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In the course of a normal life, we meet people—yet seldom do we meet someone who impresses us immediately, someone we know will make a difference in our lives. I was lucky enough to have such a meeting a couple of years ago—and sadly, there was not enough time to wring everything I could out of the relationship.

I met Cathy Greenblat in connection with a showing of her extraordinary pictures of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, and I wrote about her in January 2014. She and her husband, John Gagnon, were then fairly new residents in Palm Springs—both retired academics who were trying to get settled in and establish lives here after several years living in France.

The first time I met John was when I was invited to their home for dinner. I knew he had retired as a professional academic, but had no clue what he had achieved during that career. I was, however, struck by a quality that I have found in very, very few people: John had a highly disciplined mind, and he knew how to listen. During a discussion during our first evening together, during which different opinions and ideas were being thrown around, he sat back quietly and silently. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if he was really “present”—it was almost as if he were somewhere far inside his head, and had tuned out the conversation.

After much back-and-forth among the others at the table, John all of a sudden sat up in his chair and began to talk. He had a slow, mellow voice that made it clear he had heard and internalized all points of view. He then cogently identified the gist of the discussion and came forward with a clear statement that moved everything forward with remarkable insight. He didn’t pontificate; rather, he was “dazzlingly brilliant, especially in spontaneous extemporaneous settings … sardonically funny, and intellectually generous,” in the words of an old friend and collaborator, Cathy told me. For me, it was an astonishing performance, indicative of the kind of mental discipline one seldom encounters.

After learning about John’s background, I had even more reason to be impressed. He was a distinguished professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and a lifetime fellow at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom. He had academic appointments in psychology and psychiatry, but his primary achievements were in sociology, specifically studies regarding sexuality. John spent several years at the Kinsey Institute and is particularly remembered for his book with co-author William Simon in 1973, Sexual Conduct, which introduced the “social constructionist model” for understanding sexual identity. The American Sociological Association annually presents a Gagnon and Simon Award.

John was awarded an honorary doctor of letters from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, among many other academic honors.

John’s work was described by Glasgow’s Dr. Pamela Gillies as “groundbreaking” in that it was pivotal to helping those in public health craft appropriate prevention responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic: “John consistently reminds us all of the need to dig deep into our humanity and sense of ourselves to drive the debate of the still hugely important global health challenge presented by HIV/AIDS, in a more coherent, compassionate and intellectually articulate direction.”

Gillies also said of John: “Conversations with John Gagnon are like exciting conspiracies. They allow us to ask all of those difficult questions of life and ourselves that seem almost too strange, too disruptive, or too uncomfortable to explore … Blessed with a beautiful vocal tone, he is also a pleasure to listen to, but he has the gift of listening.”

My experience exactly.

John was an avid reader with a vast knowledge of art, history, literature and psychology. According to Cathy, he knew where every famous painting was housed, when it was painted, and what made it special. Yet he came from humble beginnings: His father was a miner, his mother a hotel maid. After moves across country amid Depression-era poverty, John by the age of 10, had not only discovered the library, but had already read his way through the entire children’s section. In 1990, he wrote, “Books, particularly books that were not true, became and remain the most important source of knowledge in my life.”

After his father’s death, John was on a trip across country, and at the age of 14, he saw the University of Chicago and announced: “I’m going to go to that university.” Although he scored in the top three on the entrance exams for Stanford, John did end up at the University of Chicago, including graduate work that led to his doctorate in 1969.

John’s design in the late 1980s of the first comprehensive survey of sexual behavior since the 1948 and 1953 Kinsey reports provided reliable statistical information and an in-depth assessment of sex in America, including gay male behaviors that were critical to a better understanding of how to structure and implement health interventions regarding HIV/AIDS. He also found that most married Americans were monogamous and not very adventurous about sex.

In a New York Times interview in 1994, John said, “We have had the myth that everybody was out there having lots of sex of all kinds. That’s had two consequences. It has enraged the conservatives. And it has created anxiety and unhappiness among those who weren’t having it, who thought, ‘If I’m not getting any, I must be a defective person.’ Good sense should have told us that most people don’t have the time and energy to manage an affair, a job, a family and the Long Island Rail Road.”

John died Feb. 11, at home with Cathy, his wife of 38 years, by his side. He knew of my work on end-of-life choices, and spoke to me privately about his fears and feelings. I truly regret I will not have the chance to experience that mind again.

John Gagnon made a difference for me, even in the short time he was a part of my life, through his ability to articulate about what really matters: “The critical posture to maintain is that the future will not be better or worse, only different.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

When I moved to Palm Springs full-time in 1985, vacationers strolled downtown during “the season.” I shopped in the chic stores at the mall—at least until they closed down each summer. Spring Break was our biggest attraction (although local residents generally stayed home that week), but that did not last much longer: After years of laissez-faire treatment of young partiers, there was the riot of 1986, and then-Mayor Sonny Bono decided to shut down Spring Break.

In the years that followed, the International Film Festival was born, in 1989. The downtown mall closed. Downtown became dreary and sad.

Thankfully, Palm Springs has experienced a turn-around—as has the Coachella Valley in general—by hosting events and encouraging tourism that brings more diverse groups and revenues to the area. Now that downtown Palm Springs is finally heading toward progress at replacing the empty mall behemoth with shops, walkways, living spaces, arts installations, hotels and entertainment venues, you might wonder how the city has encouraged so many new people to visit—people who often return or even resettle here.

Enter Mary Jo Ginther, who serves as the director of tourism and marketing for the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. Ginther doesn’t actually work for the city: She and her staff are employed by SMG, a company she describes as “the largest manager of convention centers in the world,” with which the city of Palm Springs contracts to provide their tourism marketing services.

Working within the city’s budget allocations, Ginther and her group employ every method imaginable to attract visitors from across the globe, who will visit and thus generate transient occupancy taxes (TOT) and sales taxes.

“Palm Springs has developed an amazing reputation over the past 10 years,” she says, “as well as more than doubled its TOT revenues.”

Visitors may stay in large name hotels, small boutique inns or private guest homes. They come for gambling, events, conventions, the film festival, weddings, get-away weekends or as snowbirds escaping cruel winters in the Midwest and East. They come for family celebrations, school reunions, business meetings and themed special events. They drive down from Los Angeles, jet in from Canada or fly in to enjoy their long European summer holidays.

Ginther, 60, is a Palm Springs resident originally from East Chicago, Indiana. She started her professional life as a middle-school teacher, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in education at Indiana University Bloomington. She subsequently gained experience in the hotel industry, serving for many years as a banquet manager, and spending 22 years with the Hyatt organization. She was transferred to the Palm Springs area, where she worked as a general manager with the Hyatt, and as club manager at the Mission Hills Country Club. However, she had also visited here as a child.

“We used to come out every Christmas on the train to see my grandmother, who had retired to Pomona, and my aunt in Claremont. I know we came to Palm Springs, but I was too young to remember,” Ginther said.

Ginther has been in her current position for almost 10 years, and is a past-president of the Palm Springs Hotel and Hospitality Association.

The Bureau of Tourism not only focuses on generating tourism dollars for the city; it also oversees the Welwood Murray Library, the historical site that will house a show-business collection in downtown Palm Springs, and the Palm Springs Visitor Center. The staff coordinates efforts with the convention center, hotels, businesses and event planners.

“Our job is to help promote the city,” Ginther says, “so we try to bring all interests together.”

They also work with the Agua Caliente regarding casino visitation. “Once they have plans finalized for the downtown property,” she says, “I think we’ll all be amazed, because they have the springs, which is another attraction to bring people to Palm Springs.”

Ginther sees her biggest challenge as identifying and reaching people who are not necessarily vacationers or visitors coming for specific events, and enticing them to visit.

“We need the people who can come in on mid-week days, when hotels have more vacancies, and we have to expand beyond seasonality,” she says. “We have partners in the United Kingdom and Germany, among the places we do specific outreach, and the challenge is to put together attractive travel packages that include vouchers for hotels and cars and activities. And it’s so easy to get around here. The farthest anyone ever has to drive is about six minutes. That’s also a plus.”

Another challenge: “Although Palm Springs is known around the world, people always say, ‘But what is there to do?’ We need to be able to answer that for increasingly diverse groups of people.”

For example, outreach efforts are needed to expand the image of Palm Springs in LGBT communities; currently, there are 23 gay men’s resorts—but only one specifically appealing to lesbian women.

“We need to have other events to promote beyond ‘The Dinah,’” Ginther says, referring to the golf tournament originally named for late singer/actress Dinah Shore, which has now morphed into what is billed as “the largest lesbian event and music festival in the world,” slated to be held this year March 30 to April 3.

Additional efforts to promote Palm Springs are made by Bureau of Tourism staff members attending travel trade shows, representing the city at travel industry conventions, and via advertising.

“We have our own advertising budget and marketing schemes,” Ginther says, “but our job is really to bring together all interested parties, not duplicate efforts made by others, and get people to come to town, stay locally and discover Palm Springs.”

With a focus on Palm Springs being a place to “Stay–Play–Dine–Shop,” the street life downtown once again feels stimulating and chic, and the prospects for the future are encouraging. Thanks in part to hard-working people like Mary Jo Ginther and her associates, the world is getting the word about Palm Springs being the place that is “like no place else.”

But those of us who live here already know that.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It’s difficult to find the right word to describe coming together to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade becoming the law of the land.

Celebrate? That doesn’t feel right, because even pro-choice individuals don’t think abortion should be “celebrated.” Commemorate? Yes, we do remember and memorialize the decision that affirmed women have a right to privacy regarding when and whether to bear a child. But perhaps there’s an even better word.

Solemnize? To dignify with events or ceremonies?

That works for me.

Recently, a group of local women and men gathered to solemnize the 43rd year since the Supreme Court validated women’s sovereignty regarding their own bodies, on Jan. 22, 1973. How’s the legal decision working these many years later?

The total number of abortions performed legally in the United States has steadily been declining, particularly among teenagers, largely as a result of the use of birth control, sex education and fear of disease. That’s the good news.

The bad news is a record number of restrictive anti-abortion laws and regulations passed in recent years by state legislatures, justified by the U.S. Supreme Court’s statement in Roe that although the Constitution protects a woman’s right to abortion during the first trimester, the states also have an “important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life” (however that is variously interpreted).

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the leading compiler of accurate abortion information, in about 87 percent of U.S. counties, there is no provider; 35 percent of women age 15-44 live in those counties. Some state laws require waiting periods, ultrasounds with forced viewing of results, and “counseling”—often with misleading or outright false information, designed to discourage the decision to abort.

With such limited access to providers, some women must be able to travel more than 100 miles, take time off from work, arrange child care and find a way to stay or return again to satisfy waiting periods. It’s estimated that more than 30 percent of all women will have an abortion by the age of 45, and based on Roe, it should at least be safe, legal and accessible.

In Texas, where very restrictive laws passed last year, more than 100,000 Texas women between 18 and 49 have either tried to end a pregnancy themselves, or have sought help in Mexico. (The Supreme Court has accepted a case this term to decide whether Texas created an “undue burden” on women.)

The local event, co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood, Democrats of the Desert (DOD) and Democratic Women of the Desert (DWD), featured the film Vessel, a documentary chronicling the work of Women on Waves (WoW). The Dutch organization, a pro-choice nonprofit created in 1999 by physician Rebecca Gomperts, estimates that almost 50,000 women a year worldwide die from self-induced abortions.

“Reproductive freedom should be seen as a fundamental human right, not as a benefit or privilege only available to some, but not all, women around the world,” said DWD President Amalia Deaztlan, a resident of Bermuda Dunes.

WoW took advantage of the fact that when a ship is in international waters, at least 12 miles offshore, the laws of the nation under which that ship is licensed prevail. Dutch law allows unrestricted medication abortions up to the 6 1/2th week of pregnancy. In 2002, to assist women in countries where abortion is not legally allowed, WoW raised money to charter a ship and set up a complete portable clinic. The organization got permission from the Dutch health minister, staffed the ship with medical professionals and volunteers, and set out to provide services to women in countries with restrictive abortion laws. The intention was to land, let women know the nonsurgical procedure could be provided, take appointments to bring women on board, and sail into international waters, where Dutch law would prevail.  

The first stop was Ireland, followed over the course of several years by Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Poland. In some locations, they were not even allowed to dock the ship: Loud groups of protesters, mostly men, often threatened them, but the protests and resulting publicity led to hotlines being established and, ultimately, to changes in some laws. At the very least, women became aware that there were nonsurgical means they could obtain and safely take on their own, regardless of the legality of abortion or the willingness of doctors.

According to Guttmacher, in 2008, medication abortion accounted for more than 25 percent of all U.S. abortions performed prior to nine weeks of gestation. Says the World Health Organization (WHO): “In countries where induced abortion is legally highly restricted and/or unavailable, safe abortion has frequently become the privilege of the rich, while poor women have little choice but to resort to unsafe providers, causing deaths … that become the social and financial responsibility of the public health system. Laws and policies on abortion should protect women’s health and their human rights. Regulatory, policy and programmatic barriers that hinder access to and timely provision of safe abortion care should be removed.” WHO has placed the drugs used in medical abortions on its List of Essential Medicines since 2005.

Since ships cannot reach all of the countries where women need access to safe abortions, WoW launched safe-abortion hotlines in Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Argentina, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kenya, Thailand, Poland and Morocco. WoW trains volunteers who can staff local hotlines to give women information about how to obtain and use the drugs. They have even resorted to graffiti-tagging “Safe Abortion” with a local phone number on streets and walls so women can get the information they seek.

Seeing Vessel was a moving and inspiring experience, especially for those who often forget that what we may freely access in California is heavily restricted in places like North Dakota, and totally unavailable in places like Tanzania.

La Quinta resident Marlene Levine had a visceral reaction to some of the scenes in the film.

“I see big groups of angry men yelling at women who are trying to help each other,” she said about the film. “I keep wondering who in those gangs of protesters has ever sat up all night with their own sick child, or picked up a bottle to feed his baby, or changed even one dirty diaper. Do they even really care about a real baby? Or are they just out to show those women who is boss and let them know that their women must do as they say?”

We came together to solemnize the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, dignifying it by remembering that women all over the world deserve the human right to make decisions in their own best interest, acknowledging their sovereignty over their own bodies.

Some things should never be taken for granted.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It’s that time of year when we’re supposed to articulate our intentions about how we plan to be better human beings in the coming year.

Resolutions imply that we have to stop doing something, or give up something—which assumes we’re not already perfect.

Plan to exercise more? What’s stopped you so far? Think that’ll change?

Resolve to eat smarter or exercise? Why not start today?

Commit to repair your relationship with someone? What are you waiting for—an engraved invitation?

The older I get, the faster time seems to go by, and there’s not much life left to get “me” right. With all of our daily responsibilities—kids, deadlines, bills to pay, family and friends with issues that inexorably involve me in some way—focusing on myself and becoming a better person seems hopelessly counterproductive.

Besides, I’m not sure I need to figure out how to get better. I have a good friend who says, “I’m perfect … and improving!” I think maybe I’m as good as I’m ever going to get. However, I do expect to keep making new mistakes; heaven knows I should by now have learned enough from the old ones.

When 2015 began, I thought it was going to be a good year. All the bad stuff from 2014—a major downsizing move, my car dying—was behind me. Think again. Side effects from a supposedly simple surgery took a few months of recovery. The implant to replace my front tooth took more than eight months to get right; a false tooth that kept coming loose and made it difficult to eat, let alone smile. The man in my life went through his father’s death, gone more than he’s been here. Major illnesses afflicting several people important to me have kept me on edge for their survival. Financial problems complicated everything.

George Santayana said it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So first, it’s important to list those things I know I won’t change. I’ll push the speed limit up to 10 mph over what’s posted—I know it’s technically breaking the law, but they don’t seem to stop you if you don’t go over that. I’ll keep smoking as long as my lungs seem to be OK; I know it’s not healthy, but I’ve been doing it for more than 60 years, so promises to stop are basically useless. I’ll occasionally eat things that make me happy, but may not make my body feel good: crispy chicken skin, hot salsa, crisp bacon, and popcorn with that buttery stuff and lots of salt. I’ll continue to give myself permission to cancel appointments. I’ll limit talking to a particular relative who is so critical about my kids that every conversation feels like I have to defend myself.

Life is too short to keep butting your head against a stone wall. Some things, no matter how much you know they might be good for you, aren’t worth the stress of actually doing them.

Now, my resolutions for this coming year?

I resolve to remind myself that I already have all the time there is. There will be no getting frustrated because traffic ahead of me is slowed; no need to dart from lane to lane to get somewhere two minutes earlier. No point in cursing out another driver when that idiot can’t hear me anyway. No need to keep looking at my watch in line at the post office. Although “patience is a virtue,” I feel no need to be virtuous; I just refuse to feel anxious about things over which I have no control.

I resolve to accomplish at least one constructive thing every day. It may be doing the laundry or sweeping the patio. I could decide to walk to the market instead of driving two blocks—if my 93-year old neighbor can do it, so can I. It could be to finally drop off those clothes I’ve been putting in a bag for the past six months so someone who needs them can actually get them. I resolve never to go to bed without acknowledging that I’ve accomplished at least one thing that day—beyond watching old shows on TV, that is. 

I resolve to “pay it forward” daily. Of course, this means I have to pay attention to the little things others do for me, like letting me go first at the market when I have fewer items in my basket, or giving me the parking place for which I’ve been patiently waiting, or letting me pull pennies from the stash when I’m only a couple of coins short. Whatever it may be, I will notice whenever it happens, and consider it my job for that day to pay it forward toward someone else.

I resolve to give at least one compliment every day to someone, whether I know them or not. I was once waiting in line at the movies, and the woman behind me tapped my shoulder and said, “I can’t help noticing that you have an absolutely perfect haircut.” As someone who generally hates her own hair, I still remember that, and how unexpectedly flattered I was. I want to do that for at least one person every day.

I resolve to never let hateful comments go by without saying, quietly and calmly, “I find that very offensive.” No further conversation is necessary. No matter what the other person says, my response will be, “Let’s just change the subject,” and I will refuse to be drawn in any further. People need to know when their lack of manners has gone over the line. I hope you’ll do that if you hear something hateful about me. Remember: Silence is tacit approval.

I resolve to give myself permission to be selfish. When I was growing up, being called selfish was the worst criticism my father could hurl. As I grew up, I realized that “selfish” just means caring about yourself. I won’t exclude caring about others—it means I have to be OK before I can help anyone else, just as airlines tell you to put on your oxygen mask before you attach your child’s mask. You can’t take care of others if you have nothing left to give.

Will these resolutions make me a better person? I’m pretty much who I’m going to be. But if these resolutions mean I don’t spend the time I do have worrying about losing time; and that I cross at least one thing off my “to do” list every day; and that I’m conscious about the little things even total strangers do that make me feel good; and that I quietly but firmly stand up for my values; and that I take care of myself so I can be of use to others—then 2016 will be a good year.

My bottom line advice for the upcoming year comes from a website called InspireMore: If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’ll always be in the same place.

Happy New Year!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I admit I’m feeling unnerved.

The terrorist attack in San Bernardino followed seemingly unrelated events including the shooting of Black Lives Matter activists in Minneapolis, and the murder of three people at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Then came the fire-bombing at the mosque in Coachella, and the death of my old friend George Zander after the gay-bashing he and his husband, Chris, suffered in downtown Palm Springs. (As of this writing, it is not yet clear whether Zander’s death was directly related to that assault.)

Coincidentally, I recently ran out of new books on my nightstand, and began re-reading two old favorites: 1984 and Brave New World. They are both incredible novels—but reading them at the same time is perhaps an unnecessary punishment at a time when our own country’s future seems to be so precariously hanging on the next presidential election.

George Orwell’s 1984 is set in a world of never-ending war, invasive government surveillance, the manipulation of history, tyranny dominated by the presence of Big Brother, and the control of society by a privileged class via a party motivated purely by power. The book was published in 1949, after World War II, and uses the destruction of London as its physical backdrop (not unlike the devastation depicted in Mad Max or Clockwork Orange). It also envisions a society in which citizens are controlled through fear and intimidation.

Orwell introduced concepts we use today. When things are described as “Orwellian,” we mean they go too far in manipulating or depriving the population of the basic necessities of life. The concept of Big Brother became a reality television show on which a group of people live together, isolated from the outside world—and always under the watchful eye of the television camera. “Doublespeak” and “groupthink” came straight from Orwell’s frightening vision of a totalitarian future in which children spy on their parents, and the ultimate punishment for independent thinking is to be confronted by the thing that frightens one most. Anyone who has ever read 1984 cannot possibly forget Winston Smith and the rats.

Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932, casts the future as a perpetually happy utopia in which people live in a clean, efficient, technically advanced society, without traditional marriage or family—embryos are artificially manufactured with restricted abilities and ambitions. Class distinctions are fully accepted based on sleep-programmed education from infancy, and the size of the population is strictly controlled so each class can be provided with everything it needs. A drug keeps the population docile, and those few who dare to see themselves as individuals are banished to uninhabitable parts of the globe. Individuality is discouraged, and society is run as a benevolent dictatorship.

How do these two books relate to my being upset about the beating of the Zanders and the bombing of the mosque? These two local crimes seem motivated by individuals willing to use violence based on their individual visceral opposition to gays or Muslims; a recent study by Nathan Kalmoe, a University of Michigan doctoral candidate, articulated a broader explanation of the willingness of individuals to use violence for political gain.

At a time when the leading candidate of one of our two dominant political parties is shamelessly using demagoguery—attempting to gain power by arousing the emotions and prejudices of others—to play to the fears of Americans in exchange for political support, it is no surprise that Kalmoe found that combative and even violent political rhetoric can make some Americans see violence as an appropriate means to an end.

“The rhetoric of ‘fighting’ for a cause, declaring ‘war’ on problems, and suffering ‘attacks’ from opponents, is how political leaders, journalists and citizens often talk about politics,” says Kalmoe. “Political leaders, pundits and citizens regularly demonize opponents and emphasize the righteousness of their own goals. Language like that may facilitate moral disengagement, which allows people to rationalize the harm they do to others.”

To be fair, most people in the study opposed violence, but a significant minority, ranging from 5 to 14 percent, agreed with the use of violent options, while between 10 and 18 percent were indifferent. That means millions of ordinary Americans accept the general idea of violence to gain political ends. Not surprisingly, Kalmoe found that young adults are more prone to adopt violent attitudes after exposure to such language—possibly explaining the appeal of groups like ISIS and domestic militias that seem to offer a way for disaffected young people to act and not just feel powerless.

Both Brave New World and 1984 are cautionary tales, and each depicted a future that has not come to pass. But we do have elements of each: surveillance; calls for a greater invasion of privacy, even of citizens; the manipulation of language to mean something other than what it means (in 1984, the three central principals are “War Is Peace; Freedom Is Slavery; Ignorance Is Strength”); conformity in the name of assimilation; the use of drugs to minimize distress; turning on each other in the name of security (“If you see something, say something”); and class consciousness.

More than 25 years after Brave New World, Huxley wrote a nonfiction work, Brave New World Revisited, in which he considered whether the world had moved toward or away from his vision. According to Wikipedia, Huxley concluded that the world was becoming like the future he had envisioned much faster than he originally thought it would.

My conclusion, after San Bernardino, the attack on the Zanders, and the Coachella mosque is that we are much closer to 1984 and Orwell’s prediction that fear would be the ultimate motivator of political power.

If we are to retain our values and head toward a more optimistic future—one in which our religious houses of worship and the Zanders of our world are secure—we need to recognize that casting every conflict in apocalyptic language and falling for demagogic rhetoric must be rejected.

If you think your vote doesn’t count, think again—while you still can.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The past few months have brought me one ailment after another, side effects from treatments causing other issues, a lack of appetite (which is not a way to lose weight I would recommend) and no energy. (I’m not a hypochondriac; this is atypical.)

I admit I’ve been a little cranky. OK, VERY cranky. Luckily, I’m finally feeling better.

I spent Thanksgiving in Los Angeles at the home of an old friend, with my daughter and assorted family. On the Wednesday preceding Turkey Day, that friend had a house guest in addition to me: a young woman named Kelly, 42, who is recovering from a heart transplant. (For privacy purposes, I’m not using Kelly’s real name.)

My friend volunteers at a major hospital once a week in their patient and family care group. She’s assigned to a floor where patients are waiting for or recovering from transplants. Her job is to interact with the patients and their family or friends—and basically do a lot of listening. She has personally bonded with some of her patients, including Kelly.

Kelly lives in Houston, but flies into Southern California monthly for follow-up protocols. Although she has successfully come through the threat of rejection of the heart she received, she is now facing kidney problems requiring dialysis. Her weight is down to 89 pounds.

“I watch the Food Channel all the time,” she confided. “I keep thinking it will make me feel hungry.”

She walks haltingly, but is obviously very independent and taking control of her recovery, almost a year since she got her new heart.

After spending an evening with Kelly—someone who is so valiantly battling to keep herself alive—I feel ridiculous for feeling sorry for myself over the ailments I’ve suffered over the last few months. Yes, we all handle what we have to handle, but my issues feel so insignificant and self-indulgent by comparison.

All of this made me think about how lucky we are—palm trees included—compared to at least 90 percent of the people on the planet. Therefore, with the holiday giving season upon us, maybe there’s something we can do for those whose lives revolve around physical challenges we will most likely never have to face.

There are more than 122,000 people in this country officially waiting for an organ—heart, liver, lung, kidney, eye and/or tissue—according to the Universal Donor Registration Site, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). More than 20 people die every day while on the lengthy waiting lists, and there are as few as 15,000 donors each year. Some people need more than one organ—a heart and a lung, for example. Some patients’ bodies may reject an organ and require a second procedure—and, therefore, a second donor. Matching donors to those in need is a complicated process. In America, federal law makes it illegal to “knowingly” buy or sell a human organ. It is true that there are countries where those with lots of money can cut in line.

I’ve written many times about having conversations regarding end-of-life choices and how important it is to NOT leave those critical decisions to others (who may not have a clue what YOU want). But even if those discussions and plans seem too difficult to confront, ask yourself: Have you at least made arrangements to be an organ donor? One organ donor can save as many as eight lives—but medical professionals must know you are a donor when your time is up. Otherwise, those legally empowered to speak on your behalf must be found; discussions must be held; and conflicts must be resolved. For example, what if you have more than one child, and they don’t agree? Don’t you want this decision to be yours?

When you get a California driver’s license, you have the opportunity to indicate that you want to be an organ donor. Your license arrives with embedded information that tells anyone treating you after an accident or during an emergency that you have made the decision to donate.

Even if you didn’t indicate your willingness to be a donor on your license, you can still register by going to Donate Life California, the state authorized nonprofit organization responsible for managing the Organ and Tissue Donor Registry. In California, almost 13,000,000 are registered.

Both the HHS and Donate Life websites offer information that can help you make your decision. If you are reluctant to donate your heart, you still might be willing to donate a kidney. In 2014 alone, more than 17,000 kidney transplants took place in the U.S.—and of those, more than 11,000 kidneys came from deceased donors. Donate Life California says that 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month, and 12 people die each day waiting for one.

There are those who, for religious reasons or because of cultural traditions, would not under any circumstances want their organs removed and transplanted. Most of us who have not registered as an organ donor, however, just avoid thinking about things related to the end of our lives. We somehow seem to believe that if we can push off those decisions, maybe death won’t really happen. Good luck with that.

My sister-in-law Denise has a combination of three auto-immune diseases, and the treatment for one can often make another worse. She eats very little of very few foods (again, not a recommended diet) and has been through years of treatments and protocols. Yet if you met her and my brother for dinner, you would never know she had ANY condition that impinged on her ability to be herself and enjoy the evening.

Not too long ago, Denise emailed to ask how I was feeling. I wrote back saying I was now fine, and that I felt silly complaining about anything compared with her every-day reality. She replied, “You take it a day at a time and make the best of it. That’s all we can do.”

When I asked Kelly, the heart transplant patient, about the impact of all she has been through, she said, “Some days it’s really hard, but it’s worth it.”

Pris, a desert friend, perhaps said it best: “There’s always something out there to put things in perspective.”

Enjoy the holiday giving season—and give someone the gift of life.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I have two local friends who hail from London: Rupert in Rancho Mirage, and Gillian in Palm Desert. They often laugh at how Americans react to their British accent.

“Well,” I tell them, “Americans can’t really differentiate between British, Australian, South African or New Zealand accents, let alone between North and West London. We just assume that if you have that accent, you must be smart and educated.”

Many of us have similar trouble differentiating between Vietnamese and Filipino, Japanese and Chinese, Saudi and Syrian, Egyptian and Liberian. They’re all either Southeast Asian or Middle Eastern or African—if we know enough to make those distinctions.

With what just happened on Nov. 13 (more than 125 dead in Paris), as well as what happened only a day before in Beirut (43 killed) and a couple weeks before that on a Russian plane (224 dead), it’s also difficult for us to differentiate between who is “us” and who is “them.”

I’ve written before about this tribal hangover in our evolutionary journey, whether about “mean girls” or political correctness or motorcycle gangs or the local “us” versus “them” in Coachella after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris earlier this year. It feels urgent to me that we consider how important it is for Americans to not only preserve our sense of security, but also act based on our values. If we can be pushed into knee-jerk policies based on fear—not unlike the internment of law-abiding and loyal Japanese Americans during World War II—“they” will have already won. There should be no fear worth abandoning our basic concepts of freedom, equality and respect for human rights.

After the most recent Paris attack—amid reactions that include concerns about accepting Syrian refugees, even if they’re fleeing death and destruction; rushing to commit troops to harm’s way; voicing political rhetoric without acknowledging the need for allies whose philosophies or way of life may be vastly different from ours; and a call to shut down American houses of worship (First Amendment be damned)—I had the great pleasure of interviewing Deepa Iyer, author of a new book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future. A South Asian American, born in India, Iyer immigrated to Kentucky at age 12. She has served as executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together and is a senior fellow at the Center for Social Inclusion, as well as an activist in residence at the University of Maryland.

Iyer’s book chronicles some of the shameful incidents that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, including Islamophobia in the Bible Belt, the massacre at a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin, the violent opposition to an Islamic Center in Tennessee, and the demonstrations against building a mosque in Lower Manhattan. She also looks at public policies adopted after Sept. 11, like rampant profiling (as if we could suddenly distinguish between a Muslim and a Hindu—can you?).

Not coincidentally, we’re witnessing campus protests by young people who decry stereotyping, exclusion and hate crimes. The Black Lives Matter movement seeks to highlight institutionalized racism.

Iyer has a particular take on hate crimes: “Hate violence affects everyone in America. A hate crime affects not only the person being targeted, but the entire community to which that person belongs. Acts of hate violence can disrupt and affect even those who do not belong (to) the community being directly targeted.” She cites, as an example, the massacre in Wisconsin, where afterward, non-Sikhs also experienced fear and anxiety and felt forced to change some of their behaviors.

Are home-grown hate crimes different from what ISIS is doing? Local bullies want a sense of power. ISIS terrorism is designed to frighten anyone who might be inclined to oppose their desire for power—including other Muslims. As a nation, if we react based on that fear by abandoning our principles and beliefs, including our historical willingness to integrate people from other cultural and religious traditions, then ISIS will have been successful in pushing their notion of “us” and “them.” ISIS wants to be seen as a legitimate state. Granting that status to ISIS is antithetical to defeating what we should recognize as nothing more than a worldwide hate crime being perpetrated by armed bullies.

In addition to our revulsion at indiscriminate killings, there is at least a smidgen of a desire to distance ourselves from the possibility that in each of us, there still lurks that tribal impulse toward violence against “the other.” Being “civilized” means we have mostly found ways to transcend those impulses; the choice of how to go forward must be informed by realizing that some members of our species are apparently still “uncivilized.”

We all have Uncle Joe or Cousin Amelia, whom we dread seeing because their behavior becomes obnoxious after the second glass of wine. Still, they are family—no matter how we might like to distance ourselves from the idea that we are in any way like them. It may not be all that different to fear seeing ourselves as capable of being at all like ISIS extremists. Yet abusive bullies live among us.

Despite political finger-pointing (Bush got us into Iraq; Obama pulled us out too quickly), we are where we are, and there are serious questions to be asked: Do we want to rush into combat for the sake of looking tough? Are we willing to once again increase American casualties? What about “collateral damage”—the killing of innocent women and children? Should we implement policies, created out of fear, that restrict the freedom of others, based on nothing more than what they look like, or which religious affiliation they claim, or where they come from? What are the consequences of both intervention and a lack of intervention? How much is already being done that hasn’t been made public? These are public conversations worth having, and we need coherent and nuanced responses.

We must resist the temptation to see even ourselves as “us” and “them.” If we can’t even distinguish one accent or one nationality from another, maybe it’s time to realize there is no “us” and “them.” We are all Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Unitarian, Jewish, Scientologist, Mormon—and none of the above. We are Italian, Laotian, Moroccan, Polish, Jordanian, Irish, Iranian, Belgian, Ukrainian, Swedish. These are ways of distinguishing and identifying ourselves, but in the end, it’s all “us.”

The challenge is to educate ourselves about each other enough to not let fear turn us against our better natures. We can only hope that our more civilized selves represent the direction of our evolution away from mere tribalism.

We are all Parisian, Lebanese, Russian. Like him or not, Uncle Joe is also “us.” Alas, ISIS is also “us.” For better or worse, we’re all in this together. In the end, there is no “them.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Politicians are corrupt. Voters base their votes on marketing and money. Politics is not the same as “real” work. The media as a whole has a liberal bias.

If only it were that simple.

I ran for Congress in 1996. I’d never run for public office before, and there were many things I had to learn. One key skill was how to respond to reporters. Since I had little money for my campaign, most of my exposure was via free media, as opposed to paid ads. That meant something would be in the news, and I would be asked to comment, or I would call a press conference to make an “announcement,” followed by questions.

When I ran, most local media sources were pretty conservative. The majority of registered voters in this area were Republicans. Democrats could be found in pockets here and there, but most locals then—even in the gay community—were self-described “economic conservatives,” concerned primarily about the economy while being non-dogmatic on social issues. Oh, sure, we had those few rabid pro-life factions, or critics of “liberal” education (like sex education in schools), but mostly, local voters wanted the economy to keep working, with the underlying belief that smaller government was in people’s best interests, and government should work effectively but be non-intrusive.

When most reporters pose questions on a specific issue or news story, they generally already know what slant they expect to give the story. The questions they pose are intended to get a response that fits that narrative.

If you only catch politicians on the news, you’re lucky to get, at most, 15 seconds of their response to a question. So how does the candidate make sure you get their best sound bite, regardless of how the piece is edited? Politicians have a bottom-line message they want people to walk away with. What I learned was that no matter what questions were asked, every answer had to include my sound bite, because I never knew which 15 seconds would make it onto the air. The reporter might ask five or six questions; each answer must sound responsive, but you still need to get the sound bite in there. While you’re doing it, it seems horribly repetitive, but it’s the only way to overcome whatever slant the reporter may have.

Students who want to go into media take courses to learn how to interview. Business people and public figures join organizations like Toastmasters to learn about eliminating “um” and “er” and “ya know” from their speech patterns. But who teaches politicians about the ability to be responsive in a way that will actually inform?

Debates are clearly different than interviews, if only because candidates are up against others who may be more skilled at the techniques. Those trained as lawyers, for example, are good at jousting with questioners, but they can also come across as argumentative. Educators can come across as pedantic. Business executives can come across as clueless about the difference between being “the boss” and leading a government.

The most recent GOP presidential debate, on CNBC, was roundly criticized for political bias, badly framed questions, poor research and a lack of follow-ups. It’s not that smart, probing questions weren’t asked; it’s that questions were clearly framed to generate controversy rather than inform. Even when good questions were asked, the participants went after the panelists rather than responding to enlighten voters.

As an example, when Donald Trump was asked whether his campaign might be described as a “comic-book campaign,” that was an opportunity for Trump to talk about the substance of his campaign (which is not always readily apparent). A good communicator would have easily made that pivot.

Let’s face it: When you’re president, reporters shout out questions all the time, often slanted to push a specific narrative or challenge a decision. If the president can’t handle that, how is that individual going to resolve intractable conflicts, both domestic and foreign?

I like to separate policy and politics, and I believe either is an appropriate subject for inquiry in a debate—they just should not be confused as being equivalent. The idea that candidates should only be questioned by people who share their ideology is ridiculous—but that is what’s currently being demanded by the candidates. I would think the opposite would be more enlightening: Only those who disagree with the candidates should ask questions: Let’s really see how they deal with having their ideas challenged.

Here are the kind of questions I would ask if I were running a presidential debate:

  • What is the very first action you will take as president that will make the clearest statement about your administration’s focus?
  • You claim one of your highest priorities is to create jobs, yet you also say that government itself doesn’t actually create jobs. How do you reconcile those two positions? What specifically can government do to create jobs without controlling the private sector?
  • You may not have a Congress run by your own party or one that agrees with your priorities. Is bipartisan support something you would pursue? How?
  • On what issues are you not willing to compromise, no matter the result?
  • Is the threat of America as a superpower more important than soft power—the ability to negotiate and convince? Or does one require the other?
  • How can we influence other nations toward peace in areas of the world that are plagued with violence and political upheaval? Would you ever act alone?
  • What is government’s role in addressing homelessness and extreme poverty?
  • With some states not as concerned as others with expanding access to medical care, what is the federal government’s role, if any?
  • Education has always been seen as a locally controlled system. What exactly should be the federal role be in education?

Since the debate formats have been challenged, here are my suggestions for a format that should be followed regardless of party:

  • No more than eight candidates should be onstage at the same time. Have a lottery to decide which candidates take part and hold as many as necessary.
  • Limit total debate time to two hours.
  • Allow each candidate to make 30-second opening and closing statements. 
  • Have a red light to let candidates know when they have 10 seconds left, and a buzzer that goes off when their time is up. Moderators should be able to shut off a candidate’s microphone if they go more than 10 seconds over their time.
  • Answers that are nonresponsive to the question, or that stretch the truth, should be exposed with immediate follow-up questions. Moderators need to do their homework and cite sources.
  • Audiences should withhold the temptation to cheer or boo once the debate begins. Perhaps there should not be an audience.
  • Candidates should not know the questions in advance.

“We get the government we deserve” has long been the mantra of those who aren’t happy with electoral results. It shouldn’t be up to politicians and political parties to decide what we do and do not have the right to know, or how questions are asked. How candidates handle both policy and political questions is crucial information for voters.

We not only need good debate panelists and fair formats; we also need to hold politicians accountable for practicing their profession responsibly. When we tune in hoping for outrageous sound bites, we end up voting for entertainers, not leaders.

It’s not the “biased media” at fault; it’s us!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

As a political talk-radio host, I am constantly dealing with people who don’t agree with me.

Some callers spout nonsense conspiracy theories. Others copy tried-and-true applause lines from their political heroes. Still others simply yell and shout their personal prejudices, uninterested in facts or reasonable discourse. Even those who agree with me often have skewed reasoning.

What’s a responsible broadcaster to do?

I learned a long time ago that I will probably never change the mind of the person on the other end of the line. I’ve also learned that trying to over-shout someone just leads to noise and no light.

I also have the luxury of being able to hit the “dump” button.

Alas, there is no “dump” button in real life. In this ever-polarized political environment, national and local, I know people who refuse to attend family dinners because of, for example, the brother-in-law who sputters the worst politically incorrect characterizations in front of young children. I know people who won’t go to their card-game group because one member likes to stir the pot. I know people who are frustrated about how to respond when they overhear ridiculous points of view pontificated in the next booth at the restaurant or the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

My friend Eileen Stern is not someone you would expect to ever throw in the towel on her outspoken support for causes and activism. So I was astonished to read a Facebook post by her recently: “Just like the alcoholic, the drug addict, the food addict, I have been binging on politics and I have literally overdosed. I am feeding on toxicity and it is taking me beyond where I want to go.”

Stern, a long-time desert resident, was born and raised in Chicago. She and her husband, Marv, were originally snowbirds here, but they have now lived in the Palm Springs area as permanent residents for more than 18 years.

“I’m very blessed to be in a financial situation where we’re able to be comfortable—but I didn’t grow up that way,” she says. “I lived in public housing and went to public schools.”

Stern became a buyer and marketing executive at Sears, a male-dominated environment where, she says, “I had to prove myself—but at least I had the chance.” That experience got Stern involved in support for affirmative action. Her subsequent involvement in other causes included opposing the Vietnam War, working on the Robert Kennedy presidential campaign, supporting passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and participating in the March on Washington.

“I’m no activist, but I’ve been active my whole adult life,” she says, without appreciating the irony. “I got energized by the candidacy of President Obama, after a long hiatus of not really being too involved, and went to Nevada to work on his campaign with a couple of friends.”

In the Coachella Valley, Stern’s involvement has included participation with the Democratic Women of the Desert, the Hike for Hope and the Jewish Film Festival.

A few years ago, she became involved with Planned Parenthood. Stern and her husband agreed to host an event at their home featuring Sandra Fluke, the young woman who spoke out passionately about women having access to contraception—and was subsequently vilified by Rush Limbaugh, who publicly referred to Fluke as “a slut.”

The following year, Stern hosted another Planned Parenthood event, “and I realized the organization had no fundraising arm here in the valley.” October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Planned Parenthood affiliates in the Coachella Valley perform more than 1,800 breast cancer screenings each year.

“The group’s opponents have done a very good job of painting Planned Parenthood as a ‘one trick pony,’ focusing solely on abortion, when 97 percent of their activities are not abortion-related,” says Stern. “You don’t get to make up your own facts.”

That led her to help organize the Reel Women’s Movie Marathon, a local film festival designed to highlight Planned Parenthood’s focus on breast-health programs, featuring diverse films about women—from the “barefoot grandmamas” of India, illiterate women being trained as solar engineers, to stories of forced marriages and women fighting gender discrimination both abroad and in the U.S. The first festival was held last year; at this year’s second event, attendance doubled.

With this background, what led Stern to her post on Facebook?

“We can all become as entrenched as anyone on the other side of an issue,” she says. “I recently attended a political event for a local candidate and got into an argument with someone with whom I didn’t agree at all about a key issue. I’m not normally a confrontational person, but every time she tried to talk, I cut her off, and it kept escalating. I embarrassed her, and I embarrassed myself. I knew afterward that the way I handled it was over the top. It was so not me.”

That incident led to Stern’s post on Facebook.

“I post a lot,” she says, “so it seemed the most appropriate way to handle my feelings afterward.”

Eileen Stern is not someone you would expect to stop standing up for what she believes in. And the truth is, she hasn’t. Her Facebook post led to so many responses—mostly supportive and encouraging her not to step back—that she was astonished.

“I always try to be respectful,” she says. “I try to post facts and not make it personal. I don’t want to offend anyone.”

Stern’s heartfelt post is both cautionary and encouraging. “I am finding myself at odds with others, many of whom I never was at odds with before,” she posted. “I cannot allow myseIf to binge on it, lest it make me intolerant. I will try not to engage others in debate on what we do not agree with. I will fight for what I believe in, but in my heart I am a peacemaker … I am going to weigh and measure my political input just as we all strive to weigh and measure our lives.”

We need more people like Eileen Stern, who care passionately about issues and are willing to take an active role in the community, who constantly self-monitor to stay positive, listen to others’ points of view, stand up for what they believe and make a difference. Lucky for us, in spite of her Facebook post, Eileen Stern hasn’t given up.

On the radio, I’ve developed the philosophy that if I can at least convince others that there is a civil way to respond to those spouting off, and respect differences of opinion—to disagree without being disagreeable—then I’ve done my job.

Of course, for me, there’s always the “dump” button.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

My mother always used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.”

I don’t remember being bullied when I was in school. I do remember there were cliques, and it was pretty clear who belonged to which group, and how the groups were ranked socially. There were the popular girls who were most likely to date the jocks. The artsy kids hung out with other actors, musicians and writers. We had the natural politicians who led the clubs, ran the social events and held school office. We had outlaws who smoked and drank and cut classes and wore leather jackets or long, dangling earrings.

There were some students who were overweight or too smart or socially inept. They got called derogatory names. There were girls who were tagged as “easy” (although some of my friends who were outwardly prissy got pregnant before those they disparaged). And of course, there were always some who got chosen last for the team.

I was mousy, mouthy and smart. My authoritarian father kept me from going to parties, so I hung with a crowd that was in the middle of the pack. However, there were times when I felt like a total outsider—insecure and undesirable.

It was a simpler time. Things have changed. There are still social castes and group identification—but technology has allowed name-calling to be taken to new levels, and girls are specifically targeting others, using media as their weapon. Today, it’s not just about something said in a snippy tone behind someone’s back; it’s about being instantly able to characterize someone negatively to the whole world, and putting someone on the defensive without any justification.

We’ve heard the stories of “mean girls” taking on and then discarding friendships and alliances based on the whims of any moment. We’ve read about the young people who feel compelled to end their lives because of the shame and stigmatization they suffer at the hands of others. Yet how many of us have talked to young people personally who are willing to tell us about their own experiences and the impact bullying behavior has had?

This brings me to a recent local production of The Secret Life of Girls, a play by Linda Daugherty which was performed locally for students and the public by Coachella Valley Repertory.

CV Rep is a theater company whose founding artistic director, Ron Celona, is a 17-year resident of Rancho Mirage. The company does at least one program each year aimed directly at young audiences. Why this play?

“People don’t realize the impact of bullying on young people,” Celona explains. “CV Rep focuses on presenting work that provokes rather than just entertaining. There are programs in schools, but they’re not being done through theater, which can involve the audience in a more emotional and purposeful way.”

The Secret Life of Girls, written in 2007, is based on interviews with girls, both bullied and bullies, about the damage of “cyberbullying.” The author has encouraged those performing the play to update the technology—from instant messaging and email, used when it was written, to the now-ubiquitous texting, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat.

The play opens with Abby (played by Cecilia Orosco, a Palm Springs High School senior) saying to the audience, "I'm going to tell you a secret—and I don't want you to tell. The secret is about me—about my life—how it will never be the same again."

Director Nicole Dominguez, a Los Angeles resident, does a youth-oriented production somewhere every year. “Ron wanted a female to direct, and I’ve learned you can’t get young people to share their experiences and feelings unless you go first.”

Had she ever been bullied? “I had red hair, freckles and a mouth full of braces. I was like a walking target. It’s important to me that the kids take something with them that gives them some confidence, and I believe if you treat young people as if they were grown-ups, they tend to rise to the occasion.”

Dominguez also believes in the importance of involving students directly in theater productions. “Young people are the future of theater. Even if they don’t pursue it as a career, it teaches them the confidence to speak in public, and it’s about learning how to be a human working in a group environment to produce something of value.”

One of the eye-opening realizations in the play is the constantly shifting alliances among the girls, along with the pettiness and bullying that accompanies those shifts. I came to realize that some who are bullies may end up being bullied when alliances change, and that adults are often completely unaware of what’s going on.

Maybe cyberbullying happens because of the availability of social media as a way to compete for attention and notoriety, or maybe it’s about girls jockeying for social position. (Boys have bullying issues of their own, particularly involving physicality or sexuality as measures of power and success.)

For Celona, presenting this play is consistent with CV Rep’s mission of presenting challenging subjects via local theater. “We want to give audiences information and provoke discussing topics with others afterward.”

We did just that after the performance I attended. All of the young actors gathered onstage to answer questions posed by the audience. It was clear that some audience members were unaware of the depth of the problem, and many wanted to know what they could do that would make a difference.

What has been the impact of presenting a play on this difficult subject to young audiences? Celona recalled one performance to a particularly unruly group. They were noisy during the performance, and surly or deriding in challenging the actors during the discussion afterward. Katie Nolan, a senior at Rancho Mirage High School (who played the character of Chandler), finally had enough. She looked straight at the rowdy audience and said, “You’re bullying us right now!” There was silence, followed by productive discussion.

That’s the message of the play writ large. Speak up. Have confidence in yourself. As director Dominguez says, “You send something out there, and it’s there forever. Life should be about improving each other if we can.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors