CVIndependent

Wed05272020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Much of the news today was bleak.

The latest projected U.S. death numbers are downright horrifying. The city of Toronto has cancelled all major public events through June 30—which brings home the reality that a return to “normal” is months away, at least. The state just announced that schools will not reopen this school year. And county health officials are recommending we all start wearing face coverings in public; the federal government may soon follow suit.

I’d also like to point out the latest piece in the Independent’s Pandemic Stories series, by staff writer Kevin Fitzgerald, about the cutbacks in services made by the Coachella Valley’s agencies that help victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. While they’re still doing all they can to help people, and that’s a lot—I need to make that very clear—the pandemic means that for now, a rep from Coachella Valley Sexual Assault Services can’t be there in person to comfort a rape victim as they begin to endure the trying process of a medical exam and dealing with law enforcement. That means that Shelter From the Storm can’t accept domestic-violence victims into their shelter right now—because they need to protect the health of the clients and staff already at the shelter.

This. Is. All. Awful.

Take a breath. Take a moment if you need to. And realize that despite all this awfulness, we are still blessed overall.

And now, the good news: There’s yet more evidence coming out that California’s (relatively) quick actions, most notably the shelter-in-place order, are truly, honestly working. By doing what you’re supposed to—keeping your ass at home—we’re making a real damn difference.

We should also take solace in the fact that our society—despite some real, systemic issues—is functional. I was hit by this fact earlier today when I read this fantastic article, from The Conversation, about what’s happening in Syria right now. Can you imagine dealing with COVID-19 and a nasty civil war at the same time? I sure as hell can’t.

We’re blessed. The vast majority of us are safe. And we’re making progress at beating this goddamned virus. Let’s keep it up.

Now, more news:

• People, listen up. We just received this plea from Katie Evans, the director of communications and conservation for the Coachella Valley Water District: “We are having a bit of a challenge. I thought you might be able to include in something—maybe as a brief or part of a roundup. With people increasing their use of wipes, we have getting a lot of wipes in the sewer system which can cause really significant damage to our pumps. We ran a campaign last year with the hashtag #nowipesinthepipes because even so-called ‘flushable’ wipes should not be flushed and can cause significant damage to our system. We really want to remind people that only human waste and toilet paper should go down the drain.” So … there. Got it? Stop flushing wipes!

• Our friends at Dig Boston have compiled yet another roundup of coverage of COVID-19 from alternative newspapers across the country. We ain’t dead yet!

• The city of Palm Springs has posted the slide deck from a recent presentation with Assemblyman Chad Mayes, Mayor Geoff Kors and some biz experts with details on the new loans being offered to small businesses during the pandemic. Everyone’s still figuring out all of the finer points of the loan programs included in the just-passed stimulus package, but this includes some very helpful info.

• As of tomorrow, Joshua Tree National Park is completely closed.

• Covered California asked us to remind you that they’re there to help you get health insurance. They write: “As job loss claims hit record-highs, more and more Californians will be dealing with a loss of income and their health insurance coverage. Covered California and Medi-Cal are providing a path to coverage for those affected by this pandemic. Covered California recently announced a special-enrollment period related to the crisis. Anyone who meets Covered California’s eligibility requirements, which are like those in place during the annual open-enrollment period, can sign up for coverage from now through June 30.” Get deets at www.coveredca.com.

• Finally, a tidbit out of Michigan that’s sad but fascinating: Health officials are reporting that one of the COVID-19 victims there passed away at the age of 107. That means that this person was 5-6 years old or so during the last pandemic of this magnitude—the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919.

Wow. Feel free to join me in raising a toast to that man or woman. What a run.

I’ll be back tomorrow with lots more—including the list of Supporters of the Independent I promised you yesterday. It makes more sense to include that in tomorrow’s Daily Digest; that way, I can include everyone who supported us during the month of March. If you want to be part of that list, and support amazing, free-to-all local journalism like Kevin’s story referenced above, please go here. Thank you.

And to March: Good freaking riddance!

Wash your hands. Count your blessings. #nowipesinthepipes. And keep up the fight, as our efforts seem to be working!

Published in Daily Digest

Even in the best of times, an average of 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. That adds up to more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.

But these aren’t the best of times. As the nation and the world try to limit the damage of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are told to stay home as much as possible—and that means that under these stressful circumstances, a lot of domestic-abuse and sexual-assault victims are being forced to constantly stay under the same roof as their abusers.

Angelina Coe is the executive director of Shelter From the Storm, the Palm Desert-based shelter and service provider for victims of domestic violence. She said the organization has needed to make a lot of changes during these unprecedented circumstances.

“Clients who are not currently in shelter but are receiving services from us are impacted, because everything is being done by teletherapy and telephonically,” she said. “There are no in-person meetings, for their safety and the safety of our staff as well, in order to maintain social distancing and make sure were not adding to the spread of the coronavirus. We don’t know what interactions (our clients) have had, and they don’t know what interactions (our staff members) have had.

“To not be able to come here for solace, safety, counseling and guidance (makes) a huge impact,” Coe said. “They (in the past) came in to receive in-kind donations and food distribution, things like that. Now they don’t have that readily available to them.”

Over at Coachella Valley Sexual Assault Services (CVSAS), program director Winette Brenner and her team help victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. She said it’s important for people to know that there is still help available.

“We have had calls, but I feel that we are getting fewer calls, and I do think that it has to with the pandemic,” Brenner said. “People are afraid. People do not know what to do, or who to call, because everyone is in panic mode. Now, do I think that’s going to continue? No, I don’t. I think the more that the media get out there and let people know what services are available and where, that’s going to help. That’s our No. 1 focus—to let people know that, yes, we are in a pandemic, but we are still here to help you in the best ways we know how, and to the best of our abilities.

“We still have our 24-hour crisis hotline up, and anybody can still call that number and get a live person, not an automated recording,” Brenner said. (That number: 800-656-4673.) “We work closely with the law-enforcement agencies and SAFE services at Eisenhower Medical Center. We all work as a team for the sexual-assault victims, (and) we had to come up with a plan for the best way to continue to give services. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic going on, at this time, we’re not able to respond physically to be at the hospital or the police department, but the hospital’s SAFE services (personnel are) still able to do the exams, and then they are referring the client to us, and we do the follow-up work. The same is true with law enforcement: Each particular law-enforcement agency has established their own protocols as to how they (participate), but we’re all still continuing to provide services for the victims and their family members.

“Because of the pandemic and because of the world we live in, sexual assault and human trafficking does not stop. Sad as that is, it doesn’t. So we’re really trying to come up with new ways to use the platforms that we have available, like Zoom (the video conferencing platform) and telephone conference calls.”

Back at Shelter From the Storm, Coe said that she, too, wants people to know that some help is still available.

“We are seeing a decrease in calls,” Coe said. “But we’re not sure exactly what the dynamic is. Is it because everybody’s home? Is it because of the uncertainty about where they’re going to go? Is it because there’s an additional fear about what happens next, and, ‘Am I going to be even more exposed (to the coronavirus) at a shelter than I would be staying home?’ There are a lot of factors there. But our hotline is still available. Our staff is still present and available in both English and Spanish.

“Our main focus now is safety planning—not safety planning around the client leaving (an abusive environment), necessarily, but safety planning if they have to stay.”

Coe ran down a list of challenges her team is trying to address.

“We are in the process of working on teletherapy via video conferencing, but that takes some time to set up—to make sure (victims) have a confidential location where they can take that video conferencing,” Coe said. “Our service is all about anonymity and confidentiality, so they can’t open up and disclose what’s really going on, or what the issues are that they really would like to discuss, if their children are in the room, or if their partner is still in the household, or if they’re living with other people for their safety. You really can’t get into that one-on-one dynamic. … A lot of (victims) do not want to participate in the telephonic counseling, because they don’t feel it’s effective, or they don’t have a phone available. Not everybody has a cell phone that they’re not sharing with someone else, or (they don’t have) the minutes to do that, especially if they (have no) income right now, because they’re not working due to the businesses being closed. Or they don’t have child care, because the schools are closed, which is a huge impact to our community clients.

Coe said Shelter From the Storm has needed to stop accepting donations of physical items during the pandemic.

“That creates a huge impact, because a lot of (clients) rely on those items of clothing and food and hygiene (products), backpacks and other every-day regular things that you’d (normally) just run to the Dollar Tree for,” she said. “… Without an income, they need those items even more, and we’re unable to provide them. So, it’s just huge for our community clients.”

The pandemic is causing challenges for the nonprofit’s in-shelter clients, too.

“The biggest impact for them is the uncertainty about what happens to them when their time (in shelter) is up,” Coe said. “Maybe other programs aren’t accepting new clients, or everything is on hold, because a landlord doesn’t want to take in a new tenant right now, since they don’t know what (that tenant) could expose them to. So that’s a huge fear factor, in addition to (the realities that) the client has already left their family; they’re here by themselves; and there’s no outlet, since we’ve restricted their movement in and out, because they’re sheltering in place. California has said everyone should stay at home, and that’s their home. They’re interacting only with the staff at the shelter, and they are missing out on many support services that would have been available to them during a normal stay. That’s causing additional anxiety, and our counseling has changed its focus to anxiety and coping skills, along with understanding the factors of: (What happens) if you are exposed? What are we doing to keep you safe? Why are we keeping you on ‘lockdown?’”

Coe said Shelter From the Storm is currently unable to accept new in-shelter clients because of concerns over COVID-19.

“We’re not taking in any new families, because we have no way to isolate them and to ensure that they’re safe, (while) not exposing our current clients to additional factors that we can’t afford to expose them to—and the same thing with our staff,” she said. “So what happens to them?”

Then there’s the financial picture: The nonprofits rely on government support, as well as community support via donations—and the pandemic and shelter-in-place reality has financially devastated both government budgets and members of the community. However, both Brenner and Coe said their organizations will do what it takes to keep offering the much-needed services they provide.

“All of our services are free of charge, and we work hard to keep it that way,” Brenner said, reassuringly. “I think right now that the best thing I’m doing for my staff is telling them not to panic, and that we will continue to offer the services that we have and that we can. As far as our financial security, right now, it’s a day-to-day issue. I think it’s too early to say what the future holds. But as long as we’re still working, I think we’re going to be OK. I haven’t heard anything different from the state. We’re still being supported (by the state), and our doors are still open, and we still have some (staff) in here for the victims.”

Coe said Shelter From the Storm is planning for the worst, but she remains optimistic.

“We are working on contingency plans in case we do have to reduce staffing numbers, or if we need to shut the shelter down (due to) whatever mandate might come down the line,” Coe said. “But we don’t think that will happen, simply because of the kind of shelter that we are, and what we’re doing to support the individuals who do reach us. But if that happens, how would we be moving forward? What would that look like? How would our staff survive? We don’t have anyone working here just because they enjoy the job. They all need an income—so we have to make sure that they’re sustainable as well.”

Despite all the darkness, Coe—whose shelter for victims of abuse is the only such refuge in the Coachella Valley—managed to find some proverbial silver linings.

“It’s been an intense time,” Coe said. “The Coachella Valley has been really good. Supervisor (V. Manuel) Perez’s office and the county have been really good about having weekly call-in meetings with providers and sending out updates. The (California) Partnership to End Domestic Violence has been a wonderful support network as well, (providing) scheduled weekly and bimonthly meetings to check in with other shelters, other leadership and get the most updated information.

“Again, we’re always pushing everyone to wash their hands, to keep social distancing, and to clean hard services as much as possible. We’re just doing our best to keep going.”

If you are dealing with domestic violence, call Shelter From the Storm at 760-328-7233. For more information on Shelter From the Storm, call 760-674-0400, or visit www.shelterfromthestorm.com. If you are a victim of sexual assault, get help by calling the 24-hour crisis line at 800-656-4673.

Published in Local Issues

Dear Mexican: I found your column about Mexican men and spousal abuse, and my question is: Is there any help for this?

I’ve been with a Mexican man, who is also an abuser of alcohol. He gets angry out of the blue and starts hitting me, and later realizes what he has done and cries. I had to leave him for my protection, but the feelings between us remain, and I don't know what to do with the situation.

Can you provide any comments or help?

Abusada

Dear Abused: Get out of that relationship—now. But before you leave, coat that pendejo’s toilet paper with habanero powder, so he gets the burn in the culo he deserves.

Dear Mexican: How do Mexicans feel about environmental issues—specifically, a population explosion that will cause eventual food shortages?

I am told that procreation is a very macho thing for the Mexican male. You have even mentioned in the past that men do not perform oral sex on women because it’s not important when having children. How does that way of thinking weigh in with regard to the future of the planet?

El Blanco Pedro

Dear Pedro Gabacho: Malthus called—he wants his crackpot theory back. Besides, the gabacho love of suburbia has probven far more toxic to the environment than any 12-child Mexican mom ever did, so vete a la chingada con your faux environmental concerns.

OPEN LETTER TO OUR NEW PRESIDENT

Gentle cabrones: as I write this, the Mexican still doesn’t have a feel for whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump (or neither?) will be the next president of the United States. (The Mexican has to file his columna a week early.) In the interest of not looking more pendejo than usual, I will write three open letters to ensure I get the results right. Enjoy!

TO PRESIDENT HILLARY CLINTON

Congrats on beating that pendejo Trump—you’re now the greatest female savior of Mexicans since the original Santa Sabina, the legendary curandera for which the goth-Mex band was named.

But that’s not enough. Do not inherit the title of Deporter-in-Chief from Obama. Realize that the only reason you won is because raza overwhelmingly voted for you—and we want results besides appointments of token vendidos (although please do give a cool gig to Congressman Xavier Becerra, a truly down Chicano). Don’t pay attention to all the Know Nothings who insist on enforcement before amnesty. There are millions of Mexicans who have lived their entire lives in limbo, and it’s your job to save them. And if you do that? We’ll create a new altar to you at Tepeyac.

TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

Congrats on beating that pendeja Killary—you’re now the greatest unifier of Mexicans since Porfirio Diaz. Don’t even try to deport 12 million people, or build that nasty, small-handed wall. Back in the day, raza mostly stood meekly by as presidents from Hoover to Roosevelt to Eisenhower to Obama enacted mass deportations—but those were honorable men. You’re not. We will protest; we will resist; we will struggle; we will take over elected offices the way Irish took over Boston. You hear me, President Pendejo? We ain’t no sleeping giant—we woke, and we’re ready to make your one term more pitiful than Enrique Peña Nieto.

Oh, and #fucktrump.

TO NO RESULTS YET

No mames, America.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

In the United States, 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute of every day on average, according to a 2015 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence report. That equates to more than 10 million victims annually.

While there was a steady decline in the number of incidents reported in California from 2005 to 2012, the last two years for which statistics are available have seen increases, according to the California Department of Justice. In 2014, the nine cities of the Coachella Valley recorded 1,317 domestic-violence incidents; more than 20 percent involved the use of a weapon. On average, that works out to just less than four reported incidents per day in our valley—where Shelter From the Storm (SFTS) provides one of the only sources of hope to frightened and often desperate victims and their families.

“There’s a high need, and we’re still the only provider out here,” said executive director Angelina Coe during an interview in her office, located in a strip mall surrounded by a commercial area of Palm Desert. “The demand is there, but it’s a question of getting people to come in for help. It’s about the stigma of being in a shelter, which is still very negative. The fear factor involved in leaving the cycle of domestic violence, and leaving safely, has an impact on people coming into shelter.”

Coe has worked in the nonprofit, family-services, domestic-violence and homelessness-services sectors for almost 20 years, and came to SFTS in October 2012.

“These are not the easiest type of shelters to run, because you have to consider safety and security,” Coe asserted. “You have women with their children who are in serious need, and their resources are limited, because most of them do not have an income and won’t be able to establish an income in a 60-day time span (which is the normal period permitted for transitional housing assistance). They don’t have any skill sets, because they were young when they got married or got into the abusive relationship. They don’t have any family support system, because there’s a lot of fear and intimidation.

“You have to deal with their medical issues that result from being physically abused, and there are mental-health issues that come from being verbally and psychologically abused for years, and the trauma that happens to the children. It’s not that victims are choosing to stay because they don’t want to leave; it’s just harder to leave because their life is at risk: ‘I’ll kill you if you ever tell the police,’ or, ‘If you leave me, you won’t make it another night,’ or, ‘I’ll take the children away from you,’ or, ‘No one will believe you,’ or, ‘I’ll have you deported,’ which has become a big threat with many of our undocumented victims.

“There are often drugs and alcohol involved—not just on the abuser’s part, but the victims are forced into usage as a means for them to be kept under control. Also, the victims worry about the uncertainty: ‘What happens after I go to the shelter?’ ‘How am I going to live?’ ‘How am I going to provide for my family?’ ‘How am I going to provide for myself?’ ‘At least he (or the abuser) gives us a home. It’s not safe … but it’s a home.’ The victims kind of learn to live around the abuse: ‘OK, don’t do this so he won’t get angry, or if he is angry, do this so that he’ll de-escalate.’ ‘Wear certain things to avoid the injuries being more serious.’ The children become buffers sometimes.”

As if trying to protect and resuscitate the lives of victims isn’t hard enough work, SFTS is being forced to do more with less: Last year, SFTS saw a major portion of its funding abruptly cancelled.

“We lost our critical $150,000 in funding from (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) this past August, because their priorities changed, and they were no longer funding transitional housing programs. Instead, their focus was more on permanent housing solutions for homeless people in our society,” Coe said. “That was a devastating cut for us, but we were able to reach out to the community, and we received donations of about $40,000 which helped us to get through to the end of last year.”

The shortfall did lead to a cut in services in 2016, however.

“Our transitional, longer-term housing program, where victims and their families could be housed by SFTS for up to two years, was discontinued as of Dec. 31,” Coe said. “Fortunately, the families we did have in that program at the time were able to move onto permanent housing, so they are stable and moving forward, and remain connected with us for community counseling and outreach services if they need.”

Thankfully, some additional funding is arriving this year.

“We got an increase in our California (Governor’s) Office of Emergency Services funding, and that’s helping to supplement a lot of the overhead expenditures at our shelter, although we have downsized some,” Coe said. “But our main priority is to continue to provide quality care for the women and children and deal with their healing process which we’re doing through our hotline, our crisis shelter and our community counseling and community outreach. All those core services are still going and flourishing and fully funded for the majority of the year ahead.”

What is the status on the housing front? “We do still have our emergency shelter where victims and their families can stay for up to 60 days, and if we have a family that’s in need of longer-term housing, we can work with that family on a temporary transitional basis at that shelter as well. Then we work with other out-of-town facilities that … have longer term housing.”

The 22-person full-time SFTS staff has its hands full. So what can community members do to help?

“We very much appreciate monetary donations,” Coe said. “… And there are also donations of goods that we are always in need of and appreciate receiving.”

For more information or to donate, call 760-674-0400; visit www.shelterfromthestorm.com; or send mail to 73550 Alessandro Drive, Suite 103, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

Published in Features

The new development in Orange County featured lovely homes, wide streets and lots of families. Block parties were common in the neighborhood, and everyone seemed to know everyone else.

The couple on the corner socialized—always as a couple. In fact, the wife didn’t even drive: Her husband took her to the market. They seemed inseparable and always appeared happy. The other wives were jealous. “My husband would never go to the market with me,” they would say, enviously.

It wasn’t until much later that we found out he was beating the crap out of her behind their lovely drapes. Perhaps that explained why she never socialized by herself and often would not be seen for several days at a time.

With the recent high-profile stories of “domestic” abuse—named as if were somehow tamer than other violence—I’ve been thinking about that woman, and how isolated she must have felt. In those days, back in the 1960s, nobody talked openly about what happened behind closed doors. In those days, it wasn’t even considered possible that a man could be guilty of raping his wife. After all, they were married.

My next experience of such abuse was the young couple who lived downstairs. We used to hear them fight through the thin walls of the apartment complex. It got so loud and scary several times that we called the police. In those days, the early 1970s, police would show up, talk to the people involved, try to settle the guy down, and leave. Police used to tell me such calls were often the most dangerous, because they were never sure what might happen. If they were scared, think about how the women felt.

It never occurred to me that what had gone on in my own home while I was young could be classified as domestic abuse. I remember when my father would explode in anger when my mother broke the yolks while making his breakfast eggs. I remember the times my mom and I were laughing about something that happened to me at school that day—but when we heard his car drive up, we would look around the house to make sure nothing obvious would set him off.

My father never raised a hand to my mom, although he did once explode and start hitting me. I am not sure to this day why it happened, but I think it was because my parents had been discussing money issues—and I, not having any idea what was going on, walked into the kitchen to ask for some money for something I needed for school.

“I can’t even afford new shoes,” my father said.

“I’ve never kept you from buying shoes,” I replied.

He exploded and came after me, throwing me across the room and hitting me. I thought he might kill me—he was so enraged. My mom broke it up, and he left the house for several days. When he returned, I asked my mom, “Why did you let him come back?” She said, “I hope someday, someone will love you as much as your father loves me.”

All I could think was, “I hope not!”

At my 25th high school reunion, some friends and I were sitting around reminiscing about those long-ago days. “You know why we never came over to your house very often,” one said to me. “Your dad was so abusive.” I was shocked. I had never put that label on what happened in my family.

Despite my years in the women’s movement—including marching to raise consciousness about violence against women—I, too, ended up in a relationship that included abusive behavior. I finally left after “only” one hit, but the verbal invectives and threat that he could blow up at any time permeated our household. I didn’t leave soon enough.

People ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave? Why did she stay?”

The reasons are as varied as the individual situations. It’s because you know him and love him, and he’s always sorry and promises it won’t happen again. It’s because you can’t support yourself and your children and have nowhere to go. Often, it’s because you’ve been deliberately isolated from family and friends, totally dependent on the man, like the woman who lived in the house on the corner.

It may be because you grew up in a household, like mine, where high drama seemed to be a “normal” part of being married. Or it can be because you don’t want the public embarrassment, especially if the man is in a prominent position. Maybe it’s just because you don’t feel as if the community will support you in leaving. After all, you marry “for better or for worse,” or you come from a family where divorce is considered unthinkable. Somehow, it’s your fault it turned out that way—if only you hadn’t said or done whatever it was you knew might set him off.

Fran Ferguson was executive director of Shelter From the Storm for about five years in the early 1990s, shortly after our local shelter for battered women opened. “I’m shocked,” she says, “that it has continued to be a commonplace part of our world. What has really changed after all these years?”

For one thing, laws have changed, largely as a result of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which established, among other things, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which receives more than 22,000 calls each month; increased prosecution and sentences; training to raise awareness on these issues for police officers and judges; requirements that protection orders be recognized and enforced; and permission for warrantless arrests if a responding officer finds probable cause.

The act was reauthorized this year. In a presidential proclamation, President Obama said, “This law enshrined a simple promise: Every American should be able to pursue her or his own measure of happiness free from the fear of harm.” All women, and men, should be as protected from the threat of violence in their own homes and families as on the street. (Violence can happen in same-sex relationships, too.)

Men can make a big difference by making it not acceptable for any man to behave in this way. Women can support their friends and neighbors, particularly by never finding fault with the victim. Whether you yell or spit at someone—or break yolks—that is no excuse for a violent reaction, especially from someone stronger in whom you have put your trust.

We need to tell our stories, the way prominent people including Meredith Viera have done recently. Statistics indicate that in the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds. This violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. 

We need to call it what it is: There’s nothing “domestic” about it.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

After hearing the lamentable Rush Limbaugh refer to the “chickification of America,” because NFL football players wore pink to support breast cancer research (men have breasts too, you know, and also get cancer), I was fuming and determined to write about my anger and frustration.

In spite of that initial impulse, here’s what I’m NOT writing about today:

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As someone who was once in an abusive relationship (and if it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone, men included), I’m NOT writing about how important it is that society recognize the reality of how difficult it is to leave and to stay alive. I’m NOT writing about how 44 percent of all women murdered with guns in the U.S. are killed by a current or former intimate partner

More than 135,000 women became extremely poor in 2012—not just poor, but “extremely” poor—and people 65 and older are now more vulnerable to poverty, up significantly from 2011. Although my big fear is to end up eating cat food, I’m NOT writing about why women haven’t demanded compensatory Social Security for those whose “job” is to be a homemaker and mother, so they can survive old age.  Nor am I writing about the growing economic disparity between those at the very top and everyone else, and its disproportionate impact on women.

• The United States is among only eight nations in the world who don’t give women paid maternity leave—it’s often unpaid if you get it at all without jeopardizing your job—and our need for universally available and affordable day care is an embarrassment among nations. But I’m NOT writing about how this affects women’s ability to hold gainful employment or complete their education and thus be economically independent. 

• Women are not present at all on the boards of major corporations. Twitter has a seven-man board with no women; 36 percent of the 2,770 largest public companies have no women on their boards; and companies with women on their boards have better overall economic results. Yet I’m NOT writing about why women aren’t controlling and influencing all investment decisions based on this regrettable fact—although if we could get rid of apartheid, we should be able to get qualified women on corporate boards.

• While “half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time,” I am NOT writing about the callousness of those who refuse to make work pay a living wage, or who demand deficit reduction by penalizing the vulnerable with food stamp cuts, or who characterize those who need assistance as lazy and unmotivated “takers,” yet won’t support the education or child care that would allow self-sufficiency. 

• Even as abortion and access to “women’s health services” are increasingly subject to ridiculous and onerous restrictions, I’m NOT writing about the difference it makes who appoints judges to federal courts—although it does.

As a political commentator, it’s enticing to address any of these issues and take both policy and political stands. But I decided to write about something bigger than issues or politics: the need to set an entirely new policy agenda. I believe that women, and men who respect women, are uniquely poised to make that happen.

My experience as a mediator has shown that when two polarized sides of a debate are dug in, there is room to head right down the middle and define a new way of moving forward.

Politicians are staking out ever-more-radical positions for niche constituencies, so I am sending out a clarion call to women of every political stripe: WE can demand a new agenda. 

There are more of us. We live longer. We’re getting more educated. We already do whatever we have to do to take care of ourselves and our children. We make choices—not always good ones—and we live with the consequences. We have a collective voice, and it’s time to be heard.

Get involved. Demand, as a group along with your neighbors, to meet with elected officials at every level, and tell them you expect them to pay attention, or you will organize voters against them. If big business and the wealthy can influence public policy, organized and informed voters as a bloc can have an even greater impact.

We can’t leave it to anyone else. Change takes time. Results won’t come quickly. But we have to be present and involved, invested for the long haul.

Get informed. Educate others. Consider running for office. Vote in EVERY election, no matter how small or local. Contrary to conspiracy theories, votes do count! 

Don’t get suckered in by slick slogans designed to “sell” a candidate with sound bites that don’t really inform.

Visit nonpartisan websites like the League of Women Voters or No Labels. Spend as much time on this as you do playing computer games.

Bottom line: I think it’s time for a women’s strike. 

What if, for just two days, women (and the men who support them) across the country stayed home from work, didn’t cook or clean, didn’t deliver a tray of drinks, didn’t operate the cash register, didn’t re-hang clothes on the racks, didn’t make appointments, didn’t help people fill out forms, didn’t sell anyone’s home or didn’t process a bank deposit. 

What if a few agenda items—paid maternity leave, universal child care, comparable equal pay, a raised minimum wage, and greater representation where decisions are made—were highlighted as SO important they must no longer be ignored?

If all else fails, there’s always the Lysistrata strategy

This is adapted from a speech given to the Sun City, Palm Desert Democratic Club on Oct. 28, 2013.

Published in Know Your Neighbors