AFFLUENZA?!

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Dear Ethan Couch,

I do not know you. I do not know your family. I have no idea what your upbringing was like. All I know is what the news tells me and that is that you were only sentenced to 10 years probation for killing 4 people while driving under the influence (.024 — 3x the legal limit for people 21+, you’re 16). You received such a minimal and abysmal sentence because the criminal justice system accepted a defense of “affluenza,” claiming that you were brought up in a wealthy family of privilege and your parents never taught you consequences, right from wrong, how to go through life with limits.

I don’t know the 4 people who you killed and perhaps you don’t really either. What I do know is that the 4 people whom you killed were on their way to help their wife/mother/parishioner with a flat tire when your truck sped through the intersection and ran them over. I also know that a couple of your friends were severely injured too while riding in the back of your pick up.

You see, Ethan, America knows very little about what happened that day, the day before, and quite frankly the 16 years of your life leading up to that day. You and your family are the only ones who can recall that history, recount those moments. You’ll have to relive the moments of that day for the rest of your life. I imagine Eric Boyles’, whose wife and daughter you killed, words of grief, anger, and frustration describing the moments of learning of his loved one’s death up through hearing your very short and unexpected sentencing will haunt you every day for the rest of your life. Or will they? I guess I don’t know that either. I can only hope.

Just as America and the world, for that matter, don’t know anything about you, your family, or that day — the criminal justice system does not either. The psychologist who testified that you suffer from “affluenza” does not truly know you, your family, or your life story either. But the criminal justice system prevailed and led to an incomprehensible outcome. The criminal justice taught kids just like you that if mommy and dad didn’t “bring them up right” and they were wealthy, they could live that reckless life that so many teens long for because it sounds so cool, right Ethan?

Now, I do think there is truth to the idea that your upbringing has impacted the way you act and view life. We are all shaped by our environments. Put simply: nature vs. nuture. Your parents not setting limits and not taking the time to teach you responsibility and accountability probably did lead you to steal beer, drink heavily, and then get behind the wheel of the truck. Also, your privilege is certainly impacting how you are perceiving the events of your life since that June day when you murdered 4 people.

But that is absolutely no excuse for the fact that your actions led to an crash that left 4 people dead and others injured. Your upbringing — the privilege, wealth, and free-life you’ve led — will not bring these four people back. Your parents failed you, Ethan and so did the criminal justice system. And I hope all that read that previous sentence understand I am not avoiding placing blame on, you, Ethan because at the end of the day, you’re 100% responsible.

I hope that you break free of the clench of privilege you have been caught in for 16 years. I hope you can come out from the cloak protecting you from responsibility and accountability. If that day comes when you break free and remove your cloak, I hope you understand everything I am saying in this letter — plea — to you. Because right now, you can’t understand it because you’re blinded by layers and layers of “protection” that have allowed you to do, say, and think whatever you want for the past 16 years.But Ethan, wealth and success are different than privilege. We cannot help the socioeconomic status we are brought up, but we can and should be in control of what we do with that privilege.

If you don’t break free soon, another tragedy will strike and you’ll, again, be to blame. Or perhaps your neighbor who may be near your age and in your socioeconomic status, will learn from your mistakes that he, too, can live recklessly with no consequences. And your entire class will begin to cause tragedy with no consequences, only deep and endless grief caused to others.

The last paragraph sums up the path that your sentence placed “privileged America” on. A pathway to wealth-driven excuses allowing those who are privileged to glide through life seemingly carefree. Today, you may feel as though you’re “punishment” and diagnosis of “affluenza” are fair and accurate. I hope with every fiber of my being you wake up one day and understand how horribly wrong and unfair 10 years of probation for killing 4 while driving under the influence while under the legal age to drink was. Just say it over and over again to yourself, Ethan: “10 years of probation for killing 4 while driving under the influence while under the legal age to drink.” Think about that while you grow up, go to college, pursue your dreams. Think about the 4 whom you murdered who can’t grow up, pursue their dreams, and try to be successful.

The day you wake up and realize this, you can genuinely call yourself privileged.

Sincerely,

A disheartened citizen.

 

 

 

Wanted: Empathy & Compassion for All

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I read/saw three things today that set off a combination of rage, sadness, and confusion from within me. Let me give you an overview of what I read/saw and then I will provide insight to my competing emotions around these events.

This morning, while eating breakfast, we had CNN on in the background. They were discussing a video that has gone viral. The video depicts a young girl beating another young girl. CNN’s discussion revolved around the girl holding the camera and questioned whether she will have charges brought against her. The conversation also began to acknowledge how awful it was that the video was going viral, being uploaded to sites all over the web. CNN even quoted the victim’s mother stating that every time the video is uploaded or viewed, her daughter is being re victimized. And yet, CNN found themselves “above” the hundreds of thousands who have viewed this video on the web as it quickly was uploaded to numerous popular websites. They proceeded to show the video before referring to a legal expert who would shed light on the girl holding the video camera. I refuse to link to this story in attempts to avoid perpetuating the viral video and re-victimizing the girl who was beaten.

Somehow, I managed to keep CNN on (muting it as they continued to cover the horrific story explained above). The coverage then switched to discuss how Republicans are receiving training on how to talk to women and gain women voters. A montage of clips was shown to demonstrate the need for this. Women “shutting that whole thing down” during rape; rape and pregnancy from rape being “all apart of God’s plan“; binders full of women. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, was asked by CNN if he thought the GOP was good at talking to women. First, he responded with something along the lines of “we have a lot of great Republican leaders who are women,” (19 in the House out of 232, to be exact), and the CNN reporter interupted him, repeating the question: “Are you good at talking to women?” He quickly changed his response to “bring it home” to his daughter, a senior in college, saying:

“She’s off now thinking about her next step in life, what kind of career or job opportunities  are available for her,” he said. “Well, I don’t believe that racking up trillions of dollars of additional deficit and debt are a good thing for her because, ultimately, what that does is it mortgages her future.”

Perhaps this deceived some as a genuine answer showing respect and acknowledgement of women in his life. But CNN went on to report on the training the GOP is receiving.

“First and foremost what we tell them to do (is) talk about yourself as a husband and a father,” this source told CNN, adding, “After that we urge a blanket statement about rape is abhorrent: ‘Anyone who is charged with this offense should be fully prosecuted, and as a husband and father I am outraged.'”

Lastly, Rick Santorum is spewing ignorance and outrageous comments yet again. Did you know that Nelson Mandela’s fight against injustice throughout this lifetime mirrors the Republican party’s quest to stop Obamacare? I can’t say much more “objectively” about what I read. Read for yourself.

Within approximately 3 hours, I was faced with these three events. My rage, sadness, and confusion have led me to recognize that producers of CNN, the GOP, and Rick Santorum, all lack empathy and compassion. They lack the ability to relate to human beings. To place themselves in another’s shoes and try to understand his/her experiences, feelings, or thoughts. When I try to put myself in Rick Santorum’s shoes, my sadness prevails. I become sad that he views the world in such a narrow, priviledged, short-sighted manner. I am sad that no one taught him compassion or the importance of empathy in making relationships and being successful. When I try to put myself in CNN’s shoes and try to consider their rational for showing the video of a young girl being beaten on national TV, my rage prevails. CNN is made up of intelligent, educated, and well-informed individuals. Sure, I don’t agree with all of their view point. But they know right from wrong and should have the common sense to not show a video that they are subsequently arguing is re-victimizing the victim and discussing how abhorrent it is that it’s gone viral. Shame on you, CNN. When I listen to the GOP discuss how they need to get better at talking to women and learn to be sensitive to women, my confusion prevails. Having to train a room full of men who hold a lot of power in the United States government on how to talk about women, how to be sensitive to things like rape and abortion, and how to relate women’s issues to the women they love in their lives boggles my mind. It is so disingenuous and condescending. It is ridiculous to know that men representing this country need a lesson on talking to women. When the idea came about to offer this training, I am confused why someone did not say “perhaps we get rid of everyone who requires this training because quite frankly, ya shouldn’t be in a leadership position if you need it.” Cantor wasn’t being genuine about his daughter’s experiences relating to policies the GOP proposes, he was just regurgitating a line he was fed during a training on how to talk about women. I am sure he loves his daughter very much, but due to him and his party’s lack of empathy and compassion, he had to exploit her and her future for the benefit of “gaining women voters.”

I am unsure where we lost compassion and empathy along the way. I think it is tucked away behind Facebook statuses, Instant Messages, and text messages. It’s blurred by the constant access to information about bad things in the world. It’s lost in desensitization and normalization of violence, discrimination, and inequality. I am desperate to recover it and instill it in everyone’s being. But where do we begin?

 

Fire in North Chicago sheds light on American’s views of “illegals”

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A fire broke out in a strip mall in West Rogers Park in Chicago on Friday. After investigation, it has been said that the fire was started by a blow torch being used by roofers. The roofers allegedly left the scene and did not return once the fire broke out. An extremely unfortunate situation that put many in danger and led to vast destruction of local businesses. A mistake, indeed, to not stay at the scene of a fire if actions taken by the roofers were the cause (intentional or not). Certainly, we can all agree.

But what I can’t agree with are the comments that readers of articles covering this story were saying.

I’ll bet $1,000 they’re illegal immigrants and will never be found or come forward.- iuriggs6

 

I agree. My guess, and I think it’s a damn good one, they were indeed illegal aliens. Maybe they were hired to torch this place, maybe not. In any case they need to be tracked down like the mad dogs they are and arrested. -CamelPaw357

 

Those roofers are already back in Guadalajara by now…. – fefifo2466

In my last post, I discussed the idea of viewing through particularities and not generalities. The readers (which by the way, these comments were on an article written by the Huffington Post) of this story demonstrated that they view the world through generalities. No where in the news story does it mention the race of the roofing crew that were working on the American Matress Store. Readers jumped to his extremely racist conclusion. Even so, if the roofers are Mexican, readers also jumped to the conclusion that they are “illegal” and deserve to be arrested. I find it both fascinating and sad how quickly Americans jump to judgmental conclusions regarding  scenario they, quite frankly, know nothing about.

In a country where we are battling immigration reform, Americans are so incredibly misinformed about the reality of immigrants in this country. Sweeping numbers — 11 million illegal aliens — are often cited when talking about immigration reform. Through media representation of this issue and commentary by readers, immigrants (illegal or not) are quickly categorized as undeserving, lazy, and criminal. But what Americans refuse to admit is that these “illegal aliens” are taking jobs American’s do not want. A large majority of Mexican immigrants in this country are working the fields growing, picking, harvesting, and distributing food to dinner tables across America. Indeed, slavery in America never ended, it just shifted to a different race. Many immigrants are working in the back of restaurants ensuring your meal is brought to you fresh, warm, and on clean dishes.  Many of these workers are struggling to support their families because our welfare system is built to only support those who aren’t working. For those that are, their benefits are cut and still their wages are not enough to feed their families.

The readers who made these ignorant, offensive comments likely won’t give up the food they eat, the clothes they wear, or the products they use because they were made by “illegals” — because of course, these readers are far more deserving of life’s necessities than these workers, right? Give me a break.

Until readers of these sorts of articles can read it with a empathetic heart, a critical lens, and a moral compass that isn’t pointed only at the well-being of themselves, we are never going to achieve equality and humanity will never witness ultimate dignity and respect.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/15/chicago-strip-mall-fire_n_4284974.html

Ms. Gloria

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A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men. – Gloria Steinem

I had the most amazing pleasure of meeting Gloria Steinem on Wednesday at an event to benefit the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and the Women’s Media Center (for which Gloria is a co-founder). As a feminist and an advocate for human rights, this was not only a dream come true but an inspirational moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. I will tell my daughter about it one day. I will share it with my granddaughters. I will remember the words of wisdom she dispelled on that night cold night in Chicago in a lovely family’s home amongst 125 women and girls.

It has taken me a few days to write this post because a) I was on travel for work and b) it’s taken me a little while to come down from cloud 9 and process everything she said. I’m still processing, but I am ready to share my thoughts and feelings around the night.

First, I have to mention that Gloria Steinem is so incredibly kind, genuine, and such a kindred spirit. When introduced to her, I expected to shake her hand, smile, pose for a picture, and be on my way so the other 124 women could get their photo opp. But instead, she shook my hand, asked what I did, looked me in the eye, smiled, and then told me I was an inspiration. Yes, Gloria Steinem said I was an inspiration. I just about died. I know what you’re thinking — she probably says that to all the young women she meets. And you’re probably right, I am sure she said it so several of the women and girls she met throughout her 3-part event on Wednesday. But what matters is the genuine way in which she said it. The thing about Gloria is she truly does find inspiration in young women and girls who are using their voices, speaking out, impacting change, and pushing forward.

I got my photo and had a permanent smile plastered across my face for the rest of the evening… heck, the rest of the week.

ImageAnd then, we were all hushed and began to gather in the living room for Gloria to share her words of courage and wisdom with us. The coolest part was that there were 25 or so 13-17 year old girls who were invited to have a small “fire side” chat with Gloria. I will say with 100% honesty, I’m not sure what was more inspiring: Gloria or the young group of girls. The poise and intelligence these girls demonstrated was fantastic. They asked questions like “How can we utilize all of the political capital that women and girls have?” and “How can we make sure these conversations are not being led by just white women but rather a diverse group of women.” I remember looking at my friend and saying “Gosh, I was not even thinking about these things at 15, 16 years old. Heck, I’m not saying “political capital” now.” It truly was amazing to watch the conversation unfold with Gloria Steinem, the mother of feminism, a hero who paved the way for women and girls, and a group of our future. It was refreshing. Inspirational. and brilliant.

Gloria said something that truly struck me even though it seems so simple and common sensical. She said something to the effect of “we shouldn’t focus on generalities but instead particularities.” So many arguments are made in sweeping manners. “Everyone on welfare is lazy,” “feminists are man-haters.” These are the arguments and the radical points that attempt to silence the rational thinking of complex issues facing society. Generalities are isolating, suffocating, and can be ignorant. Instead, we must focus on the particularities. The “Why’s” and the “whats” It’s unpacking an issue and not seeing it face value. I also think this can be related to how we view ourselves, our goals, our passions, our dreams. My mentor, Rebecca Sive once said to me “It’s not about how big the dream is, but how possible.” Sometimes we think if we aren’t on the path to being the next Gloria Steinem, then what’s the point. But there is so much we can be doing to achieve our dreams.

Which leads me to a conversation I had last night while speaking at a panel on human trafficking for the World Affairs Counsel in Jacksonville, IL. At a pre-panel dinner, an older gentleman in his late 60’s early 70’s looked at myself and two students who were also at the table and said, “What’s wrong with the world and how are you going to fix it?” We chuckled and looked at each other wondering who was going to answer that loaded question at which point the gentleman followed up and said, “No but seriously. My generation, we were angry. Really angry. And we marched. But yours, I don’t think you’re angry.” I smiled and said “Oh don’t worry, we are angry. It just looks different. You had your voice and your feet, we have our voice and technology. We use social media to express our anger. We write letters to representatives. We create documentaries and videos.”

And then after the panel discussion on human trafficking, an audience member asked “well what can we do?” I knew exactly what to say and who to quote. I said:

Organize. It sounds simple. But look around, there are 120 people in this auditorium. If you organized and told others about this issue, it could be extremely powerful and impact change. The way Gloria Steinem organized perhaps looks different than how you and I might because of the tools we have available today. But make a Facebook status, Tweet this event, write a blog article. Do it together. Do what you’re not supposed to. Challenge yourself and others to think creatively about how to combat human trafficking.

I believe we will all look back on our lives when we’re older and remember a few moments and a few people. I know that when I look back, my moment will be in the living room and a person I will remember is Ms. Gloria.

Every Day Heroes

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In case you haven’t checked your Facebook newsfeed today, it’s Veteran’s Day.

A day set aside in pure remembrance and recognition of the men and women who sacrifice more than I can ever imagine to fight for our country’s freedom. It is no small feat. It’s no small day. And I, indeed, tip my hat off to soldiers past and present. But I’m not going to write a full blog post sharing my admiration, gratitude, or support for our troops. I do want to preface with the fact that I do in fact support our country’s military.

And because of that, I think it’s crucial to continue the conversation about how to improve the rapport within the military, the safety of our soldier’s, and the transition back into “mainstream” life on our own soil. Because despite the outpouring of support for soldiers today — we can’t give ourselves a pass for the 364 other days in the year.

Sexual assault

A report was just released unveiling shocking numbers that reported sexual assaults in the military increased by 50% from last year. 50 percent. These are stats being spewed by a women’s group, by a rape crisis center, by “radical feminists” as they’ve been called. These numbers come straight from the horses mouth: the Department of Defense.

The numbers are high — really high. Over the past few years, the military has been a target in the media as reports of sexual assault were brought to light. The documentary, Invisible War, brought a lot of much needed attention to the issue. It called out the military and specifically leaders within the U.S. military who had essentially turned a check, high-fived the perpetrators with a promotion, and went about their way moving up the chain of command. It is this blunt discussion that perhaps has led to more victims coming forward. Although Major General Gary Patton predicts this means more healthcare and treatment for victims, I am skeptical. The stories you read about or see on Kirby DIck’s compelling and devastating documentary tell a different story. Even when victims do come forward, the services, respect, and justice are not reciprocated.

I want to have faith that the pressure on DoD and the U.S. military to do better will protect victims, prosecute perpetrators, and ultimately eliminate sexual violence among the heroes we honor today. . . but I struggle. I think we need harsher laws, stricter punishments, more committed leaders who are willing to protect the men and women they lead instead of hiding behind their badges of honor. We aren’t free if the soldiers who fight for our country can’t freely do so without the fear of being assaulted while on active duty.

So even though we stand behind our troops, we honor them, we respect them. We can’t ignore the violence some of them inflict just because they’re “our heroes.” Just like we cannot and should not ignore rape when a football player is the assailant, a local respected community member, or a pastor. The role we play professionally does not get to negate the actions we take.

 

 

Deal with it.

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I miss writing. I miss challenging myself and others to think about the world differently — more openly. I haven’t written since April and though I probably didn’t realize it then, I walked away from the blog because everything else in my life was turned upside down.

On April 24th, 2013 I lost my best friend, my biggest cheerleader, and my #1 support. My mom lost her year long battle to cancer but she put up a damn good fight. My life since her passing has been nothing short of chaotic, emotional, difficult, and yet inspiring. I’m still “dealing with” her death. Heck, I’m not sure I’ve fully “dealt with it” or come to terms with it — does anyone ever fully come to terms with losing a parent or a loved one? A large part of me has repressed it and put on a smile to face the world despite the ache in my heart. I push a lot of the grief down and opt “not to deal with it,” I suppose. I drown myself in work and hide behind the professional person I have to be 50-60 hours a week.

Which is interesting because I started this blog to write about things society, the media, politicians, etc. were choosing not to deal with. Rape is plaguing our country, but we choose to ignore it as seen by low convictions for rapists and pervasive victim blaming on college campuses and in the U.S. military. Women are still second class citizens in the United States — home of the free — which was built on values of equality. Our government representatives can’t be in the same room with each other without filibustering, bickering, and delaying change. Instead, our government chooses “not to deal with it,” and instead shut down. Or perhaps, that is how they dealt with it.

My point is: Life gets tough. Life doesn’t slow down when it turns upside down. Life is full of opportunity and it is bleeding with desperation for change makers, peace keepers, and heroes. I am going to “deal with” my mother’s death for the rest of my life but I cannot and should not let that stop me from living my life. Indeed, my mom always pushed me to live life, enjoy life, and be the person I want to be on my own terms.

It took 7 months — but these are my terms. I am back and ready to do what I love: write, argue, challenge, and inspire. Life is too short to stay silent. So deal with it.

Ending Violence Against Women

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Two Steubenville teenagers were convicted of sexually assaulting a teen while at a high school party. The town of Torrington, Connecticut is torn about a statutory rape cases among 2 18 year old football players. A young girl is gang raped and murdered in India. Another female soldier speaks out against sexual violence she endured while on active duty.

These are headlines we see every day and most of America skims over it. These are the media-worthy cases, if you will. Just like gang violence and murders on the South and West sides of Chicago are not reported every day, the scope of violence against women remains incredibly invisible to the average person in the U.S. It’s boggling that an issue that directly impacts 1 and 4 women and 1 and 6 men is still remaining invisible. It’s disheartening that America skims over this news and longs for the latest wins/losses for March Madness.

Violence against women is an epidemic in this country and every single one of us should be standing up against it. I had the incredible opportunity to sit among some of the top leaders of the anti-violence against women movement in Chicago (and beyond) tonight and discuss where the movement currently is, it’s successes, it’s challenges, where we would like to see it go. This conversation was ignited by two amazingly inspirational women in Chicago who are part of the NoVo Foundation’s 2nd cohort for the Move to End Violence.

The overall goal off the Move to End Violence is “to foster a transformation in global society from a culture of domination and exploitation to one of equality and partnership.” One of the takeaways from tonight’s discuss that resonated the most from me is that we can not and should not solely focus on the women and girls who have and are experiencing violence. Indeed, these women and girls are critical to the movement as their stories can be powerful and inspiring for themselves as well as the community. Indeed, we must look at who is being victimized as we try to understand violence. But that’s just it, we have to strive to understand violence in order to prevent it and eliminate it. We have to look to the deep root causes of violence against women including poverty, poor education, patriarchy, inequality, lack of opportunity. We have to articulate what the paradigm shift will be and we cannot do anything but sprint toward it.

We. We. We. Ending violence against women should not only be on the agenda of men and women who are fighting this battle every day. Ending violence against women should not only be addressed by rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and anti-trafficking programs. Carrying out social change cannot be sustained solely by the activists in the movement today nor should it. The us vs. them that has compartmentalized this movement directly contradicts the principals driving the movement to end violence against women. That is equality, co-existence  — interconnectedness. We cannot end violence if we have an us vs. them mentality or structure because it is absurd to believe our world has to exist as such. If we believe that, then we belief that violence against women is inherent to humanity and will always exist. Social workers, advocates, activists, attorneys — these are not the only people we need at the table. Every one has a mother, sister, aunt, grandmother. Everyone has a stake in this and everyone should be outraged by the epidemic that is violence against women.

It is time we stop reacting and start being proactive. It is time we sit at the table with policy makers, law enforcement, social workers, corporate America,  small business owners, scientists, engineers, English teachers, the media, attorneys, activists, advocates, etc. It is time we truly embody “we” in the movement to providing a universally safe and healthy environment for women and girls to thrive.