Beyond the Helpers

There’s a popular Facebook meme circulating that quotes the late, esteemed Fred Rogers advising us to “look for the helpers” during times of tragedy.

This well-meaning trend re-emerges just when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has admitted to a lack of transparency for the social network’s advertising policies and display algorithms. Specifically, the ads allowed foreign (Russian) companies to funnel hundreds of thousands dollars into circulating divisive, often false information. These ads were paid for in Russian rubles, from an unclear source that Facebook has not been required to disclose…yet.

In addition to the negative political sway Facebook has exhibited through ad sales, there has been a barrage of content relative to kneeling NFL players and interpretations of Trump’s (in)actions in Puerto Rico. This is the backdrop against which the “look for the helpers” philosophy has re-emerged. 

With these events, the construct of “helpers” is considered in different ways.  With the NFL protests, we need help clearing the misinterpretations of protests against police brutality, as well as an understanding of First Amendment rights. In Puerto Rico, significant humanitarian efforts from celebrities and everyday people have taken the place of significant government action. Helpers seem to be in short supply with too many challenges across the nation and the globe to attend to at once.  The aid needed is varied as well: hearts and minds (NFL) versus a physical requirement to rescue and rebuild infrastructure (Puerto Rico). 

The renaissance of the Mr. Rogers meme, however, is overwhelming applied to the  mass-shooting that took place in Las Vegas weekend. While there are ways to help our fellow Americans  through every crisis (and there is abundant evidence of Good Samaritanism in Vegas), now more than ever, we need action from our duly elected government representatives.

I’m looking for the helpers to address our many challenges on Capitol Hill, and across the board, I’m finding them lacking. The obvious leader in failure is Mr. Trump, who benefited from the Russian attack ads, greatly exacerbated the NFL protest’s momentum, made a mockery of assistance in Puerto Rico (he wanted to throw cans of chicken a.k.a. metal projectiles into a crowd of people without water or power) and has already deflated efforts for gun control reform, because white male “lone-wolves” are his people. The President of the United States, rather than being our central helper is instead the Instigator in Chief.

Sure, there’s a select few representatives pushing for changes in gun laws, but the political gridlock turns it all into lip service. An insufficient proposed regulation of gun stocks rather than gun sales. Over 500 injured and 58 dead demands more than compassion and partisan time wasting. It demands positive action across the aisle that will actually save lives.

I offer up a new meme: Guns don’t kill people. Cynicism does.


Second Amendment Trumps All Other Constitutional Rights…Again

I want to preface this post by admitting that the attempt to articulate a deep, impotent sadness over the country’s bizarre and dangerous permissiveness of mass casualty gun violence will pale in comparison to the genius of Esquire’s Charles Pierce. Both of these pieces are worth a full read, but the titles alone suggest the feelings of many exhausted warriors in the battle to secure a right to life above the right to unload magazine clips on one’s fellow Americans:

Nothing Really Changed on That Ballfield Yesterday

When White People Realize American Politics Are Violent

In the former post, Pierce writes:

“If Sandy Hook wasn’t enough, Simpson Field is not likely to be, either. Until there’s no profit in hatred, until civility proves to be a ratings juggernaut, nothing will change. Until the instruments of mass killing are regulated as stringently as we regulate automobiles, nothing will change. Until we have as serious a conversation about the actual misuse of the Second Amendment as we are currently having about the alleged misuse of the First, nothing will change.”

In the second musing, Pierce says of Thursday night’s Congressional Baseball Game telecast on C-SPAN:

“The broadcast crew, from a Washington radio station, kept up the patter and there was a lot of talk about unity and civility, because that was the order of the day. And I continued to wonder where it was that all these people grew up.”

I have a close friend, Beth, who introduced me to the concept of losing one’s bones several years ago. You know that condition when a situation is so frustrating and hopeless, there’s just nowhere to put your feelings? So metaphorically, and oftentimes physically, the body cannot remain upright and hold its shape. The skeleton and soul collapse in on themselves, landing a person in a fetal crouch – without the reassuring comfort.

Many of us have lost our bones this week, simultaneously grappling with cognitive-dissonance inducing gratefulness that we still have cartilage left to shed. 51 year-old House Majority Whip Steve Scalise will survive his injuries with luck and quality medical care (a luxury available to members of Congress that Republican policy puts out of most Americans’ reach), but Wayne Chan ‘s life is over.

Who is Wayne Chan, you ask? A 56 year-old man murdered in a mass casualty event on the same day that Scalise was shot on an Alexandria, Virginia ballfield. Chan was an employee of a UPS facility in San Francisco, killed along with 50 year-old Bensen Louie and Michael Lefiti, 46. The names of these men deserve as much press as Scalise, not the least because none of them publicly carried water for the National Rifle Association. Earlier this week, New York Daily News writers Meera Jagannathan and Leonard Greene observed:

“In May 2015, he introduced the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, legislation that aimed to modify the criminal code to relax restrictions on cross-state gun sales — or, as he put it, eliminate ‘archaic red tape burdening gun owners who legally purchase firearms across the nation…’

‘The NRA thanks Rep. Scalise for his leadership in this important effort,’ the gun group said in a statement.”

Whenever the NRA expresses gratitude to loyal ambassadors of Second Amendment regulatory annihilation, you can be sure dead people will follow. All in the name of freedom (profits). In 2016, gun sales broke an 18-year record, with 28 million firearms purchased. That number does not encompass weapons acquired through theft or other illegal means. Although the list of verboten procurement methods grows ever smaller owning to the NRA’s wildly successful lobbying efforts.

It may be tempting to indulge the fantasy of chastened Republican (and Democrats) lawmakers currently in the pocket of Wayne LaPierre, undergoing a spiritual awakening in light of Scalise’s critical condition. But as another close friend of mine likes to advise with regard to magical thinking, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one gets full first.”

The false narrative doggedly peddled by LaPierre and his ilk remains unchanged in the wake of this week’s events – the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy packing equal or greater heat. Evidence to the contrary be damned. Alabama Congressmen Mo Brooks, just hours removed from nearly meeting his Maker in Alexandria, said this to CNN:

“It’s never easy to take when you see people around you getting shot and you don’t have a weapon yourself so you are not in a position where you can help defend.”

There it is. The usual cynicism, impervious to reality. The answer is ALWAYS more guns.

Are Members Of Conservative Mass Media Ready For Gun Control Honesty?

Gun control

“It is sort of amazing to hear (or read) entrenched members of the right-wing media establishment drop the talking points in favor of honesty. In favor of speaking to the actual will of the people, rather than the NRA-purchased Congressional narrative about gun control. In short, we want it. Now.

Keep talking Geraldo. You have our attention.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

Trolling with the Homies (February 21, 2015)

This week I read Anne Thériault’s piece for the website Vice, Let’s Call Female Online Harassment What It Really Is: Terrorism. Thériault, a frequent speaker and writer on issues surrounding sexual assault and violence against women, discussed her personal experience with the “pile on” effect ye olde Internet unleashes upon female voices. Those who dare to have an articulate opinion on issues that have plagued our gender since we began walking upright. Maybe before then. Thériault’s story of prolonged psychological torture at the hands of misogynist Internet trolls is very familiar to any woman who earns her bread and her soul’s sustenance by the keystroke. She says of a response to a piece she wrote about rape culture:

“The first comment was a man saying that I deserved to be raped.

I wish I would tell you that this comment was some kind of anomaly, but of course it wasn’t. Rape threats, death threats, and general threats of violence populate my inbox, Twitter mentions, and blog comments. I’ve had people target my family—one popular tactic is to threaten to report me to Children’s Aid as an abusive parent.

What makes these incidents even worse is just how common they are, not only for me, but for any woman who speaks out or takes up space, especially on the Internet.”

I can certainly relate to Thériault’s familiarity with online harassment, though I am nowhere near as famous, nor do I have an immediate family endangered by it. There are unfortunately a plethora of vignettes I could offer, but I think one will suffice. In January 2013 I wrote a piece for PoliticusUSA entitled, Wayne LaPierre and NRA Directly Responsible for Ricin Letters to Gun Control Leaders. Admittedly the headline is incendiary. It was meant to be. The more nuanced arguments contained in the column are based upon well-informed frustration with radical gun owners and the violence they incite.


In response, an NRA fansite called The Truth About Guns plastered a big picture of my face on its blog, “The Daily Digest.” In the body of the post, they asked the philosophical question on everybody’s mind: “If someone is killed in a home invasion or raped because they can’t own the arms they need to protect themselves properly, can we haul the Becky and the other gun control lemmings in and treat them the same way?” There’s nothing like reasoned intellectual debate, is there?


And if you can stomach a lower denominator of discourse, please have a gander at the comments section. Allow me to share just a few brief highlights:

“‘That [manjaw] should be powdered with a Ball-Peen Hammer. Stupid, evil libtards.’ I’ll wager dollars against donuts that if someone assaulted her with a ball-peen hammer, she’d like to have a .45 cal ACP at hand.'”

“Her chin looks like a golf tee, for some reason.”

“And that isn’t even why I want to smack it with a five-iron.”

“Mrs. Doubtfire was more attractive, not to mention more intelligent.”

“Becky Sarwate is proof that for every stupid position, there’s a stupid ho to advocate for it.”

“[She should be] feeding raw chicken to starved alligators by hand.”

Have we had enough yet?

Frankly speaking, this bullshit is more upsetting for the people who love me. As for myself, I’ve developed a rather thick skin over the years and am well equipped to hum along as I go. In fact, the venom I encounter as a woman with a voice and unafraid to use it only encourages. It is precisely because of this demented, perverted groupthink and the way it’s driven smart, strong women into the shadows or out of their minds for centuries (or longer) that it’s imperative to take a stand.

I am 36 years-old, twice divorced with an autoimmune disease, alopecia and a sprained left ankle. I have survived cancer, bleeding joints as a toddler, having most of my teeth knocked out, a crushed lower vertebrae, the death of my best friend, jail and two concussions. And most harrowingly of all, I made it through a childhood and two parents with more addictions and mental illnesses that a full cell block of Oz inmates. I have reinvented myself more times than Madonna and have a thick candy shell to show for it – hard but sweet.

Really Internet pigs, you think I went through all of that just to run away from the computer because I’m scared of you? Let me tell you something. You don’t know me. You don’t know my sisters-in-arms, my fellow poetesses, authors, journalists, artists, dancers and thinkers. The mothers, wives and aunts who grow a little taller everytime they create something special out of your opposition.

The cause of turning the shame right back on the dudes (yes, yes #notallmen) who use fear and violence to try to silence us is furthered everytime a professional like Anne Thériault shines a spotlight on its pervasiveness. I’d like to try to make a small contribution with my own work. So I wrote this. And I’ll keep writing. Bring it bullies.

When It Comes to Sensible Gun Reform, Mainstream Media Chooses Martyrdom Over Reporting

alison parker adam ward

My brilliant younger sister also happens to be a radio broadcast personality in the Chicago market. After the horrific August 26 on-air murder that left two local journalists from WDBJ7-TV in rural Virginia dead, she observed and asked:

“I have always felt the media only participates in the sensational aspect of gun violence. It’s the topic of the week until all the news has ‘broken’ and after that you get a sporadic update if any new information comes (evidence, trials, sentencing, etc.). Well, this lunatic used the media as a target AND a platform to showcase how easy it is to combine lax gun laws and disturbed delusions of fame into tragedy. So what now?”

Indeed. What now? Well once again, it seems not much. Apparently the NRA, our nation’s legislators and yes, even the media are content with the status quo, with the United States’ long, unchallenged reign as the leading producer of public mass shootings. If innocent little children like the ones attending school in Newton, Massachusetts get gunned down in the absurd assertion of Second Amendment rights at the expense of all others (such as the right to life), well those are the breaks.

Unfortunately, Andy Parker learned in the hardest way possible that the unchecked armament of John Q. Public just isn’t tolerable anymore. His 24-year-old daughter Allison was one of the victims in last month’s Virginia tragedy. A promising television reporter, Allison and her cameraman, 27-year-old Adam Ward, were gunned down by Vester Flanagan, a disgruntled former station employee with a history of anger and mental issues. At the outset of an unthinkable grieving process, Andy Parker had strong words for the interested lobby groups who cynically capitalize on fear to stoke a gun sale agenda. On August 27, he told CNN:

“I am going to take it on…I can promise you and the American people, I am not going to rest until I get something done here…I know the NRA. Their position is going to be, and I can hear it now, ‘if they were carrying, this never would have happened.’…If Allison and Adam had been carrying an AK-47 strapped around their waist, it wouldn’t have made a difference. They couldn’t have seen this coming, so I don’t want to hear that argument from the NRA.”

It’s a shame that the parents of slain media personalities are willing to do the Sisyphean work of trying to break through America’s hardline “guns first” mentality, while members of the mass media are themselves unwilling to ask and report on the truth. And the reality is that we have had a collective bag over our heads for far too long. Gun ownership is enshrined by the Constitution. I get that. But that does not equate to a sacrosanct inability to approach it with anything resembling common sense. Why can’t we all agree that when one is working, at school, driving down the road, running a marathon or performing any other run-of-the-mill task, being slain by a gun-toting maniac should not be a factor?

A grieving father called on the members of his beloved daughter’s profession to stop their salivating ambulance chasing and step up for reform. It may just save their lives. Parker said, “I am challenging the media, this is one of your own…It’s a great story for a couple of days and then it goes to the back burner and nothing happens.”

Joining that call is my aforementioned sister, who said, “The media is right there, microphone in hand in the face of politicians, and they don’t demand shit. Reporters go rogue and hard hitting all the time on subjects, but not when it comes to the issue of gun control.”

Journalists have the power to promote real change. It’s been done before. We need a lot more Upton Sinclairs, and a lot less Eric Bollings. And we need them now.