Keystone XL Charges Against Lt. Dan Choi Dismissed

Today I attended a hearing for District of Columbia v. Daniel Choi, a sham trial against a national leader in the fight for the full equality and dignity of all people. When you have an opportunity to stand up and be counted for what it is right, even if that means sitting there to support someone you don’t really know, you should take it.

While many associate Lt. Choi with repeated acts of civil disobedience to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, this particular trial concerned Lt. Choi’s arrest outside the White House related to an ongoing effort to stop the nasty environmental Armageddon-monger commonly known as the proposed Keystone Pipeline.

Why the mere existence of today’s hearing was egregious, by the numbers:

1,253 — the number of Keystone Pipeline protesters arrested outside the White House in the summer of 2011 (including Lt. Dan Choi).

3 — the number of those 1,253 protesters who had charges brought against them (including Lt. Dan Choi).

1 — the number of those 1,253 Keystone Pipeline protesters arrested outside the White House in the summer of 2011 who had charges brought against them that were not subsequently dismissed (only Lt. Dan Choi).

Until today.

For more than two hours, Capt. James E. Pietrangelo II, Esq., questioned the former prosecutor on Lt. Choi’s case as to why the cases against the other two were dropped, and not Lt. Choi’s. In essence both of the other two cases also involved “professional protesters,” so it is unclear why Lt. Choi was targeted … or is it?

Although there were many, two of the most troubling statements heard in the courtroom today came from Capt. Pietrangelo and raised the specter of bias on the basis of sexual orientation and ethnicity:

“It’s incredible to believe [the former prosecutor] didn’t know who Mr. Choi was given the historical situation.” Underneath this elegant understatement: Lt. Choi is openly gay. Could that be why he was the only one of 1,253 targeted?

“Mr. [referring to the name of one of the two men with charges dismissed], is he white?” Even without a photograph, it’s reasonable to believe that many people hearing Lt. Choi’s last name might assume he is a person of color.

The statement that bothered me the most, however, was not on record. It was in the gallery where I sat, where a man in front of me whispered first: “This is disgusting.” Followed by statements supporting the trial against Lt. Choi. Followed by a gesture toward the far corner of the room: “This guy is disgusting.”

Given the selective prosecution that Capt. Pietrangelo argued took place, from 1,253 arrested down to Lt. Choi all by himself, it’s scary to wonder if anyone with law enforcement power may have uttered (or been guided by) that same sentiment.

Ultimately, after a break, Lt. Choi was given the option to post and forfeit and pay a $50 fee  for failure to obey and a $100 fee for blocking property so that charges would be dismissed, just as they were for the other two charged long ago. It was a victory, albeit a late victory that continues to raise disturbing questions.


“Meaningful Contributions” the NRA Could Make

The NRA Facebook page is back, with the closest thing to a statement since the Newtown murders:

“The NRA is made up of four million moms and dads, sons and daughters – and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown. Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting. The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.

Let’s hold them to that until their press conference on Friday (and let’s be cynical for a moment here, don’t mistake for a second that this scheduling decision was made because so much of the news public will have decamped for the holiday by then — remember when Sarah Palin resigned as Governor on July 3?).

Here are some truly meaningful contributions the NRA could offer:

1. Thank Gov. Rick Snyder (R, MI) for vetoing a bill to end “gun free” school zones. Guns everywhere, including the classroom, is not the solution to every societal ill. It’s long past time for the NRA and gun advocates to acknowledge this.

2. Support the majority of this country in supporting a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips as well as semi-automatic handguns. Common sense: Military-grade weaponry designed to kill as many as possible, as fast as possible, doesn’t belong on the consumer market.

3. Support an end to the gun-show loophole so that every gun purchaser needs to complete a background check. In opposing uniform regulation of gun sales, the NRA is giving the overwhelming majority gun owners who are lawful and peaceful a bad name.

What else would you like to see the NRA count among its “meaningful contributions”?

Why Bobby Jindal Is Not Your Birth Control Buddy

Bobby Jindal has called for over-the-counter access to birth control.

Just like the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians. So wait, doesn’t that mean he’s like your new feminist friend? No, no, no and no.

Let’s parse out Bobby’s own words:

1. He’s antsy the Republicans are losing votes over birth control.
This is cynical stuff. He could have paired up with a health advocate to write about decreasing maternal mortality, reducing poverty, improving health outcomes — in other words he could have led with women. But nope, gang, he’s not motivated by women’s health — he’s motivated by political gain. And, he said so himself.

2. He wants women, not insurers, to pay for birth control.
Remember that great new contraception without copay benefit under the Affordable Care Act? The one that meant you could stop paying a sex discrimination surcharge anywhere between about $15-50 per month that men don’t have to pay for all their preventive care prescriptions? Well, Bobby has come out and said he supports over-the-counter birth control because he wants insurers not to pay. And he’s also said he wants to allow employers to refuse coverage of birth control. Bring back the men-only congressional hearings!

And what if your needs are best served by a permanent or semi-permanent form of contraception? Tough luck, ladies.

3. Super-slime: He’s trying to introduce an age restriction into the new debate.
Bobby believes “every adult (age 18 and over) should be able to purchase over-the-counter birth control.” This age-restriction nonsense is nowhere near the original American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians statement. ACOG’s position supporting over-the-counter birth control just came out this month. It’s new. And Bobby’s trying to run out in front of their message. He’s trying to control what promises to be an ensuing debate so it includes politician-inserted restrictions for young people — before it has barely begun.

Not all women’s health advocates agree with the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians new position supporting over-the-counter birth control, particularly when so many just fought so hard for no-copay insurance coverage. Still, there’s no question that the group counted very good reasons among their motivations, including to improve women’s health and expand access to contraceptives.

It is sleazy politics for Bobby Jindal to for try to co-opt a new argument about access to birth control and turn it into an argument for reducing access.

Pregnancy After An Eating Disorder

Get pregnant, gain weight, give birth.

Maybe this is easy for you. Maybe you like it. Maybe you are fortunate enough to have no experience with an eating disorder, or its aspirational cousin, negative self-image.

Not me. A summary of my situation is as follows: Near-death experience with anorexia, full recovery changed my progressive activism into feminist activism, now I’m pregnant.

I want to situate my first story about the intersection of my pregnancy with my history of having an eating disorder in a broader context, because I was in Arizona in October, and nobody knew I was pregnant, and a woman shared her story with me and it was not just any old day. Here is what I had posted on Facebook:

The 10th anniversary of Senator Wellstone’s death is emotional for me, and more so because I have spent the past two days on a community college campus talking with thirteen classes and passers-by at outdoor events about body image, self-esteem, cultural representations of women and how truly radical it is to love and accept yourself as you are, whether you are a man or a woman. I have talked about how loving yourself is a key within the broader political struggle for women’s rights and human rights, to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every individual. I have spoken with countless students who have come to me in tears, accepted an opportunity to get help for the first time in their lives, told me they were going to work for the basic right to respect and justice for all, smiled through sunglasses saying they had tried to commit suicide but backed out and were so glad they had. I have hugged so many strangers, beautiful and strong, sometimes hurting, men and women, in the past 48 hours and if that’s not professional – who cares. Paul Wellstone said he emphasized “self-esteem, self confidence, and dignity, not as an ideal, but as a test of organization.” He also told us to “Never separate the life you live from the words you speak.” Before I could vote, before I was a feminist, before my life taught me how important and political and essential it is to have compassion for yourself and not just for others, I was a progressive and I was an organizer. Paul Wellstone was responsible for that.

One of the women who walked up to me asked if I had done any work on body image after having kids. With pain on her face, this woman explained that she had given birth to four children and was so ashamed of the skin on her stomach that she had stopped wearing bikinis. Perhaps this sounds innocuous if you don’t know she had a pool at home. She wanted to wear a bikini but couldn’t bring herself to do it. Her body image was stopping her from enjoying herself when no one else was looking.

I thanked her for her honesty with me. I told her that sounded like a horrible feeling. I meant it.

People dismiss eating disorders and negative self-image as shallow, trivial, pathological all the time. They say it’s vanity or fluff. It’s as if people who feel bad and admit they feel bad are then supposed to feel bad about feeling bad.

This you-better-do-it-but-don’t-speak-up logic makes sense when it is gender roles too limiting to encourage all we have to offer that are being expressed and enforced.

Body image has everything to do with gender roles, and oppressive expectations and painful lived experiences with our bodies often vary widely based on not just gender, but race, disability, sexual orientation and size.

I accept that my experience with overcoming anorexia is not relatable to some women who have struggled more with their hair, or men who have struggled more with their muscles, or activists who are in a difficult and righteous struggle to end fat discrimination. But while experiences are different and should by no means be declared the same, I also believe we are fighting a common monster among many.

For more than a decade I have been free of pills, treatment, I am able to eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full, I don’t binge, I don’t diet. I have over the years felt a little rebel yell when my stomach gets a little bit more of a roll to it. It has come to feel sexy to me when that happens – it’s not just body business. It’s sexy and radical and transgressive to take up space you’re able to fill.

But at the same time, I won’t lie that being pregnant has forced me to confront what I have long thought was my full recovery in a new way. You see, my post-recovery weight has gone up and down over the years like any normal human being, but it has distributed evenly. I’ve never started growing a stomach that sticks out like a bumper on an old Saab. I’ve never anticipated, much less experienced, such a drastic change in my body.

Recently I had an epiphany in, of all places, a dressing room at Old Navy. I was there trying on maternity clothes for the first time in my life. As an eating disorder survivor there is no question I’ve had some Lifetime Shitty Moments in dressing rooms.  When I was recovering from anorexia, if a negative thought cropped up I talked back to it: “Shut up, you’re trying to kill me.” Ultimately after professional intervention (please, if you have an eating disorder and are reading this, contact a professional and don’t try to self-help your way out), it became those seven words to myself, over and over, that built my life back.

But those magic words were not helpful in Old Navy. This was totally new. I had to simply feel uncomfortable, and think some more about feeling uncomfortable. This is my body. I need to accept my body and myself for who I am. Not who I was. Not for what I might become. This is now. It is what I have.

The collision of my eating disordered past and my pregnancy today is a confrontation of the profane and the sacred.

While many of these confrontations happen in a year, much less a lifetime, this is not one I will be able to ignore. It is the expectation of a harsh lens upon a human being, whether viewed by self or others, versus the actuality that is a human experience with its own rhythms, rules and swerves. To smile considering the times you have acknowledged, as they are, the unworthy stereotypes in your life.

I can accept: Get pregnant, gain weight, give birth. In fact I thought I could accept it going in. It took me two laundry cycles after the Old Navy trip to accept buying low-slung yoga pants that almost (do they really?) make me look a little bit pregnant.

Human Rights Day 2012: Time to Ratify CEDAW Women’s Treaty

Today is International Human Rights Day, a yearly effort of the United Nations to celebrate and “advocate for the full human rights by everyone everywhere.” A perfect time to remember the ladies.

This year’s theme focuses on the right of everyone to be heard in public life and decision-making. It adds some much-needed urgency to the decades-long effort to get the United States to ratify the UN Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which will be more simply referred to as the CEDAW Women’s Treaty in the rest of this post.

Related: Today an acting head of the women’s affairs department in eastern Afghanistan was killed on her way to work. Nadia Sediqqi was the replacement for Hanifa Safi, who was killed by a car bomb in July of this year. If this disturbs you, if you care even a smidge about international women’s rights, you need to care about the United States ratifying the CEDAW Women’s Treaty.

So what is the CEDAW Women’s Treaty? Crafted in 1979, it says simply that women’s rights are human rights and offers ratifying countries a practical blueprint for improving the participation and status of women in critical areas including education, healthcare and employment. Nearly every country has ratified it except Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga and … the United States.

Not ratifying the CEDAW Women’s Treaty is a huge deal because ratifying countries regularly meet within the United Nations to discuss their progress. Absent signing on to the CEDAW Women’s Treaty, the U.S. has no structured international forum for addressing the treatment of women in other countries that remains intact in times of war and peace. We are absent from discussions. What an embarrassment for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an undisputed champion of international women’s rights.

It is strategic to lead with the international angle, because it tends to be the case that the United States has an easier time discussing women’s rights as human rights, and reaching ever-elusive bipartisan consensus, when the women being discussed happen to live in countries that overlap with countries that are thought to be our national security interests. (Even George W. Bush — anything but a champion of women’s human rights much less women’s political participation — took on Afghan women as a cause in conjunction with the war he declared in Afghanistan.)

But it shouldn’t be lost that ratifying the CEDAW Women’s Treaty would also improve the lives of women and girls in the United States. Why?

When we ratify the CEDAW Women’s Treaty, our country will go on record for the first time that women’s rights are human rights. (Contrary to what the majority of the population believes, the United States does not yet have a constitutional guarantee against discrimination on the basis of sex.) We’ll also be able to learn from other countries successes in areas where our laws are still catching up to reality — to address discrimination against mothers in the workforce, for example.

Okay, gravy equality train, good and great – but stop. Rick Santorum and Pat Robertson and Republican extremists! Didn’t they just kill the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and embarrass the living daylights out of the United States? In front of former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.)?

All of the major arguments leveled against the CEDAW Women’s Treaty are simply without merit. As some players are wont to do, you say “women,” they say “abortion,” and create a circus. Well, the fact is that the CEDAW Women’s Treaty does not address abortion. There has been concern at times that Mother’s Day would somehow be attacked, but that hasn’t happened anywhere else in the world. Cross-cultural truth: It’s generally uncool to dis your mom.

The other two main arguments were leveled against the Disabilities Treaty and were thoroughly debunked before and after the shameful Senate vote. The CEDAW Women’s Treaty, just like the Disabilities Treaty, does not obligate the U.S. to change its laws. Second, the United Nations is not some anti-sovereign plot to dissolve this nation into a monolithic new world order.

Just as the Disabilities Treaty should be revisited and ratified, so too should the CEDAW Women’s Treaty be ratified. This is an opportunity for those “kinder, gentler” Republicans who were supposed to come out after the election thumping to demonstrate a support of women. And it’s also an opportunity for President Barack Obama, a champion of women, to create a a capstone legacy for the history books.

The United States has a moral obligation to acknowledge women’s rights as human rights, and to participate in helping to bring equality for women at home and around the world. This International Human Rights Day again reminds us its time to ratify the CEDAW Women’s Treaty.

I’m Pregnant!

Pregnant. Pro-choice! Knocked up. Fired up. Expecting a baby.

Stork-a-doodle-dooo000 …

Before I was pregnant, before this transformation that makes me want to eat popsicles at all times, I advocated every day for women’s human rights, most notably around reproductive justice – the right to bear children, the right to not bear children, and the right to adequate health care and social support for all families.

What follows is a commentary that is both intensely personal and political.

Let’s start with the gentleman driving down the street with the “CHOOSE LIFE” license plates.

I see your opinions. I see you can afford to drive a Mercedes. I see clear as the obliviousness on your face that you have NO IDEA.

NO IDEA what it is like to be pregnant.

NO IDEA how warm piss can turn a ten dollar piece of plastic into the most expensive thing at Tiffany that you just broke.

NO IDEA how painful your suggestion can be for a woman who couldn’t complete a wanted pregnancy.

It is so offensive to me that you think you have the right to speak to me, your target audience, a pregnant woman not visibly so, about my reproductive health and decision-making whenever you want. You don’t know me. I haven’t even told all my friends and family I’m having a baby.

Messages like yours, that personal pregnancy is properly positioned as public property, make we want to puke. Your message makes me want to let loose my hot tomato-flavored morning sickness all over your flawless black paint job and glistening silver hood ornament. It is harassment of women who walk and drive and breathe in public.

There is no “choosing life” in the movement represented on license plates like yours from 27 states, with proceeds funneled into unregulated crisis pregnancy centers filled with non-medical poseurs willing to lie to me until some teeth fall out: Telling me abortion will make me go to hell. Telling me abortion will make me commit suicide. Telling me abortion will give me breast cancer.

I’ll tell you what the “pro-life” cause to shame and ban abortion does: It kills women. It kills women just like me.

I am fourteen weeks pregnant, my due date is June 2, my start date is August 26 – that’s Women’s Equality Day (the epoch has not yet been reached).

I am three weeks less pregnant than Savita Halappanavar was when she died in Ireland after a dangerous miscarriage could not be completed with an abortion she begged for because – “This is a Catholic country.”

There is a woman who didn’t die the same hospital death in Arizona recently, and the price was paid with the excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride. Sister Margaret McBride’s alleged crime was saving that 27-year-old woman’s life. In doing that, Sister Margaret McBride angered the “No Girls Allowed” club up top in Rome.

I couldn’t go to my hometown candlelight vigil for Savita. I couldn’t go because I wasn’t ready to tell others I’m pregnant, and every time I seriously considered that case I would start to cry. I’m crying now.

You can work so hard for people’s inherent equality, you can work so hard for reproductive freedom and reproductive justice, but when it comes down to it, pregnant women are still so vulnerable. Yesterday. Today. And still, tomorrow.

The equation is too simple: If you are pregnant and in the wrong place at the wrong time, you die. Not because you had to. Not because the medicine isn’t available yet. Because people, often laws they create, won’t trust you with your power.

I am thrilled to have a baby but the expectation to have a baby, even a dead baby, at any cost, even a dead woman, even me, fuels the wetness on my cheeks.

Let’s leave the Mercedes driver behind and talk about some other expectations.

If you think I’m going to have “a new focus,” or less passion or ambition about my career and the causes I are about, I ask that you kindly ask yourself if you have the same expectation of my husband. Now why does that sound ridiculous? As the authority on myself, it sounds equally ridiculous for me.

I am so proud to show my little girl or boy what it’s like to have a mother who does not slow down, who provides that example that you can have love and devotion to your family and love and devotion to the broader world.

I am not trying to “have it all” or achieve “work-life balance.” I have never seen that referenced as a recipe for personal success alongside the extraordinarily successful men on the covers of magazines – all 96% of those Fortune 500 CEOs, 83% of those members of Congress, 100% of those presidents in history.

I know you can’t self-help your way out of societal discrimination, for which “having it all” and “work-life balance” are guilt-ridden code words. I know you have to work to change the system. That is my work and I will continue that work to the best of my ability, as I always have.

A wise mentor of mine told me that activism is being willing to live your life as an example of what should be, even when it comes with personal cost. And that is why I’m coming out now. You see, I’m in exactly a position to lose right now: I’ve gone on some interviews for jobs, and I’m pregnant. I know that discrimination against openly pregnant women is real. The New York Times recently ran a piece on this. It was called Why Women Hide Their Pregnancies.

I know why women hide their pregnancies. I know why I’ve kept this information longer than I probably would have if I weren’t in transition. I’m afraid people will discriminate against me, make assumptions about me and my career decisions past, present and future, downgrade me or dismiss me simply because I’m having a baby. I know the law is behind where we need to be as a modern workforce. And I’m telling you openly, as a pregnant woman who is taking her career to the next level whether that’s intuitively acceptable for you or not, that this must change for everyone. I am real, other women like me are real, and we are not going away.

This is the first time I’ve been pregnant. I was quite surprised to find I was pregnant two weeks after resigning from my job, without future paychecks in place. At other points in my life, with those facts and without the current support structure I have, I probably would have had an abortion. I’m thrilled to be pregnant today and I don’t feel at all guilty to know this truth. We are not guilty for having sex, for having children, for having abortions. We are human.

So much more to say. For now I will leave you with my strongest Pregnant Pro-Choice Lady wish to end a world where lesbians, gays, single women, single men, young people and undocumented immigrants are not congratulated, supported and welcomed as future parents in the way my husband and I so warmly have been; where low-wage workers need to express breastmilk in a filthy bathroom stall but their wealthier counterparts get leather couches, privacy and respect; and, without question or hesitation, to end a world where accessible, affordable contraception and abortion care is shrouded in shame and dangerous bans that kill pregnant women in the wrong place at the wrong time, rather than celebrated as one of the greatest public health advances in our history.

We should be so proud to stand for reproductive justice.