Take Action to Support Voting Rights

Americans are proud of the democracy we live in — or at least, the one we think we live in. Many people think of poll taxes and other forms of voter suppression as things of the past, but there’s a frightening amount of it going on today.  In order for “register your protest in the voting booth” to work, we need fair elections accessible to all voters. Registration deadlines will be here before you know it. Here are some easy but crucial things you can do to help!

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Taking and Making: January 14

Today, I took in:

James Fallows’ “Have They No Sense of Decency?” in The Atlantic

Mark Oppenheimer’s “How to Turn a Red State Purple (Democrats Not Required)” in Politico

an embarrassing number of Castle episodes while I worked on some admin tasks


I made: 

a short blog post for tomorrow

a little more work on Spanish with Duolingo

Where in the World Wednesday


Trafalgar Square, London, England; January 21, 2017

It’s International Women’s Day — wear red in support of women striking for equality, and if you’re a woman who can strike today, please do!

Here’s a quick primer on the day.

Advent Calendar for Social Justice

Check out the Advent Calendar for Social Justice here!

We have one month left before we’re in 2017, and although it’s tempting to just curl up into a ball until it’s over, we know that we need to prepare to live in a Trump world. (For the many people who see how this year has just pulled back the mask on what wasn’t all that well hidden to begin with – I hear you. I’m sorry it’s taking some of us so long to figure it out.) Okay, so let’s live in this world, let’s make it as good as we possibly can, and let’s do it together.


I used to be a weekly churchgoer, and the rhythms of the church year still echo in my life. The season leading up to Christmas is called Advent. Advent is a time of preparation, during which Christians prepare for the coming of the savior of the world. They prepare for the end of the world as we know it and the arrival of a better world we can barely imagine. This year, we are preparing for what certainly feels like the end of the world, and it’s hard to see anything beyond it. Trump is the opposite of a savior, no matter how he brands himself in his populist speeches. So this year we need to prepare ourselves to be our own saviors, to save ourselves from what we’ve allowed to happen. (I’m speaking mostly to my fellow straight white cis folks here – people of color and queer folk have been doing the heavy lifting since forever.)

This election seems to have served as a wake-up call for many of us. It’s not right that it took a loss that will devastate so many lives and alter the fabric of our democracy to serve as such, but here we are. So now what? is the question I see most frequently on Facebook, Twitter, in the news. There are a lot of good answers out there, from better thinkers than I. Read them, discuss them with friends and family, take action.

But for what it’s worth, here is my “what now?” response. Advent is a time of preparation, so let’s prepare. For each day of December, I’m going to take concrete action that makes me more prepared to resist the Trump presidency, or that offers some resistance now, or that contributes something good and kind to the world. Some of these actions can be done anywhere in the world, and some are US-specific.

I also think it’s important to do a mix of overtly political and more community-building or “good deeds” type things. Especially if you haven’t been politically active before, you may find this a little intimidating, but what we’ve seen from the way Trump’s campaign was run, and now after the election, is that white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia play a prominent role in people’s political decisions and everyday lives. Coaching Little League builds community, yes, please keep doing that — but also see how you can assist your local Black Lives Matter chapter, to build community in that way as well. And artists — keep creating, always. Artists are vital.


Will you join me for this month? Especially for people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves political, or who don’t have much experience with activism, I tried to make this an accessible collection of things to do that will show how easy it is to fit these things into our busy lives, and how it’s not that scary to do.

If you have suggestions, please comment. Share this with anyone you like. The key is to take action, and to do it together. So call your mom, talk to your coworker, make a new friend, and go all in. As Angela Davis recently said, “How do we begin to recover from this shock? By experiencing and building and rebuilding and consolidating community. Community is the answer.”

Here is where I was going to put the calendar, but I can’t get it to embed. So please click through to the Advent Calendar for Social Justice. Be sure to click on each day to see notes and useful links with further info for each action item.

This calendar is intended as a helpful tool for people who want to do something, but aren’t sure where to start. I hope it will help you sample different ways of taking action, so that in the new year, you’ll be better prepared to really dig in to volunteering, donating, and organizing roles. I’d love your feedback. I consider it a live document and will adjust it as necessary.

Shout-out to Liz and Emmett for providing excellent advice and action items.


Resources for Educating Yourself and Taking Action:
Accomplices Not Allies
A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support
Oh Crap! What Now? A Survival Guide
Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice
“We’re His Problem Now” Calling Sheet
What Educators Can Do to Support Undocumented Students
What to Do Instead of Calling the Police

Organizations Fighting the Good Fight:
American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International
Black Lives Matter
Campaign Zero
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Emily’s List
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Disability Rights Network
National Women’s Law Center
Planned Parenthood
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Southern Poverty Law Center
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
The True Colors Fund
Welcoming Refugees

Image 1. Image 2. Image 3.


#EndAusterityNow Demo in London

I got a rush on Saturday that I hadn’t felt in years, the kind I get when I’m in a large action with other people, all of us united for a common cause. I’ve been traveling around for the last three years, so I haven’t been in the kind of protests I joined in Chicago or my hometown. It felt good to join in with tens of thousands of people (estimates range from 70,000 to 250,000) and raise our voices on behalf of the many. And the many were saying–forget austerity, embrace true prosperity for all.

#EndAusterityNow Demo in London

Austerity in Britain has had the usual effect of making the poor poorer and the rich richer, and the new cuts to social programs being proposed and implemented now will drastically change the fabric of British society, in a way that we Americans have a hard time understanding, because the Brits started with more than we’ve ever won for ourselves. To lose these social programs is truly devastating.

There've already been too many cuts--the system can't handle any more

There’ve already been too many cuts–the system can’t handle any more

I marched with friends in the National Union of Teachers block, which had the benefit of putting me in a group that I’m entirely comfortable with and fully supportive of (pretty much everyone I know is a teacher), and putting me right near the start of the march. By the time we walked the 2.5 miles from Bank in the City of London to Parliament Square in the City of Westminster, some people at the back had barely made it past the starting point.

Hare Krishnas got everyone in a festive mood while we waited for the march to start

Hare Krishnas got everyone in a festive mood while we waited for the march to start

People used to shout "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie" "Out, Out, Out!" at anti-Thatcher demos in the '80s. Today, a simple "Tory, Tory, Tory" will get the same response.

None of the major political parties is officially anti-austerity. Everyone’s buying into the big lie. Except the Greens, bless ’em (and possibly SNP as well).

We stood pretty near the stage in Parliament Square and listened to an impressive succession of short speeches. The organizers kept the people talking to a maximum of three minutes each, and everyone was on-message about how these cuts would hurt the most needy of society, and how the Conservatives won the election but they hardly have a mandate for austerity, and how we all need to keep up the pressure to change these harmful policies before they get any farther. (Not to mention they want to ax the Human Rights Act and re-fund the nuclear weapons program, which is so impossibly backwards it must be the premise to a dystopian sci-fi novel.)

Along the march

Along the march

Over and over, they reminded us that it wasn’t the nurses and teachers who created the financial crisis, it was the bankers. It’s not the millionaires who need these programs, it’s the disabled, the domestic violence victims, the hungry. And it’s not the UK that’s going to thrive in austerity, it’s the bankers and millionaires.

I live tweeted some of the speeches, so most of these I don’t have proper attribution–I wasn’t familiar with all the speakers so I don’t remember all their names.

‘We’re the 6th richest nation on the planet, don’t tell me we can’t afford the NHS’

People used to shout "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie" "Out, Out, Out!" at anti-Thatcher demos in the '80s. Today, a simple "Tory, Tory, Tory" will get the same response.

People used to shout “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie” “Out, Out, Out!” at anti-Thatcher demos in the ’80s. Today, a simple “Tory, Tory, Tory” will get the same response.

‘If you make our lives unbearable, we will make this society ungovernable’

In a nutshell

In a nutshell

‘If they thought they won the war with austerity on May the 8th, they need to think again’

Not sure what the smoke bombs were about, but there were different colors throughout the march

Not sure what the smoke bombs were about, but there were different colors throughout the march

‘They were worried about that building crumbling [pointing to the Houses of Parliament]. I’m more worried about democracy crumbling.’ Caroline Lucas

‘It looks to me like socialism is far from an anachronism. It’s back in fashion. Keep fighting, this is just the beginning’

‘David Cameron, you are wrong. This is what I call an opposition!’

I love this way of phrasing it--it gets to the idea of how undemocratic this election result was (24% of the popular vote is no majority)

I love this way of phrasing it–it gets to the idea of how undemocratic this election result was (24% of the popular vote is no majority)

‘Our victory will be your victory’ message from Greece

Greek flags at the ready

Greek flags at the ready

‘If you think the rich should pay their taxes, shout as loud as you can’

#EndAusterityNow Demo in London #EndAusterityNow Demo in London #EndAusterityNow Demo in London

‘I’m proud to be British because of our national health service, our welfare system, and David Bowie’ Charlotte Church

‘Austerity is about divide and rule. It’s about destroying the things that give us our humanity so the powerful can stay in power’ Francesca Martinez

#EndAusterityNow Demo in London


We left during Jeremy Corbyn’s speech (he’s the only candidate for Labour leader who’s anti-austerity–vote accordingly!), because you know, after several hours marching and rallying, nature does call. (Apparently I missed Owen Jones and Russell Brand, both of whom I wouldn’t mind seeing sometime.)

Lovely,simple design on this sign

Lovely, simple design on this sign

So the final speech I heard in full was from Francesca Martinez, a comedian I’m not familiar with but definitely want to hear more of. Her speech was my favorite. She celebrated the social programs of Britain as examples of humanity at its best, and she decried the actual evil of those who want to cut them down to nothing as part of a program to fix an economy that those same people in power broke in the first place with their banking schemes. We must fight for these programs in a fight for our better selves and a better humanity. She said, ‘Every one of us has a duty to each other to protect what is beautiful about being human.’ I can’t think of a better way to phrase why I went on the demo on Saturday–and why I’ll go to more.

#EndAusterityNow Demo in London

#BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe: Resources for a Post-Ferguson America

Watching the murderers of Mike Brown and Eric Garner walk away unpunished in any way has been infuriating and heartbreaking. These two cases (and there are more cases coming to light every day, such as that of Tamir Rice) highlight the extreme racism and injustice at the root of American law and culture. Following people on Twitter and reading blog posts and articles linked from Facebook has helped me learn more and direct my energies and monies to movements that are responding on the ground (since I’m in London and can’t be there in person to march).

From blacklivesmatter.com

I’ve compiled some pieces here for Learning and Taking Action. This is mostly for my fellow white people, since a lot of this is explanatory in a way that people of color don’t need to hear because they’re living it. There are a range of pieces, from beginner to advanced stage anti-racism, so don’t be scared if you’re new to listening and talking about race in an informed way. Certainly I’m not any kind of expert, but a lot of the writers here are, so please take a look. I can especially recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates, Melissa Harris-Perry, Jay Smooth, Janet Mock, and Latoya Peterson as people to follow, read, and learn from.

Let’s not look away. Let’s look this straight in the face and tell it where to go.

Please go to the comments to share any other links you’ve found helpful.

From blacklivesmatter.tumblr.com


If you’re only going to read one link from this post, read this one by the excellent Luvvie. It’s smart and comprehensive but succinct, and she uses funny GIFs.

White and not really understanding why people are so upset about Ferguson and Eric Garner? It’s probably because you’re mostly talking to other white people–that’s the norm in the US, as this article explains. Time to broaden what you read and who you talk to.

Here’s an even more accessible article on how acknowledging white privilege and working against racism doesn’t mean you have to hate white people, just the terrible racist system that white people put into place and now perpetuate.

The devastating new rules for being black in the United States. My friends have a baby not yet two months old, and knowing he’ll learn these rules makes me furious.

Eric Garner’s widow, Esaw, is not accepting the apology of her husband’s killer. She’s furious, she’s grieving, and she’s not letting Pantaleo make himself feel better by getting her to forgive him.

Bevin’s great collection of resources and reflections over at Queer Fat Femme highlighted this article, which reveals that #BlackLivesMatter is a specific movement founded by queer black women. It’s good to be aware of the origins of this widely-used hashtag.

Ta-Nehisi Coates continues to be one of the foremost writers on a lot of things, but especially race. Here he talks about Obama’s reaction to Ferguson, and what the system is set up to do and not do.

One piece of laminated plastic means this Vassar College professor experiences humiliating, dangerous situations rather than life-threatening situations –and he’s never allowed to forget it.

Don’t repeat the ignorant ‘but what about black-on-black crime?’ question. Coates has you covered.

The last words of some black and brown people murdered in the United States, in artwork.

We like to think that the non-indictments in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown case (and the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin) are evidence of flaws in the American justice system, but this straightforward piece argues that they’re just links in the chain of a justice system doing what it’s designed to do–oppress people of color for the benefit of white people in this country.

From blacklivesmatter.blogspot.co.uk


Steps to take as a white person if the Ferguson case is just shaking you awake to the trenchant racism alive and well in the United States. Self-educate and get involved! (I especially like the intro, in which the author Janee Woods wonders why so few reactions to the case appeared on her Facebook wall–something I wondered about when looking at my wall, too.)

You want facts to convince you of the unfairness of what happened? You want convincing that protests are worthwhile? Check out this post on how to talk about Ferguson and the aftermath.

Support people taking anti-racist action in the aftermath of Ferguson by making a gift to various organizations. ‘Tis the season, right?

Do you interact with kids as a teacher, parent, guardian, relative, friend? Here’s a great resource on how to talk with them about what’s been going on.

If you already consider yourself an active ally, take a look at this piece that challenges us to be accomplices rather than allies.

Don’t contribute to #CrimingWhileWhite–keep the focus on #AliveWhileBlack.

Visit Ferguson Action and Ferguson Response for actions you can join in on.


Look, redirect your money for militarizing police forces to these trainings instead, and eliminate police killings of citizens in under a decade! It truly is a culture we can change, not a given we must resign ourselves to.

Don’t Shoot rally at Howard University (From http://www.cbc.ca)

Political Graffiti in Cuenca

"If god exists, he lunches at the table of ??"

“If god exists, he lunches at the table of the boss” (could be referring to President Correa)


“Extinction is near, but you can fly”


“Weed cures cancer” (demonstrably untrue, but carry on)


“Smoke one…I already smoked one… Smoke another!”


“We can live without gold, but not without water” and “Live free”

Anarchy symbol on the main church door

Anarchy symbol on the main church door


“Punk isn’t dead, it’s partying”

"Unity for the revolution and socialism"

“Unity for the revolution and socialism”

graffiti cuenca


“Uncover the memory” (I don’t know what that means, or what the toilet plunger signifies)


“I already voted, now how do I free myself?”

"Grow, believe, create..."

“Grow, believe, create yourself…it’s not metaphorical, it’s literal”

"Without poetry, there is no city"

“Without poetry, there is no city”

Traveling From Your Living Room

Time for another story gushing about the wonders of Couch Surfing! This past weekend I hosted two women who were on break from their master’s programs in St. Louis. Ainur, from Kazakhstan, is studying American law, and Shushanik, from Armenia, is studying education. They’re in their 30s, they have jobs and personal lives to return to in their home countries, but they took the plunge on expanding their horizons thousands of miles from home, which I greatly admire. They were in Chicago to sightsee, but we found time to hang out and chat, and had some cultural exchange over omelets and ice creams.

Ainur, me, Shushanik

We talked about American politics a little; they had both come to the States with the impression that we were “the most atheistic” country in the world, so they were shocked to see how much religion dictates government decisions here. Then I talked about classroom overcrowding, and not paying teachers enough, and how testing is strangling education, and Shushanik said her main research interest lies in determining which standards and methods of testing are actually useful and which are part of the problems I bemoaned.

Both Ainur and Shushanik were born under the rule of the Soviet Union, and they remember the bad old days with little fondness. For example, Ainur speaks better Russian than Kazakh because she was only allowed to speak Russian at school. They both spoke with envy of the infrastructure we have here, and the reliability of the legal system (even taking into account my rants on the prison-industrial complex).

A gorgeous March day

But they’re both very proud and fond of their homelands, as most people are, of course. Neither has any plans to settle out of her country, and they enjoy travel for the same reason most of us do: to meet new people and see new things, but not to relocate. And some things about the US upset them. Somehow, sex ed came up, and I said that kids today are only taught abstinence, and abortion is practically legal in name only. They hardly believed me; the idea that a woman’s health is her concern and hers only is so basic to them, that the thought of putting it up for public debate and legislative oversight is repugnant to them.

All this is to say that I only spent a short time with these women, but our shared love of travel and meeting new people opened us up to wonderful conversations and a free exchange of ideas and information. I know couchsurfing isn’t for everyone, but it’s been a great way for me to travel without leaving my living room, just by hosting people visiting from all over the world. I highly recommend it if you’re considering hosting or surfing. You can also go to group outings in your hometown if you want to meet likeminded folk but can’t open up your home.

ice cream break

Finally, it’s fun! I think I made it sound a bit like a UN summit, but we had brunch, wandered around Millennium Park, picked out shiny souvenirs, and had ice cream in the shade while people watching. In other words, I had a relaxing weekend with friends. They just happened to be new friends from far-flung lands.

Images 1 and 3 courtesy of Shushanik. Image 2 is mine.

ACAM: Cambodia’s Dark Past and Bright Future

I’ve finished John Tully’s A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival, and damn if it isn’t a discouraging read. It’s all right there in the subtitle–Cambodia was once a strong empire with the largest city in pre-Industrial times, an intricate system of canals and farmland, and an impressive collection of intricately carved temples, and now it is one of the poorest countries in the world, riddled with corruption, and desperately trying to pump up a tourism industry centered around the ruins of the greatness that once was.

cover of A Short History of Cambodia

A Short History of Cambodia

Of course, every country has its ups and downs, and no empire lasts forever. But the way in which Cambodia got totally screwed, over and over, from the mid-19th century through today, is both upsetting and instructive. Basically, although European colonization came late to Cambodia, it came with a vengeance. The French used an anti-missionary assault in Saigon as an excuse to send over a “protective mission” that quickly became a “permanent occupation force” (p.80). From Saigon to Cambodia, and soon they had control over Indochina (the colonialist term for much of Southeast Asia). Cambodia was officially a protectorate, but basically France treated them like a badly behaved colony, giving them strict governors and overhauling their entire system of government with no local input so it never had mass support (even measures like abolishing slavery and setting up schools for children).

By 1954, Cambodia had been caught up in the French fight with the Vietnamese, and the people wanted out. Prince Norodom Sihanouk successfully maneuvered to have the Geneva conference name Cambodia a sovereign nation, albeit with strings attached. I mentioned in another post that the intersectionality of world politics in the 20th century astonishes me, and while I’m sure that makes me sound naive, the extent to which the Cold War affected politics in literally ever corner of the globe in the latter half of the century can’t really be overstated, I don’t think. For example, the only way Sihanouk managed to get Cambodia free of French rule was by promising up and down and back and forth that Cambodia was a neutral country that would never enter into military alliances with any other country. Not to mention he had to beg to have his country back in the first place, and the US and USSR, along with some other countries, granted that. (This granting of sovereignty to nations that already existed and just need their colonizers off their backs is deeply puzzling to me. See reservations, Native American.)

Prince Sihanouk

Prince Sihanouk

This is not to say that either world power gave up hopes of using Cambodia in its Southeast Asian chess game, and the US presence in Vietnam went far toward stirring up discontent in Cambodia with the US and any pro-US factions. The Khmer Rouge, staunchly anti-US, started gaining followers. (“Khmer Rouge” means “Red Khmer,” the Khmer being the ethnic people of Cambodia, and the Red being a reference to their Communist affiliation–a context I never knew about or wondered about before. Funny how names can hold one meaning for you–deadly Pol Pot regime!–when they started out with quite another meaning entirely.)

Eventually, the country descended into civil war, with the war-weary Vietnamese, the jungle-hardened Khmer Rouge, the covert-bombing Americans, and the under-supplied national army all entangled in a mess of a fight. When the US and Vietnam got out, it became unwinnable for the national army, and Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge stormed into power.

Pol Pot

Pol Pot, looking creepily cheerful as he palms a gun and plots genocide

Pol Pot’s socialist agenda was extreme. He immediately banned all private property, currency, manufacturing, and education. He force-marched his fellow Cambodians out of the “corrupt” cities and into the countryside, and along the way murdered thousands of people the infamous killing fields outside the city. Displacing hundreds of thousands of people, killing as many, and utterly changing the basic structure of everyday life was not, surprise surprise, a successful plan. The country plunged into disrepair, and Pol Pot went back to war with Vietnam, which no one was equipped to handle. At the end of 1978, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and took over for the next ten years.

The sickening thing about this post-DK (Democratic Kampuchea, Pol Pot’s name for his regime) era is the international response. The bloody and drawn-out Vietnam War had done nothing to convince the US that that country wasn’t out to conquer and convert all neighboring countries to communism (the domino theory! a real winner of an idea), and China was equally upset with Vietnam’s perceived overreach into its physical and ideological domain. They were both dead-set on punishing Vietnam for its ambition, so since Vietnam had invaded/liberated Cambodia, that meant Cambodia got to suffer too. The People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK, the post-DK regime name) “was cut off from assistance from the UN Development Programme, the Asian Development Bank, the IMF and the World Bank, with only a trickle of humanitarian aid from UNICEF and the International Red Cross” (p. 207). In effect, the international community abandoned Cambodia.

domino theory graphic

Apparently this is how it was all gonna go down.

Not only that, but Pol Pot had fled when the Vietnamese invaded, and he ran guerrilla options for many years in the jungles, ratcheting up Cambodian civilian deaths with no one pursuing him on any serious level. The Western world was so concerned about the threat of Vietnam ruling Cambodia as a puppet state that it gave tacit (and sometimes material) support to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I repeat: we supported Pol Pot. Ask anyone with a basic knowledge of the world history of the last century who Pol Pot is, and they’ll tell you, a dictator, a genocidal madman, a brutal murderer. And yet, because it seemed politically expedient to do so, the United States and other countries supported him for a number of years, until Cambodia proved it was no Vietnamese puppet nor Communist state, and aid could be sent without troubling the conscience about the red threat (p. 213). And Pol Pot died peacefully in his sleep in 1998.

The PRK government had its fair share of gross human rights abuses, yes, but if the international community had stepped in with aid right away, and called for the swift and impartial trials of Khmer Rouge war criminals, then it would have been a very different story. Basing foreign policy a paranoid idea like the domino theory is not only foolish, it’s dangerous. It has real consequences for millions of people on the ground. The United States’ treatment of Cambodia in that twenty-year period–from Nixon’s bombings, through the support of the Khmer Rouge, to the lack of basic aid during a famine in 1979–is inhumane and unjustifiable.

So, see what I mean about Cambodia getting the wrong end of the stick for decades? The corrupt nature of its officials on every level, combined with the self-interested interference of neighboring countries and world powers, led to a war-torn nation in which the people suffered mightily. Nowadays, the country is run by a corrupt prime minister, Hun Sen, and millions of people remain in dire poverty. But aid from outside countries (especially China) does help, and the textile and tourism industries have grown the country’s economy rapidly in the last ten years. Education and health levels are rising, as well, and a healthy, educated population is much more in a position to tackle its issues and guide its own path. Cambodia’s recent history is dark, yes, but that doesn’t mean the country doesn’t have a bright future.

Remorque-moto travel in Siem Riep

Cambodians moving on

Image 1 from here. Image 2 from here. Image 3 from here. Image 4 from here. Image 5 from here, credit Felix Hug.