Falafel in the time of Trump

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The other day my co-worker Layla (name changed to protect her privacy), gifted me some homemade falafel mix. If you’ve ever made falafel from scratch, you know this is quite a present. Falafel from dried fava beans is a lot of work. I was definitely touched by this gesture.

Layla is Egyptian, and as the only two MENAs (Middle Eastern North Africans) in an Anglo-Saxon work environment, we’d bonded over food. As we followed the children we were tasked with protecting around the halls and fields of the school, we talked about recipes, ways to preserve the excess mint and cucumbers in our gardens,  and what stores we favored: Super Jordan, Patel Brothers, or Maharaja Farmers Market. When a recently immigrated relative of hers was applying for jobs, I looked over the resume and corrected the English. We complained about our husbands and kids like all moms; she invited me to a festival at her church.

Unfortunately, our relationship became awkward after November 8th. You see, even though Layla is Egyptian, she voted for DJT. The day after the election, she was all smiles and I was shell-shocked. We had a weird exchange. I’d made the assumption that, as a Middle Eastern person, she wouldn’t go for him.

I had this strange experience again with another woman friend. My across-the-street neighbor is a single mom with three daughters. Let’s call her Nataly. She’s an immigrant from Peru, and over the years I’ve given her kids rides to school (she used to leave even earlier than me for work), and we’ve had coffee together. Lately, we’re both so busy we only meet when we are gardening in our front yards, or as it happened after the inauguration, when we are both in the street shoveling snow. I was wearing my pink Women’s March knit hat, and I proudly said, “I went to the Women’s March!” Nataly replied, “Oh, I went to the March for Life.”

Again, cognitive disconnect. I’d made the assumption that as a Latina immigrant, she wouldn’t go for DJT.

I was trying to figure this out with my husband. The two groups DJT demonizes the most are Middle Eastern people and South/Central Americans. And he disrespects women. Yet these women voted for him.

“I guess they’e one-issue voters,” my husband said.  Of course he meant abortion.

I think he may be right. Both women are some form of Catholic. But I think there’s something else. Lately I have been reading about how people who vote conservative really do think differently than people who vote liberal/progressive. These women both come from traditional patriarchal cultures. (As it has been pointed out over and over, DJT is patriarchy on steroids.) They may be more able to tolerate a blow-hard misogynist like DJT as a result.

I could resent the way DJT has inserted himself into every aspect of my life. Even my friendships are tainted by him. Or I could be the better woman and value these women even as I disagree with them. After all, we are going to have to keep living with each other. It is better to share falafel and coffee, to shovel snow and follow children and share rides, than to argue. I will not be able to change their minds with anything I say. But maybe I can be a powerful example of a life lived as feminist. Maybe they will eventually see the error of their votes through no action of mine. Maybe it is the friendships of women that will heal the country when this nightmare ends–and it will, as all nightmares do.

 

To DJT: On International Women’s Day

red-01Dear Mr. President,

Today is International Women’s Day, and I am staying home from work. Not because I took the day off–I don’t really have that luxury. I just got the day off because my employers gave it to me. But I figured I could take the morning and tell you a little about my work, since you Tweet that you “respect” it so much.

For money, I am a pediatric nurse. The children I care for are called “medically fragile”. These are the kids who can’t move anything except their eyes, and maybe one thumb on a good day. These kids have feeding tubes, and wheelchairs, and machines that breathe for them. Their equipment is insanely expensive. Without adequate government-provided healthcare, no family can afford what these kids need. Without adequately funded scientific research, no one can prevent or cure the diseases these children have. And without access to women’s healthcare programs, genetic counseling, and birth control, parents who carry the genes that cause such genetic disorders run the risk of having more than one child with a debilitating disease.

I go to school with these children. They need a special school filled with adaptive technology. Private schools are not required to offer the sort of interventions these children need. Betsy DeVos clearly has a limited understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and her current “confusion”, unless corrected, will strand the kids I care for.

Just as an aside: most of the nurses who do this difficult job are immigrants from the Philippines, Haiti, Jamaica and China. You see, white American-born nurses are the minority in this line of work. Not because immigrants take the jobs away from American-born—but because the American-born don’t want the job. Excuses I’ve heard: “heartbreaking”, “too hard” (the kids and their equipment is heavy—and we carry it from class to class), and “boring”.

Interestingly, though I earn more than FOUR TIMES THE MINIMUM WAGE, my salary cannot support our family. Not because we spend it on country clubs and golf outings. Nope. Our big expenditure is childcare, especially in the summer, when I work and the kids don’t have school. Thank goodness, during the school year, my kids go to a FREE PUBLIC SCHOOL.

Oh, and BTW, my healthcare job doesn’t come with health insurance.

Nursing’s just what I do full time for money. For no pay I’ve written a successful $60,000 grant to build a playground in my underserved neighborhood. The other mothers and I schooled ourselves in the minutiae of playground design, raised even more money, and got a state of the art playground built in less than a year. The kind of thing you wish your tax dollars took care of, but just don’t for some reason.

And when I get home, I care for my two children, cook, clean, garden, chauffeur….you know, that stuff you and Melania hire people to do for you.

Lately, I’ve had another part time job. I have been spending hours in the evening keeping track of and resisting dangerous legislation that threatens my children. Cuts to education funding, inappropriate cabinet appointees, rollbacks on gun safety, and the gutting of environmental protections. You see, as a mom, I don’t want my kids shot by a mentally ill person, poisoned by lead in their drinking water, or suffering a mega-storm, wildfire, or drought brought on by global climate change. I’d like them to grow up in a world with wilderness, and clean air, animals and polar ice caps. Call me crazy.

Well, that’s just a few reasons why my work is important. Now show me you respect it. Protect my children’s free, quality public education. Protect the environment so my kids and grandkids have a decent world to live in. Protect my children’s health.

I dare you.

 

 

 

 

When is a White Person Not a White Person? When She’s an Arab.

maxresdefaultA couple days ago I heard a story on NPR. Apparently, according to the next census, I’ll no longer be a white person. I’ll be MENA (Middle Eastern North African).

I mentioned this to my daughter. She said, “I thought you never were white.”

I explained that legally, I was. 22 years before I was born, Arabs were legally recognized as “white” by the United States of American.

“Yeah, but no one thinks of Arabs as white,” she said. (She’s Latina).

When you look at me, you would probably say, “Hey, that lady is white.” That’s because my mom’s parents were German. I got her coloring.

In the US, to be considered a Native American, instead of a generic white American, you have to be 1/16th Native. That’s one great-grandparent.

Historically, to be black you only needed “one drop” of African blood.

I’m half Arabic. A full 50%. My dad was fully Middle Eastern. An immigrant from Lebanon. Speaking Arabic.  Had an Arabic name: Salim. Grew up in Beirut. Was a tank gunner in the Christian Militia. Had Palestinian friends. Summered in Syria.

I inherited my dad’s nose. He said I looked like his mother, the grandmother I never met because she disowned him when he married my Germanic mom.

I said to a friend, “I don’t even know why this is bothering me. Why would I even want to be white? Especially right now, with all the ugly white supremacy stuff going on.”

My friend, a Jewish woman whose ancestors escaped some Nazi-benighted Eastern European country said, “Because white is safe.”

According to the NPR story, it became necessary to designate Middle Eastern North African peoples as MENA because there were just too many “Some Other Race” people in the last census.

But I can’t help wondering why, when the last census was taken in 2010, President Obama’s administration didn’t find it necessary to take care of that “problem” by designating Arabs as MENA then. Maybe he didn’t think an undesignated “Some Other Race” was such a big deal, being mixed race as he was.

I did some reading. The MENA idea has been kicking around for a while, but this is the first administration to seriously consider it. Congress still has to vote on it in 2018 to make it definite. I wonder which way it will go, and what it will mean.

MENA sounds so benign. I can imagine naming a daughter that, maybe with a different spelling—I assume it’s pronounced “Mee-nah”. It even sounds sort of Arabic.

On a related note: I found it a little troubling to hear about my possible MENA designation on the same weekend I heard about the new VOICE initiative.

VOICE (Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement) is the brainchild of Steve Bannon, voiced by DJT. It’s the latest in his white supremacy government propaganda push, inspired by Hitler’s Jewish Crimes List. Interestingly, the Third Reich started reporting Jewish crime separately from non-Jewish crime after putting in place the Nuremburg Race Laws.

Hmmm…

 

DJT: Revisiting Operation Wetback

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This week the kids and I are up near the Canadian border, and the other night I found myself in conversation with an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent. I mentioned that we lived in a city with lots of mixed status families, and I was concerned about DJT’s crackdown on immigrants. Specifically, what would happen to the children who were citizens if their parents were deported?

Now, I can’t be sure what is policy and what is this particular ICE agent’s opinion, but he said a few things that were troubling.

He said the kids would be deported along with their parents unless they have a close relative with papers who can act as guardian.

He said he could see a situation in which the kids are taken off the school bus and put directly into another bus for deportation.

He said when people are deported, all their property is left behind. They can try to get someone  to claim it for them, but mostly “it just rots”.

He said officials were “emptying beds” in detention centers right now, preparing for the mass deportation order.

He said “The planes are waiting.”

He said, “The model is Operation Wetback.”

But here’s the interesting part: his information on Operation Wetback was based on the myth that particular operation had grown into. Not on its facts.

According to internet myth and this particular ICE agent, “in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower deported 13 million Mexican Nationals…so WWII and Korean Veterans would have a better chance at jobs. It took 2 Years…” and was a massive success, that Trump will easily repeat.

But, with very little research, I found that Operation Wetback was, in fact, 10 times smaller,  and it was considered a failure by many, and was, without a doubt, a humanitarian crisis. Deportees dropped off in the desert with no water died of heat stroke. “Slave ship” conditions on the boats used to transport deportees resulted in deaths by drowning.

Nevertheless, this agent, a rational, generally nice guy, will carry out whatever repeat of this nightmare DJT orders. As will his fellow agents. Because  it is too much to expect someone who has been groomed to follow orders, who has been chosen because of his ability to do so, would suddenly question authority.

Are we to believe this one agent? (Maybe he’s an outlier–maybe this isn’t going to happen). But if he’s telling the truth, the takeaway is this:

  • If you are in a mixed-status family, make sure you have identified someone in your extended family that your citizen children can go to if you want them to remain in the US.
  • Identify someone who will be able to go into your house and retrieve your belongings and send them to you when you are back in your country of origin.
  • Figure out how you will get your money out of your US bank accounts from a remote location.
  • If you can, get a reputable immigration lawyer now, and get your papers in order now.

 

For those of us that are citizens, we have to consider what we can do to protect our neighbors. I’m afraid the “Muslim Ban” was a dress rehearsal. We responded admirably and put a stop to that nonsense. Nevertheless, Bannon/DJT may push on. Right now, deportations of non-criminal immigrants are ramping up. So we must remain vigilant. And we can not let horror and exhaustion get the best of us. Stay involved. Don’t give up. We are on the right side of history.

 

 

DJT Day 20: Nevertheless, She Persisted

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Have you noticed how DJT and his allies keep trying to shut us up?

President Bannon told the media to “keep its mouth shut”.

When Alec Baldwin hurt his feelings, DJT said SNL should be canceled.

Conway wanted to know when reporters who called her on her lies (she calls this talking “smack” as opposed to telling the truth) will be fired.

And Sean Spicer complained that Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of him “crossed over into mean”. (I couldn’t help but wonder if her funny skit was meaner than keeping a 4-year-old in need of emergency heart surgery out of the US because he’s Iranian.  )

Today DJT decided Nordstrom was treating his daughter “unfairly” for dropping her fashion line.  Well, if our actual votes don’t count, shouldn’t we be allowed to vote with our wallets? Last I heard, the Supreme Court decided that corporate spending is a form of free speech. Doesn’t that count for individual citizens too?

And now, Coretta Scott Kings words aren’t allowed on the Senate floor. How is it possible that the Republican Party has so forgotten itself, that it actually wants to muzzle free speech ?

But we won’t shut up.

In the wake of this “appalling” election, Paul Auster finally decided to become president of  PEN America (an organization dedicated to freedom of expression). He said in an interview, ‘I’m going to speak out as often as I can, otherwise I can’t live with myself’.

Well, I think many of us feel the same way.

Last night our little Indivisible Group met for a second time. We’ve grown from 10 to over 50. We’re going to keep growing. Today many of us faxed Coretta Scott King’s words to all the Republican Senators.

Even though I know they’ll vote Sessions in on party lines, I hope they get the message.

They may warn us. They may give us an explanation. Nevertheless, we will persist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 14: 2 Weeks of Madness

rs-jon-stewart-colbert-86db6124-ec05-4c7b-a6d8-4c4f503f358e“All actions will be necessary and, if we do not allow Donald Trump to exhaust our fight and somehow come through this presidency calamity-less, and constitutionally partially intact, then I, Donald J. Trump, will have demonstrated the greatness of this democracy – just not the way I thought I was gonna.” Jon Stewart on Colbert.

I have a serious crush on Jon Stewart. It’s okay for a woman of a certain age. And I think what he says completely sums up how I’m feeling.

Exhausted.

In two weeks, I’ve gotten together with a group of like-minded women in town and we’ve started an Indivisible group. We’ve done a crash course in community organizing, written a mission statement, drawn up guidelines and operating principles.  I’ve had to learn how to use Facebook to communicate. I’ve been to protests, written letters to politicians on both sides of the aisle, made calls every day, signed petitions, and monitored each new crazy executive order in order to respond.

I feel like my eyes are swelling inside their sockets and I have a dead animal on my head. Kinda like Jon Stewart up there.

But as the DailyKos says, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

So all of us have to work to not give in to exhaustion. I keep hoping he-who-shall-not-be -named will break first. I keep reading leaks about how he’s so thin skinned. So what we are doing is having an effect. We have to keep it up.

Comedy helps.

Right now I’m kind of in awe of the Bald Piano Guy, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, and SNL in general. Their ability to be funny in the face of the horror-show keeps me going. They’re the true heros.

And I’ve got to say, I don’t see any equivalent humor coming from the other side, do you?

What keeps you going?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DJT Day 12: Why the Resistance Will Win

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I work in schools as a private duty nurse for medically fragile students, so every day I say the Pledge of Allegiance. Today, I started crying. Now, I know Trump and his supporters might say those are “fake tears”, but I don’t care anymore what Trumpies say. Because as I was feeling sad, my survival instincts kicked in, and I started something like a Gratitude List.

Except in this case, it was a “Why the Resistance Will Win” list.

  1. Martha’s Vineyard ran out of pink yarn and over a thousand people showed up at 5-Corners on the day of the Women’s March–even though Martha’s Vineyard has a winter population of 16, 535 people. That’s about 1 in 16!
  2. We’ve got heart: The resistance actually cares about people other than themselves. We aren’t guided by fear, but by love.
  3. We’ve got soul: We have the Pope, The Dalai Lama, and thousands of other religious leaders on our righteous side. After all, what would Jesus (or Buddha) do?
  4. We’ve got spine: Sally Yates, Bob Ferguson, CREW, Walter Shaub, that 12 year old from Yemen; all the “Indivisible” groups, journalists, protestors, the Standing Rock Sioux, the Veterans who joined them and who stood with the Muslim refugees, etc etc (There are so many up-standers I can’t list them all in this quick and dirty blog)
  5. We’ve got the truth: data backs us up, over and over. Photos, archived quotes, leaked tweets…
  6. We’re cooler: all the artists, actors, musicians, celebrities–they’re with us.
  7. We’ve got history: not only does history show that authoritarians eventually lose, but we’re also on the right side of history.
  8. We’ve got the dramatic arc: In every major story, every hero movie (Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, everything about WWII, The Wizard of OZ, etc) the Resistance wins.
  9. We’ve got rainbows: We’re the face of the world–that big, beautiful diverse place of many wondrous differences.
  10. We own the future: people will keep moving across borders no matter what, loving different people, mixing it up, making crazy quilt families and communities until everyone knows and loves someone that this administration would hate–

And that is why, my friends, We are going to win.

Yay Team Democracy!

DJT Day 11: Steve Bannon, The Hand of the King

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Dear Mr. President,

During one of your debates with Hillary, she accused you of being a puppet of Putin. Like a witty four-year-old, you shot back, “I’m not the puppet; you’re the puppet.”

Obviously, she had struck a nerve.

So you know how on Friday, you wrote that Muslim ban executive order? (I know you don’t like to call it that, but in the REAL world of TRUE facts, that’s what it is.)

Well, it turns out that in the REAL world of TRUE AND DOCUMENTED FACTS, the seven countries you chose to ban Muslims from have actually never been guilty of sending us a terrorist, and post 9/11, an American is thousands of times more likely to be killed by another American than by a Muslim immigrant from any country.

Though you didn’t pick countries where terrorists have actually come from, the countries that terrorists have come from, but are exempted from your ban, are also the very countries where you have financial interests.

So we can use our brains and deduct, reasonably, that this isn’t really about saving American lives. Or else you would have written an executive order banning guns from homes with toddlers, since a gun-wielding toddler kills a US citizen about once every two weeks. (True fact—not alternate!)

And we can use our brains to deduct, reasonably, that your decisions about which countries to include or exclude may be influenced by your financial conflicts of interest.

Now it doesn’t take much more thinking for us to wonder about the timing.

I guess you were figuring that while the “losers” were protesting your un-American action, the chaos would cover your slipping Steve Bannon onto the National Security Council.

Careful sir, your strings are showing.

Michelle Chalfoun

DJT Day 8: You Racist, Muslim-Banning Lunatic

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Today’s letter:

Dear Mr. President,

Sorry I missed a couple days there writing to you, but I need a break from your lunacy, so I could have a nice time with my daughter eating Chinese food and binge watching old Gilmore Girls. She’s just gotten to the right age to enjoy it.

It seems you haven’t been slacking these last two days. I can’t even begin to cover the supercallousfascistracistextrabraggadocious executive orders you’ve been putting out at such a manic rate now that you’ve decided the presidency is a monarchy and it’s okay to write laws without paying attention to Congress or the Constitution. But I would like to call your attention to latest whack-a-doodle idea you had and the chaos it’s creating.

Your ban on Muslim refugees. Now I know you think it’s “working out very nicely”, and you want us to buy the line that it’s “not a Muslim ban”, and that the everyone was “totally prepared”, but you really aren’t a magician, and the lies you say are not magic spells that make everyone lose track of reality.

In provable reality, people are being stranded in airports, families are separated, vulnerable old people and children are going without medicine and care, and even a man who helped the US by translating for our soldiers is stuck because of your racist nonsense. Oh yeah, and they all happen to be from predominantly Muslim countries—so nah, you’re wrong. It is a Muslim Ban. That’s why the cab drivers at JFK have gone on strike. They’re Muslim!

There’s a reason a judge granted a stay against your crazy ban. It’s likely not Constitutional.

Re-read your Oath of Office.

Michelle Chalfoun

What I didn’t include in the letter is that during my hiatus, I helped form a group in my town dedicated to resisting DJT and his racist, authoritarian, crazy agenda. I think we’re going to be very successful. If you want to do that in your town, go to https://www.indivisibleguide.com

It’s a great guide to forming a rebel cell. Yay Team Democracy!

 

 

 

Letter to DJT, Day 6

adel7“I’m begging FEMA for boots on the ground”: Donald Trump leaves GOP leaders begging for aid after deadly storms in the South
Red State governors in Mississippi and Georgia complain they’ve been waiting for a response from Trump for days.

http://www.salon.com/2017/01/25/im-begging-fema-for-boots-on-the-ground-donald-trump-leaves-gop-leaders-begging-for-aid-after-deadly-storms-in-the-south/

My letter to DJT today was about the above situation. It went something like this (unfortunately, I don’t have the exact words anymore–I got distracted and sent it before I could copy it).

Dear Mr. President,

It has become evident in the last six days by the things you have done and the things you and your surrogates, such as Omarosa, have said that you do not take an action unless it enriches you or your friends, consolidates your power, or pisses off the left. You clearly are not interested in helping the people who voted you into office.

The South has been devastated by tornadoes. The Governors of Mississippi and Georgia have begged for a response from FEMA and all you have done is issued a statement. Is it because these people no longer interest you now that you are a President? Helping them would not enact revenge on the left, or line your pockets, so you can’t be bothered?

You are the President of the United States. Act like it.

Sincerely,

Michelle Chalfoun

 

Not my best work. But I am tired and the offenses just keep coming. It’s hard to know what to address: torture? deportations? unfit appointees? environmental degradation?

Clearly he is writing all these executive orders, bypassing congress, as rapidly as possible so that there is nearly no time or way to respond to all these outrages. Where is the reasonable Republican?  Is there no one near him with a soul? There are people hurt by every decision he makes and doesn’t make. Every action he takes and doesn’t take.

What happened to the South is an epic tragedy and DJT’s subsequent lack of response is criminal. That he should talk about crowd size instead of the destruction and death down there…?

I mean, who does that?