All ****** are created equal

So there’s a buncha white guys who get together back in the day and talk a lot over home brewed ale and decide that they should declare their independence from Jolly Olde England.

The apparently fundamental rule that they came up with, “self-evident,” in 1776, was that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

Of course, what they meant was that all white guys could pursue these rights. Women could not. Blacks could not. Pretty much everyone else was disenfranchised. Which might have been fine if they they established a country in which there were only white men. But they didn’t.

It took 100 years before black men could vote. Women couldn’t vote for 50 years after that. Equal rights in the form of being able to eat in the same restaurant, ride the same bus, even drink from the same water fountain, didn’t occur for blacks until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, almost two hundred years after those guys said that all men were equal. Clearly, George Orwell was right: some animals are more equal than others.

In this year, 232 years after they made this claim, a black man was elected President of the United States, in an election where women were also taken seriously as candidates for the first time in our history. You’d think this means that finally the words those white men said actually have some meaning.

You’d think.

When it comes to the issue of marriage, those words still mean squat. The sound defeat of civil rights this past election in the form of Proposition 8 in California, as well as measures banning gay marriage in Arizona and Florida show that even all these years later, equal rights do not exist.

Wikipedia defines marriage as “an institution in which interpersonal relationships (usually intimate and sexual) are acknowledged by the state, by religious authority, or both. It is often viewed as a contract.”

Anything in that indicate two women can’t get married? Two men? A man and a woman? A black and a white? A purple and an alien? Not that I can see. What our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters are asking for, is the right to love each other openly, and have that love and commitment acknowledged by the state to protect their civil rights to hospital visits, to benefits, to work, buy a house, have children, even divorce and separate, just like the white men do. Without the interference of others, well-meaning as they might think they are.

What astonishes me is who is coming out against the guarantee of equal rights to gays and lesbians–blacks and Mormons. Both these groups have existed outside the mainstream of white, Christian America for many many years–you’d think they’d be most sympathetic, the most committed to make sure no one was denied the equal rights they wanted as well.

But not so much.

My daughter and my friends and my co-workers and my clients shouldn’t have to leave this country– which prides itself on protecting the civil rights of citizens of other nations to the point we spend billions of dollars on war machines overseas — just to be able to exercise rights they were promised way back then by those white men. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For ALL.

To get involved, contact The Human Rights Campaign or any of the many organizations listed under the United States here. Let’s not stop until the dream comes true.

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Black and white

I got a few desperate calls from Rob, the Democratic “Voter Protection” guy in New York, and called him back, wondering what was up, since I’d already confirmed my voting precinct here in town, signed up for online training, and arranged to pick up my official credentials in Pittsburgh, 90 miles away, on Saturday.

Well. Seems the Democrats had arranged to protect the most crucial 1,500 precincts in the state, the ones that had to make sure people got the chance to vote if they wanted to, but also that would likely give the Democrats the important numbers they wanted. As I suspected when they first asked me to be an attorney poll watcher, nothing in Crawford County was even on that list. (We’re pretty low-key here; pick-up trucks with shotgun racks, and so on. Rep. Murtha really wasn’t so far off. I’m not sure why everyone got insulted.)

So, I didn’t really need to cover the precinct where they’d assigned me. However, they were having some issues that I would never have expected. Over in Titusville, the second largest city in our county, Rob said, there had been a particularly successful voter registration drive at the local branch of the University of Pittsburgh, including some 800 new voters who are black. Titusville is about as ‘white bread’ as you can get. See the problem coming?

Surely with all the suspicion about ACORN and people interfering with voters, people would be very careful about trying to influence or block certain segments of the population from voting, wouldn’t you think?

You’d think.

But Rob said reports had come in to the national offices that there had been ‘misinformation’ directed at these new black voters from the Dean’s office about their ability to vote. The registrar had interfered with their school activities. They were told by the uniformly Caucasian officials that if they put up political signs, none of them could have Obama’s face on them.

Odd behavior from a place that commits itself to “freedom of thought and expression” and supports “a culture of diversity.” See the Pitt Promise.

So Rob is instead sending myself and another attorney I know to share Election day in Titusville, to make sure that each and every person who’s registered is not hampered from entering the polling place on campus and casting a vote for his or her candidate of choice.

The whole situation makes me sad. I know I was somewhat puzzled that they thought they even needed people to watch polls here, because we’re not Philadelphia, Brooklyn or Chicago. Discovering that the evils of racism and discrimination are blatant and poisonous here in our midst shows me I’ve really turned a blind eye to the truths of our community.

Just let them try to mess with these kids. I’m ready to pick up the phone and call the election authorities, the party lawyers, heck, even the newspaper and tv. This is the twenty-first century, and we’re better than this.

Have you played the “A” card?

Parents of special-needs kids often have a lot to cope with: meltdowns, perseveration, echolalia, single-focusedness, sheer obliviousness. All this coping tends to drain away patience and sometimes even your ability to remain polite, especially when people who don’t understand get on your last nerve. Often at Wal-Mart.  I’m not sure why that is. Maybe they’ve got some sort of blue-light special on last straws.

Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin says that special-needs kids will have “a friend and advocate in the White House,” if the Republican ticket is successful. She says this, no doubt, based on the fact that she is the parent of a special-needs child. So, isn’t she using her Trig as an excuse to get special treatment, i.e. to get people to vote for her?

Is that wrong?

I stopped in mid-rant today to contemplate whether I’ve used my children’s condition as a crutch/excuse from time to time, and had to conclude that I had. For example, the time I was running late to take Captain Oblivious to the eye doctor, and they’d given up on us, ready to close up shop. When I explained I’d been picking up the children from camp, and I got held up because of an issue with a therapist, and dropped the “A” bomb–autism–suddenly they turned on the equipment and welcomed the boy with a warm smile.

I’ve frequently mentioned the different difficulties we deal with at home and school to clients, to show them I can have some understanding of what they’re going through with their own children. In a recent case I had, I ended up being an expert witness of sorts for my client because the judge and the other attorney had no idea what Asperger’s Syndrome was or what it meant for a child. By explaining what our family went through–playing that “A” card–I was able to help my client successfully conclude his case.

And sometimes you just drop it to make the complaining person feel like a heel. (We’ll add up the karma points later.)

Of course there’s the big one:  Disney World. By playing the “A” card at a Disney property, you get a magic pass that allows your whole family to go to the Fast Pass lane for many of the most popular rides. How does this help?  Well, here’s one example: We went on the Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster ride, and our wait was as long as it took us to walk up to the gate. That was it. The next car came up, and we were allowed on. If we’d gone the regular route, we’d have had to wait an hour or more.

So is it wrong?

In this case, I think it’s not. The nature of the issues our children have is that if we’d had to wait an hour for the ride, our children would not have been able to have that experience at all.  We couldn’t have been patient that long without some sort of incident. On rides where it was clear it was only a 15-minute wait, we got in the regular line and took our turn.  That’s a life lesson kids need to learn. But if it was use the pass or miss the experience–we used the pass.

The changes we saw in the children as a result of being able to experience the Disney parks didn’t happen just in those five days, but continued to expand them (especially Little Miss) over the next several months. We are very grateful for the chance to let them participate, and glad we could use the “A” card to help them. Here the card was played for their benefit.

As for the way it’s been played in the election?  That one we’ll have to wait and see.

Taking a stand

Since my office is in the same building as Republican headquarters and right across the street from Democratic headquarters, it was kind of inevitable that I’d get flagged as a target for campaign sign placement. After all, I live on a main drag, where lots of people would see the sign every day.

I really hadn’t made a firm commitment to either presidential candidate. Frankly, I’d be real tickled if in some election year there was actually a candidate that I admired who the party picked who I thought was competent and not a sleaze. (I know. I want a lot.) Politics is something I don’t really get into these days, because it’s disheartening to find the system doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, the people just spend time making negative claims about everyone else, and nothing positive seems to be accomplished.

But I was raised on politics. My father was the Republican precinct committeeman, a campaign manager, a San Francisco Goldwater convention delegate–you name it, he did it. For years, I did it too. I was the kid who got sent door-to-door in strange neighborhoods canvassing, then I was a page at the Ohio State Republican Convention when I was 15. I cold-called people in support of candidates. I handed out bumper stickers with the best of them.

The little old ladies at the polling precinct were so proud when I was 18 and walked in for the first time to vote in the Ohio primary, handing me a Republican ballot with bated breath. Of course, that’s when I had to tell them I’d registered Democrat because all my friends did, because they liked Howard Metzenbaum and I wanted to vote for him. I didn’t think jaws could drop that far. But my dad, through gritted teeth, made some comment in the background about the system working. I think there was something there about how I couldn’t drive the car any more, too.

Many of us in the autism community may have preferred one of the candidates who was eliminated earlier in the process; I haven’t heard much from either of the two main men on the subject. Special needs children certainly came into focus with the addition of Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket– but honestly, it feels like that little boy is more of a prop than a cause. (See more on this here.)

I’ve been reading and reading and liking what I read less and less. The last straw was when the New York Times revealed that the scope and format of the vice-presidential debates would be limited because “McCain advisers said they had been concerned that a loose format could leave Ms. Palin, a relatively inexperienced debater, at a disadvantage and largely on the defensive.”

Excuse me?

If they didn’t think she could handle the job, they shouldn’t have offered it to her.

That, along with the general tenor of the Republican party line, as the evangelicals grow louder again, McCain sounds not like the candidate he was eight years ago, but like the current president, and there are threats to a woman’s right to control her own body, and for everyone’s right to choose a loving partner, regardless of gender– all of this finally settled in and we made a decision.

There is an Obama sign in our front yard, and I’ve volunteered to cook some meals for campaign volunteers, in lieu of going door-to-door, which is a little difficult with our issues and schedule. We’re registering people to vote, too, and encouraging anyone we know to get out. This will be a close election, and we all remember what happened in 2000.

It’s time to take action, before it’s too late.

A mother of a job

If I hear one more talking head complain that Sarah Palin couldn’t possibly act as vice president or president because she has five children, including a special-needs child, I think my head will fly off.

In case you’ve been in a hole somewhere, I’m talking about quotes like this from the Telegraph in the United Kingdom: How can she reconcile such a high-profile job as “veep” – a “heartbeat” away from leadership of the free world and all that – with bringing up five children, the oldest of whom is about to serve in Iraq and the youngest of whom is just five months old and has Down’s Syndrome?

Or this, same source:  The former beauty queen with the myopic gaze, who traded pageant chic for power suits and designer specs to stalk the halls of power in the 49th state, a breast-pump under her arm and a BlackBerry in each hand…

Or how about this from the New York Times: In interviews, many women, citing their own difficulties with less demanding jobs, said it would be impossible for Ms. Palin to succeed both at motherhood and in the nation’s second-highest elected position at once.

Impossible?

Really?

While I don’t agree with Palin’s politics, I take issue with anyone who says a mother cannot hold any job as long as she has the physical capabilities to do so.*  What is it that a vice president does that is more taxing than the life of a governor of a state one-fifth the size of the whole country, complete with natural resource issues, international borders, and budget crises? There is travel, of course, and late-night meeting times and other inconveniences, but these could be accommodated. How many other high-level families inside the Beltway have household help to deal with basic family issues? All the Nannygate stories we’ve heard over the years would indicate that it’s no sin to find help to make sure children are well-supervised (unless you hire the undocumented).

And not to burst anyone’s bubble, but everyone who thinks George W. Bush does all his own work every day, raise your hand now!

That’s what I thought. Presidents and vice presidents have “people,” assistants and staff who perform triage and make sure their executive has the right information at the right time, drivers, planners, secretaries….you name it. Any busy mother I know could only benefit and bloom in such a situation, not get bogged down.

As for having a special-needs child, I have to say that since I’ve had mine, I’ve had to become smarter about time management and more efficient with resources to accomplish all the tasks I want to in a day. The many parents in similar circumstances I’ve met, both in real-life and online, manage their families’ lives with a sharp eye, making doctors’ and therapy appointments, trying medication schemes, advocating their child’s cases at school, seeking out social situations that benefit their child. All the while, they work and take care of significant others and other children–some even care for parents as well.

I mean, imagine my surprise to find I agree with Phyllis Schlafly!

“(Motherhood) changes your life and gives you a different perspective on the world,” said Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative organizer who helped defeat the equal rights amendment nearly three decades ago.

“People who don’t have children or who have only one or two are kind of overwhelmed at the notion of five children,” Ms. Schlafly continued, mentioning that she had raised six children and run for Congress as well. “I think a hard-working, well-organized C.E.O. type can handle it very well.”

That being said, I’m not sure Palin as a mother is making good decisions at this particular juncture. Would I have put myself in a national spotlight when my teenaged daughter was having a painful personal crisis, knowing how the media sharks would devour her? Not likely. That’s a decision she’ll have to live with.

Women have had to balance many issues as they’ve made progress through the years, and Palin may have rationalized that to move women forward a step in the ranks of equality, that this sacrifice was worthwhile.

Robert A. Heinlein, in his persona of Lazarus Long, says, “Whenever women have insisted on absolute equality with men, they have invariably wound up with the dirty end of the stick. What they are and what they can do makes them superior to men, and their proper tactic is to demand special privileges, all the traffic will bear. They should never settle merely for equality. For women, “equality” is a disaster.”

Perhaps this will be the outcome of Sarah Palin’s choice in the long run.  On the other handWill she be good for women or an awful embarrassment? Too soon to tell. But, heck, she can’t be any more embarrassing than a vice president who gets indicted like Spiro Agnew, can’t spell potato like Dan Quayle or shoots his buddy like Dick Cheney.

It’s Sarah Palin’s choice to make, not naysayers in the media and the political parties and the religious extremists– hers.  I, for one, support her right to make it. You go, girl.

*For example, a pregnant woman would have a heck of a time shinnying through an 18-inch diameter pipe. But women who have the strength, endurance, intelligence or any other skill it takes to fulfill a job description (and there really aren’t many that list “penis” as a requirement), should absolutely be equally considered and hired.

The quick-fix society

I remember the days when people used to write something–a novel, a newspaper column, whatever–and it stood. Absent some blatant factual error, what you read was what you got.

The same used to be true about what people said, particularly famous people, who speak a lot, in public, with people listening. You researched your topic, you wrote your speech, knowing people would hear it, and you tried to be as accurate as possible.

Somewhere these tenets of publication changed. Society now seems to be running on a paper-towel roll philosophy: whatever is said today, if someone attacks it, you tear off the next sheet and apologize, and try again.

The 2008 presidential campaign has been rife with these episodes. Hillary with her Bosnian landing field, Obama and his “bitter” Pennsylvania voters, McCain as well, and all their staff people shooting off their mouths left and right, coming in as soon as a criticism is made with a “Oh, gee, we’re sorry, we misspoke.”

And there, in the public confessional, they say their Hail Marys, or whatever penance is necessary, and then the campaigns move on to their next outrageous attack–that they’ll withdraw as soon as someone speaks up.

(Don’t even get me started on Bill Clinton and his tilting windmills. Or the current president, for that matter. I wouldn’t believe anything either of them said at this point.)

Aren’t these people supposed to inspire confidence, instead of undermining it? With all their advanced degrees from prestigious universities, shouldn’t the rest of us be able to feel like they know what they’re doing? That they think before they speak? That they know the difference between the truth and a lie?

I’m equally disturbed about several blogs I’ve read lately about readers forcing a publisher or author to change their work. Like the postThe Jungle Book, for example, Amanda Marcotte’s effort to turn her successful blog platform into a launching place for the book It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. This is what all the publishers and agents are telling us writers to do, when we go to conferences. So she did. But then women of color protested the illustrations from classic comic books, which showed a blonde woman battling assorted evils, and an “undifferentiated brown horde.”

So, does Marcotte say, I know my audience and this is my book, if you don’t like it, don’t read it? No. According to The Root, “the publisher posted an apology on its Web site and announced they would change the illustrations in any subsequent print runs of the book. Marcotte apologized as well, on Pandagon.”

So here we have the functional equivalent of all these big-name stars (Can we say Sharon Stone in China any more? I don’t think so.) who do something people don’t like, then fall all over themselves to apologize. Just before they go into rehab and emerge shiny-new. So, the author and publisher apologized, CHANGED THE MATERIAL despite their previous satisfaction, and that’s the end, right?

No. From The Root: “The more Seal Press and Marcotte tried to make amends, the more voices rose telling them just what was missing from their apologies; each renewed charge would spark new, and newly misbegotten, explanations or apologies.”

My question is, why did all these people, some of whom I’m sure had never even read the material in question, have the right to demand changes anyway? It wasn’t their work. They may not have agreed with it, but then don’t read it! I mean, how ridiculous is this? Does this open the door to demanding from the Melville estate that Moby Dick be rewritten because whaling is barbarous? Or that someone redraft Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for all the reasons they won’t let it be taught in school any more?

Technological advances have made our world a little smaller and more intimate. We can hear campaign speeches 24-7, or read about them online. We can discuss public acts by public people with others around the globe. We have an opportunity to weigh in with our opinions on just about anything, still, as long as you stay clear of Homeland Security.

I believe this sharpens up certain rights and responsibilities. Speakers/publishers have the obligation to guard their words to make sure they are true and accurate–the first time. Readers/listeners have the right to consider the words and decide whether to accept them as given. But I don’t think the reader/listener ever gains the right to control that content. Content belongs to the author. Authors are entitled to opinions. Authors say what they have to say. Take it–or leave it. But don’t fix it.

Issues of the Day

My friends, this is NOT the week to be a registered voter in the state of Pennsylvania.

The phone is ringing at least once a day with someone demanding to know if we understand their candidate’s position on the important issues of the day: Clinton’s a recorded message, Obama’s a live person (point: Obama).

Frankly, I have never been so happy we really gave up watching local networks in favor of cable. Even the TODAY show is crammed full of political ads, none as vicious as we may have seen in years past, thank the Powers that Be. For some 20 minutes in the morning, the only local news we see is inundated with campaign rhetoric. Most of it is in the non-controversial vein, i.e., do you want to keep your job, stop abuse, get medical care, protect freedom, etc. Well heck yeah, that sounds good. (Except maybe the job part.) As a general rule, people working? GOOD. Health? Good. Protecting kids–GOOD.

But somehow those people’s “issues of the day” are not my “issues of the day.” My issues are much smaller, closer to home, like trying to convince my Aspie boy that even if he remembers what the teacher said, that he should still take notes in math class. Because she said to. The world does NOT revolve around you, dear. When you go to junior high next year, you can’t just get up and wander around the class because you feel like it. And the worst of all, what the school psychologist kept bringing up at our last meeting: Hormones. But I’m just not going to think about that now. Call me Scarlett.

Or fighting to expand therapies for my daughter so she can learn to use language in a world centered around verbal and written communication. Or keeping up with 8-10 loads of laundry a week while making all the children’s appointments, dealing with educational issues, cooking, cleaning, etc., oh and having a mostly full-time job. I sympathize with those of you who are also dealing with this or any one of the other experiences you all share every day. Or dealing with the small inequities in the legal system that subvert justice for my individual clients.

So those folks on the commercials will have to forgive me if I don’t really focus on those broad brush strokes. Not much I can do about them, to my mind. I’m not even convinced that any of these candidates can do much, in this clogged-up bureaucratic government we’ve inherited. These little issues, I can maybe solve. It’s that saying that’s posted everywhere about how a hundred years from now, the things you own might not matter, but the changes you’ve made in a child’s life might mean everything. I’ve got to concentrate on that, at work and at home.

I admire and encourage those who have the interest and energy to keep up with the political arena, particularly in the area of autism. The woman who comes most to mind is Cindy Waeltermann of Autismlink. I’m on her mailing list and get editorials and calls to action regularly. But other blogs I read regularly show me people are paying attention, like this and this and many others. I just find it hard to get fired up about any of that when I’m dealing with perseveration and hypervigilance and doctors and therapy and meetings and SpongeBob. Again.

That’s a real shame, because here we have the first viable female candidate in American history, something for which I would have been firing off rockets about 20 years ago when I left law school, my feminism in full flight. I was always sure I’d be out there campaigning and flag-waving when that happened. But this one, she just doesn’t move me. Not just because of the canned phone appeals, either.

We also have a young, idealistic candidate, who would normally have been someone I could get behind and respect– but he just doesn’t click, either. But I’m glad he does click with young people, because they need to learn how valuable the right to vote is, and get out and use it.

Then there’s the other one.

I’ll be in the voting booth on April 22, with my kids, because we always take them along to show them how important it is to exercise their rights. Baby steps. But as Lao Tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Lao Tzu also said this: Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. This is the reason for the new button in my sidebar, “How Rich are You?” which I learned about at Alvinology. I discovered today that even though our family struggles each month financially to stay on top of things, that by this scale I am in the top five percent of the world, income-wise. That’s mind-boggling. So, test it out. Maybe we can discover that we are all, in many ways, much richer than we think.