Coronavirus Isn’t The Problem. It’s Leadership Failure.

Kids not going back to school. An inability to travel across state lines and give grandma a hug that won’t kill her (or you). People being laid off from their jobs.

The problem is leadership failure, not coronavirus.

Other countries have identified how to manage coronavirus in a way that doesn’t destroy everyone’s lives. The virus is not somehow different in the United States. What is different about the United States, more than anything, is a lack of leadership at the national level.

It’s low-hanging fruit to attack people going to the bar, and believe me, I have some choice words for those recklessly having drinks at the bar as U.S. infections top five million. But you know what? The real problem is a lack of national leadership that would be courageous enough to acknowledge the severity of the crisis and create measures to deal with it.

If we had a national leader, we would have meaningful, temporary lockdowns to cut transmission so that we can have meaningful, in-person contact. Like schools. Sports. Vacations. An economy that can actually move up rather than cutting, shriveling down.

If we had a national leader, we would have testing available to everyone who needs it with rapid results, and contact tracing that would make real life more workable so that we can do the things that we enjoy, for real, not sort of while assuring ourselves that it’s maybe ‘safe’ because there is hand sanitizer as one enters the nail salon.

If we had a national leader, masks would be mandated, not politicized, the needs of children and the most vulnerable would be prioritized when weighing what services to reopen and when, and school board members and governors would not be on the front lines of making decisions for which there should be national policy, guided by public health professionals.

We don’t have a national leader. We have an authoritarian, racist psychopath who doesn’t care how many Americans die.

Coronavirus isn’t doing this to us. A leadership failure is. And so, I am no longer saying COVID or coronavirus is making life tough. I’m saying leadership failure. When my daughter adds to her never-ending list of things she wants to do “when coronavirus is over,” I gently correct her with, “when the leadership failure has passed.”

How You Can Help Parents In Your Workplace Right Now

Many, many kids aren’t going to school next year, bringing a true crisis moment for working families across America. If you don’t have school-age children, telling parents whether we should send our kids back to school is as helpful as when you shared a color-coded chart of what we should do with our kids in the spring. Actually, though, we need serious support, and here are some tips to help you help the parents in your workplace:

Put your own neck out there: You be the one to bring up the question with HR and leadership. So, I’m sure you’ve noticed schools aren’t reopening. What policies as an organization are we implementing to make sure we give our parents what they need to keep their jobs? Are there any suggested steps I can take individually to help my parenting colleagues? When you’re the one to bring it up, you’re taking the burden off us. Truth is, many parents are terrified of losing our jobs right now. It helps to have you at our back.

Normalize conference calls instead of Zoom calls. Thank you to those of you who are gracious about seeing our kids running around. That’s kind of you. It’s still stressful even when colleagues are understanding. Regardless of the childcare crisis of the moment, most work meetings don’t need to take place by video.

Normalize men in opposite-sex couples doing domestic work. The current crisis for parents is crushing women in particular, with many opposite-sex couples relying upon women to do their jobs and educate their children, and statistical reporting during the pandemic bears that out. So, normalize men needing to take care of their kids during the workday. Also, non-parent men can help out here as well, by normalizing men doing house chores and making it clear you’re doing so by weaving it into your small talk.

Recognize that many of your parenting colleagues have been going through agony over the past few weeks, and cut us a break. If you’re not on the listservs and Facebook groups and getting the constant texts and the emails from other parents, much less not looking at your own child and wondering how they will get the education and programs they need and how you will keep your own sense of mental balance during this extreme crunch upon us, you probably don’t know. I can say from personal experience that, when my school district was still offering a decision of hybrid or distance learning (it’s all distance learning now because America gave bars and restaurants priority), I had the two most difficult weeks of my experience thus far during the pandemic.

Put pressure on your elected officials. As I’ve written before: In leaving out childcare, our COVID economic relief packages have been sexist as hell.  What families are currently experiencing is a societal problem, and it demands societal solutions. Demand paid leave, emergency childcare relief, and food assistance to needy families.

Donate to food pantries serving children and families, no questions asked, and volunteer to help. Schools do many important things, including making sure children from low-income families have access to high-quality, nutritious food. If you have time and/or physical resources to do so, this is a great place to pitch in.

Stay home. The single most effective thing we can do to create an environment where schools can reopen is to bring infection rates down. Just stay home. As our nation continues to shatter records for daily infection rates, no restaurant should be offering indoor dining. Just because they are doesn’t mean you should go.

 

Why I Won’t Send My Child Back To School

I’m not sending my daughter back to school for second grade this fall. While this decision comes at considerable cost to her education and my ability to work, it is the right one for us.

My family lives in Arlington County, where the school system has presented a choice of a hybrid model that includes two days in school and three days of distance learning, or an all-virtual model. While I appreciate the impossible situation that is larger than our school board, both of these choices are, frankly, horrible for children my daughter’s age, who really depend upon in-person instruction and socialization in order to succeed. What’s more, these choices are particularly devastating for low-income children, children of color, children for whom English is a second language, and children with learning disabilities.

We should have, as a country, gotten it together when we closed down in the spring. We should have used this time to create plans for social distancing that work, to educate people about how to keep our communities safer, and develop plans for better testing and contract tracing abilities that would allow for greater reopening.

Instead, led with political pressure from a president most concerned about his re-election, states rushed to reopen their economies in the pursuit of short-term political gain. Now we are paying the price with spikes in coronavirus infections that appear to be out of control.

Making this choice was agonizing. My daughter is just beginning to read and write, and she needs to see teachers. She also needs to see other children, which is heightened by the fact that she is an only child. My ability to work has taken a huge hit since we began to shelter in place on March 13, and I wake up at 4 a.m. (or earlier) multiple days a week just so I can “juggle” the expectation that I do my job and serve as my daughter’s teacher and tech support.

But we can do hard things, and I believe, ethically, that we have to do this very hard thing for another year because it’s neither safe nor fair to throw teachers, school support staff, and our community into an epidemiological experiment that has been rushed along under political pressure. We’ve seen the results of rushing to reopen before the virus has been contained before, and it’s why the United States has been forced to use freezer trucks to store the bodies of people, disproportionately Black and brown, whose deaths could have been prevented.

While reducing the number of children in the building during the school day, the model of sending children to school for a few days a week on a staggered schedule creates a patchwork of childcare problems that facilitates community spread. It’s likely that students from multiple schools and districts will mix and mingle in childcare programs because of the odd school schedules happening throughout our region.

My school district has not yet made a decision about the fate of the extended day program our family relied upon in previous years, but I believe the writing is on the wall that, um, there won’t be an opportunity to send our children into the school to all play together in a gym with students from all grades starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m. each day. At this time, I don’t see an option to send my daughter back to another form of childcare, either.

I do not begrudge parents who are ‘choosing’ the hybrid model of education in my district, and I hope the model works out. We are all doing the best we can in impossible circumstances, many of us with colleagues who do not have a grasp on what it’s really like to be a teacher and a camp counselor and a parent and an employee at the same time, with crying children struggling with mental and emotional stress, technology platforms that are complex for children and adults to navigate, and without a break since the beginning of March.

Having done the math, I think (hope) it will be less work for me to have my daughter at-home full-time where she can have live, virtual instruction for about three hours, four days each week than it is to have her in school two days and no live time with teachers for three. Still, I am expecting to spend 38 hours per week for the upcoming year serving as her teacher. This time is not counting interruptions I expect as I work because she is a young child and needs help, nor time serving as her playmate because she is an only child and needs someone to play with her. In the continuing absence of leadership from public officials, what we are witnessing in real-time is my generation of moms being pushed out of the workforce or downgraded in our careers – I say moms intentionally because while parenting is gender-neutral, who is being pushed out is not – if we don’t collapse from exhaustion first. Now you know why.

Have you heard the Secretary of Labor say anything about this? The Secretary of Education seems to have discovered in the past week that children are out of school, and all she is doing is shaming the impossible choices that parents have rather than creating pathways to actually support the damn kids who don’t have the option to go to school five days per week.

We’re staying home next year for the reason that our political leaders have completely failed all of us in containing this virus, botching it so bad that we have the worst infection rates in the world, with children unable to go to school and parents and teachers being forced to quit their jobs to deal with the untenable ‘choices’ forced upon us.

We had a choice: Open bars or open schools. Our country made a choice, and my daughter is now staying home from school for the upcoming year.

 

 

I Wanted To Thank You For Going To The Pub

I wanted to thank you for going to the pub. I hope you had at least four Miller Lites, and traded numbers with someone cute (I’m sorry they haven’t called). I know you had been feeling lonely. My daughter just turned seven and she is an only child, so she can relate as camps have closed for the summer.

I wanted to thank you for going to the restaurant to have a bacon cheeseburger with your family, eating indoors while the waitstaff wear masks. I know you needed that. Meatpacking workers, many of them from immigrant communities, also need food on the table and have been continuing to go to work — sometimes under government command — until they die. Mmm, bacon!

I wanted to thank you for standing up for small businesses by seeing your manicurist, getting your roots touched up at the salon, and keeping up with your local gym membership. I appreciate that it all felt ‘super safe.’ Friends who contracted COVID-19 continue to struggle months later, seeking new referrals by the week for pulmonologists, cardiac specialists, and gastroenterologists. Many of these medical professionals, too, operate their own small businesses and I’m glad we’re working together to keep our economy safe.

I wanted to thank you for refusing to wear a mask. You have looked so manly. On occasion my husband has joined the throngs not sleeping well, and SARS-CoV-2 couldn’t push up anxiety and depression rates like this without your unrestrained virility.

I especially wanted to thank you for going ahead with your summer vacation (YASS! Cotton Candy on a Stick!), as this week my school district has announced that for the next year children have the option to attend school two days per week or all-virtual. In my daughter’s grade they are honing reading skills so the timing could not be more effective to cement and intensify the inequities experienced by children with disabilities, non-primary English speakers, and poor kids of color without broadband and devices. We can’t solve everything for the kids, am I right?

I do apologize for getting a little windy during your long flight home from paradise (hope that guy in the aisle with the face mask over his eyes doesn’t snore too loud!), but since you’re up anyway, let me tell you what’s happening to moms of young kids. Without childcare, the nurses and nursing home attendants on the frontlines have been SOL this whole time, and now a sizable segment of my generation of working moms with office jobs are on the brink of being permanently forced out of or downgraded from our careers. In this new normal of barefoot and managing Zoom calls and ever-shifting distance learning decrees for my daughter, I appreciate the ability to ponder the intensification of systemic white patriarchy through school closures against a newsfeed of busy boardwalks and you, looking so great in your swimsuit.

Now that you’re home, I wanted to thank you for refusing to take off your mask in Trader Joe’s and for connecting this issue to the Democrats (though, gently, I remind you that the need for chocolate-covered mango potato chips is non-partisan and for those on the team, our symbol is a donkey, not a pig). It may be that no one in America better understands the need for people to wear masks in public than hourly workers, many of them people of color who have no choice but to serve you, so it was helpful that you provided some an opportunity to do so on camera while wearing fabulous Hawaiian shirts (every moment deserves a little cha-cha, yes?). As with some of their colleagues who have died in packed ICUs after restocking shelves and ringing up your toilet paper, the rhinestoned Bebe brand you were wearing during your viral rant may never recover — and as a member of the Georgetown class of 2002, I too am ready to move on.

I wanted to thank you for insisting on holding the funeral in-person and indoors, and making sure everyone had a role to play so they just couldn’t let you down. My daughter has not seen her grandparents in five to seven months, and should the worst happen during these delicate times when traveling across state lines carries mandatory quarantine or even closed borders, it is helpful to know that many of the elderly people in attendance were able to have everyone together singing the appropriate funeral songs before some of them die alone on video cam.

I wanted to thank you for attending the Trump rally wearing red, white, and blue, for desecrating the American flag with a blue line, and for wrapping yourself in the flag carried by rebels who tried to defeat the people of the United States of America. Your visible patriotism of destruction is poignant as Black people are killed in the streets by law enforcement because this presents a second option in the event the virus that is disproportionately infecting and killing them ‘magically disappears’ as has been suggested by the authoritarian Nazi sympathizer too busy ordering the military to teargas peaceful protesters against racism to lead a national strategy to defeat the coronavirus, from which, after arguing for less testing (the numbers will make him look better) and reopening the economy (the numbers will make him look better), he has moved on.

I have been staying at home for 17 weeks and am grateful for this opportunity to reflect upon what happens when I play along with ‘we can do hard things’ and you do not. At various points in this sofa-bound adventure, I have played Italian music from my iPhone and fantasized about having that one pasta dish from my honeymoon in Florence, and you have carried more than your fair share in this group project to ensure that Italian borders are closed to us so that this fantasy can stop taunting me. Scientists warn there may soon be 50,000 daily new infections in the United States.

In our own special ways, I suspect, we have been concerned about recent declines in American standing, and now we can say objectively that as far as coronavirus goes, the world watches on as we take irrefutable first place.

So truly, thank you for going to the pub. I used to think it was sad to drink alone.

Erin reading a book in a vintage swimsuit

Tidying Up With Marie Kondo: A Show More About Gender Than Clutter

My grandparents were hoarders. They had a majestic four-story farmhouse in small-town southern Minnesota, overlooking the park with the baseball diamond, and most of the rooms were sealed, some filled to the ceiling with stuff. Growing up, I would go “spelunking” beyond the two semi-passable rooms in which they had confined themselves. After my grandfather got sick, they moved up to a senior apartment where my grandmother lived during the brief period before he died and the subsequent years that followed. She promptly filled that one-bedroom unit, too, with stuff, creating impassable corridors and unusable spaces with tantalizing green glass knickknacks, piles of books and periodicals, and tins full of candies or coins or buttons everywhere. A covered table and lack of couch did not matter: You could sit on her bed or stand at the makeshift table to eat her luxuriant pies and have a spot of amusing conversation. It would be easy to blame the hoarding on my grandmother, but I believe my grandfather, too, was a hoarder: In addition to the big-old house, he had literal warehouses full of stuff that he would auction. My grandmother’s mobility was limited and I think only he would have been able to fill most of the rooms in their home.

‘Hating’ The Container Store in a principled yet flirty way is part of my feminism. I resent the implication that I can have it all — an office, a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a Christmas wrapping season that never ends — and be neat, and yet I am tantalized by the implied promises whispering in my ears as I pace slowly, solipstically down aisles smelling of new plastic, gleaming and not yet bulging botulistic with objects that are irrelevant to my present needs but that I have not found the confidence to throw away. I am guilty of purchasing plastic bins that don’t get used, sometimes empty old bins stacked on top of new, aspirational bins, for years-long stretches before I try, slowly, to chip away at my stuff. Mainly I just hate that we expect women to be ready for everything but also to be clean.

I think we’re supposed to hate Marie Kondo. Mainly because she’s a woman and we’re supposed to hate women, but also because she’s a successful Asian woman, businesswoman, and entrepreneur with a net worth that our culture mostly reserves for white men. In my artistic presentation of the problem she treats, her book has sat on my overstuffed bookshelf for well over a year. As I look forward to reading it, I have started watching her show on Netflix. And I love Marie Kondo. I love her skirts and her hugs. I love imagining getting dressed up and walking into someone’s house and loving their energy and giving them a hug during a filming season just before viral loads and droplets wrecked all that. I love how she sits down and blesses a house. I love how she listens to people and offers no judgement over their habits and preferences and quirks. I love how she folds T-shirts in a way that make them seem like little tea towels. I love her name. When I say it I feel sweet, in control, and ready to storm the gates. If Madonna in a cone bra was the next stage of feminism in the 1990s, surely Marie Kondo reassuring women and silently letting men and children begin to observe the latticework of their own over-reliance on Mom is another stage of feminism during this bleak juncture of the twenty-first century.

For this viewer, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo is not a television show about clutter. It is a way of analyzing gender. What I see in these shows is women being expected to hold it together for everyone and slowly, then finally, breaking. It is women navigating grief and loss, picking up the pieces of lives that are no longer in the present. It is women who are so well dressed, forced to confront at an older age a mountain of clothes showing how we are expected to look stylish and fresh. She makes us put the mountain on our beds, where culture shoved us in such a different way when we were younger. Sometimes when I watch this show I cry. Marie Kondo is perfect. She is calm, measured, flexible, patient, and playing her gender role in a radical, subversive way — making bank and also giving women permission to look at ourselves honestly and say what who we really are and want out of life, rather than holding on for contingencies someone else might expect us to have at the ready, just in case. Her television show is, for this feminist, about shedding crap and allowing people in the private sphere to be seen. Subtly, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo acknowledges the complicity of men and kids in delegating the hearth to women in the most unrealistic of ways, and promotes building confidence to see and state our own preferences in a mainstream, unthreatening way that walks and talks like self-help capitalism rather than the radical feminist promise it holds.

 

All These COVID-19 Economic Relief Packages Leave Out Childcare And Are Sexist As Hell

COVID-19 has destroyed the basic social compact working parents signed up for when we decided to have children. Now, we’re forced to do it all. At once. This is impossible. The other option is to lose our jobs like tens of millions of other Americans.

This is a childcare emergency.

There are no personal solutions to fix it.

Color-coded ‘schedule charts’ for the kids or sweet website recommendations for how to view the Louvre collection virtually, from a pogo stick, while the kids learn how to meditate following prompts in ancestral languages aren’t going to solve it.

Re-opening the tattoo parlors, barber shops, bowling alleys, and movie theaters? Also worthless.

We need to just say it out loud:

The federal government’s economic relief packages for COVID-19 are sexist as hell. In leaving the childcare crisis unaddressed, the whole response is sexist as hell.

Parenting and childcare are economic activities that are not being compensated. Guess why? This has always been considered women’s work, even when men and non-binary folks do it, and that’s why it’s been under-appreciated and underpaid.

I’m seeing lots of government aid packages and promises for businesses that promise not to lay off their workers. Where are the government aid packages and promises for businesses that:

  • Reduce hours for caregivers on staff without reducing their pay
  • Give caregivers on staff PAID LEAVES OF ABSENCE even if they theoretically can ‘work from home’ at 3 a.m. while the baby sleeps for 20 minutes
  • Provide incentives for social-service organizations that are currently closed to innovate on safe provision of childcare for essential workers and also workers, period

Why are our legislators not talking about the childcare crisis facing working families in communities around the country? 

Our schools, summer camps, and childcare providers are closed. It is critical that the *actual government* address this issue. Legislators, cabinet secretaries. All the schools have closed and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is doing what, having a manicure in Georgia? Have you heard anything from her since the coronavirus crisis began? How about Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia? Has he opened his mouth once about the extreme challenges faced by working parents ever (duh, childcare affordability has always been a crisis), much less now when we’re all tearing our hair out and struggling to breathe?

Where are the think tanks with papers about ways to climb out of this childcare crisis in a way that also offers protections for public health during a global pandemic?

The time for innovation is now. If ‘relief’ and ‘reopening’ ideas don’t prominently feature the needs of working families, they are not worth printing on paper.

 

Parenting In A Pandemic

March 13, 2020. That is the day our family entered lockdown in support of public health due to the coronavirus pandemic. Frustrated with the inaction of our school district, I woke up that morning and sent an email to my daughter’s teacher explaining that I was pulling her out of school. Later that day the district agreed, ending classes the following Monday.

Homeschooling and working full-time is not a joke. I have been known to work hard my whole life, and I have never been so exhausted. This is a beautiful, impossible situation.

The beauty is that love for each other, our neighbors, our community, our country, and our world is what keeps us home, doing these hard things. My daughter, who is six, and I have never been so close. In this room where I try to work and she works through tears and disappointments and joys and boredom we are seeing sides of one another that had been muted for the other by the school day or the workday, unseen and unknown.

What we are doing is much less hard than others: Neither her father nor I have lost our jobs. No one in our family has been sick with COVID-19. We do not work in medicine, we do not have to face the terrifying situations of first responders — and let’s be clear, that includes not just medical professionals but also people working in grocery stores, funeral parlors, and other essential services — who are exposed to large groups of people, many of them infected, and seeing the hardest times of people’s lives. We are not part of the Black community that is dying at alarming, disproportionate rates, a reflection of the racism that is always there and always making the worst things worse.

For us it is less dramatic but also hard, just as it’s hard for everyone else. Social distancing is exaggerating the pain points of our idiosyncrasies, creating deeply personal and widely divergent horrors. While I get up at 4 a.m. trying to make it all happen and end many days feeling exhausted, defeated, and depressed by the impossible expectations to work and homeschool a delightful and small only child of many urgent needs and feelings (it is cyclical, and I’ve learned to plan for it, accept and honor the feelings, and rise to try again), I recognize that what I am locked in is the exact opposite of others locked in by themselves, haunting to pass the time.

Of course we are inexorably changed, but no, perhaps this is who we are and always were. A mother and a daughter throwing socks at each other for an indoor snowball fight on Spring Break rather than going to Disneyland, frozen in the moment created by leaders who failed us and a horrible disease continuing to rob people of their ability to breathe and stealing jobs people depend on to put food on table. Parenting my daughter is the hardest and most unrealistic and absolutely best part of this pandemic. Because of her, there is no time for fear. Because of her, time that might be spent in sorrow is instead consumed with going off the never-attainable script provided by the school district and teaching her lessons about Chernobyl, because why not. I love her and now we, too, are living through the aftermath of self-absorbed, autocratic leaders who attempted to dismiss an invisible enemy as no big deal until insufficiently impeded scientific inevitabilities took over and showed everyone.

Why My Work For Abortion Rights Will Change When I Hit Menopause

Just after turning 32, and just before I stepped down from my role as action vice president of the National Organization for Women, I gave a then-radical speech in which I championed the leadership of young feminists and called for the organization to evolve. If you care about what I’m going to write, I urge you to take five minutes to watch it here on CSPAN, and then read on. 

If you watched that, you are probably not surprised that I resigned from that position a few months later. You are probably not surprised that I explained that decision to TIME Magazine with, “When you want to build a jet pack, sometimes that means you have to leave the bicycle factory.” You are probably not surprised that I went on to co-found the cutting-edge, left flank reproductive justice activism group Reproaction with Pamela Merritt a few years later. (We are still leading this and it’s bomb! Sign up for our email list if you haven’t already, and we’ll send you opportunities to take direct action to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice.)

I believe in innovation and taking risks. I believe in the leadership of young people and their capacity for it. And I believe with my deepest heart that I would be living in contradiction of my values if I led activist work for abortion rights as a menopausal woman. So this is my promise to you, as I near the big 4-0. Within 10 years you will not see me leading the work I am now.

I will do the daylights out of abortion rights activism in the streets for the rest of my life. As long as I am living, I will never be past tense in the activist community. I nearly died of an eating disorder and I’m not messing around — activism for gender equality is the work of my life and it hadn’t become that, I would have been dead 20 years ago. I believe deeply in the power of direct action to change society and also, ourselves. But, as an older woman, I will be doing the daylights out of abortion rights activism in the streets behind a younger woman or gender non-conforming person holding the bullhorn because that’s who I have always believed should be leading the abortion activism work.

I believe in experience and wisdom. I do not believe people should be cancelled on the basis of age or, for that matter, other characteristics of their identity. I will support young activist leaders for abortion rights, mentor them, show up for their actions, give money to them, maybe even be their employee. It may well be the case that I take a frontline leadership role in another reproductive health, rights, or justice organization with a primary focus in communications, education, elections, policy, research, service delivery, or basically anything other than grassroots activism, or that I go on to lead a feminist or other progressive organization, even an activist one, of which abortion rights is one issue within a broader social justice agenda. I will certainly never stop writing, innovating, taking bold action for gender equality.

I don’t think older women don’t have important reproductive and sexual health issues. I don’t think older women should stop leading organizations (including reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations!) or speaking to the media or testifying in Congress or giving their full-throttle brilliance and if that’s your interpretation, you are purposefully misreading me.

This is about me and my values, and what I see as my role in grassroots activist leadership for abortion rights.

If my body isn’t bleeding, if I am physically no longer in need of access to abortion, I’m moving my perch. It won’t be to irrelevance or apathy. Just wait until you hear this old bird sing.

Amy Klobuchar, Or The Case Of The Workplace Bully

I believe Amy Klobuchar will be the Democratic nominee for president. I wish I was more excited about this. I don’t know how to get past reporting in The New York Times titled, simply, “How Amy Klobuchar Treats Her Staff.” If you live in the D.C. area and work in progressive circles, as I do, you are likely to know tons of stories that never have and never will be printed, shared first-hand with you by a variety of dedicated professionals who worked for her, people with no desires for notoriety and no axes to grind. The difficulty of working for her is common knowledge in this town.

Why I Want To Like Amy Klobuchar
It’s been time for a woman president since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, and I really want to like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The first woman senator from Minnesota — a dream I started phonebanking for in middle school, when Ann Wynia ran in 1994 — she gave the best campaign announcement of any Democrat running for president this cycle.

She launched her effort to defeat Trump in a literal snowstorm. The image of her smiling behind the podium, snow falling down, is epic to the point of worthy of a tattoo on other people’s shoulders.

She’s funny. She’s smart.

She maintained her dignity when Justice Brett Kavanaugh stepped far over the line with her during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, asking her if she had blacked out while drinking alcohol rather than answering the same important question she had posed to him, germane to the credible story presented by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her with a friend in the room while they were drinking at a high school party.

She was right when she pointed out that women candidates with Pete Buttigieg’s comparatively low level of political experience would not stand a chance in the Democratic presidential primary, and it was a feminist act to name that.

Why I Think Amy Klobuchar Will Be The Nominee
I believe Amy Klobuchar will be the Democratic nominee for president. I have been saying this privately for months; now you are seeing it here, in the public forum of my personal blog. I believe this will happen because, regardless of my personal beliefs, policy priorities, and favored candidates (I am to the left of Sen. Klobuchar, and unapologetically so), I believe that Democratic primary voters will eventually coalesce around a centrist candidate who they believe is most likely to beat Donald Trump in a general election.

As a centrist from the upper Midwest, Klobuchar checks a lot of boxes.

I believe her ascent is inevitable because former Vice President Joe Biden is a weak frontrunner, which is convenient to blame on the fact that he is 77, but actually stems from the ageless truth that he has run in presidential primaries repeatedly over the decades and has never proved much good at it.

With fundraising prowess, surging poll numbers, and a sharp generational contrast, it may appear that Pete Buttigieg has the easiest path to surpassing Biden in the centrist lane, but as is true for high school and life, it’s critical not to peak too soon. As much as I believe in the leadership of young people and that Buttigieg has a promising future in politics, it seems likely that centrist voters will shift from Biden’s weakness as a candidate to Buttigieg’s lower experience level to eventually land upon Amy Klobuchar and her electability among white Midwestern voters, who Trump can’t win without.

(This is not to say I don’t think Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, doesn’t have real gaps with to fill with Black voters, and especially Black women voters, whom Democrats can’t win without; however they seem less insurmountable than Buttigieg’s failure to thwart police violence in his own community and wild card Michael Bloomberg’s racist stop and frisk policy as mayor of New York City, for which he has recently apologized.)

On Tough Bosses, Women Bosses, Workplace Bullying, And Amy Klobuchar’s Run For President
A tough boss can actually be a great boss. Tough can mean high standards that make staff work hard, grow, and achieve more than they thought possible. Tough can be challenging in the moment and a source of pride later, even when it seemed at the time like the difficulty could never be redeemed and the boss was just the worst. Workplace bullying is different.

I’m defining workplace bullying as repeated aggressive, degrading behavior in the workplace that serves to isolate and ridicule its targets, making life a living hell for them; in order for it to truly be workplace bullying, this behavior must be accompanied by power dynamics that make it impossible for its victims to free themselves from the behavior, short of leaving their jobs.

The stories about Amy Klobuchar seem to fit the pattern of workplace bullying, and that matters for her presidential run because workplace bullying indicates what I believe to be a serious failure of leadership. Leaders articulate a vision, and inspire others to work together to achieve that common purpose. If a political leader can’t inspire their own staff — who share their ideology and in the context of the dysfunctional capitol dome should in most circumstances be the easiest management issues on their plate — without psychologically beating them into submission, how can they be expected to lead the whole country?

Rigorous definitions are important. A colleague who disagrees with you is not necessarily a workplace bully. Nor is a woman in power who isn’t ‘likable.’ There are unfair standards for women leaders, and it’s true that people have all manner of irrational reactions to women in power, even feminists who claim they want to see women in power (you know, those hypothetical women in power who are more attractive leaders than the women actually doing the work now, although a large number of feminists seem to be pretty inspired by Elizabeth Warren, thank you very much).

I remember earlier in my career, a woman I worked with was frustrating to me. Our styles clashed and we often had different points of view. Once during a phone call she spat out, just because I’m disagreeing with you doesn’t mean I’m yelling at you. She was right. I appreciate this lesson, and actually remember her fondly today.

Our Country Needs Leadership — Desperately
Our country needs profound, courageous, principled leadership if we are to bounce back from the deep challenges to our democracy posed by structural inequality, ascendant white nationalism, and an authoritarian administration that has purposefully sown doubt in what is fact, undermined the free press, and used overt racism, support for gun manufacturers, and the magic carpet ride of anti-abortion extremists who will go along with literally anything to overturn Roe v. Wade. We will need to find ways to overcome conservative gerrymandering and social media echo chambers. The crisis of our democracy in 2020 is an urgent cry for leadership.

Cory Booker has a great message about leading with love, and I believe that our country desperately needs inspirational leadership skills and messages like his to draw people back together. While I could get very excited about a Booker candidacy, or a Warren candidacy, and I deeply, painfully miss the Harris and Castro campaigns, maybe the candidate we get will not be very exciting to me or to you.

If our first or second choice is not the nominee, we should choose to be grown-ups. Stopping Trump is indeed the most important thing. Tearing down every Democrat running is counterproductive, and every time I log into Twitter, where I follow mostly Democrats, I feel a little more demoralized to see how much energy is going into total, all-or-nothing shutdowns of Democratic candidates. No one deserves a total shutdown except Putin puppet Tulsi Gabbard (Kamala Harris was right about a number of things, including this!).  Mostly, I’d like to see Democrats organize respectfully for our favorite candidates and chill.

So Amy Klobuchar will not get my vote in the primary. If she is indeed the candidate in the general election, I will lean into what I like about her, dig in for the work required to move her to more progressive positions, and do everything I can to get her elected. I will do this for any Democratic nominee who is not a known Putin puppet. If it is Klobuchar I’m certain I would ugly cry and joyfully scream to see a woman from Minnesota defeating Donald Trump. But I will not pretend now like workplace bullying does not give serious pause. It does. It should.

Treating Food And Exercise Like A Zero-Sum Game Is Peak Eating Disorder Culture

Here’s a horrible idea that promotes disordered eating: Researchers in the United Kingdom have suggested labels that list the amount of exercise required to burn the amount of calories in a food. As someone who nearly died of anorexia, I know that displaying this information in this manner — on literally all packaged foods — is a direct threat to the lives of the tens of millions of people struggling with eating disorders.

Eating disorders are hell. They make enemies of food, movement, and living life in general. With eating disorders, numbers become instruments of obsession, self-hatred, and self-torture: calories, nutrients, bites, steps, pounds, and sizes.

Putting the number of minutes required to ‘work off’ a food is peak eating disorder culture because food and movement are two different aspects of life that should not be presented as prerequisites for one another. You deserve to eat whether or not you exercise. You deserve to enjoy exercise without verging on the brink of collapse.

Food is fuel and nutrition as well as culture. At times food is an instrument for expression of creativity, love, and joy. Our bodies are built to eat food. Without food, we die. Movement and exercise are energizing, empowering, and make us feel good in body and mind. Even considering the range of disabilities that bring diversity to our communities and perspectives, our bodies are generally built to move.

The authors of this study suggest their food labels could help fight obesity, and troublingly, one representative responded to CNN with concerns about eating disorders with a dismissive, “we’re interested in the population as a whole.”

In the United States, more than 30 million people struggle with eating disorders. As an anorexia survivor, I have learned the hard way that people struggling with lethal eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes, weights, genders, races, ethnicities, socio-economic classes, and ages. We are your children, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings.

As for scientists who wish to be ‘helpful,’ please can you not? Let’s not turn labels into weapons slapped onto every food at the grocery store. We’re still working on getting rid of the digitally altered magazine covers at the checkout aisle.

Note for readers who struggle with eating disorders or negative self-image: I want you to know that I believe in you and your ability to live a life without this horrible stuff. You deserve happiness. Recovery is possible. Seek professional support. Keep pushing, it’s worth it. xoxo