Author Archives: Lizzy

At This Moment

I am ashamed of those moments I privileged law over justice or valued order over community. The opposite of law and its attendant order is not, as we fear, anarchy and violence. Anarchy and violence, rather, result from law and order which try to exist for their own sake, instead of which try to serve.

Law and order cannot be the master because law is but the means. Justice is the end.

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I Did a Thing

I was a last-minute substitution to the 20 x 2 show last night in Chicago, where 20 of us took two minutes to answer the questions: What Are You Waiting For?

It was fun and the other performers were an interesting assortment of talent and ideas. A couple of them were even friends of mine! The front row of the audience was super-enthusiastic, too.

I am very glad to have been included.

I have my notes of where I went wrong (surprising how much peril lurks in 2:15–I ran slightly long), but mostly, I very much enjoyed the chance to do a thing of the sort I have not done since college. Not just to do my own little bit but also to mingle with others doing their bit and spend some time around the Let’s Put on a Show vibe that I enjoyed before law school.

I have a lovely circle of friends and a great social network here but–well, I have more thoughts to tweeze out here about a community of being and supporting versus a community of doing and facilitating. Thoughts I did not realize I was having. I am about to spend some time at the beach with not much to do, perhaps the thoughts will come together.

In the meantime, this is what I said in response to the 20×2 question: “What Are You Waiting For?”:

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I am never relaxed.  Comfortable? Possibly. Confident? Where appropriate. Calm? As necessary. But I Never Not Ever Relax.

So you might guess that I’m waiting for the blow. Bracing for impact. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Catch. The Hitch. The Gotcha.

Except I’m not. I not waiting at all. For anything.

Because there is no need. There’s no next. No resolution. No finale. No Bang. No whisper.

Just each moment. Just each action. Each thought. And then the next. Then the next. The next and the next. And the none at all. So you might say that I’m waiting for nothing.

Which is not to say I’m waiting for death. Just that I’m not—so far as I know—waiting for anything.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not enlightenment. No carpe diem moment of zen. I put plenty of things off. And I have no more patience than your average middle-aged public interest attorney working in an unjust world.

But waiting? For what? For change? For justice? For the world to catch up with itself? I think not. I’ll wait for the elevator. I’ll wait for the toaster. (I’ll wait for the bus) But I’ve learned not to wait for humanity—I’m already anxious enough.

You see, change happens after you work for it your whole life. So you musn’t wait for it. To wait for it is to drive yourself mad. It torments your hope. Betrays your belief and hobbles you.

I don’t wait. And I never relax.

But in this I find belief in the value of each moment which follows each thought without ever actually displaying this Good we’re waiting for.

Just laying it down. In thin imperceptible layers of progress. Each of us. Each moment. One thought at a time.

 

From every mountainside, let freedom ring

You may have seen this going around: From an essay titled Is Patriotism a Virtue? by Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre:

I understand the story of my life in such a way that it is part of the history of my family or of this farm or of this university or of this countryside; and I understand the story of the lives of other individuals around me as embedded in the same larger stories, so that I and they share a common stake in the outcome of that story and in what sort of story it both is and is to be: tragic, heroic, comic. A central contention of the morality of patriotism is that I will obliterate and lose a central dimension of the moral life if I do not understand the enacted narrative of my own individual life as embedded in the history of my country. For if I do not understand it I will not understand what I owe to others or what others owe to me, for what crimes of my nation I am bound to make reparation, for what benefits to my nation I am bound to feel gratitude.

That last line–that is why I have been marching and protesting and calling the legislatures weekly since November. What I owe others, and what others owe to me, that is community, that is country, that is home. The measure of me and my life is what I do with those debts.

“. . . I will obliterate and lose a central dimension of the moral life if I do not understand the enacted narrative of my own individual life as embedded in the history of my country.” Modern intersectionalists might describe the latter part of this sentence and the next as “privilege”–that we must view our individual lives within in the structure of the larger life of society. What benefits have we accrued from being born white or being born a citizen of a influential rich democracy? That’s the awareness you need to check your privilege. That’s also the awareness you need in order to do good.

In this tiny excerpt, MacIntyre is tying that awareness into the question of why we consider it a virtue to be patriotic and answering that the national context of our personal benefits commands us to nurture those benefits for the larger national community through acts of patriotism: informed voting, paying your taxes, respecting your national parks, war service.

I read it that way, anyway. It follows with a belief I’ve expressed here many times: that our primary duty as human beings is to share the excess we have with those that have less. Not because God commands it but because each human is part of every other human and we express that through society.

The desire to share with your society in that manner–and the ability to recognize your excess as well as apply it meaningfully–comes from a studied awareness of your community and your surroundings. Careful patriotism leads us to question both the goals and the methods of legislators and executive, dogcatchers and registrars. It brings us to examine the qualifications, desires and manner of the people who lead us. It commands us to protest and shout when those people and their character reflect badly upon ourselves and our shared story.

When those entrusted with enacting the narrative of my own individual life as embedded in the history of my country forsake what is owed to others, they have forsaken what is owed to me.

Happy Independence Day. May we create the nation worthy of a larger story.

I Definitely Need to Get Out More

Last night, thanks to my sister and the Chicago Humanities Festival, I went to a reading by Roxane Gay. It was great. She’s just as sharp and interesting in person as she is in carefully drafted written work.

After she read, she took questions from the audience. One woman asked for expansion on a comment Ms. Gay had made about allies and allyship (in another context–I don’t recall the context, but here is apiece at Elle which makes a similar point. I believe) and Ms. Gay asked all of us how many of us had had a conversation yesterday about Charleena Lyles. Or Nabra Hassanen.

I have had a conversation this week about Charleena Lyles. But it was a conversation among people who all agree, first about the unvarnished tragedy of her death. A pregnant woman who had called the police for help, asked for assurances that she would not be harmed, and then was shot to death in her home with three children at home. Nothing here is justified.

It was a conversation, second, about the absolute failure of police training, of police procedure, of police recruitment & hiring, of individual police officers in the United States. Among people who all believe these failures to be true.

It was a conversation, third, about the examined and unacknowledged racism that still pervades American institutions. Among people who try to learn about and see the unalloyed racism at the root of our structures.

I am certain that’s not the conversation Ms. Gay was talking about.

She was talking about me having that conversation with a person who would defend two police officers shooting a small women who called the officers to her home for help because they thought she was concealing a knife. Or with someone who does not think it was inappropriate to respond to a call for help prepared to shoot the woman who called. Or with someone who thinks de-escalation was not the proper choice in the situation.

Or with someone who thinks police are under siege. Or with someone who believes police not subject to bias, whether conscious or not. Or someone who does not believe there is a pattern of police violence against people of color.

Or with someone who is offended at the suggestion racism permeates all our official structures.

I know those people. I know who some of those people that I know are. But I know I do not know who some of those people are. I find myself wondering: which is the more useful conversation? I’ll admit straight up that I avoid the first one. I know I’ll be angry and I worry that, especially now, I won’t be able to temper myself.

Nearly ten years ago, I pushed back in a conversation with a woman roughly my mother’s age. I had said something offhand about the exorbitant phone rates for calls to and from inmates in Illinois prisons (Chicago Reporter story) (Recent legislation on the issue). She had reflexively said something about not feeling sorry for them and prison not being about fun and who cares. I tried to gently point out that people in prison very rarely stay there their whole lives. That the come back to the cities and towns they left. And isn’t it better that they be able to stay in touch with their families while they’re gone? So that the relationships remain intact so they have something to go home to? Somewhere they can be while they readjust? And isn’t it better to not further burden the finances of the families who are trying to get by without whatever income or household support the prisoner once provided? I don’t know how successful I was, but I remember I remained calm. I remember I did not embarrass myself. I remember I did not make anyone visibly angry.

I really don’t think those things would happen if I tried to confront the unexamined racism of the people I know. In fact, only a few short years later, I was inarticulate and angry at someone who made a disrespectful comment about Eric Garner. And I was ashamed at their callousness and ashamed at my inability to speak calmly and persuasively about their error. And I have not tried to engage since. Either with the people I know are not working on their personal relationship with America’s racism or the people I don’t know are not working on it.

Which may have been part of Ms. Gay’s point. How useless my own work toward understanding is if I only share it with people who are already undertaking that work themselves. And so she’s right.

 

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I don’t recall the comment about allyship Ms. Gay had been asked about. A short internet search pulled up this essay at Marie Claire which seems about right.

The Duty of Care

Today we remember Dr. George Tiller, murdered 8 years ago, who never wavered in his conviction that safe abortions must be available for all.

In his memory, I give quarterly donations to Medical Students for Choice. Although abortion services are a routine medical need any time a pregnancy goes wrong, although abortions are legal in the United States, although abortion is a safe medical procedure, it is not a regular part of the medical school curriculum. When women need late term abortions because something has gone catastrophically wrong with their pregnancy, or when women need emergency D&E s because a pregnancy has miscarried, they deserve skill– or at least competent–care from doctors who were taught how to treat them in medical school. There are fewer and fewer of those doctors available.

And now the GOP wants to make it more expensive and harder for women to get contraception. So the need for abortions, and the need for doctors who can competently treat women who have accessed back-alley abortions, will keep growing.

The USA in 2017 is a cruel and despicable place. I throw my tiny handfuls of small bills toward the people trying to make it less cruel and less despicable.

The Proposed Federal Budget Undermines Economic Stability for Most Americans

SEIU, Indivisible, OFA, National Women’s Law Center and others are collecting stories about how the proposed budget will harm people. I’ve submitted my story about the proposed gutting of income based repayment and public service loan forgiveness for student loans. But there’s a lot at stake from housing, food for children, public transportation, disease prevention and medical research. Not to mention the tiny bit of public money devoted to arts. Submit at Hands Off!

If you haven’t thought about speaking out against the proposed cuts to social security, to food for poor children, to heating assistance for poor people living in colder parts of the country, to health care for many people through Medicare or Planned Parenthood, to student loan repayment assistance for teachers and public interest workers, here are some things to read about the impacts:

NOTE: CNN & time autoplay video constantly so beware those links. Also, this is not a carefully curated list. I have taken topics that arose in the partisan mailings I read and tried to find more neutral, general audience sources for the same information.

The Shriver Center on the budget’s impact on affordable housing

CityLab on the impact of the budget on Amtrak, infrastructure and on housing/HUD

Time magazine, NPREd, Consumerist, US News, and  on student loans and paying for college

The Guardian (another Guardian article), the ABA Journal, the Washington Post, CNN, the Atlantic on the defunding of the Legal Services Corporation proposed in the budget

How the budget guts medical research (NPR) (Washington Post), children’s health care (CNN), Medicaid (Washington Post) (USA Today), health and human services generally (Chicago Tribune), CDC disease and outbreak prevention (Kaiser Family Foundation) (Stat News)

Newsweek on the general outrage over the budget.

My Letter to Senators Durbin & Duckworth & Rep Quigley

Please speak out in support of public service loan forgiveness which is now threatened by the proposed budget and by the ill-advised agenda of Betsy DeVos. The people who will be eligible for forgiveness will dedicate a minimum of ten years to a public service career, making sacrifices in income and retirement savings in order to serve and improve our communities. Loan forgiveness not only compensates them for the work on our behalf, but also demonstrates that our society values the commitment they make to our communities. PSLF also says to the teachers, public defenders, social workers and other public interest professionals working in chronically underfunded and overburdened–but essential–services that we, as a society, value their work and demonstrates that can support our communities by supporting their work.

Gutting PSLF and income-based/income-driven repayment programs will drain talent and skilled professionals out of civic and community institutions, particularly in cities with a high concentration nonprofits and high cost of living. This will diminish the quality of these institutions and harm our communities. Investment in public and public interest organization–through support of their skilled professionals–pays off by strengthening our communities.

I work at a four-person 501(c)(3) court reform organization, as an attorney. The organization cannot offer a retirement plan. Even with the ACA, it is unable to afford platinum health insurance plans and no dental or vision plans. PSLF and income-based repayment are the only reason I am able to save for retirement on my own. I have invested in myself and relied upon the promise of loan forgiveness in choosing a career that allows me to invest in my city. Please tell me you will stand up for me and others who have done the same.

This administration and the GOP generally. is pounding a steady drumbeat of attacks against our public institutions and our social safety net and our community duty to another. It is up to you to push back.

I will be forwarding it to: Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions: Chair: Lamar Alexander (R-TN); Senate Ranking Member Patty Murray ([[D]]-WASHINGTON)
 and House committee on Education & Workforce Chair: Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC); Ranking Member Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott ([[D]]-VA)

If you have ever benefited from a public school, or a doctor in a rural clinic, or appreciate having social workers or public defenders or prosecutors, please consider calling, emailing or writing in defense of public service loan forgiveness and the attendant income-based or income-dependent repayment plans.

As an acquaintance noted: These programs are explicitly not need-based, they are income-based. Someone earning $40K in San Francisco is not in the same situation as someone earning $40K in Des Moines. There are many differences in how much access people making the same salary have to parental funds or property. These situational differences are also ignored by the income-based repayment programs, because the primary purpose of these programs is not to meet financial needs. Their purpose is to incentivize qualified people to take socially-useful but low-paying jobs. This incentive applies just as much to someone with a wealthy spouse or parents as to someone who is solely dependent on their individual salary.

As I have now said across many platforms: Increasingly, it feels this administration simply *will not rest* until anything and everything that might help a human being, affirm the value of a human being, or even vaguely acknowledge the worth of any given human being is wiped from all consideration in governance and public policy. That is not the world I want to live in; that is not a good society to leave behind us.

Is There a Point to this Cruelty? by Charles P. Pierce in Esquire.

Betsy DeVos wants to Kill a Major Student Loan Forgiveness Program by Jordan Weissman at Slate

Billionaire Betsy DeVos wants to scrap student debt forgiveness. Surprised? by Jamie Peck at the Guardian

Trump May End Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness by Zack Friedman at Forbes