is wrong and we are bad for thinking about it, worse for wanting it and absolute sinners for having it.
At the same time that we are being told that sex is wrong, we are being pummeled with sexual imagery and messages from every direction because sex sells and we live in a capitalist society.
To further confuse the issue we have rigid societal rules about gender roles. Before a child is even born we find out their sex so that we can inflict these rules upon them from the moment of their birth.
Girls are pink princesses, They are tender, soft and sweet. Girls should always be pretty and stay virgins until they are married. Women should all be sexy or they are worthless, but they shouldn’t like sex or they are sluts.
Boys are blue warriors. They are strong, active and assertive. As soon as they are teenagers they should have lots of sex until they find the right virgin and get married. Men should always want sex and be super assertive about it, but only towards the women who like it or they are perverts and creeps.
To further confuse the issue, our social mores are never to communicate directly about sex. Being straightforward and talking about sex to someone we are interested in is heavily discouraged. Instead we are supposed to intuit based on body language and subtle cues whether or not someone likes us.
If we are female, we are supposed to wait and let the male come to us based on these subtle cues. If we are male we are supposed to read these subtle cues and respond by pursuing the female.
This bizarre courting ritual only works if everyone properly reads the cues. The punishment for improperly reading cues is harsh. It varies from the light discomfort of personal rejection to the extreme punishment of public humiliation.
The truth is, much of the same behavior that is considered sexual harassment is considered typical courting behavior if the person is someone we are attracted to. This is incredibly confusing and can lead to less than desirable outcomes for obvious reasons.
It is upsetting how sexually sick our society is as a whole. The reason these sexual harassment accusations aren't isolated incidents isn't because there is something wrong with a few twisted men, it's because there's a greater societal issue that needs to be addressed. We all need to work together to heal.
Personally what's helped me develop a healthier attitude towards my own sexuality is being open and talking about it.
I believe the same is true for our society as a whole. If we truly want to stop sexual harassment and aggression we need to open up and start talking about sex.
Here are some of the social messages about sex that I wish my son was getting instead of the old broken ones:
Most of all I just want my son to know that talking to someone of the opposite sex in a friendly way is okay. Right now it's a little scary for me to talk about this topic at all. It feels that the entire internet is an angry mob with pitchforks waiting to attack anyone who may have views differing from their own.
For the sake of my sons however, I cannot stay quiet. I do not agree with a world where boys are afraid to be nice to girls for fear of being accused of sexual harassment. I believe that we can do better. I believe we we can heal our broken ideas about sex and evolve together into a more harmonious, sex positive society.
Three Years I held it in
Dark clouds growing bigger and bigger
Threatening to burst out of me
Like a hurricane in September
Three chromosomes where there should be two
Should be are the words we shouldn’t say
Instead our silence fills the empty spaces
until there’s no air left to breathe
Gasping I unravel
Spitting words out I would take back
But the storm has come
And it is raining fire in our home
Everything left unsaid catches like gasoline
Creating supernova explosions that become
Invisible galaxies around us
An unnavigable universe better left unexplored
Everyone grieves in their own way
My grief is like a knife
I stab myself with over and over
Until there is no blood left to pour
Hollowed out of blood and storm
I am merely a shadow being as I turn now to you
Knife wielded uncertainly
As I contemplate where to stab first
I wonder if our grief will mingle
In the way that we have forgotten ourselves
Blood and ash and tears
Intertwined, a living being become one
Shall we take her then to the river of sorrow
And push her in until there is nothing left of her
Will there be anything left of us then
To hold on to in this darkness
Quickly I strike with unwarranted vengeance
Your careful countenance crumbles for just a moment
For one second we truly see one another
Lit up by the lightning of the storm you unleash
Ash rains down on what’s left of me
Covering me until I’m grey as a statue
Tears mix with ash cementing my face
Into a semblance of forced content
Now it is over and we can go back to pretending
That everything is just fine
As you rush off to your appointment
And I sit down to write a poem about it
Racism, Eugenics and You
It’s easy to look at the violence this past weekend at the white supremacist rally and think “those people are evil, they are nothing like me, and I could never do something like that”.
But if we are going to evolve past racism we have to put down our self-righteousness and look deep into our own souls. The first step to overcoming a problem is to admit that it exists.
I’m a racist. You’re a racist. We’re all born racists.
There is an evolutionary aspect to racism. People who are very different from people like us represent a possible danger to our way of being.
Sometimes this fear is unwarranted. Sometimes someone from a different race can come into our lives and teach us a better way of being.
And sometimes they want to control us, take everything we have or even try to wipe us out completely, like the Europeans did when they arrived on this continent.
The ability to quickly assess and pass judgment on our fellow humans has a distinct evolutionary advantage, so it’s no wonder that we have to fight our natural instincts in order to be kind and tolerant of one another.
Personally, from an early age I was taught that tolerance, peace and love were good, and that racism, violence and hatred were bad, so this is how I tend to operate in the world.
When I think about the Grand Dragon of the KKK saying that he’s “glad that girl died” during the Charlottesville rally, it is pretty incomprehensible to me. It makes me want to deny my own basic humanity, to push away the fact that if I were raised differently I might be capable of acting in such a way.
As easy as it is to condemn racism, if we want to eliminate it we must first embrace it. The truth is we have to be taught to be tolerant, not the other way around.
To put an end to this type of racism, violence and hatred we must find a way to teach tolerance, peace and love on a grand scale. But first we have to acknowledge the root cause of the problem, which is our inherent fear of differences.
Nowhere in our society is our fear of difference more apparent than in the way that we approach people with disabilities.
As a parent of a child with down syndrome, my heart was hit hard this week by a CBS news report that “Iceland Is On Pace To Virtually Eliminate Down syndrome Through Abortion”.
While I had already known about the statistic that Iceland has a near 100% termination rate of fetuses that test positive for trisomy 21, watching the news report made that statistic much more real for me.
When we talk about race we are generally talking about classifying people by a set of common characteristics that they’ve inherited through their genes. People with Down syndrome have a set of common characteristics caused by their extra chromosome that others in society use to identify them.
I would argue then, that Down syndrome is a race, and that the massive efforts by governments around the world to eliminate this chromosomal abnormality is institutionalized racism. Others would say that it is simply eugenics, whether you classify Down syndrome as a race or not. Either way, it is a moral quandary that we as a society need to examine.
Before I had a child with Down syndrome the article on Iceland probably wouldn’t have even caught my attention. I certainly wouldn’t have drawn a comparison between the blatant racism of the KKK and that of governments around the world attempting to eradicate chromosomal abnormalities. “Families have the right to be informed and make that choice” I might have said.
But then, before I had Benny I didn’t know anyone with Down syndrome, or any other chromosomal abnormality. In fact, I distinctly remember that while I was pregnant with my older son the thought of him having a disability or deformity was one of my greatest fears, right up there with the idea of having twins.
People with chromosomal abnormalities have the toughest lot in discrimination, because it starts with their own families. While people of a different race are usually born into families of the same race, people with developmental disabilities usually are born into families who do not have any. If they are lucky enough to be born at all, their families must overcome their own innate fear of difference in order to love and accept them.
As someone who has been through this process I can tell you that it isn’t easy. In order to make the decision to keep my pregnancy, I first had to overcome a tremendous amount of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of hardship. Fear of challenges. Fear of being different.
To make this more difficult, the doctors and genetic counselors who discussed our diagnosis with us were extremely negative about the future we were deliberating on.
My son just turned three, and some of those negative predictions have come true. He does have more medical problems that my other son ever had. He does have some developmental delays. These things are true.
But it’s also true that in the process of learning to accept his differences, we have gained something invaluable as a family. By pushing through all of that fear and coming to a place of tolerance, peace and love, we are better people.
And that is what we gain as a society when we push back our fear of differences. We become better people.
But first we have to know that we’re there. We have to see the fear, feel it, acknowledge it and then we can finally move past it.
So this is where it’s up to you. You cannot change anyone, but you can influence them by shining a light for them in the way that you act in the world.
The first step is to admit the problem. You are a little bit afraid of people who are different than you. That’s okay, we all are. Today I challenge you to challenge yourself to identify the people who scare you the most. Dig deep. Do you avert your eyes when you see someone drooling in a wheelchair? Do you make assumptions about the person behind the cash register at the gas station? When you hear a certain kind of accent does it change your impression of that person’s intelligence?
Identify and examine this with brutal honesty. What is it about “those” people that scare you? Once you have been honest with yourself about your own fears, go forth and work on overcoming them. Smile and say hello to the person drooling in the wheelchair. Ask that person behind the cash register how their day is going. The next time you hear that accent, instead of assuming low intelligence, try engaging them in a discussion about the meaning of life.
This is how it begins, one person, one conversation at a time. Thank you for taking part in the changing of our societal fabric. It’s not easy, but most things that are worthwhile are difficult. Challenge yourself today. We can make the world more tolerant, peaceful and loving. It starts with you and ripples out.
In our achievement driven world having a child with Down syndrome has been a huge eye opener for me. I didn't think much about the nature of disabilities before I had Benny, but now that I know him I want everyone else to know that disabilities bring something valuable to our world.
Every child brings their own unique set of attributes into the world and Benny is no different. His beautiful smile and exuberant nature lights up our lives. He has a knack for cheering people up. He has a profound appreciation for good music, friends and family. These are not the achievements that pediatricians check off on developmental questionnaire boxes, but the best things in life cannot be measured.
Recently I watched the TedX talk Socially Constructing Down Syndrome by fellow rockin mom Cara Jacocks. Towards the end of her talk she mentions the many accomplishments of adults with Down syndrome who have achieved what we consider stereotypical success in our society - high profile jobs as actors, models, athletes, entrepreneurs, etc.
While these successes are exciting, and as a mom I always love sharing the accomplishments of others with Down syndrome, I worry that highlighting these rare high achievers may do more harm than good towards changing the underlying prejudice that is so harmful to our families.
If we really want to change the conversation around disabilities we need to talk about what those disabilities bring to the world, not what people with disabilities are "able" to do despite their disabilities.
Many people with Down syndrome will not become high career achievers. In fact, the statistics on employment for people with intellectual developmental disabilities is abysmally low. Many of us who have children with Down syndrome know that there is a high possibility that they may need care for their entire lives. But that does not mean that their lives are not worth living.
If we really want to change the conversation around disabilities we need to talk about what those disabilities bring to the world, not what people with disabilities are "able" to do despite their disabilities.
While working on an episode of my podcast T21Action last year I had an eye opening discussion with Sandra McElwee, author, activist and mother of Sean from the reality show Born this Way. One of the books she has written about Sean talks about the importance of inclusion in education. When I asked her why inclusion was important, she surprised me by saying that inclusion is better for every child in a classroom, including the highly gifted children.
Statistically, every student in a classroom benefits from having children with disabilities present. All of the students benefit not just socially, emotionally, and academically but they even score higher on intelligence tests.
Apparently learning together with people with disabilities actually makes you smarter.
This kind of blew my mind. I asked Sandra how sharing the classroom with a student who has disabilities could actually improve IQ scores of neuro-typical students because it seemed too incredible to be true. She said that we learn best when we teach others, and that it's also a confidence booster, both of which can increase intelligence test scores.
We live in such a high achievement world, and I’ve seen so many parents fighting to get their children into the “best” schools, which are so often ones that cater to students who are gifted high achievers and exclude different learners who may not test as well.
Apparently learning together with people with disabilities actually makes you smarter.
If including students with disabilities raises the abilities of every single student in the room, than our current model is incredibly damaging to every child.
This follows into the adult world, where the statistics on the workplace match those in the classroom. Workplaces that include people with disabilities report more productivity, job satisfaction and retention of workers. In other words, people work harder, are happier, and more likely to continue working for that employer for longer.
With statistics like that companies should be clamoring to hire people with disabilities! Instead, as I mentioned previously, people with disabilities, especially intellectual ones, have the highest rate of unemployment in the United States.
This needs to change, and it starts with a paradigm shift about ability.
These statistics prove that it is not the rare high achievements of people with disabilities that bring value to our world. It is the disability itself that makes our lives better.
How is this possible? We have been brought up to believe that the worst thing in the world is to not have the same abilities as everyone else. We have government programs designed to prevent people with disabilities from being born at all, because our fear of them is so great.
What if people with disabilities aren’t a burden to society at all? What if they bring something critical to our world? This is an important question to ask ourselves, as early prenatal testing has already begun the process of eliminating people with disabilities from society not just from exclusion but from having never been born at all.
As a mother I still prefer to highlight my son’s capabilities, and I still worry about what he may never be capable of. I have a long way to go before I rid myself of the societal conditioning that makes it so hard to embrace disability.
The truth is, this is what makes it so hard to embrace all of myself as well. I am not capable of everything. I criticize myself for not being more organized, for being so terrible at math, for my inability to properly aim or catch a ball in any sport.
The truth is we all have disabilities in one way or another, and we all spend too much time trying to compensate for them. Separating ourselves from people with disabilities keeps us from seeing the beauty in ourselves and our own challenges and areas of weakness.
Today I challenge myself to accept and love the parts of myself that struggle, and to find pride in the things I cannot do.
We cannot control or change anyone but ourselves, but I hope that in working on my own acceptance of disabilities that I inspire others to do the same. Let’s embrace our disabilities, celebrate our differences, and let go of our assumptions about what creates worth. By doing so you may find, as I did, that the world is a much better place than you ever imagined.
Dear Electors, Please Save Us!
You have the power to stop Donald Trump from becoming the next president of the United States. That’s a big deal.
Like any hero of a good story, you’ve been unwittingly plunged into the uncomfortable position of having to decide between the status quo and saving the world.
I’m so sorry dear elector. Any other election this would have merely been a symbolic position. There wouldn’t be any difficult decisions to make. You wouldn’t be receiving emails and petitions begging you to change your vote. You would vote for the candidate assigned to you by your state in a purely ceremonial way, and maybe attend some fun cocktail parties, or whatever it is electors do after they’re done electing.
But for whatever reason, the fates have cruelly decided that this year - the year that you’ve been chosen as an elector - this year is different. This year there is more at stake than just what political party wins the white house.
You may have your own reasons to vote for or against Trump. Here are mine:
As a mother I am truly worried about the future of our planet.
Donald Trump is a direct threat to that future. His attitude towards diplomatic relations and nuclear weapons terrifies me.
When I hear about how he’s upset China before he’s even taken office, I look at the sweet face of my two year old as he sleeps and I fear what war might mean for his childhood.
I cannot even think about what nuclear fallout might look like, it is just too frightening.
Trump’s 100 day plan talks about lifting restrictions on dirty energy sources, including reopening coal mines. I grew up near a coal mine. Many people that I grew up with have already died from or are fighting off cancer. There are many ways to bring jobs to struggling communities that aren’t dangerous to our health.
I think about my 13 year old who loves to hike and camp. What will be left for him after the gas and oil industries are done? Will there still be beautiful protected places in nature left to enjoy? What will we drink when all of the water is polluted from toxic fracking chemicals and pipeline spills?
I’ve spent time traveling around our country and it is beautiful. The Sonoran Desert where I currently live is gorgeous in it’s own stark way.
The purple mountains that surround Tucson rise up sharply, towering thousands of feet above us, reminding us how small and insignificant we really are. When we drive out of the city we can see breathtaking views of saguaro cactus forests that go for miles and miles all the way to the horizon...what a sharp contrast it is driving just a few hours away to the red rocks of Sedona or the pine forests of Flagstaff.
The entire country is full of contrasts like that. Growing up we spent summers driving around the United States with my grandparents. We visited the geysers of Yellowstone, drove over the vastness of the Mississippi river, and even made it to Washington DC to see the White House and visit the National Monuments and Smithsonian Museums.
When we were done driving we usually spent the rest of the summer in rural Illinois. I loved tramping around in the woods picking raspberries and fishing with my grandfather. I never saw the leaves change in the fall though.
It wasn’t until my first year of college on the East Coast that I got to see a real New England fall. I remember the moment that I looked up and saw thousands of trees turning vibrant shades of fire, rust and gold. It took my breath away the first time I saw it, and every year after that. America the beautiful.
To a developer or a businessman these open spaces might seem like a waste. “Why do we protect so much land when we could be exploiting it for financial gain?” I see this question phrased in so many different ways in the policies and ideas presented by the would-be president.
It takes thoughtful leadership to remember why we protect these precious places. The ability to think beyond one’s self, and to think beyond the needs of the moment. That is an ability that Donald Trump does not seem to have.
There are many more reasons why I think Trump is unfit to lead our country. Reasons that you can verify with a simple search looking at his history of corrupt business deals, his many business conflicts of interest that would crack the foundation of our democracy were he to take office, the 75 pending lawsuits, the 25 million dollars he agreed to pay to the victims of Trump University and the current investigation into his charitable foundation, his infidelities during his three marriages, his history of sexual assault, and the many insulting things he has said while campaigning, from making fun of disabled people to war heroes to members of his own party. Or the time he bragged about grabbing women "by the pussy”.
There are so many reasons why Trump is unfit to be president that it’s hard to list them all. And there are some reasons why he might be a terrific president too, which is why so many people in this country voted for him. It is important to acknowledge that too.
But it’s impossible to know whether he will be a terrific or terrible president because he is wildly unpredictable, which is probably the biggest reason of all why it is so important that your vote prevents Donald Trump from taking office.
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. The future of the entire world is at stake. Please use your vote wisely. For me, for my family and for the future of this beautiful country.
We will fight this together
Before the election Donald Trump whined and threatened that if he wasn't elected he would refuse to concede and warned everyone repeatedly about voter fraud. But when the candidate everyone said they were going to vote for, that millions of Americans did vote for, the candidate who is dignified and qualified, when that candidate unexpectedly loses, we aren't supposed to question whether or not the election was rigged?
I know for a fact that my ballot wasn't counted. I live in Pima County in Arizona, a highly democratic county, and thousands of early ballots like mine remained uncounted when they called the state for Trump. There's something pretty fishy about that.
In the end it turns out that supposedly Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost the election due to a technical error called the electoral college. If the situation were reversed would Trump have gracefully conceded? There's no damn way he would have! Hillary Clinton may have just been too damn tired of taking all of the abuse to keep trying, but I'm too damn mad and there is too much at stake to let her go.
All over the country people are protesting. And they should. We were robbed of our democracy last week. Not everyone can get out to protest in the streets, but people like me who have young children and busy lives, we are protesting in our own way. Not in the streets but on social media, with our friends and families. We can't let this happen to our country. We are asking ourselves, what do we do now?
I have been pondering this question for many days now and here is my answer to what we do:
We fight with everything we've got. We have too much at stake to sit this one out. How do we fight?
#1. Media attention
We need true investigative journalism to look into every aspect of this. We need to declare that there has been voter fraud and start investigating. We need to investigate both Republicans and Russians and look into how they might have manipulated this election. We need to investigate voter suppression. We need to investigate Trump's fraud cases with Trump University and the Trump Foundation. We need to investigate Trump's sexual harassment and rape charges. We need to investigate whether or not we can charge Trump for hate crimes for instigating violence at his rallies. We need to further investigate the role Comey had in throwing this election with his pointless email announcements. We need to investigate whether Trump's business relationships are too much of a conflict of interest for him to be eligible for the role of president. We need to investigate the role of the electoral college and whether that's been abused as well as how we can overturn it. We need to investigate this entire election with thorough reporting.
#2. Legal action
We need to follow up all of this journalistic investigation with legal actions against all of those responsible for intentionally impeding the election. Voters in each state need to hold their states accountable for properly counting their ballots. We need to hold Comey accountable for colluding to influence an election. We need to hold Trump accountable for all of his crimes. We need to hold the Republican Party accountable for their gerrymandering and voter suppression. This is the United States of America. Let's sue these assholes!
#3. Protests and petitions
We need to continue peaceful protests and signing petitions. We need to demand that the electoral college be disbanded and the popular vote instated. We voted and we deserve to be heard. This is our country, and we're not giving it up without a fight.
There is a lot that needs to be done, and of course we all have busy lives. Pick one action and run with it. Call your local news station or paper and ask them to investigate this election. Talk to the lawyers you know about pursuing the legal aspects of this. If you can't make a protest in person, sign a petition. Do what you can do and know that no matter what happens you can feel better for having tried.
I leave you with this inspiration from Bob Marley, "Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights...get up, stand up, don't give up the fight!"
When I was a little girl my mom did a very good job of teaching me to see things from different points of view. I would ask her challenging questions about the way the world worked and she would answer to the best of her ability in a way that taught me that life isn't black or white.
"Think about it from their point of view." she would often respond when I would ask why a certain group of people acted a certain way. And she would point out how some people were raised differently, or how their life circumstances gave them a different point of view than I had. And my mind would expand from it's tiny little center of judgement to a greater acceptance of our many differences.
Unfortunately for our country, not everyone had a mom like mine.
It seems like every year we are increasingly divided. Red states vs blue states. Liberals vs conservatives. Pro-choice vs pro-life. Pro-vax vs anti-vax. We are pitted against one another as if our differing ideologies are insurmountable. We become the "other", and the judgements rain down in online comments where we make bruising accusations about the other's intelligence and sanity.
This polarizing reminds me of my experience with gangs growing up on the Navajo reservation. As a teenager I was friends with people from different gangs, and I flitted back and forth among my various friends without worrying about who was wearing what color.
One day this disregard for differences seemingly led to the death of several of my friends at a party. A friend I had invited showed up, and it turned out he was from a rival gang, which I hadn't realized when I invited him. There was fighting and eventually gunfire. Two young men ended up dead, and two would spend many years of their lives in prison.
I felt a terrible sense of guilt for this. When people die we often find ways to take on their deaths. The things we could have done differently that might have stopped it, may have led to a different outcome. I retreated into myself, and it took me many years to recover some semblance of my open-minded, easy going nature that I felt had led to those deaths.
Since that time many more have died in gang related violence on the Navajo Nation. The saddest aspect of it all is that most of these gang members are from the same tribe. Some are cousins or share the same clan. They grow up angry and hurt because of the results of the horrific systematic genocide and racism that has been inflicted upon indigenous people for generations. But instead of taking their anger out on the system, they take it out on each other.
What an effective way to control people. Red vs blue. Hillary vs. Trump. Distract, distract, distract. Pit us against one another so that we are so engaged in fighting each other that we forget who we are really angry at.
I have to admit I have had a hard time understanding why anyone would support Trump. My mother is much better than I am at maintaining an objective point of view. My ire goes up when I see anyone bullying anyone else. I was picked on too.
I remember one day, when I was very little, a group of boys had gathered around a puppy in our schoolyard. They were shouting at it, and chasing it with sticks and rocks. I was a very shy, withdrawn little girl at this point, and struggled to speak above a whisper in class, but when I saw this puppy it reminded me of times that I had been picked on and I was angry. "Stop it! Leave him alone!" I yelled at them, and they were startled enough to stop.
Suddenly I discovered that I had allies. My standing up for the puppy inspired other kids to stand up for it too, and afterwards we gathered around him, speaking to him in soothing voices and petting him until it's tail wagged and he forgot the abuse he had just narrowly escaped. The mean boys left and for that moment I felt a sense of power that I had never had before.
Everything about the Trump campaign has brought back that same sense of indignant injustice I had of seeing a puppy getting kicked by bullies. "How can anyone vote for this mean man?" I kept asking myself after watching clips of his speeches and seeing him invoke violence and hatred and mean-spiritedness in the crowd. The day he made fun of the disability of a reporter tipped me over the brink of understanding. How could people in my Down syndrome community supoort this man? I could not understand it.
But recently my husband told me a story that helped me to wrap my brain around it. One of the fathers in his group was grappling with who to vote for. He is a conservative, and he knows that whoever wins the election will have a huge impact on the supreme court. He has a little girl with Down syndrome and he doesn't like the way that Trump talks about women or people with disabilities, but for him the alternative has such terrible ramifications that he can't decide what to do.
Now this I can understand. While Hillary Clinton's policies and idealogies mostly coincide with my own, and her history of defending disability rights gives me great hope for my son's future if she were to win today's election, I have struggled with my concern over some of her actions. Even as I type this thousands of water protectors are gathered at Standing Rock in North Dakota, trying to stop the building of a huge pipeline that will destroy their sacred lands and endanger their water supply. President Obama has put a temporary halt to the pipeline, but he has not stopped it. It is as if he is hoping that the protestors will go away and he can sneak out of the presidency without anyone noticing how little he has done to help preserve the environment. He rode in on the promise of hope and change and saving the earth, and he rides out with American oil and gas production at an all time high, and very little of those promises fulfilled.
The woman who is hoping to come riding in after him is also doing nothing to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Whatever lip service they might give to the environment and indigenous rights is just that, lip service, and it angers me to no end. I feel even more betrayed that they are from the party that readily admits that global warming is a real and present danger. How could they do this to us? Why are we being betrayed by the people who are supposed to represent us?
And this is where I find the common bond that I had been struggling to see. Republicans, Democrats, we are not so different. Mostly we want the same things, with some minor differences. We want our friends and families to be safe, for our freedoms to be protected and for our government to look out for our best interests and otherwise stay out of our business. And none of us is getting our needs met.
If we could stop pointing fingers at one another for a moment and come together, we could stop those mean boys from kicking that puppy. But it is much easier to point fingers at one another, to feel that we are superior in our ideologies. Just like those gangs that I hung out with in high school, we have been played so well that we are attacking each other instead of the system that has failed us.
When our own government blatantly violates it's own rules, like ignoring tribal treaties and using violent force against peaceful protestors, then it doesn't really matter which puppet leader we elect. As long as their strings are controlled by corporate interests, we will continue to see our environment and our rights eaten away.
There is this old saying, "Together we stand, united we fall." Today that is an especially important reminder. We have allowed our petty differences, our "othering" to blind us to the real problems that are plaguing our economy, our environment and our freedoms. Together we must find common ground, and we must stand together to stop this great evil. We cannot let mega-corporations bully us any longer. We must protect our water. We must protect our land. We must protect each other. I don't care if you are blue or red or purple, you are human, and you can change the world, together with me.
It starts with voting. Today, on November 8th. The democratic system might be terribly broken but at least we still have it. Do not let the bullies win. If your heart cannot let you vote for Trump or for Hillary, vote for someone else, someone you do believe in. They always tell us that third party candidates can never win, but that's only because we believe them. Vote for the people you believe in, and for the things that matter most to you. And then stop blaming the other side, and start a conversation. Ask "How can we work together to make the world better?"
I believe in you. And I believe in me too. Wherever there is an attempt at greater understanding there is tolerance. And where there is tolerance there is peace. And where there is peace there is greatness. Let us all be great.
Since becoming a mom to a little boy with Trisomy 21 I have written a lot about Down syndrome and disabilities. I am a storyteller, wife and mom to a teen and a toddler. Life is busy!