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Born in the Coachella Valley toward the end of the Generation X demographic, Tizoc DeAztlan, at 37, is the embodiment of all of the best Gen X stereotypes: individualistic, entrepreneurial, tech savvy, goal oriented—and wanting to make a difference.

DeAztlan is a Coachella Valley native, born to Roberto, a lawyer, and Amalia, a social activist and feminist (and someone I’ve known for more than 25 years). He has two older sisters.

“Yes,” he acknowledges, “I was the baby in the family.”

DeAztlan says he was born into politics. “My mom instilled in me the need to see justice, and to not just settle for conditions in the community as they are, or for less than is fair.”

A graduate of La Quinta High School in its first graduating class, DeAztlan went on to graduate from Fordham University with a degree in communication. He lives in La Quinta with his wife, Briana, whom he met when they were both in high school.

DeAztlan has been actively involved in the world of politics, working on the campaigns of locals like Congressman Raul Ruiz, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez and former Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez. He remembers campaigning with his mom back when he was in the fifth-grade, and his dad driving him around before school to put door hangers on people’s homes.

“I’m involved in party campaign politics and in nonpartisan community organizing,” he said. “I see politics in everything. It’s up to each individual how much to engage. It doesn’t matter your position; there are so many ways to be who you are and play a role.”

DeAztlan’s first job, at the age of 19, was doing field research for the RAND Corporation in Los Angeles County, interviewing people about their lives, access to health care and other personal and community issues.

“It was the first time I saw issues on both a micro and macro level, and saw how research can affect people’s real lives,” he says.

DeAztlan’s latest venture—in coordination with Hugh Van Horn, former president of the Coachella Valley Young Republicans—is Perspectives, a nonpartisan discussion group that held its first meeting in Indio in June.

“Hugh and I are friends who always have discussions about lots of issues,” says DeAztlan. “It’s so easy to fall into ‘talking points’ that often miss the point. We realized people may have more in common with their neighbors than they realize, and wanted to provide a place for people to discuss and share information in a hopeful, compassionate and responsible manner with mutual respect.”

The first Perspectives meeting drew 30-40 people and a lively discussion. A few designated people shared their ideas or feelings on the topic, and then others volunteered to participate; this was followed by small group discussions involving everyone present.

“We want to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their own perspective,” says DeAztlan. “It’s important that if someone has something they want to say, they have a place to share it.”

DeAztlan hopes to tackle issues like income inequality, race, guns and the role of government.

“I think we have a responsibility to listen and learn others’ perspectives,” he says. “Groups like this happen more in urban areas, but here, we are so segregated by walls and geography. I’m confident people want an arena for discussion without restrictions. We want the questions to be open and give people the ability to learn more that will enable them to back up their opinions. It’s very sobering the effect that being around your peers in the community can have. It goes way beyond talking points. It’s worth much more than just reading about something or hearing it on television. You can’t eliminate the politics around lots of issues, but we want to eliminate ‘labels,’ and we want people to interpret for themselves.

”We’re often told to think a certain way about some issue, but our own lives can make us realize something completely different. You know, just because someone’s a Republican doesn’t mean they’re not a compassionate person. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can’t be prejudiced against others. We all need to listen and learn from each other.”

No date has been set for the next Perspectives gathering, but they plan to announce a date and topic soon. Meanwhile, Tizoc and Briana have started an event production business that allows them to be involved in major events.

While Tizoc and Briana decided to return to the Coachella Valley after college, many young people do not, and yet others who do return have difficulty building their lives locally. Tizoc hopes to see a Coachella Valley future that includes more access to small-business loans, expansion of local education (like the four-year program now at Cal State’s campus in Palm Desert), more local development of technology, and access to jobs.

“Young people need to feel empowered that whatever their skill set is, there’s a local market for it,” says DeAztlan.

Tizoc DeAztlan is an excellent example of a generation that has felt the obligation to do something—and which is inheriting the power to get things done.

“Some choose to ignore, others feel the obligation to do something,” DeAztlan says. “I believe you have to want more than what is right in front of you.”

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

Let me bring you into the world of Sharon Katz, a South African by birth, a music therapist by profession—and, in the words of musician Pete Seeger, “one of the people who is saving the world.”

She was born in Port Elizabeth (now called Nelson Mandela Bay) under apartheid—the rigid racial/social ideology system that required citizens to live by race designations (black, colored/mixed race, Indian, white) in segregated areas of the country, with restrictions about who could go where and when.

“We lived in a conspiracy of silence,” she says. “South Africa was a prison for everybody.”

As a young woman traveling with her family, Katz saw how others barely survived in their segregated communities, and she became obsessed with finding a way to support change. “How can this be my country?” she asked herself. “Seeing all of that changed me forever.”

In her teens, she would sneak out to the “blacks only” townships by hiding under blankets in the back seat of a friend’s car in order to get past identification checkpoints.

After getting her education as a music therapist, Katz began her mission to bridge the country’s artificially imposed racial barriers through music. After Nelson Mandela was released from prison, but before the promised national elections were held, Katz came up with a revolutionary idea: She would form an integrated children’s choir to bring together young people from across South Africa, to show that they were all the same when their voices were blended.

“I saw music as a way to transform the system,” says Katz. She traveled throughout the country teaching the same songs and dance routines to students in their individual segregated schools.

In 1992, Katz brought 500 children to Durban, where, for the first time, they were grouped by voice, regardless of race, and practiced together for their first concert. One of the student participants said, “Being in the group made me believe I could do anything with my life.”

Expecting a small audience response, Katz was overwhelmed when the hall was overflowing—and those attending somehow overcame traditions about integrating as an audience.

“There were so many people,” says Katz, “that they not only sat together, but people actually had to sit on other people’s laps. It was truly something to see.”

Enter Marilyn Cohen, executive producer of When Voices Meet, the film that documents Katz’s work. Cohen helped raise money to procure a train that became known as the Peace Train, which toured throughout South Africa in 1993 with the children’s choir, dancers and musicians. The government and protesters did not make it easy, but these remarkable women prevailed.

“It was music that brought the disparate groups together,” says Katz, “and the harmony of their voices became emblematic of the New South Africa.”

At each stop along the route, they performed their concert and encouraged people of all races, cultures, ages and political affiliations to put down their guns and hostilities, and to prepare for the country’s transition to a peaceful democracy. Mandela was elected president several months later.

Actress and filmmaker Shari Belafonte is on the advisory board of Palm Springs Women in Film and Television (PSWIFT). She saw the documentary at a film festival in Washington, D.C., and was so impressed—not just by the film, but by its subject matter and its “star”—that she encouraged PSWIFT to find a way to bring the film to Palm Springs.

I attended the PSWIFT-sponsored screening in the evening, shortly after 120 students from Palm Springs High School had seen it. The film, first released in 2015, is powerful and uplifting, and has won awards throughout the world. Its staff, crew and supporters represent an integrated coalition of cultures.

The local audience was spellbound, with many in tears. Both Katz and Cohen attended. Afterward, Katz brought her guitar on stage, answered questions and led us all in song.

Cohen spoke about their upcoming project, “The Peace Train 2016 Tour Across America: Diverse Voices Singing in Harmony,” which will begin on July 4 in Ferguson, Mo., where local youth, arts educators and police are working together to coordinate the kickoff events. It will then make its way to St. Louis, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and end with performances in Washington, D.C., on July 17 at the Washington Monument, and July 18 at the South African Embassy.

“We received impassioned calls from throughout the U.S.,” says Cohen. “The film has inspired people to re-examine the issues currently dividing Americans and to do something constructive about improving human relations and social justice.”

Many of the Palm Springs High School students hope to get on the train, and opportunities exist for chaperones and parents to accompany them. Katz and Cohen are traveling around the U.S. to show the film and garner support for the project. The cost per person is $1,800, which includes choral training before the tour, train fare, meals, hotels and performances. Tax-deductible support can be offered through the project’s website, www.GetOnThePeaceTrain.org. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for some of our local students if corporate sponsors came forward to help?

Cohen is reverent in describing Katz: “There are angels who walk among us. There are those who choose the selfless path for the good of those less fortunate, especially children, and who dedicate their time on this earth to doing that work.”

Katz is most eloquent when speaking about her fellow South Africans.

“It’s an incredible spirit, a spirit of optimism and love and openness to something new,” she said. “If we could infuse the whole world with the spirit of the South African people, we would be living in a wonderful place now.”

Every once in a while, I meet someone who revives my faith in the idealistic notion that one person can make a difference that changes the world. I now humbly add two names to that short list: Sharon Katz and Marilyn Cohen.

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

We live in a time when the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination is being targeted by his own party (via the Republican Principles PAC) with a depressingly accurate TV advertisement that quotes the various derogatory expressions Donald Trump has used over the years to describe women.

It’s also a time when a Lane Bryant ad featuring “plus size” woman resulted in a backlash—including two major networks, ABC and NBC, refusing to run it.

This means it’s time to address an age-old issue: the objectification of women, and its resulting impact on women in particular, and society in general.

Sure, there are lots of examples of how badly some nations around the world treat half of the population—horrors like genital mutilation/female circumcision; burning women alive who are suspected of violating cultural norms like having extra-marital sex (including having been raped); the sex trafficking of young girls; and practices like arranged marriages of minor females, a lack of access to birth control, culturally accepted “domestic” violence, not allowing women to start businesses or work outside of their homes, a lack of education for girls, etc. etc. etc. While practices such as these make us wring our hands with a sense of outrage and frustration at not knowing how to begin to fix it all, we tend to overlook the objectification of women right here at home—and its impact as a violation of American principles of equality and dignity.

Issues like a lack of equal pay for equal work, and women being denied positions of power in major industries, are all too often met with sound-bites about women taking time off to have children (in an industrialized nation that still offers no mandated paid leave), or choosing careers that are about taking care of others rather than pursuing big money. We also often here how much progress has already been made, with claims that we can’t change too fast, or that women are surpassing men in getting higher education, so we’ll see much more of a payoff in the future.

I, for one, am tired of waiting. Women are still fighting sexism, objectification based on appearance and sexuality, and disparate standards for judging performance. (“She’s too pushy/loud/strident,” some say about Hillary Clinton, while when a male politician acts similarly, they say: “He’s a strong leader.”) I was someone who raised these issues more than 40 years ago, and it’s disheartening to see young women—assuming that equality would await them out in the “real world”—realizing that, in fact, little has really changed.

Let’s start with the networks turning down the ad from Lane Bryant, a women’s clothing retailer specifically catering to “plus size” women. The ad features a range of women of various sizes celebrating the female form. Each shares what makes her proud about her body, with tag lines like: “This body was made for being bold and powerful”; “This body proves them wrong”; “This body is made for life”; and a new mother saying, “This body was made for love,” while breastfeeding her infant.

NBC claimed the ad violated a “broadcast indecency guideline” standard. The Federal Communications Commission says indecency is “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium (my emphasis), sexual or excretory organs or activities.” According to TMZ, a 2010 ad from Lane Bryant was also turned down by ABC and Fox.

By comparison, networks have no problem with showing promos for the Victoria’s Secret annual “fashion show,” or beer ads featuring scantily clad women. We see women’s bodies used to sell everything from cars to tools to food. We have dolls in leather miniskirts with feather boas and thigh-high boots marketed specifically to girls, and thong panties for little girls with slogans like “eye candy.” We see Victoria’s Secret models dressed like angels strutting down the runway on primetime TV.

But we seldom see women’s bodies as they really are. According to WebMD, the average American woman today wears a size 14 and weighs between 140 and 150 pounds. By comparison, over the past 20 years, fashion model sizes have dropped from size 8 to size 0.

A new campaign, Stand Up, is specifically focusing on the way girls are constantly encouraged to be body-conscious, resort to elective plastic surgery, and flaunt themselves as if equality includes risking being labeled a slut. (Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.) The campaign launched an online petition that garnered thousands of signatures from people all over the world, and features men also “standing up” for the women in their lives—mothers, sisters, daughters, friends.

In part, the petition says: “Every day women are bombarded with advertisements aimed at making them feel insecure about their bodies, in the hope that they will spend money on products that will supposedly make them happier and more beautiful. All this does is perpetuate low self-esteem among women who are made to feel that their bodies are inadequate and unattractive because they do not fit into a narrow standard of beauty. It contributes to a culture that encourages serious health problems such as negative body image and eating disorders.”

Victoria’s Secret, which took heat for their “The Perfect Body” ad featuring typically skinny models, responded to the backlash by changing their tag line to “A Body for Everybody”—but they didn’t change the visual image.

The American Psychological Association released a report in 2007 addressing the “sexualization of girls in the media,” and the result was that women and girls are not seen as fully functioning individuals, but rather judged primarily as sexual objects. This has an impact on boys and how they see girls, and on men and how they view women in society. The APA report says, “The findings proved girls are portrayed in a sexual manner … that implies sexual readiness. … With these sexist, stereotypical models of femininity constantly being perpetuated in the media, the negative implications affecting the mental, emotional and physical wellness of girls are many.”

According to the APA, “Sexualization of women and girls can also have a negative impact on boys and men.” Objectifying girls and women, and even sex itself, has become integral to definitions of masculinity, and “these beliefs may jeopardize men’s ability to form and maintain intimate relationships with women.” This applies also to how men see women in the professional world.

A joke currently making the rounds is that Caitlin Jenner is the only person clamoring to be woman over the age of 50—a clear reference to the fact that women “of a certain age” are no longer considered desirable. Ray Moore, head of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament held in Indian Wells, publicly apologized and then resigned after saying the women of professional tennis are “very, very lucky” they “don’t make any decisions,” and should thank men for their success, despite all their years of hard work and outstanding athleticism. He describes these powerful women as “physically attractive and competitively attractive”—implying their looks are an integral element in their success on the court.

Which brings me to Donald Trump’s descriptions of women as quoted by the Republican Principles PAC ad. Trump’s actual quotes include his disparaging characterization of GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina (“Who would vote for that face?”); comments about Rosie O’Donnell (“a fat pig” and “a dog”); his ongoing animosity toward Fox broadcaster Megyn Kelly (“blood coming out of her … wherever” and “a bimbo”), and general comments like: “For a person who is flat-chested, it’s hard to be a 10”; “It doesn’t matter what they write (about you) as long as you’ve got a beautiful piece of ass”; and my personal favorite, said to a contestant on The Apprentice, “That must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees.”

Trump’s response to CNN when asked about all this? “Some of my words are just show business … Nobody respects women more than I do.”

Yeah, and some of my best friends are (fill in the blank). This man could very well become president—proving that women will continue to be objectified until we all, women and men, speak out and stand up.

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

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

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

I remember my friend Jean every time I hear about the suicide death of a young person.

Jean found her 17-year-old son, shot dead by his own hand, in their living room. Although I have known others who lost a child (a reality I can thankfully only imagine), it’s Jean who stands out. The impact on her family was devastating.

That was the first suicide involving somebody close to me; sad to say, I’ve had others in my life. It was also the first time I heard the adage: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries in ERs across the country. HealthyChildren.org says that suicide is one of the three leading causes of death for 13-to-19-year-olds in the United States, with an average of four deaths every day.

Not surprisingly, suicide attempts with a firearm are usually deadly, while people who use drugs or other methods have a greater chance for survival. About 45 percent of young people use firearms to attempt suicide, and boys are more at risk to die: 81 percent of deaths are males—because they are more likely to use firearms.

“Even in the best of circumstances, when you’re in adolescence, you feel different,” says Palm Desert resident Carol Bayer, a licensed marriage and family therapist who counsels many teenagers. “Depression and despair can come from betrayal or rejection by a best friend, the end of a love affair, family conflicts, or just feeling isolated, alone, and without family support or coping skills. Even if they want to reach out, they assume others will say they’re just being ‘dramatic’ and tell them to get over it. But they don’t believe they have options other than ending the pain.”

A recent effort, specifically targeted toward LGBT teenagers, is the” It Gets Better” campaign, which uses videos—featuring people ranging from normal, everyday folks to high-profile stars—to reach out to bullied young people.

“Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are,” says the website. Organizers ask people to join their campaign and to pledge: “I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens by letting them know that it gets better.”

Meanwhile, Caitlyn Jenner is shining light on transgender suicide in her new reality TV program.

But it’s not enough to just tell kids it gets better. An analysis by Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center indicates that for every age group across the country, “states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide. … The vast majority of adolescent suicide guns come from parents or other family members.”

A 2012 study by the Children's Defense Fund indicates the gun death rate for children and teens is four times greater in the United States than in Canada (the country with the next-highest rate), and 65 times greater than in Germany and Britain. Even more disturbing, public health researchers found that 43 percent of homes with guns and children have at least one unlocked firearm.

The Children’s Defense Fund also reports that in 2008-2009, an estimated U.S. 127 children died from gunshots in their homes, and dozens more died in the homes of friends, neighbors and relatives. More than half pulled the trigger themselves or were shot by another child. At least 52 deaths involved a child handling a gun left unsecured; 60 children died at the hands of their own parents, with 50 of them in homicides. The average age of the victims was 6 years old.

Research by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that when doctors consult with patients about the risk of keeping firearms in a home, it leads to significantly higher rates of handgun removal or safer storage. Yet the National Rifle Association has fought against such policies, backing the "Docs vs. Glocks" law passed in Florida in 2011, which prohibited doctors, even pediatricians, from asking patients about firearms in the home.

When a 2-year-old gets access to his dad’s loaded gun and shoots himself, or a 13-year-old gets hold of an unsecured rifle and blasts a 9-year-old in the face, or a 2-year-old is shot in the head before her father turns the gun on himself, or two young children shoot others and then kill themselves—when we have apparently become inured to the death of children at school, or we take as the new normal random killings in movie theaters, have we at last lost our ability to be outraged and insist that public policy respond to limit these horrendous events?

Even as violent crime rates overall have declined steadily in recent years, rates of gun injury and death are climbing. In an editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine, a team of doctors wrote: "It does not matter whether we believe that guns kill people or that people kill people with guns—the result is the same: a public health crisis.”

Meanwhile, Congress, under the aggressive and well-funded lobbying influence of the NRA, refuses to allow funding for federal medical research to study firearm deaths and injuries as the public health issues they clearly are. According to Mother Jones, “Political forces effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control and other scientific agencies from funding research on gun-related injury and death. The ban worked: (There have been) no relevant studies published since 2005.”

There are two types of gun-related public health costs. First, there are direct costs, exceeding $8.6 billion, with the largest portion being long-term prison costs; about 87 percent of these costs fall on taxpayers. Second, there are indirect costs, adding up to at least $221 billion, including lost income, losses to employers, and losses based on court costs and awards to victims and their families. One would think that based on cost alone, Congress would be willing to act. Of course, that’s not the case.

As overwhelming as all these statistics may be, and as helpless as we may feel to impact public policy, there are ways to get involved and make a difference:

  • Moms Demand Action has a local chapter and needs volunteers who are willing to spread the message that we must act to protect kids from accidental or deliberate use of guns. Palm Desert’s Dori Smith (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), the local representative, reminds us: “It’s easier to lock up a gun than it is to grieve a dead child.”
  • California law requires that guns in homes with children be kept locked away, preferably with trigger guards, with ammunition stored separately.
  • Never assume that children don’t know where guns are, or that they are unable to access them—they do, and they will. Grandparents, this means you, too.
  • Ask parents of your children’s friends about the status of firearms in their homes before your child spends time there. Better safe than sorry.
  • If your teen becomes depressed, and you have any concern about access to firearms, get guns out of your house for the time being.
  • Take seriously any thoughts of or mention of suicide, and immediately seek professional help. Go to the emergency room if no other option exists.
  • The local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sponsors an annual Out of the Darkness Walk, a chance to be with others who can share their experiences and coping skills. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
  • Tell your elected representatives that you want medical professionals to be allowed to study and then implement firearm-related public health policies.

Most survivors of a suicide attempt are glad they were saved. Unfortunately, those who make that attempt with a firearm are usually successful. I can never erase from my mind the agony of my friend Jean when she found her son’s body. No parent should ever have to face that.

We must never accept this as the new normal. These are our children.

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