The Broad is Back!

January 28, 2017

Carnival of Love 2017, We Love You, Skid Row

In one of the crazier things I’ve ever done, chalk this: I flew from Tennessee to Los Angeles to participate in the 2017 We Love You Skid Row Carnival of Love.

The day was full of smiles and tears and children’s laughter as they got to play games, draw, eat ice cream and get toys. It was full of music and dancing and hugging.

There were a number of guests who seemed overwhelmed. Quite a few were obviously mentally ill, withdrawn and abrupt. But that’s ok. I was there to serve.

I came with my son. He was a guide, who brought guests through the myriad of services—clothes, shoes, hygiene products, blankets, a full barbecue dinner, ice cream, legal services, therapy services, DMV services to get IDs, barbering, hairdressing, medical screenings, pet grooming, animal services, glasses, hearing checks, massage, foot washing and hot showers. Every bit of this was donated or sponsored. Many of those giving out services were students from nursing programs or hairdressing programs, but there were fully fledged professionals giving up their Saturday to help people in need.

A touching fact—the foot washing volunteer positions were the first to fill up. That’s the kind of people this event attracted.

I was a listener and a hugger. I would listen to people who had to talk. Not many wanted to, and most just asked questions, but I gave out a lot of hugs.

Many thanked me for giving them a wonderful day. I didn’t. They gave me a wonderful day. One young man said, “Thank you so much. You know, you guys thought of everything. I’m a vegetarian, and you have vegetarian meals. Just because I’m homeless, I don’t want to eat meat.” He wanted a big hug. He got one. I told him he’s not forgotten in his ear, and I got a good squeeze. And we can’t forget him.

Two guy guides were flummoxed by a crying baby while her mamma was getting medical checks, so I stepped in and got to hold a beautiful 23 month old little girl. I guessed she was Latina, so I used Spanish. She didn’t answer, but she calmed down and let me show her the dancers and street performers. We bopped to the music and watched the TV reporters with their camera folks. Her mamma told me yes, she understands Spanish and her name is Melissa. She’s too thin and homeless right now. But she was beautiful and I snuck in some kisses on her temple. She’s a baby like any other.

The reason for the cameras was Justin Baldoni, who’s project of love this really is. He’s one of the great ensemble cast of the CW’s Jane the Virgin, a Peabody award winning, tongue-in-cheek telenovela dramedy with true heart. I am not a television watcher except for BBC stuff and now a full roster of CW shows of which Jane the Virgin is my absolute favorite. I started following most of the cast on twitter because they are some of the most positive, loving and role-modely folks I follow (I needed to make that a parallel sentence. Deal with it). I saw almost all of the ensemble at today’s event, not being “TV stars” but in there working like the rest of the volunteers. Watching the show, I sense the love and respect they have for one another, and seeing that love in action was wonderful.

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Justin thanking us for making the day possible. But he did the heavy lifting. Thank you, Little Brother.

 

I’m not one to hold actors in awe, seeing as my brother has acted, my son is an actor and I spend a lot of time with them what with occasionally directing and being on the board of a NYC theater. I know better than most that actors are people with a cool (and very hard) job, but there are the ones who are a little too invested in ego. Today I saw technically beautiful people, yes, but their goodness made them more beautiful. There were some other CW stars there, as well, supporting and just being people.

They were gracious and did pose for selfies because they realize that it’s their names that draw people, but they were also working hard. I didn’t ask for any selfies. While I love these people, for their hearts and talents, today was not for that for me. I think my age helps. If I were 20 and still had those youthful good looks, it might be a different story.

Justin’s wife, Emily, also an actor, is his true partner and was there working hard, but smiling and gracious even as she flew about the place. She’s Swedish, so my son and I chatted with her a few minutes in Swedish early in the day before the guests arrived. I make judgements about people quickly based on many things. She’s genuine in her love and her love of service. She thanked us and gave us real hugs. She’s good people.

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It was hard to get a good picture of Emily during the speeches. This isn’t very good, but she’s a typical Swedish beauty.

The Baldonis are Baha’i and they live their faith openly by showing faith in action. That is what I try very hard to do in my life, and while not a Baha’i, I also believe that all are my brothers and sisters. Little Brother and Little Sister are a joy to watch. But this was not a religious event. A Christian mission lent its parking lot for the “restaurant,” a church overlooked us physically, some volunteers wore overtly Christian shirts to identify why they were there, I saw a number of Muslim women judging by the hijabs, so I assume Muslim men, as well, and some folks there are just good people without a faith motivation.

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While I no longer identify as Christian (I’m a Believer), I found this symbolic.

CBS Cares and CW Cares sent a number of folks, and Justin’s own production company, Wayfarer, formed a foundation to support charitable events. This was huge and as someone who has “done” events, this represented hours and hours of hard grunt work.

While I loved interacting with the guests (sort of an extension of my day job), probably the proudest moment for me was as a mom, seeing my son interact with the folks he was escorting. He didn’t know I was watching and to see him smiling, polite, and waiting on the men he was helping brought tears to my eyes. I tried to raise a good person, and I did. He was born that way, but I encouraged it. Parenting is hard, so please excuse my moment of motherly pride.

Justin explained that he wanted a carnival because it’s fun. Seeing people who live in a tent city or sleep on cardboard boxes dropping their cares for four hours, playing some games, dancing, laughing, enjoying a street fair where they are welcomed, not hurried off by security, filled my heart to bursting. I needed this day as much as they needed it, I think.

Walking toward the site around 8 that morning, my son and I passed many people sleeping on the street. Then we saw the tent city and my heart broke. How can I live in one of the richest countries in the world, be in one of the richest cities in the country, and see this level of poverty?

I actually asked, out loud, “What kind of country am I living in?”

I know much of the answer, of course. Many mental health facilities were closed in the 80s, so mentally ill folks were often left unmedicated and unhelped. Soon they were on the streets. That trend hasn’t stopped. We have a safety net in this country, but there are folks who thought they were okay, but lost so much in the financial crash of ’07 that they are forced out. Some have temporary setbacks like domestic violence or job loss. Others were thrown away by their families because of teen pregnancy, being gay, being transgendered or some other perceived trespass.

Many have addictions and aren’t ready to stop them yet. When drugs or alcohol take over your life, homelessness can often follow. We know scientifically that addiction is an illness, but many still moralize about it and think addicts “deserve” what they get. I am the last to romanticize addiction, having seen it up close and personal, hating every moment of it. Addicts can be really terrible people who do horrible things. But they are still humans who deserve our help if at all possible.

I did have sort of an ulterior motive for going. I would like to bring this idea back to my community. If all the thrift stores in town and their organizations pull together, bring in the Lions, the Rotary, the local hospital center and so on, we could so do this. Justin said he wants to see this idea spread. We need this in America, so while I post this not to show off about how “good” I am (I am so not good) or how wonderful the Baldonis are (they are), I do post it to encourage folks to help.

A carnival is a huge undertaking. Most of us don’t live in communities that have famous names to draw attention. But we can organize clothing drives, offer a hot meal once a week or once a month, be kind to folk. Smile at a homeless person instead of rushing past. I’ve seen folks drop a dollar in a cup without even acknowledging the person asking. Smile. Say hello. Yes, some are mentally ill. But most will respond, many with gratitude for being seen. We strip the homeless of their humanity in this country. We strip the poor, as well. But they truly are our brothers and sisters.

Here are some images–there aren’t many because I was busy doing not photographing, but some street performers, a little boy dancing at the Dance Par-tay, a little boy sitting on Justin’s shoulders during a live musical performance by Justin’s friend, Andy Grammer, finally, Tyrone and Justin. Tyrone is a resident who has danced up a storm for the past three years. I saw him dancing from 12 noon till it ended at 4. The man is a dance machine!

Thank you, Justin and Emily and Wayfarer for this wonderful opportunity to serve.

January 27, 2017

Too Big to Fail

When the financial crisis of ’07-08 was addressed by incoming president Barack Obama, many Americans were unhappy with the resolution. Yes, we got “back on track,” and things did get better for many. But banks were declared “too big to fail” and were bailed out.  That, I think, was one of the seeds that led to our current president.

For good reason, people blamed the banks. When banks got help and no punishment, many Americans who had lost homes, cars, jobs, and even a lifetime’s work got rightfully angry. And for the next six years that anger brewed.

Sure we got the ACA, which to me will always be Romneycare as I first encountered in when I came back to the US in ’07 and lived in Massachusetts, but I know people who literally had to choose between insurance and food. Even the subsidies through the ACA were not enough. It depends, of course. When I came back to the US the second time, I used the ACA because I had no health care in my part time jobs. I paid a lot but got excellent coverage. My subsidy was about $500 a month, but since I literally paid more into the government in taxes than American Airlines, United Continental, and Hewlitt-Packard, and now it seems, President Trump, my conscience is clear. I have always paid every penny of taxes due, and I am willing to pay them to cover things like medical care and roads and so on.

So in spite of the ACA, we have millions of people who realized that they were unimportant to the government in spite of all its propaganda. Protecting the banks was protecting them, we were told, because if the big banks failed, the economy would suffer.

Well, you know what else is too big to fail? The United States of America. And failing we are.

We have a sitting president who is totally unfit for the job. Yes, he is a businessman who gets things done, (including bankrupting himself and many, many small businesses left in his wake) but countries are not businesses. It’s not about the bottom line. It’s about people’s lives. He has not divested himself from his businesses. He has named unfit people for almost every position in his Cabinet. Most are now in the position to make the very wealthy even wealthier. Many of them have outright conflicts of interest.

Many don’t know a thing about the departments they’ve been nominated to head. I could see Ben Carson as Attorney General. I wouldn’t like it, but the man is a physician. But as head of HHD? No experience. And don’t get me started on Betsy DeVos. As a career professor, I am appalled. I have been teaching students who have suffered at the hands of federal interference in education for decades. I’ve seen the steady decline in knowledge and skills. Not intelligence—preparedness. The thought of her policies literally makes me shudder. And I know the meaning of literal.

Ironically, in light of people’s growing fears of more wars, I think one of his best picks for a Cabinet position is Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense. While more hawkish than I’d like, he has the experience needed and is respected by folks in the Pentagon.

But the worst thing I see is the polarization between every day Americans. It’s been growing since the 2016 election cycle started, but instead of calming down, it’s getting worse. We are hating like we haven’t in a long while. We’re mean, petty, bitter, snide, personal, not only to people in government, but to one another.

We call each other names, generalize and stereotype. We’re more openly prejudiced than we have been in the past 50 years, not just against race but against one another based on political beliefs. I was never a fan of being “politically correct,” but I have always been a fan of trying not to offend people. I try to use non-gendered and people first language. I try to use the identifiers people prefer. To me, that’s just good manners and a fulfillment of the Golden Rule. Many quip that the new Golden Rule is “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Not a quip, the truth, and always has been the truth. But if we say we are the best country on earth, let’s treat each other with respect and humanity. Let’s act like the nicest people on earth. Bullying and hatred are not parts of greatness.

Don’t like someone’s choices? Think their life is a sin? Fine. But don’t curse them, threaten them, harm them or kill them. That’s not acceptable. And I’m not looking at one side or another or another here. I see people on ALL sides of the political spectrum acting unacceptably.

The true core values of our country, democracy, equality, and freedom, have eroded at a pace that frightens me. America is the only thing that’s too big to fail. And we are. America is an idea. And ideal, really. And because we are no longer living up to our ideals, because democracy was trampled on for decades, because corporations have the same rights as citizens, we’ve been a functional oligarchy for a long time. Equality in this country is a joke. Some lives are just worth less. Many see this on color lines, but I believe it’s more on wealth lines. The poor of this country have been abused, manipulated, lied to, and used as tools of the ruling powers since the beginning.

Race is also a problem. A middle class person of color does face stereotypes and prejudice. I am not unaware of the problem, and I’m not stupid. My own son identifies as “non-White” and has faced prejudice both from law enforcement and regular folks. But a poor white person has more problems and inherent difficulties than that middle class person of color. I live in a predominantly white place and the problems of poverty I see are only slightly different than the ones I saw in NYC. Drugs, poor education, lack of family structure (I’m not saying a traditional family is necessary, but when mom and dad are meth dealers, life is nowhere near normal), poor nutrition, poor medical care, and the list goes on.

This economic disparity, this racism, this throwback to “traditional Christian values” of intolerance and hatred for those who choose to live outside one’s ideas of Christianity, these are also seeds that led to Trump’s shocking victory.

Folks like to argue that race is the only reason he’s president, but that’s balderdash. Back in ’92, Bill Clinton’s famous campaign reminder was “it’s the economy, stupid” hasn’t changed these 24 years later. We allowed the oligarchy to grow, and now the White House has become the Palace of Versailles, especially the gilded New York White House in Trump Tower. Cronies and supporters are put into positions of power, regardless of ability, and dissent is harshly treated.

I’m not buying into Trump’s rhetoric of “make America great again.” It has needed work my entire life, but it’s always been a great country. Things are possible here. I am the daughter of a construction worker who earned a PhD. I have taught young people who have literally gone on to change the world, young people who grew up in poverty, or were immigrants, or were people of color, or all of the above. They are America. I love my country, and I love its people. We are what’s made America great, but America has failed too many because money rules.

Greed is not one of America’s values. We’re too great to fail, and this is something that needs to be addressed. I am not calling for communism. That was tried and failed in the USSR and China, among other places. I’m calling for competence in government, experts in charge of departments, not political cronies, corporations losing the rights of citizens, and support for measures that give a leg up. I’m calling for democracy to come back, unhindered by lobbyists, restrictive voting laws and outside manipulation, for freedom to come back through solid educations so that people can make good choices and for humans to live as they wish as long as they remember that their rights extend no further than the tip of their noses. That’s what I learned in 7th grade social studies. My rights are for me, and I can not force others to do what I think is right unless it’s something protected by the Constitution. And finally equality. No human being is born better than another. There is one race, the human race. Because of my personal beliefs, I believe we are all brothers and sisters, and I should treat you as I would a sibling. You may infuriate me, you may test me, but at the end of the day, I do love you. But you do not have to share my beliefs. Believe me, most people don’t as I don’t identify as any specific religion. But as members of the same race, we have to work together.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is my manifesto, I guess. We’re too big to fail. We’re an experiment in democracy that needs to backtrack a bit and see where we went wrong. I’m pretty sure I know where that was. Who will join me?

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