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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I take elections seriously. I read the election booklet, prefer to go into the polling booth on Election Day, and have not yet gotten so cynical that I think it doesn’t matter.

I’ve voted in every election since I was able to register to vote at 21. (The legal age, thankfully, is now 18.) I think of the right to vote as something sacred.

The one time I ran for office, I knew going in that I had no chance of winning, yet I still remember the feeling on election night of seeing the number of voters who trusted me to represent them. I was overwhelmed.

I’ve written before about my frustration with the open primary process here in California, which has led to the State Senate’s District 28 seat—representing everyone from west of Temecula through almost all of the Coachella Valley, and going all the way to Blythe at the Arizona border—having only two Republican candidates on the ballot. Recent statistics indicate that about 33 percent of registered voters in the district are Democrats; 42 percent are Republican; and almost 20 percent indicate no party preference. Suffice it to say, the 58 percent of registered voters who are Democrats, members of other parties or independents may decide they have nobody for whom to vote. The two Republicans who were the top vote-getters on the primary ballot are the only choices—we can’t even write in anyone else.

To figure out who I could support on Nov. 4, I attended one of the debates between the two Republican candidates: former Assemblymember Bonnie Garcia, and Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone. The debate was moderated by the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. I already knew that I did not agree with either candidate on many issues, but I wanted to get a sense of who they are as individuals and politicians.

Political candidate debates can be substantial and informative, or they can be petty and nasty. This one, for me, was illuminating: It came down to character.

Garcia gave her opening statement first, and she was impressive. She came across as capable and highly articulate. Her basic message was that her goal is to build a better California. Stone’s opening statement came across as: “I’m a good guy. Really, I’m a good guy.” His overriding message was that California is in trouble. Frankly, I prefer hopeful messages.

Throughout the debate, Garcia referred to her opponent as “Mr. Stone.” Stone varied in his referrals to Garcia, usually calling her “Bonnie,” and sometimes “Miss Garcia” or “Mrs. Garcia.” In 2014, for him, women are still apparently defined by their marital status. Seriously?

Neither is afraid of confrontation or defending against attacks—and each gave as good as they got. However, one distinguishing difference was that Garcia answered most questions by focusing on the issue in question, while Stone rarely missed an opportunity to throw into each answer some snide or insinuating criticism of Garcia. His use of props was impressive, particularly his own short page of major donors, compared with the ve-e-e-ery long page of her donors that he unrolled onstage, to appropriate laughter from the audience.

When asked about how, in a predominantly Democratic legislature, each would get things done across party lines, Garcia talked about her experience doing just that when she last served in Sacramento, while Stone said that since he had been elected primarily in nonpartisan offices, like county supervisor, we should therefore assume he was able to work across party lines. That logic struck me as a bit twisted.

In her closing statement, Garcia stuck to her vision of what is possible for California, and what she wants to accomplish if elected. Stone, on the other hand, did not miss the chance to hit at Garcia yet again.

After the debate was over, I introduced myself to each, and then asked Stone if he would mind some unsolicited campaign advice. Somewhat nonplussed, he said, “Sure.” I said, “You should stop referring to your opponent as ‘Bonnie’ or ‘Miss Garcia.’ It’s disrespectful.”

Some might think I am leaning toward a vote for Garcia as perhaps the least-objectionable candidate. A Democratic friend recently gave me another, albeit political, spin on the race. “You realize,” he said, “that if we support Stone, and he is elected, we will lose him from another two years sitting on the Board of Supervisors to the abyss that is Republican influence in Sacramento. If Garcia loses this election, she will probably never run again—two birds with one vote.”

I still believe in the sanctity of my vote. I’m not yet sure how I will cast that vote in the State Senate District 28 race, but I believe any system that denies a proper choice to more than 50 percent of the voters in a district is wrong-headed. No matter how you sort it all out, just remember to vote. It matters!

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m having a problem with some of our neighbors. Unfortunately, it’s just that—my problem.

Social Rule System Theory, a field of sociological study, analyzes how human social activity is organized and regulated. These often informal rules include language, customs and codes of conduct. The theory holds that the “making, interpretation and implementation of social rules are universal in human society.” It’s how we learn to live with other people.

Many social rules are culturally influenced. This helps explain why people from densely populated areas, like Southeast Asia or New York, tend to push to the front of any line rather than neatly lining up to wait their turn. Where they come from, if you wait, your turn will never come.

A New Yorker friend, Peter, recalled his experience in London, where people were confusedly dithering about while lining up to get on a bus. He purposefully strode to the front of the throng, got on the bus and, when he heard grumbling behind him, turned around and proclaimed, “I’m an American.” Somehow, that seemed to settle the matter—the “ugly American” concept of “loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior” is, unfortunately, well-known and accepted throughout Europe.

One of my pet peeves is people who talk in movies. There are unwritten rules about how to shush someone. It starts with the quick turn-around to locate who is talking, which should alert them we overheard them. Next is the longer turn-around, with a glare and a quick but audible “Shh!” When that doesn’t work, some turn and hiss, “Be quiet!” Others just give up and suffer through to the end.

The worst incident I’ve ever experienced came in a Palm Desert theater, when I shushed a woman sitting two seats over, who was talking in a normal tone after the movie had already begun. I followed the “rules” about shushing, including finally hissing, “Please stop talking.” I couldn’t believe it when her husband, sitting beyond her in the row, leaned across her, got into my face with a coiled fist, and said through bared teeth, “If you shush my wife again, I’m going to put my fist down your throat!”

“Well,” I loudly whispered back, with uncharacteristic nerve, “tell her to be quiet!” Needless to say, when the movie was over, I stayed in my seat for quite a while to make sure they were well gone before I left.

Why do people feel the need to share out loud every detail of what they’re watching? It’s particularly galling when, for example, at a vocal performance, people talk while the singer is singing, rather than waiting to comment during the applause that would cover their comments.

I’ve noticed that many of our neighbors don’t seem to realize that movie theaters are not their living rooms. People don’t seem to understand that the director of the movie fashioned the opening to set the mood for what will follow.

I’m really not interested that you know which prior movie that actor was in, or how much older that actress looks. As for comments like, “Why did he do that?”—we’re all there to discover that together, so please just wait and see along with the rest of us. Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?

Here’s my short list of other social rules:

  • At public performances, don’t talk while the performer is performing.
  • Hold the door for someone coming in right behind you.
  • Teach your children the difference between “inside voice” and “outside voice,” and that it’s not OK to disturb other diners in a restaurant.
  • Don’t take cuts in line.
  • Say, “Excuse me,” when you pass in front of someone or step on their toes.
  • Move your shopping cart to the side so others can get past you while you try to find something on the shelves.
  • Let someone with only one item go ahead of you when you have a cartful.
  • Return incorrect change.
  • Let at least one vehicle into the lane ahead of you when the driver is obviously waiting for a break in traffic.
  • Don’t leave clothes on the dressing room floor—rehang them.

Many years ago, I took “est” training. One of the mantras we learned was, “What you resist persists.” In other words, we get repeated chances to learn to incorporate into our reality things which we cannot control or change. I presume that’s why the talkers always sit near me. As long as it’s an “issue” for me, I get to keep having opportunities to learn to handle it!

My most instructive incident happened when I went to a summertime movie in Palm Springs. I was sitting with my friend at the left side of a row in a nearly empty theater. At the right end of the row behind us was an older woman with her husband. Shortly after the movie began, she started telling him everything that was happening on the screen. I tried the look, the simple “Shhh,” and then a much louder “Shhhhh!”—all to no avail. She continued her running narrative of the film through the entire performance.

When the film finally ended, I raced to the end of the row so I could confront the woman. “Ma’am, why don’t you wait for the movie to come out on tape so you can see it at home without bothering others, since your husband is obviously hard of hearing?” I said.

She smiled sweetly—and patiently—at me, and said, “Honey, my husband isn’t hard of hearing. He doesn’t see well.”

What you resist persists.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Being in love is a state of temporary insanity during which everything you find cute will eventually turn into the things that drive you crazy.

I should know: I’ve been married four times. My first three marriages don’t add up collectively to five years (a fact I’m not particularly proud of—but I am from California). I left each one knowing that I had to learn from the experience to avoid making the same mistakes again.

My fourth lasted more than 25 years, so obviously, I finally got it right.

Young people go into love with stars in their eyes. Mature people bring a more cynical eye to it all, along with lots of baggage—broken hearts, families, long-established habits, etc. I have friends who won’t live together because they don’t want to ruin anything. But compromises and adjustments are always necessary, particularly in mature relationships. Here are some things I’ve learned.

There are some things you’ll never agree about. We all grow up learning about relationships from the people we’ve watched in relationships, usually our parents. My mom and dad fought constantly, about almost everything. His need for control met head-on with her need to maintain her individuality. I grew up thinking you couldn’t really be in love unless you fought.

My third husband believed that somebody had to be the captain of the ship, and he would argue late into the night trying to change my mind about whatever issue was on the table. I finally told him, “It’s not that I’m not willing to spend the rest of our lives fighting about that, but it’s exhausting. We’re never going to agree, and I don’t think that means you’re supposed to decide for both of us.”

Not everything has to be resolved, and it’s OK to agree to disagree.

Your partner’s behavior is not your problem. People married to drinkers or other dysfunctional types are often guilty of ego involvement—believing someone else’s behavior is a reflection of them. Parents fall into this trap with their children’s successes and failures. However, behaviors belong to the person exhibiting them, and those behaviors don’t imply anything about you. You usually didn’t cause them, and you can’t fix them.

My first husband was an alcoholic who spent almost every evening drinking and getting increasingly agitated. A therapist at the time kept saying to me, “It’s not your problem.”

I didn’t get it. “What do you mean? Of course it’s my problem. I have to engage with him, or things will just get worse.”

One night, I found myself sitting on the stairs, watching my husband stalk around the living room. For some reason, it finally clicked: This is HIS problem, not mine, and for the first time, I refused to play. Amazingly, he left that night. We divorced shortly thereafter.

Not everything is about you.

When someone sees something that needs to be done, that someone gets to do it. Everyone enters a relationship with a mental picture of how it’s supposed to work, including role definition—who’s supposed to do what.

My fourth husband hated dishes in the sink; I don’t mind as long as they’re rinsed. I hate unmade beds; they didn’t bother him at all. So he did the dishes, and I made the bed. Sometimes, I took out the trash; sometimes, he did. There were no prescribed “roles”—we both did whatever needed doing.

“Husband” and “wife” (or whatever each person in a relationship calls himself or herself) aren’t job descriptions. You’re in the relationship together, and whatever it takes to make it work is the job of both of you.

You’re not applying for a job. My third husband was upset one day with both his female assistant and female accountant, and it spilled over onto me as we were having a drink before dinner. His grousing about his bad day came down to, “I should just fire all of you!”

“Excuse me,” I said, “I didn’t apply for a job. I’m your wife!”

Every mature relationship is between you—a whole person—and the whole person on the other side of the equation. You come with baggage and expectations, but measuring reality against what’s in your head means you’ll never be satisfied; your partner will never fully measure up; and you’ll miss the reality you can create together, moment by moment.

Expectations kill relationships.

Nobody can read your mind. My last husband was in show business, and whenever I went with him to an industry event, I always felt like an appendage. Nobody would talk to me; few even looked at me when they realized I couldn’t affect their careers. I was involved in politics, and my husband hated those gatherings at which I had to work the room, and he had to make small talk with people he didn’t know.

We set a ground rule: If either of us needed the other to attend an event, we went properly dressed and suitably social. If an event was one at which we would like the other to come, but it wasn’t necessary, then it was truly optional with no penalty.

One of the keys to a good relationship is not penalizing the other when they don’t act the way we expect them to, rather than telling them honestly exactly what we want and need. Nobody can read your mind.

Gift-giving is not about sandbagging your partner. Some people are really good at figuring out what a partner would like or need as a gift. Some people haven’t a clue. I broke off a relationship once because our first Christmas he gave me a Lazy Susan.

Here’s what works: All year long, whenever you see an ad in print, or a catalog comes, tear out pictures of things you really like, in varying price ranges. Indicate colors/sizes, and leave them around where your partner can’t help but see them. (Pasting to the bathroom mirror works well.) Warn partners well in advance of gift occasions: “My birthday is next Tuesday, and you know that’s important to me.”

When the occasion comes around, you’re assured you’ll get something you want, and you’ll be surprised, because you won’t know which thing you’re getting. Make it easy for your partner to make you happy.

Relationships aren’t easy. When you’re emotionally invested and make yourself vulnerable, you can get hurt. It helps to set some ground rules—and then experience the unfolding reality together.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

We’ve seen lots of reminders of 1964 this year—partly because it was 50 years ago, a nice milestone, and partly because we are facing issues today that eerily echo the issues of that year.

Maybe history does always repeat itself. Maybe we just keep making the same mistakes.

I recently watched a documentary about 1964’s Freedom Summer project, when college students volunteered to register black voters in Mississippi, an effort that got three young volunteers—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner—killed. That summer’s activity broke the back of Jim Crow laws in the South, but only after 35 shooting incidents, six activists murdered, 80 beatings, and 65 houses and churches burned.

It was also the year Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, originally proposed by President Kennedy and signed by President Johnson. It abolished racial segregation in education, workplaces and public accommodations, and outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The following year, Johnson signed the companion Voting Rights Act, sections of which were last year judged as unconstitutional by a conservative majority on our current Supreme Court. Hey, 50 years later, with a black president, voting issues based on discrimination no longer need oversight from the federal government. Hadn’t you heard that we’re now “post-racial”?

That momentous year, 1964, was the year Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in South Africa for “sabotage and subversion.” He was not released until 1990, and then went on to become head of his country and a renowned world leader—amazingly calling for reconciliation despite all that had happened during Apartheid. Even now, we see countries where there is no orderly turnover of power and where those who disagree are said to be inciting violence and silenced, jailed or worse. Will a new movement toward peace and reconciliation in the Middle East or Africa, led by someone we cannot now recognize, result? One can at least hope.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution was passed by Congress in 1964. It gave President Johnson the power to take “take whatever actions he deems necessary” to defend Southeast Asia, on the premise that a “domino theory” meant if Vietnam fell to Communism. then all of Southeast Asia would fall as well. Similar authority was granted to President George W. Bush regarding Iraq, based on the threat of “weapons of mass destruction” and the instability that could be caused among other nations in the Middle East. That resulted in the second-longest war in our history. The only longer war was in Bush’s post-Sept. 11 response in Afghanistan, from which we are still extracting ourselves.

The War on Poverty was declared in 1964, in the words of President Johnson, “because it is right, because it is wise, and because for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty.” That war has now surpassed all wars we have waged and is still not “won.”

That pivotal year also saw the beginning of the Student Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley, which led to the May 2nd Movement, when more than 1,000 student demonstrators gathered in New York, along with others in San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and other cities, to protest the Vietnam War, ultimately contributing to the end of Johnson’s presidency. Fifty years later, the role of students was instrumental in the election and re-election of President Obama, and, not unlike with the protesters of the 1960s, questions persist as to whether young people will stay involved when they face the reality of the difficulty involved in changing national policy.

In September 1964, the Warren Commission released its report indicating the belief that President Kennedy was killed by a sole assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, a judgment that many still don’t find credible. Compare that with our current investigations into the killing of four Americans in Benghazi, where even with military testimony that no “stand down” order was ever given, the issue is being used as a political football.

It was in 1964 when the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed, declaring Israel an illegal state, the ramifications of which are being acted out to this day.

There were other events to remember about 1964 as well. The Mustang was introduced by Ford. The first Pink Panther cartoon short debuted, winning that year’s Academy Award for Short Film. Kitty Genovese, 28, was stabbed to death on the streets of New York without any of the 38 people who heard her screams even calling the police. 

At the 1964 Republican convention, moderate Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was booed when he denounced “extremism,” and Sen. Barry Goldwater won his party’s nomination for president on the first ballot in what was called a “revolution from the right.” Wasn’t that just last week?

In 1964, the Vatican condemned the use of the contraceptive pill for females.

As for me, 1964 was the year I got divorced and needed to support 2-year old twins on my own, although I yearned to get on one of those buses to Mississippi. I wanted to participate in the attempt to erase the vestiges of racism, and influence American society to fulfill its promise for everyone.

Fast-forward 50 years, and I’m still motivated by that same yearning—and unfortunately, we’re still fighting some of the same battles.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Alejandra Franco is a remarkable young woman.

She’s heading into her senior year at Desert Mirage High School, but first, she is excited about her trip this summer to study at Yale University in their Global Scholars Program for high school students. 

“I kept getting emails from Yale and other colleges trying to recruit me,” she says, “but I want to study at Yale, so this was a wonderful opportunity. I didn’t expect to get picked when I applied, because there are so many other talented students out there. Then they offered me a full scholarship. I just had to find a way to pay for the plane ticket, and got help from the local migrant program. I’ll be studying politics, law and economics.”

How does a young woman living in Thermal, in a school district often portrayed as underprivileged and underperforming, find the way toward becoming the first in her family to attend college?

Again, Alejandra Franco is remarkable—smart and dedicated—and she is indicative of upcoming second-generation Hispanic Americans eager to embrace the American dream and determined to excel

“My dad doesn’t put any limits on me. He and my mom are always there for me,” she says.

In addition to her studies, Alejandra is also active in the community. She volunteered with the congressional campaign of Rep. Raul Ruiz, who also left the Coachella Valley to pursue higher education and then kept his promise to return here to practice medicine and give back to the community.

“I want to become an immigration lawyer,” she says, “so that I can help people here who need that kind of help but can’t afford it. I see the issues in the Coachella Valley. There aren’t enough lawyers to help the people here who need help. I definitely plan to return here. This is where I come from.”

Despite stereotyping as being separate from the majority population and unwilling to learn English and assimilate, second-generation Hispanic Americans—the children of first-generation immigrants—usually do quickly assimilate. Research shows that Hispanic immigrants learn English as fast as those from other countries, and in a generation or two, their mother language is nothing but a faint memory.

“What we see is the classic American story, where the second generation is doing better, in fact significantly better, than the first,” said Paul Taylor, a senior fellow at the Pew Research Center, to NBC Latino. Some 61 percent consider themselves just “typical Americans.”

In 2012, Hispanics had become the largest minority group on college campuses, making up a record 16.5 percent of all college enrollments—and that number is growing at a rapid rate each year. “Most have parents who came here without a formal education, so the jump in college completion among the second generation is significant,” Taylor also told NBC Latino.

With high school graduation among Hispanics around 80 percent, and their pursuit of college education soaring, what is making the difference? Is it a better education system? More dedicated teachers? Improved counseling? Parent involvement?

In the case of Alejandra Franco, it is all of the above.

“I’m friends with some of my teachers,” she says, “and they’ve really helped me a lot. My graduating class is very competitive, with lots of Advanced Placement students. Sometimes, people can say hurtful things. I remember one of my teachers said, ‘Just remember, (those hurtful things said) won’t matter in 10 years. What will matter is who you are as a person and what you have accomplished.’”

Alejandra hears that message at home as well. “My parents are not putting any limits on me, and I can talk to them about anything,” she says.

She sees herself as the role model for her three younger brothers and is determined to set a good example. “I tell them they have to work hard, because without an education, they won’t be able to have a stable future.”

Alejandro Franco, Alejandra’s father, is completely supportive of his daughter’s educational pursuits. “He meets with my teachers and asks what he can do to help with my studies,” she says. “And my mother, Ana, is studying English, got her GED and is planning to take college classes. My father says he knows we (his children) can have a better life, that this country is full of opportunity, and it’s up to us to take advantage of that. He regrets not having been able to do that himself. ”

While Alejandra Franco is indeed remarkable, there are many, many other second-generation American achievers coming up into what will soon be a “majority minority” country. We’re privileged to have them as our neighbors.

Alejandra’s bottom line? “I want to share my accomplishments with my community, because they helped shape me.”

Published in Know Your Neighbors

My dad couldn’t wait to retire.

He started working at 14 and had done whatever he could, without an education, to support his family. I remember when he worked three jobs a week: running a catering truck, collecting coins from vending machines, and working in a gas station on weekends.

He budgeted and saved to make sure he and my mother could have a comfortable lifestyle once he stopped working. He was proud to be able to retire—to do, in his view, “nothing.”

I can’t help but compare my dad’s notion of retirement with what I see playing out every day here in the Coachella Valley—particularly the women in second and third careers who make a difference for their neighbors.

The Democratic Women of the Desert recently presented their 2014 Women Honoring Women Awards. I was one of the recipients, given the Voice of Women’s Rights Award, partly for my Lovable Liberal radio persona, and for my many years of vocal advocacy on behalf of women’s equality. However, when I realized the accomplishments of the other women being honored, I became convinced a mistake had been made: I didn’t feel competent to be in their company.

Megan Beaman received the Civil Rights Award. An attorney advocating on behalf of those in our own East Valley who are least represented in the legal system, Beaman practiced law for years at a nonprofit legal-assistance corporation that served rural Californians, particularly farmworkers. She also challenged administrative, state and federal policies on behalf of her diverse clients.

Coming from a rural working-class family, Beaman recognized early the challenges facing workers, families and communities that are regularly excluded from the legal system. In her family, she was taught not only to recognize unfairness, but was instilled with the drive to act to rectify it.

Beaman founded Beaman Law in 2012 to expand her ability to service more clients. She also has a long history of volunteerism, working in partnership with nonprofit organizations and community leaders.

 “It is not lost on me that I am receiving this award in response to the violation of the rights of others,” she says. “Civil rights stand for the basic principle that, regardless of our differences, all of us have the same inherent rights as human beings, and all of us are responsible to ensure that nobody tries to impinge on those rights.”

Sister Carol Nolan, named Volunteer of the Year, is a member of the Sisters of Providence. She is dedicated to helping students and adults in the East Valley learn English. With a master’s degree in music, Nolan taught music and English, and spent a sabbatical year studying Spanish in Mexico. She has been director of Providence in the Desert since 2002, and was responsible for bringing “Nuns on the Bus” to the Coachella facility in 2013.

Nolan is part of Guerin Outreach Ministries as “a reflection of the interest and zeal of the Sisters of Providence in manifesting God’s loving presence in the lives of the struggles of the poor.” Her favorite quote: “Love the children first, and then teach them.”

“English is a very difficult language to learn, especially for adults whose brains are already wired for another language,” says Nolan, “but I believe love and education can change the world. Only love has the power to transform.”

Honored with the Democratic Ideals Award, Sonja Martin is a life-long educator whose “retirement” is anything but. She was a classroom teacher, principal, district administrator and superintendent of schools, and worked as a consultant with the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Martin has authored books for parents and teachers, and worked with teachers around the world to improve student achievement. She has represented our area on the Riverside County Commission for Women, advocating for inclusion of women and women’s issues at all levels of policymaking; and the Riverside County Office on Aging, emphasizing programs like Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and spreading the word about free support services available through the county. She has been active in other community-service organizations, including California’s Senior Legislature.

“After I retired from my education career,” says Martin, “I had to ask myself: ‘What do I do now?’ People need someone to be out there for them. There’s work to be done.”

Philanthropist Eileen Stern came from a working-class family, was raised in public housing, attended public schools and went to a state university. She received the Humanitarian Award from DWD.

The first woman to hold a national marketing manager position with Sears, Stern moved on to entrepreneurial marketing and public relations work. She was motivated to get involved in the fight against breast cancer after the untimely death of her mother. “I felt compelled to try to do something to help find a cure.”

Stern’s efforts resulted in the HIKE4HOPE event that has raised more than $4 million to support cancer research at City of Hope. She also helped launch the first fundraiser for the FIND Food Bank, served as president of the Desert Women’s Council, worked with the Children’s Discovery Museum, and chaired the first fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Cathedral City.

“I learned to pay it forward,” said Stern upon receiving her award. “I share this award with all of you who work to make other’s lives better.”

The final DWD award was for Lifetime Achievement, presented to Rancho Mirage resident, Elle “Elle K” Kurpiewski. A flight attendant, Elle K came from an Air Force family that focused on patriotism and service. She has spent her life “walking the talk,” including union organizing and advocating for flight attendants; running as the Democratic candidate in the local 2002 congressional race; and serving as a delegate to the 2004 Democratic convention, president of Democrats of the Desert, and executive director of the Democratic Foundation of the Desert. She was largely responsible for establishing a local Democratic Party headquarters office in Cathedral City.

“I believe in the Democratic ideals of liberty and equality for all,” said Elle K upon receiving her award. “I’m consistently reminded that one person can make a difference. I share this with all of you. … Now let’s get back to work!”

What are you doing to work on behalf of your community?

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Just before my brother’s wedding in the early 1980s, I got a death threat from my father. He said if I showed up at the wedding with my live-in significant other—in front of my grandparents—he would kill me. He may have thought he meant it.

Did I mention my guy was black?

My brother called and pleaded with me to come without Milt, to keep peace in the family—in spite of the fact that he and Milt were quite friendly, and we had often socialized as couples. “After all,” he said, “this is the only time I’m going to get married.”

I finally agreed, with Milt’s support, to attend the ceremony, but to make a statement by skipping the reception. My brother is now very happily married to his fourth wife, and I have forever been ashamed that I caved.

Another wedding just took place. My oldest granddaughter married a lovely man who is crazy in love with her. With due deference to my late mother’s admonition that “family is about happy times, not funerals,” we all flew into Portland, Ore., from around the world to gather and celebrate.

I normally cry profusely at such events, but my tears this time were reserved for that moment when I saw my son walk his daughter down the aisle: I realized he was literally handing off his first-born child. It’s a life-changing event, and I could feel both his pride and his ambivalence.

Then the preacher asked, “Who gives this woman to be married?” My son dutifully said, “Her mother and I do,” although his wife had not accompanied them down the aisle.

The fact that we are still acting as if a father “owns” his daughter and passes that “ownership” along to another man, only abandoned in public policy in recent history (for example, women can now have credit and make medical decisions on their own), made me catch my breath. This is 2014. Why aren’t both sets of parents asked to deliver their children to each other? 

Also on my mind: The highly publicized rantings of Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. We’re all aware of the sensationalized, “You can do anything but … don’t bring him to my games,” statements regarding her public appearance with Magic Johnson, among others.

Sterling was apparently upset that his girlfriend/mistress/assistant (take your pick), who describes herself as Mexican and black (“You're supposed to be a delicate White or a delicate Latina girl," he told her), was somehow disrespecting him by appearing publicly with a black man. His racism and ignorance were appropriately publicly censured. But what hasn’t really been discussed is that he apparently holds the belief that his image is based on her behavior, like an employer who tells you how to act with customers, because you are representing him or her and are expected to do nothing that would put that employer in a bad light.

Sterling’s racism is proven by his concern about appearances, just as my father was. (To be charitable, perhaps it was only my father’s perception about the racism of his parents.)

Then there’s the appropriate outrage, finally, about the girls abducted in Nigeria by some fringe group of idiots who believe that publicly educating females means the end of their world, a notion only abolished from our own public policy in the 20th century. Girls need to be married off, not educated, say the extremists in Nigeria, and somehow, they make the illogical leap that they should therefore fund their activities by selling the girls to men who will own them. Even in America, some can’t abide the notion of true gender equality.

So within the space of one week, I experienced my reaction to two weddings and racism, with the ownership of women as the unifying theme among seemingly disparate events. I suppose I could be accused of letting my feminist politics overwhelm and define things that are merely social conventions, or public displays of ignorance, or ego-involvement events, or self-defined religious extremists going against their own religious teachings.

But I’m trying to figure out how to make sense of and promote understanding of the pernicious effect of seeing others of our own species as inferior. This instinct is in all of us, perhaps inherited from a tribal “us vs. them” mentality, but leading inevitably to borders between lands, to slavery, to “the final solution,” to women as property. It pervades everything. It is held on a level often so unconscious that we can’t believe it is motivating us in any way. It permeates our religious teachings and our cultural norms.

Unless and until we can “own” this part of our nature, and do whatever is necessary to obliterate it, ownership of women—and others—will continue to be part of the reality of being human.

We could start with absolute public censure of people like Donald Sterling, regardless of position or fortune, and making it impossible for anyone with those views to do business or participate in our institutions.

We could make it the social norm that brides walk down the aisle on their own, proudly going toward their own future without anyone passing them on.

We could adjudicate that people cannot be defined or punished based on whom they love or with whom they associate.

We could recognize that each of us carries this addiction to superiority around inside of us, and the manifestations, while appearing very different, all spring from the same source.

The first step toward sobriety is acknowledging there is a problem.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I recently attended a seminar on technological literacy in K-12 classrooms, held at California State University San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus. It was conducted by one of the five 2014 California Teachers of the Year, Jessica Pack, from our own James Workman Middle School in Cathedral City, along with Derrick Lawson, principal of Colonel Mitchell Paige Middle School in La Quinta.

Soon after, I received an amazing book, Fear and Learning in America: Bad Data, Good Teachers, and the Attack on Public Education, by John Kuhn, superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District in Texas, about what he sees as an attempt to destroy public education.

Let me explain how these subjects are connected.

Jessica Pack is one of those teachers we would all remember if we had been lucky enough to be in her classroom. She teaches language arts, social studies and technology to sixth-graders. Her enthusiasm about introducing varying types of technology to her students, and her pride in the results she has seen, is genuine and joyful.

“For me,” says Pack, “anything less than a passionate approach to education isn’t enough. I am a change agent, constantly learning and changing as a professional in order to transform my classroom further, and reach my students more effectively than ever before.”

Pack’s approach to teaching is to establish a “memorable, extraordinary and safe place” for students to learn. She is involved in organizations that promote a technology-rich classroom environment, and acknowledges that in her classroom, the students are often teaching each other.

In Pack’s classroom, students are encouraged to create their own short films, using technology to demonstrate and share what they are learning. “When students use technology, they are absolutely fearless,” says Pack. “Instead of just being consumers of education, they become producers, showing their thinking and reasoning, and demonstrating mastery of subject matter.”

Samples of the short films made by Pack’s students were awe-inspiring, particularly because the students had planned, written, produced, filmed and acted in the films—and the subjects they tackled were substantive and meaningful.

Lawson, speaking in his enthusiastic, rapid-fire style, gave anecdotal evidence showing the difference the effective integration of technology can make in the classroom, particularly for students for whom routine memorization or outdated methods of teaching just don’t work. One example he gave was when eighth-grade students worked in teams to pick a current news event and relate it directly to an issue covered by the Bill of Rights. “The students get more invested in what they are learning.”

“We’re no longer in the Industrial Revolution when it comes to education,” Lawson says. “We have to match the learning tool to the student. We’re looking for evidence of learning and what we can do to enhance that learning. We have to know how to embed learning so it sticks and can be demonstrated.”

After the encouraging view of current educational methods presented at the seminar, I began to read Kuhn’s book. I’ve often talked about what I see as an assault on public education in the “reform” movements of recent years—privatization, charter schools, “choice,” reduced funding, endless testing, teacher-bashing, and depressing statistics about the lack of educational equity, particularly for poor and minority students. Kuhn hits all of that from the perspective of an educator and administrator who is committed to public education and sees it as under attack from the “save the test but not the teachers” approach to education.

“I write this book to warn that the folks spending their leisure time declaring the American public school system an utter failure have an embarrassing number of conflicting interests and ulterior motives. … They tenaciously peddle their remarkably consistent message: Schools are bad. Unions are the problem. The free market is the solution. … (M)aybe they’re misleading us.”

When you witness for yourself the dedication and professionalism of teachers in our local public schools—who have to teach all students and not just those they pick and choose, and who are attempting to reach their students while keeping up with technological changes that happen faster than anyone can anticipate—you realize that Kuhn’s concerns about America’s commitment to public education are valid. Our free public education system is necessary if we are to survive as a culture.

Regarding the concept of testing as the be-all and end-all of evaluating our educational system, Kuhn writes that because “school- and teacher-ranking systems are built on mathematics, they are presented as unassailably objective. … The tests themselves may be objective … but the structures elaborated on the tests are often fraught with subjectivity and perfectly suited for behind-the-scenes manipulation.”

Kuhn describes the move toward low-cost fixes along with “investors and CEOs with stakes in educational technology or charter-school management organizations” as “an alliance of the well-meaning and the self-serving … It is ultimately cheaper and faster to cut down unions than it is to dig up our structural inequalities.

“In a young century already noted for brazen corporate malfeasance in fields ranging from energy to mortgage finance to banking to insurance, a ceaseless PR campaign dedicated to the devaluation of our public school system led by corporate lobbyists and billionaire anti-unionists should give us all pause. The crusade to cheapen this public trust is breathtaking for its audacity and its tenacity.”

Teachers need to be supported and valued for the professionals they are, and we need to let them know we recognize and appreciate their commitment to preparing the Americans of the future.

I learned at the seminar that education is about a lot more than preparing students to enter the workforce. It’s about teaching students to create, to work together, to respect differences, and to think for themselves, question everything and share what they learn. Every student is entitled to that, and only public taxpayer-supported education guarantees that for all.

Stop falling for schemes that attempt to shovel tax dollars into private education. Don’t be misled by what sound like quick-fixes or a return to “the good old days.”

Public education is essential for the socialization and citizenship of future generations, and the survival of our collective and ever-evolving culture. In Kuhn’s words: “Reform should be done by educators, not to them.”

The educators I saw at the Cal State seminar prove that Kuhn is right.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It’s funny how seemingly unrelated events can coincidentally coincide.

I recently wrote about Cathy Greenblat and her stirring book, Love, Loss, and Laughter, featuring photographs of people with various types of dementia and reminding us that “someone is in there.” Cathy has inspired a local coalition of individuals and organizations to make Coachella Valley into a “dementia-friendly community,” patterned on similar projects around the world.

And now for something seemingly unconnected: The Board is a group of men, mostly of a certain age, that gets together monthly for lunch to gab, exchange stories, listen to speakers and generally socialize. They also occasionally have an event where womenfolk are invited. I recently attended just such an event, the day after attending a meeting of the “dementia-friendly” group, where one of The Board’s members, Larry Delrose, showed a film he wrote and co-produced, called Night Club.

Delrose’s film includes such film stars as Mickey Rooney, Sally Kellerman and Ernest Borgnine, in a story that centers on a residence facility where many patients have dementia. The film shows both the compassion and care given to such patients, as well as the callousness often encountered. It includes scenes that members of the audience laughed at nervously—possibly because the film showed many people in a situation in which we’re afraid we’ll one day find ourselves.

Delrose is a Rancho Mirage resident who has been in the Coachella Valley for 34 years. At 63, he has been married for 40 years, and has two daughters and five grandkids. He previously was a real estate investor, wrote a book called Directions to a Happy Life, and began acting and movie-making later in life in an effort to “pursue what you love to do in life.”

Why a movie on this subject? “I thought the movie business needs more mainstream movies that address social issues (instead of) extreme violence, dysfunctional families, horror and action,” says Delrose. “I thought I could present socially aware subjects to the moviegoer in a way that they could learn something about life, without being preachy, corny or too depressing.”

In her pursuit of photographs of people with dementia-related illnesses, Greenblat was determined to capture what makes them laugh, sing and dance. Delrose affirms that “music, dancing and being around younger people can help all older people feel better, especially music, (which) is like a free anti-depressant drug.”

This conclusion led Delrose, in part, to Night Club: “I want to make movies that expose a social issue for thought, make it a great script, get some well-known skilled actors, and bring in lots of kids and music. Night Club was a test for me to see if my idea was right, and based on how I saw people react, I now know that I’m on to something.”

What would it take to de-fuse the stigma attached to a diagnosis of “dementia”? We had a president, Ronald Reagan, who may have already been experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s while still in office. Singer Glen Campbell went on tour after his diagnosis, and only recently had to cancel performances due to escalating memory issues—although he is continuing to speak out about his condition.

Other famous people have gone public with their diagnosis and have helped de-stigmatize Alzheimer’s: actors Charles Bronson, Charlton Heston, Rita Hayworth, Burgess Meredith, Peter Falk, Estelle Getty; renowned composer Aaron Copeland; boxer Sugar Ray Robinson; singer Perry Como; and basketball coach Pat Summitt.

I can remember when the word “cancer” struck fear even in those who had not received the diagnosis. We whispered the word. We didn’t talk publicly about it. Then first ladies Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter and Nancy Reagan shared their own experiences with us, along with many others. Now cancer is recognized as a disease that can be detected and in some cases cured, or at least somewhat controlled; we have learned not to shun or fear people who have it. We speak out about it and walk with signs to raise awareness. Although we still fear hearing the diagnosis, we no longer worry about “catching it.”

A similar transformation took place around HIV/AIDS. None of us want to be told we have it, but we no longer fear being around people who have been diagnosed, as when people were afraid to send their children to school because they might “catch it.”

That is one of the goals of a “dementia-friendly community”—to not only de-stigmatize those with the condition, but to educate ourselves and our communities to understand that “someone is in there.”

The next time the person in front of you in line at Starbucks is confused by too many choices, or someone at the checkout counter at the market has trouble counting out change, instead of getting impatient and huffy, offer to help. That is the first step toward the Coachella Valley being a dementia-friendly community—and we all have an investment in that.

You can make a difference.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

He’s known as Peter the Reader to the students he meets with weekly at Bubbling Wells Elementary School in Desert Hot Springs.

Peter Fredric of Palm Springs is literally—and literarily—changing lives.

“I saw an article in the paper,” says Fredric, “and I was looking for an opportunity to do something in the community. So, since I love reading and communicating, I decided to check it out.”

What Fredric checked out was BookPALS (Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools). The original idea was to use actors to engage students in the joy of reading.

“I did some work as an announcer and reporter for television, became a tech writer, an account executive, came to the desert to build affordable homes, and worked with local KESQ in their creative-arts department,” says Fredric. “I began my first classroom assignment with BookPALS in 2007. I just wanted to make a difference.”

That same impulse led Tere Britton, a Rancho Mirage resident, to take on managing the BookPALS program in the Coachella Valley.

Britton worked with NBC in community relations when she was a single young woman. After a move to Chicago, where she was involved on the boards of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Art Institute, and Museum of Contemporary Art, Britton eventually settled in the desert.

“I saw a posting in 2007 from Palm Springs Women in Film and Television (PSWIFT) looking for someone to run a local BookPALS program,” says Britton. “I remembered that when I was in the third-grade, an actor visited our class and read to us, and I was mesmerized.

“We now have 50 readers in 14 schools from Desert Hot Springs to Indio. I try to assign readers to schools as close to their homes as possible. Readers don’t have to be in show business; anyone can volunteer.

“Many of the classrooms we visit are in socioeconomic areas where students aren’t being read to at home, for lots of reasons, not least of which can be language difficulties. When you read to kids, it’s so important and fundamental to their lives.”

Jill Mincer Singer, of Palm Springs, is also a BookPALS reader. After a long, successful career as a designer, Singer is now semi-retired. “I decided I wanted to do something worthwhile for children. I heard about BookPALS from a friend, and it seemed like such a good idea.

“When I walk into a school and down the corridors, and the kids yell out, ‘Hi Mrs. Jill! You read to me last year!’ or ‘I love the book we’re reading!’ it makes me feel good. There is so much joy in their faces, and they’re so appreciative to have us coming into their classroom.”

Does a reader need special talents? “No,” says Singer. “Whoever reads should just be pleasant, friendly, speak clearly and use some inflection based on the story, or the kids won’t stay engaged.”

Peter Fredric says a reader just needs to enjoy reading, care about kids and show up. “The students come to depend on me to be there. You build a relationship with them, and you see that you can make such a difference in a child’s life. One girl told me she is now reading to her mother and helping her mother learn English. Toward the end of the year, I even have them read to me.”

Says Tere Britton (right): “There are no specific qualifications. Our focus is to stimulate interest in reading and writing. The teachers teach them how to read; what we do is encourage them to enjoy reading, and to want to do it on their own. We are enabling them to become critical thinkers, and exposing them to new ideas and concepts. And this program gives students a chance to relate to people in the community from diverse backgrounds whom they might never otherwise meet. Every reader brings something special to the classroom.”

BookPALS readers don’t need to choose the books themselves; school librarians will find age-appropriate books, or classroom teachers make suggestions, although many readers enjoy digging through the children’s section of the library. Britton provides training, and teachers are completely supportive of the program.

I read for BookPALS one morning a week for two years, at Cathedral City Elementary School in third-, fourth and fifth-grade classrooms. With my grandchildren far away, it gave me a chance to interact with children, and it quickly became the highlight of each week.

I learned how dedicated elementary teachers are, how anxious to learn the children are, and how much a program like this can impact students’ future success in school and after. I keep the stack of valentines they made for me, including the one that said, “I want to be just like you when I grow up.”

A personal awakening came when I discovered a delightful book called The Cheese. It’s a funny story of “The Farmer in the Dell” from the point of view of the cheese that ends up standing alone at the end of the song. Before I began to read, I asked how many remembered the song—and only one hand went up. I realized these third-graders came primarily from homes where the cultures differed from what I experienced growing up, and they hadn’t been exposed to things we tend to take for granted. What a thrill for me when, after I sang the song for them and explained the game, they understood and loved the irony of the book.

My greatest joy came when reading a story with a twist, like Stone Soup and watching as a face here, and then a face there, lit up with recognition of where the story was going. These were students whose thinking skills were being stimulated, and I left those encounters so full of appreciation for what they were giving me.

BookPALS gives a book to each child annually. “For some students,” says Britton, “it may be the first book of their own they’ve ever gotten. I tell them, ‘This is your very own book. You can even start your own library.’”

Talk to your neighbors and friends about this program, and consider giving a couple of hours a week to an activity in which you will make a difference, and you will enrich your life in ways you’ll never be able to measure. You will just feel it, and it will fill your heart with pride and joy.

Peter Fredric says, “Real men do read to kids.”

Jill Mincer Singer says, “Doing this makes me feel so very, very good.”

Tere Britton says, “We encourage children to know the magic of books. Children learn through our readers how to enjoy reading. This is a labor of love.”

For more information, or to get involved, email Tere Britton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Scroll down to watch a video on BookPALS. 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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors