A few months ago, I delivered an impromptu anti-Trump rant at the dinner table.  The rant was rambling.  It covered the imprudent proposal to repeal the ACA, racist and anti-immigrant policies, sexist comments, and a general and increasing concern about the candidate’s sanity.  When I finished, my daughter said scoldingly, “Mo-oooom.  Opinions!”  I retorted, “Yes, I have a few.”  My daughter’s comment and rolling eyes shouldn’t surprise any of us who know what 12-year-olds are about, and I appreciate my daughter’s sense of challenge and feistiness.  At the same time, I do wonder if her desire for me to express fewer opinions comes from the social inculcation of a woman’s place, niceness, and civility, all of which seem to nudge people to make women “behave.”  Like most young people, my daughter is learning to navigate gendered impositions of speech and silence, while also figuring out how to police these very same elements.

The exchange reveals how we can feel discomfort when we hear strongly stated opinions and how that discomfort can result in an urge to silence another person.  We have likely all silenced a person or an idea, as we instinctively protect dearly-held beliefs and opinions and/or an internally set sense of how things should be said or done.  In other words, we have a built-in sense of civility and its relevance to certain social or political contexts.  Popular culture breaks with some of these gendered norms, but often at a cost.  For example, Leslie Jones starred as part of the all-star cast of the remake of “Ghostbusters” but suffered a ridiculous chain of insults based on her race and gender.  The racism and misogyny of those who criticized her probably stemmed in part from their desire to remember “Ghostbusters” as a dude-centered and incredibly successful ‘80’s movie.  The intrusion of women, including a woman of color, on that hallowed ground of pop culture stirred anger and hostility directed primarily at the person whose profile is the most apparently intersectional.

What is civility, if not a list of rules to live by?  Who writes the rules, and who suffers more if they break them?  At Billboard’s Women in Music event back in December, Madonna addressed gender disparities in the music industry:  “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse.” She discussed her muse, David Bowie, who “embodied male and female spirit” and “made me think there were no rules. But I was wrong. There are no rules – if you’re a boy. There are rules if you’re a girl.”

Those rules are as follows: “If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world. Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticised and vilified and definitely not played on the radio” (cited in The Guardian, 12-12-16). Traditional race and gender norms rely on codes of civility for their survival.  The more we follow civility rules and tacitly or explicitly police others’ behaviors, the more we reinforce the damaging status quo of oppression.

At many universities with honor codes or systems, the word ‘civility’ accompanies the word ‘honor,’ thus recalling centuries-old (millennia-old) systems of behaviors based on expectations of gendered norms and scripts and enforcing those norms with a code of civility, which silences anything or anyone approaching reasoned protest.  In fact, my institution still uses the phrase “conduct unbecoming a gentleman,” thus entrenching behavioral codes and implying that those who break them (according to whom?) are somehow less attractive, less lovely, less in the box in which they belong.  We have to question more fully why it is considered “unattractive” to call out injustice and ask for change.

The questioning of civility codes often falls disproportionately on those who have less power in hierarchical situations, thus allowing the people with more power to retain it in what appears to be a morally superior, more “becoming” way.  Steven Mintz, a professor from Cal Poly who calls himself the “Ethics Sage,” wrote this 2012 blog post about civility.  Mintz contributes to the entrenchment of gendered civility scripts by expressing surprise that girls and women are also capable of civil “mayhem”:  “Have you checked out You Tube lately? More and more we see video clips of teenagers attacking one another and there seems to be a marked increase in girls getting involved in the mayhem. I suppose such actions were the motivation for the Oxygen network developing a television program called Bad Girls Club that is in its sixth season.  Sigh.”  He concludes the post by saying, “Civil discourse was an important value to our founding fathers. Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: ‘There can be no high civility without a deep morality.’”

There were founding fathers who owned slaves and raped women, which should tell us once again to question postures of moral superiority cloaked as civility.

People should have stark opinions, and disagreement should make us stronger.  I want us to have a thoughtful rationale for those very opinions, a rationale that has taken into account data and multiple viewpoints.  I want us to state opinions thoughtfully but also forthrightly, and this is a lifelong challenge for most of us.  I want opinions not to translate into universal truths that end up harming people and our planet.

This means that I want Trump to get the hell off Twitter (I know, “Mooo-ooom.  Opinions!”) and for us to dismantle his platform of selfishness, lies, and violence.  How can we have these conversations in a respectful way that doesn’t water down the real danger that many of us observe and feel and doesn’t silence individuals or groups?  Is it more “civil” to maintain an unfair status quo by silencing others or to voice unequivocally what is wrong with the status quo?

(See this 5-11-2003 NPR piece on George Washington and civility.)


Here is just a smattering of recent battering headlines:

“The Rise, Then Shame, of Baylor Nation” (The New York Times, 3-9-17)

“Sexual harassment:  Records show how University of California faculty target students” (The Guardian, 3-8-17)

“Inquiry Opens into How a Network of Marines Shared Illicit Images of Female Peers” (The New York Times, 3-6-17)

“Why So Few Women in State Politics?” (The New York Times, 2-25-17)

“Donald Trump remains silent as white men continue to terrorize America” (New York Daily News, 2-17-17)

“How a Fractious Women’s Movement Came to Lead the Left” (The New York Times, 2-7-17)

“Report that Trump Wants Female Staff to “dress like women” Sparks Movement on Social Media” (The New York Times Live, 2-3-17; reported by MSN here)

“The Trump Administration’s Dark View of Immigrants” (The New Yorker, 2-2-17)

These are national headlines that clearly speak to the white supremacist heteropatriarchy in charge of our nation.  I usually soft-pedal my language a little more, avoiding such charged terms as “white supremacist heteropatriarchy,” but let’s call things as we see them.  The photo above, from Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal,” speaks more than a thousand words.  The “president” has effectively created a boys’ club (almost all white) of men between the ages of 55 and 80.  He has sent the message that all people who aren’t part of this group are unworthy.  We know, though, that this group only survives through its attempt to appear strong by making others weak.  Groups like these are doomed to fail.

In the meantime, I wish I could say that the United States were just stagnating.  The unfortunate fact, however, is that we are moving rapidly backwards.  The world can see it, we know it, and only the little Trump pumpkins continue to prop up our stupid dictator.  *Check out Mexican surrealist painter Antonio Ruiz’s painting “El líder/orador” to understand this reference to the people I would like to officially dub the “trumpkins.”  Take note, too, that Ruiz painted “El orador” in 1939, a significant year in dictator history.


There is no room to breathe now as we play defense on behalf of the First Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX, and the Affordable Care Act.  At the same time, we are reasserting what we thought were core values, such as welcoming individuals and groups from other nations, understanding that often it is better to keep families together, rather than wrench them apart, body autonomy, and loving our neighbors.  As the stags run (and ruin) our nation, they eliminate from their path anyone and everyone who is unlike them.  Those who are unlike them is a large and ever-growing subset of people.

Nevertheless, high-level business people know that well-run organizations encourage expression of divergent opinions and the cultivation of healthy debate.  These elements keep the organizations on their proverbial toes—innovative, collaborative, comprehensive.  (See Section III of Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace for data and practical solutions on this issue.)  Isn’t democracy at its very core the idea that the people—in all of our differences and commonalities—will learn about the issues, educate others to be part of a well-informed citizenry, debate wholeheartedly, and then make decisions together about the best courses of action for all?

The national examples of stag-nation that I’ve provided here are replicated at the state and local levels.  In my state, Bob Goodlatte for decades has honed a dictatorial machine fed by national, white, male supremacist machinations.  (See previous posts in the Gender Shrapnel blog for examples of Goodlatte’s scary-ass brand of government.  Also check out Chris Gavaler’s Dear Bob Blog and Gene Zitver’s Goodlatte Watch.)  At the regional level, Ben Cline has consistently supported policies that are dangerous to all women.  (See last week’s blog post for more information.)

At the University of Virginia, where women comprise 56% of the student population, less than 30% of the presidential search committee is comprised of women, with two of those women being students.  In daily life, I watch my children perform in concert after concert whose playlist includes only male composers (some of whom, at least, are of color).  They participate on an official school academic team, for whose competitions they are asked questions primarily about Western civilization up to the year 1800 (i.e. not many women included, unless they are mythological figures or real-life muses).  They play on sports teams for which the girls teams are still playing in the smaller gyms or swimming in the shallower lanes.  They learn at school that transgender people will be forced into a bathroom not of their choosing.  In other words, we as a culture are not even moving forward on the smallest of everyday issues that affect us all (or many of us, at least).  We are seeing and experiencing how draconian governmental restrictions are severely limiting self- and group-definition and freedoms at the national, regional, and local levels.  This will affect our culture for decades to come.

What are Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Bob Goodlatte, and Ben Cline so afraid of? Why must we who live in this country cater to their bizarre fears?  If they’re afraid of nothing and simply want unquestioned power, then why are we letting them have it?  We need fewer trumpkins and more resistance.  After “Willly Wonka”’s Veruca Salt, we need more resistance, and we need it NOW.

Protests, and Rallies, and Voices (Oh, My!)

oldfarmrdThis past Friday in the little town of Lexington and its beautiful surrounding Rockbridge County, we held a Women’s Rights Rally.  An incredibly smart and self-possessed high-school senior ran the show, and she was accompanied by other wonderful high school, middle school, and college women activists.  Many people in attendance were inspired by the energy and youth in this resistance protest.  I am so gratified to have heard these young people raise their voices fearlessly at a rally on a chilly Friday in March in front of about 325 people.

rallyThe rally served to protest the anti-women stances of our local representative, Virginia Delegate Ben Cline.  I thank my friends and colleagues in our area for bringing the following information about Delegate Cline to light over these past several years. In 2012, Delegate Cline supported keeping pregnant women inmates in shackles throughout their labor.  He suggested that women who got arrested while pregnant deserved to be shackled as they gave birth.  “Choices have consequences,” said Ben Cline, as he promoted these torture tactics for the incarcerated.  Encouraging mothers to bring children into the world under those circumstances is certainly not “pro-life.”  It is not even “pro-baby.”  The liberal ACLU and the conservative Family Foundation collaborated to encourage Cline to move away from this stance.  Nevertheless, Cline persisted.  (I’m going to have to use this line in every blog post from here on out.  It is too delicious not to.)  It will come as no surprise that Ben Cline also sponsored the barbaric transvaginal ultrasound bill in 2012.  His extremism causes real harm to real women.

bendiagramposterDelegate Cline also supports Personhood Bills that give fertilized eggs the same rights as women.  Most of us understand how enormously problematic this is.  I would like to see him sponsor a bill that decides that sperm have the same rights as grown men.  That crazy Monty Python song about “every sperm being sacred” is still just satire.  For women, the analog is real; it is oppression. Related to these limiting, dehumanizing policies, Ben Cline has also supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which provides necessary health services to women and men, and especially to women in communities underserved by other healthcare options.


comeonbenposterAt this point, you probably understand why 325 people gathered in front of Delegate Cline’s law offices to protest, right?  We have appreciated that Ben Cline is willing to hold real townhall meetings at which he is actually present and that he has been responsive to constituents’ concerns.  This past Friday, Mr. Cline was not at the rally, but I sure hope he has answers to the many questions asked.  I hope he is thinking about a legitimate response to the young protesters who advocated for body autonomy and the older protesters who expressed frustration at  how we’ve gone backwards.  Two retired nurses poignantly told stories from decades ago about the dangers of limits on reproductive rights.


lgbtqiarightsposterOur delegate is a member of the local Catholic Church.  I can’t speak for him when I wonder about his rationale for oppressing women (all women: of color and white, trans-women, in underserved communities, the young, middle-aged, and old), but I can certainly guess that his church’s traditions, politics, heteronormativity, and misogyny influence how he votes.  This one man, a state delegate for the 24th District in Virginia’s House, has been in power for way too long.  In fact, he’s simply held power for way too long. In my view, my protest against Delegate Cline’s policies connects directly to the continued misogyny practiced by his church.

Today’s The New York Times (3-5-17) features an op-ed by Austen Ivereigh titled, “Is the Pope the Anti-Trump?”  Ivereigh compares Pope Francis and Donald Trump, seeing their populist appeal as a common element, while also drawing distinctions between their styles.  For example, Ivereigh writes, “Pope Francis and President Trump provide rich material for contrast. One is, notwithstanding his weaknesses, a spiritual leader of extraordinary maturity; the other, his strengths aside, is a thin-skinned, petulant narcissist. One is a celibate who lives in simplicity and austerity, embracing the disabled and the diseased; the other is a thrice-married germophobe who lived in a gaudy gold tower and mocks the feeble.

And yet: The world’s two most compelling populists have more in common than some might admit. Take, for example, their extraordinary capacity for connection, bypassing traditional methods; their defiance of convention, even their iconoclasm; or their delight in challenging existing elites on behalf of the people. Both seem energized by opposition, even if they respond to it differently — Mr. Trump by ranting and belittling his critics; Francis never directly, but gently, in pointed asides.”

Pope Francis is, of course, a well-educated, well-spoken man whose broad appeal is undeniable and, I think, well-deserved, for a pope.  He speaks many languages, understands the stretch of cultures across the globe, and understands that walls don’t work. I respect the many ways in which he has both effected change and advocated for necessary change in his church and in the world. We cannot credit Donald Trump with these skills and understandings (understatement of the millennium).  But, but, well…, Ivereigh’s lengthy article, while it does address Pope Francis’s statements about and sensitivity towards people of the three major world religions, immigrants and refugees, people living in poverty, and dangerous neoliberal policies, does not address Pope Francis’s Church’s retrograde policies towards and about women.  Misogyny politics are part and parcel of the Catholic Church, even if many Catholics across the globe advocate for more progressive approaches to women’s rights (reproductive rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, women’s leadership in the Church hierarchy, etc.).  The official Church stance hasn’t budged in the grand scheme of things, and so I can’t yet envision Pope Francis or any pope as the polar opposite of the current occupant of The White House (or, more correctly, the current occupant of Mar-a-Lago).

simplyputposterA politician like Ben Cline gets his cues from his church.  He is not going to let go of hard-core misogyny politics until he sees his Church’s leader do so.  I think we’re a long way from that.  Maybe the Friday afternoon protest will become a weekly event for another thousand years.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Bob Goodlatte Needs a Better Job Description

The Gender Shrapnel Blog is not about Bob Goodlatte, but it is about problems of discrimination that arise at the intersection of gender with race, religion, sexuality, national origin, socioeconomic class, and parental status.  Gender Shrapnel points out the injustices, discrepancies, hypocrisies, and general bullshit that prevail when individuals and/or the groups who represent them assume too much power, decide they are more important or more valuable than others, and make self-serving decisions.

As a long-time resident of Virginia’s 6th District, I cannot write about gender shrapnel and ignore our district’s paragon of selfishness and discrimination, Congressman Goodlatte.  At the same time, this egomaniac probably loves the press he is getting—both good(latte) and bad(latte) (no one can resist these bad latte jokes, as bad as they are)—and so I am loath to feed the congressman’s hunger for attention.  Nevertheless, I persist.

You may know Bob Goodlatte as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the one whose staff members worked secretly with “President” Trump to draft the first travel ban.  Goodlatte’s website boasts the following:

“Established in 1813, the House Judiciary Committee is the second oldest standing committee in Congress. This Committee has jurisdiction over a number of matters from immigration, terrorism, crime, and intellectual property to constitutional amendments, anti-trust, patents, and copyright. The Committee is also responsible for oversight of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.”  (The remainder of the paragraph reads like this:  “In addition to currently serving as Chairman, Bob has served on the Judiciary Committee in a variety of leadership roles, including Chairman of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet (112th Congress), Vice Ranking Member (111th Congress), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee Task Force on Judicial Impeachment (111th Congress), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee Antitrust Task Force (110th Congress), and Vice Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property (109th Congress)”).

This is an unfortunate amount of power for a man who has proven himself to be patently unwilling to listen to his constituents.  This is too much power for an elected official whom we know to refuse to understand situations of people who he sees as unlike him and not worthy of his full attention and respect.   Bob Goodlatte is stroking his own ego as he tramples democratic discourse and participation.  We know that Goodlatte has skillfully evaded his constituents for years, using the “telephone town hall” as a slimy way to lead himself and others to believe that he is in touch with the multiple—and growing—concerns of the 6th District (see last week’s blog post about the phoney baloney telephone town hall).  These concerns include, but are certainly not limited to, healthcare, social security benefits, immigration, and the “president’s” ties to Russia.

Many concerned citizens in Virginia’s 6th District might prefer that Goodlatte’s website description read like this:

“Established in 1813, the House Judiciary Committee is the second oldest standing committee in Congress, which suggests that it is time for Congress to question the committee’s maintenance of centuries-old status quo and poor leadership. This Committee has jurisdiction over a number of matters, from welcoming individuals seeking better lives, investigating domestic terrorism, reforming the criminal justice system, and intellectual critical thinking, inquiry, and property to constitutional amendments, anti-trust, patents, and copyright. The Committee is also responsible for oversight of the Departments of Justice and Security for All.”

On February 11, 2017, Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) and several of his colleagues in the House of Representatives requested to meet with the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On February 16, Representative Gutiérrez (D-IL) and Representatives Barragán, Cárdenas, Cleaver, Correa, Kihuen, Napolitano, Torres, and Vargas were excluded from the meeting that they themselves had requested.  Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Speaker Paul Ryan requested their exclusion.  Gutiérrez posted a statement on his official website that speaks to Bob Goodlatte’s evasions and discriminatory exclusions.  The second paragraph of the statement says, “The new mass deportation executive orders are unprecedented, but so are the lengths to which the Speaker and Chairman Bob Goodlatte are going to control the information being disseminated to Members of Congress.  I expect such dictatorial shenanigans from the Trump Administration, but not from competent, compassionate legislators like Speaker Ryan or from legislators like Bob Goodlatte.  Do they have ear pieces feeding them orders from President Bannon or the others making decisions in the White House?”  Gutiérrez appropriately criticizes Goodlatte’s control of information and directly links his behaviors to Bannon racism.  (I also love how he removed the words “competent” and “compassionate” when he got to the Goodlatte description.)

Jerrold Nadler (NY) has also had to encourage Goodlatte to do his job as chairman of the House Judiciary committee.  See this full statement on Nadler’s official website, with this particular piece reserved for Bob Goodlatte:  “Third, Chairman Goodlatte also gave notice of an amendment in the nature of a substitute to my resolution, with wording virtually identical to H. Res. 111.  That amendment only exists as a threat to cut off debate on the underlying resolution.  I urge the Chairman not to break from the longstanding practice of the House Judiciary Committee, and to allow a full debate on the resolution of inquiry.  If Republicans choose to block the measure, so be it.  At least we will know where they stand.  I believe that the public sees this ‘tactical scheduling’ as an act of cowardice.  I predict that any attempt to curtail debate or limit media coverage of our markup will only backfire.  As they say, the eyes of the nation will surely be upon them.”

Nadler is pinpointing two elements highlighted by many residents of Goodlatte’s home 6th District of Virginia (including Chris Gavaler and Gene Zitver):  “tactical scheduling” and “cowardice.”  Indeed, Goodlatte spends most of his time avoiding real discussion, confrontation, and resolution, thus getting paid not to do his job.

On his website, Goodlatte calls Virginia’s 6th District “one of the most diverse and beautiful regions in the country.”  I wonder how Goodlatte is coding “diverse” in this sentence, given that he seems to be attempting to remove from his district and his congressional meetings individuals who are unlike him.  Goodlatte does not seem to realize that, as of 2014, “Roanoke, Goodlatte’s home in the Blue Ridge Valley, has seen its Hispanic population soar by 280 percent since 2000, to 6 percent of 100,000 residents — the biggest leap of any jurisdiction in the state except the Washington suburbs. In Harrisonburg, a college town 100 miles north, Hispanics have reached 16 percent of 49,000 residents.  In many other areas of Goodlatte’s district, immigrants are a fast-growing part of the landscape and workforce — from Mexicans who pick apples and process poultry to Indians who work in high-tech and medical fields” (cited in this piece in The Washington Post, 3-2-14).

Ya es el momento de que el señor Goodlatte vuelva a escribir la descripción de sus responsabilidades: hablar con y conocer a la gente de su distrito; representar plenamente los intereses de toda la gente de su distrito; estar presente en la región que representa; incluir a todxs sus colegas en las conversaciones que tengan un impacto en nuestro estado, país y mundo; entender el nivel de corrupción de su presidente y su propio papel en la investigación de dicha corrupción; aprender a ser un ser humano valiente, trabajador, compasivo y competente.

Sin embargo, me imagino que ya es tarde para que este hombre aprenda a hacer su trabajo.  Ya nos toca pensar en otra persona que pueda guiar al Sexto Distrito.

Bob Goodlatte Does Nothing Again, Only It’s Worse


(Poster made by Sophie Waller)

People all over the United States, including those of us in Virginia’s 6th District (for the U.S. Congress), are usually quite busy at 6:49pm.  There are dinners to make, the elderly to look in on, children to get to activities and to feed, bathe, and get to bed.   Some of us are still at work or headed out to work.  That’s why many of us did not receive Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s automated invitation to his “telephone town hall meeting” until well into the call, which began at 7:00pm, eleven minutes after the message was left.  Here’s the message Goodlatte left:

“Hi.  This is Congressman Bob Goodlatte.  It’s Thursday evening and I was calling to invite you to participate in a live, telephone town meeting to hear from you about issues before Congress.  I regret that I missed you.  If the call is still in progress, you can join by calling {#}.  Otherwise, if I may be of assistance to you, please contact my Roanoke office at {#} or my Lynchburg office at {#}.  Also, if you’d like to receive important updates from my office, I encourage you to sign up to receive. {message cuts off}.”

I’m sure you’ve heard of fake news and falsehoods.  Goodlatte’s desperate telephone call was filled with fake concern and scripts from the ever-more-false Republican party line.

By the time I called in, I had missed about the first 17 minutes of the conversation.  It turns out, though, that 43 minutes of insensitive responses to individuals genuinely concerned about social security benefits, Medicare cuts, the proposed decimation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the executive branch’s dangerous cover-up of its multiple links to Russia and cybersecurity threats was plenty of time.  In fact, Congressman Goodlatte uses the telephone to good advantage.  He tightly controls the medium by accepting a limited number of calls, reading from pre-packaged GOP scripts, and channeling all potentially troublesome questions into reassurances about how he is taking care of the safety and security of good United States citizens.  It becomes rather easy for listeners on the call to guess who are the bad U.S. citizens.

Those of us on the call could compare real concern in the voices of real human beings with the artificially concerned and overly robotic voice of Congressman Goodlatte.  Goodlatte cares only about Goodlatte.  He checked something off his list tonight.  I can just imagine him rubbing his hands together at 8:01pm and thinking, “Those pesky concerned constituents, check!  Now I can go back to gutting ethics and the ethics office, encouraging racist, Islamophobic travel bans, gutting the EPA, repealing Healthcare, and removing Medicare.”

Of even more rhetorical concern was Goodlatte’s use of two survey questions on the call.  The first asked callers to press “1” if they believed that sanctuary cities should receive federal funding and “2” if they believed they shouldn’t.  When the question was read again a few minutes later, an editorial bit was added:  “Should sanctuary cities—that do not obey executive orders–…”  Maybe Goodlatte didn’t get as many #2’s on the first go-round as he had hoped.  The second survey question asked if Iran and North Korea pose a threat to the United States (press “1” for yes and “2” for no; stay on your toes if you’re a liberal who thinks the correct answer is always “1!”).  Goodlatte’s manipulation of real concerns is disingenuous, mean-spirited, and fearmongering.  I’ve never been one to love surveys because I can never faithfully box my opinions into the limited range of answers.  In this case, I wanted to be able to respond, “Other.  Donald Trump and the sheep who follow him represent the greatest threat to the United States, both here on U.S. soil and abroad.”

NOW, please compare the account from this evening’s completely insincere and disrespectful Bob Goodlatte phone call to the following, brief retelling of this morning’s open door session with Ms. Debbie Garrett, a member of Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s staff.

You might recall this blog post that was a Theatre of the Absurd rendition of last month’s meeting with Congressman Goodlatte’s employee, or this post that takes Goodlatte to task for his racist support of the travel ban (I wrote that post before I knew of Goodlatte’s office’s involvement in the drafting of the Muslim ban).


This month’s meeting quickly outgrew the meeting space, and so we moved downstairs to our City Council meeting space.   16 people were in attendance last month, 66 this month.  Congressman Goodlatte’s constituents care about what is happening in our district, state, and nation.  His staff member is instructed only to take names and report the issues mentioned by individuals. This morning’s meeting, in which at least 35 people spoke, demonstrated that the citizens in our area are doing their homework.  We study the issues, learn our representatives’ stances and votes, and ask hard questions.  We want a respectful answer to questions thoughtfully posed.

This morning’s 90-minute meeting, with only the ghost of Bob Goodlatte present, went much better than this evening’s Goodlatte telephone call because, it turns out, Bob is a better listener when he’s not there.  People in this morning’s crowd expressed eloquent dismay and outrage over the Muslim ban, general refugee and immigrant rights, our representative’s cavalier disregard for the health of the Virginia environment, the desire to repeal Obamacare without a new and effective plan ready to take its place, and the congressman’s support of removal of federal funding from Planned Parenthood.  Those who spoke made reference to those who had spoken before them, and those in the audience listened carefully, clapping and “hear, hearing” when they felt so moved.

Three items stood out:  (1) concern over Bob Goodlatte’s office staff’s involvement in the drafting of the travel ban; (2) Bob Goodlatte’s lack of regard for and response to his constituents; and (3) the group’s sincere desire to have a face-to-face reckoning with the man who is supposed to represent us but spends most of his time avoiding us.  He is a paid government representative who goes to extreme, expensive measures just to avoid a group of concerned citizens.  As one concerned citizen summed it up, “Bob Goodlatte, obey your oath.  Do your job.”


Don’t forget Gene Zitver’s Goodlatte Watch Blog and Chris Gavaler’s “Dear Bob” Blog.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.” An Excellent Slogan, but We’re Forgetting to Call Out Real Discrimination Based on Race and Sex

This past Tuesday, February 7, Mitch McConnell and Republican Senators required Elizabeth Warren to cut short her reading of Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter, which formed part of Warren’s arguments against the viability of Senator Jeff Sessions as a nominee for attorney general.  They silenced her—on the Senate floor—until Sessions’ hearing was over.  The New York Times’ account (2-7-17) uses the phrase “formally silence” in its headline, and such was the case, as the senators voted 49-43 to make Warren cease and desist in her probing of Sessions’ “fitness” for the job.  The Washington Post’s piece (2-8-17) cites Mitch McConnell’s rationale for initiating the use of old-time Rule XIX against Senator Warren:  “’Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation,’” McConnell said later. ‘Nevertheless, she persisted.’”

Mitch McConnell does know that Senator Elizabeth Warren is an elected official of the United States Senate and not, well, his babysitting charge or a Salem witch on trial, doesn’t he?  As for the 48 GOP peers who stuck with him on this, they continue to be a flock of dangerously fearful sheep.  I see the action McConnell took late Tuesday night to be a desperate move to lock up some woman, somewhere, since he believes the “Lock Her Up” of the “president’s” campaign wasn’t realized fully enough.  I imagine McConnell locked in his own preening and limited worldview as he silences the words of a black, female civil rights icon articulated by a present-day white woman senator from Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Warren kicks ass.  She just does.  She does her homework, brooks no b.s., and comes out punching at a time when Democrats have been slow to resist.  In addition, individuals and groups on social media responded to McConnell’s unprofessional, power-play garbage in an instantaneous and properly biting manner (examples here).  Twitter’s tweets were a-flutter with creative responses, and the patriarchal language used by McConnell was immediately co-opted as a feminist banner.  Merchandisers got in on the action unbelievably quickly with “Nevertheless, she persisted” mugs and t-shirts, with proceeds going to the ACLU.  A rapid-fire response from the gender and race trenches works wonders.

There are two major points on this issue, however, that need greater emphasis.  The first was made beautifully in an opinion piece authored by James Grimmelmann and Jan Ellen Lewis in Friday’s (2-10-17) The New York Times.  They write that the GOP senators “added another chapter to a long and infamous tradition of manipulating congressional rules to prevent an open discussion of race.”  Exactly!  Elizabeth Warren was appropriately trying to establish long-standing concerns about Jeff Sessions’ racist beliefs and actions by reading a letter of one of the great leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and establishing that Sessions has no business occupying one of the highest posts in the land.  As Grimmelmann and Lewis state, it’s not that Elizabeth Warren didn’t know the rules, it’s that she recognized them as “unjust and antidemocratic.”  The 49 senators who voted to silence her just could not let race be debated on the Senate floor.

The second point is that 49 United States senators openly violated the United States Constitution by discriminating against Elizabeth Warren because she is a woman.  Rule XIX was not applied to Senator Tom Udall, Senator Sherrod Brown, or Senator Bernie Sanders when they read from Coretta Scott King’s letter.  While Udall, Brown, and Sanders appropriately insisted on reading Coretta Scott King’s words in the session, they did not call out their 49 colleagues on the sexual discrimination and harassment they had exercised against Warren in the Senate workplace.  McConnell and his thugs shut up a woman because they disagreed with her and had had enough.  This sounds like a partial definition of abuse, made even worse by the thugs’ hypocritical insistence on civility.  (*See Gender Shrapnel, Chapter 7, “On Emotion, Silence, and Shutting Up.”)  But no one pointed this out publicly.  In this day and age, must we still consider it “uncivil” to signal discriminatory actions in public?

Nan Stein writes, “When sexual harassment occurs in public and is not condemned, it becomes, with time, part of the social norm” (“Sexual Harassment in School. The Public Performance of Gendered Violence” [1998; p. 231]).  Therefore, we must call this incident what it is—a blatant and highly public example of sexual discrimination and harassment.

As I said before, Elizabeth Warren kicks ass.  They hit her with Rule XIX, and she hit back with Facebook and attentive news media.  She had the professional dedication and personal strength to keep reading Coretta Scott King’s words beyond the Senate floor.   Warren also wields a level of power that few people who experience workplace discrimination enjoy, thus giving her amplified voice and options not commonly available.  In fact, Warren even had the luxury to dismiss this discrimination she experienced as enacted against “Mrs. King’s voice” and against “millions who are afraid & appalled by what’s happening in our country” (as cited in this Feb. 7th NYT piece).  Warren has enough power to displace workplace discrimination, but she might need to own it so that we can call the actions of McConnell & Co. exactly what they are—illegal.

Nevertheless, she persisted, and that is still wonderful.

Death of a Yard Sign



There’s something about stories with foretold deaths that provides relief.  You know death is on its way.  You don’t have to fret about the “ifs,” just the how, when, and where.  Death of a Salesman, Crónica de una muerte anunciada, and La voz dormida each in its own way announces its formula and then still enraptures.


Back in September we picked up the blue and white Clinton-Kaine-Degner yard sign with its cheerful outline of the state of Virginia.  Full of hope, we planted the sign by the curb for the speeding drivers on our cut-through street to see.  The sign looked lonely.  No one else on the street had yet put theirs up, and everyone could do the accounting and conclude that the sign would not enjoy the same success that its Obama-Biden predecessor had had.  No matter.  My little family went about our business, waiting for November results.  Other Clinton-Kaine-Degner signs eventually dotted the street, like little clouds of blue that couldn’t decide whether to billow away or turn into a bona fide storm.

One afternoon a week before the election, children from the middle school around the corner were trekking home from school.  I’m used to their pubescent awkwardness—the cliques, greasy hair, cakey make-up, tension between yelling insults and flirting, their firing the “F” bomb without the linguistic expertise they will gain with practice.  I’m often charmed by all the awkwardness.  What an odd stage of life it is, and it’s one that I think we experience again in our 40’s, whether or not we recognize it.  (Symptoms include:  hair loss, fat pockets in new places, creakier joints, shifting familial responsibilities and alliances.)

On that particular November afternoon, the passing children had gathered rocks of substantial size.  I only realized they had the rocks when I could hear pings and clangs from the Clinton-Kaine-Degner sign.  The sign groaned a little under this middle-school assault, losing some of its upstanding dignity and ending up a bit askew.  But no matter.  It was fine, and middle schoolers are, well, middle schoolers.  Who at 13 hasn’t thrown a rock at something?

On November 9th the yard sign looked up at me in stony silence, asking for mercy. Loneliness and pelted rocks hadn’t killed it, but certainly death from election loss and devastation was imminent.  It just had to be.  Come on, woman at her computer with her stacks of books and her candles burning novenas, come get me, it croaked.  End this.  I was stubborn, though.  It wasn’t yet time to commit euthanasia or call the preacher.  After all, there were still votes to count in Michigan and Wisconsin. There were still 10 more weeks of the imperfect but almost holy by comparison Obama-Biden connection.

Three weeks later the sky did turn into a driving storm with fast-moving clouds, inches of rain, everything gray, gray, gray.  I looked down from the window at the yard sign, soaking wet, still standing.  Okay, I thought, it’s time.  Mercy has come.  Out to the front yard I went, ready to lift the sign out of its hole and place it into a more permanent one.  As chance would have it, I was unable to get the post out of the ground.  It seemed to have grown long roots and an odd tenacity.  I tried again, shimmying closer to the ground and using more bicep and tricep power to remove it.  No go.  Well, well, old sign, I thought, looks like you’ll be staying here through the street’s holiday season.  And so it went.

During those weeks I saw plenty of signs that could easily have turned me into a middle schooler.  The oversized Trump-Pence signs that had overtaken many a lawn remained.  Trump-Pence bumper stickers still stuck it to me from their big-wheeled, high-riding vantage point.  The gigantic, all caps “Lock Her Up” sign was still nailed to a barn visible from the highway on the way into town.  Confederate flags prepared to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.  I didn’t pick up a rock, throw a stone, or so much as kick a pebble.  (I did let my dog poop near a Confederate flag and then didn’t pick up the poop.  Okay, so that’s how I stooped. Damned 13-year-old instinct.)

The holiday season came and went, with the trees and wreaths and lights going with it.  Clinton-Kaine-Degner stood strong through a sideways snowstorm and pitying looks from passersby.  Yard sign became talisman as Inauguration Day approached.  Maybe if the sign just held on in its smart, stubborn Ruth Bader Ginsburg fashion, then democracy could hold on too?

Yard sign seemed to wake up with us at 4:30 the morning of the Women’s March.  March well, yard sign called to us.  I’ll just hang out here and see you when you get back.  In the end, we and yard sign stood, rather than marched, in defiance.  Yard sign, alone, we with half a million pissed-off, creative people bearing their own signs, an explosion of rage and color and peace offerings.

It was almost as if yard sign knew it was time to let go when Ruth Bader Ginsburg came to town.  Throngs went to hear the Notorious RBG speak about her 20 push-ups a day, the co-education decision at the Virginia Military Institute, and her affection for the now-deceased Scalia.  When I arrived home from the talk, I almost gasped to see a metal post without its candidates, without its jagged, chalked peaks, without its blue and white sky.  The sign has died, yard sign has finally died, I whispered.


The question remains:  How did yard sign die?  Natural causes, euthanasia, suicide, homicide?