Women, Don’t Wait. Change Our World Now!

I was recently participating in a thread on Facebook. It was a thread on the personal page of someone who is a co-moderator of one of the extremely fun running-based Facebook groups I’m in. I knew if he asked for honest political opinions, and requested that those of us participating in the thread be respectful, we would be deleted (or our comments would).

One person on the thread explained who he is voting for, specifically because of that candidate’s position on mandatory vaccines. He went on to explain that it may seem “laughable” to others that he is a single-issue voter, but he feels THAT strongly.

How Many Issues Do We Have to Have?

While I do not agree with the individual on the thread I referred to above about the issue that has resulted in him being a “single-issue” voter, I understand how one single issue, when it affects your family, will drive your political choices. But I have a choice to make: how to use my voice to impact multiple issues.

MomsRising is a group of more than a million moms who take on the most critical issues facing women, mothers, and families by educating the public and mobilizing massive grassroots actions to:

  • Bring the voices and real world experiences of women and mothers straight to our local, state, and nation’s leaders;
  • Amplify women’s voices and policy issues in the national dialogue & in the media across all platforms (from print, to radio, to blogs, social media, and more);
  • Accelerate grassroots impact on Capitol Hill and at state capitols across the country;
  • Hold corporations accountable for fair treatment of women and mothers & for ensuring the safety of their products.

Throughout the recent We Won’t Wait 2016 conference (read about it in the Washington Post here.), which I participated in as part of the MomsRising delegation, we were encouraged not to be single issue voters, to educate ourselves about the broad array of issues facing women, especially women of color and low-income women. Issues of emphasis included access to paid leave, the right to good jobs and fair wages, high-quality and affordable child care and elder care, care giving (yep, I could relate to that one!), immigration reform, reproductive healthcare, and racial justice.

Back when the awesome Sili Recio of My Mamihood asked me to consider being on the Moms Rising Steering Committee for Florida, I didn’t question the power of moms (as IF!), I didn’t mind adding one more thing to my plate (because the issues Moms Rising espouses matter). But I explained that some of the issues Moms Rising advocates for are ones I feel more passionate about than others. In fact, I am not always fully aligned with their position.

Her advice? “You’ll get info about all the issues but you run with what’s in your heart.”

Setting the Tone

Although Kelly Tsai, Spoken Word Poet/Filmmaker was the official first performance, the literal first performance came from the hundreds of members of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who made an unforgettable entrance to the breakfast hall, chanting “We Won’t Wait! We Won’t Wait!” This was the first conference I’ve been to where we’ve been told “no chanting on the way from breakfast to the conference area”!

Political Advocacy

An attendee with the National Domestic Workers Alliance enters the room.

Wages

I learned more about the move to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, and the #FightFor15 movement. The minimum wage would be at least $15 an hour if the minimum wage we had back in 1968 were adjusted for inflation and for the productivity gains we achieved since then. (The previous fact and more can be found at MoveOn.org Petitions.)

Another critical wage-related issue I learned about was the continuing challenges faced by those who work for a tipped minimum wage. The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United had a large and vocal delegation at We Won’t Wait, supporting one fair wage. On their website, they share:

…most restaurant workers earn the bulk of their income through tips. With the federal tipped minimum wage being $2.13 an hour and lower than the regular minimum wage in most states, their base pay results in $0 paychecks. Although some restaurant workers do make great money living off tips, they are the exception.

The majority of tipped restaurant workers live shift-to-shift. The national median wage for tipped workers (including tips) is $8.75 an hour. They are dependent on the generosity of customers for their livelihood.

More than 70% of servers are women. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is all too often undermined as being ‘just part of the job’ in the restaurant industry. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the restaurant industry is the single-largest source of sexual harassment charges. Hundreds of our members have shared stories with us about being touched or treated inappropriately by their customers, and not being able to do anything about it because they depended on those same customers for a  decent tip.

Child Care, Elder Care, and Caregiving

Women often have to choose between their paycheck and caring for their child (or their elder in my case). Four in ten private-sector workers and 80% of low-wage workers cannot earn a single paid sick day. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, women are likely to spend an average of 12 years out of the workforce raising children and caring for an older relative or friend. Learn more info about the impact of caregiving for elders on women here.

I heard Emily Uy say, “Getting sick in America is very difficult. I was a caregiver unable to get my own care,” echoing the voice in the back of my head that says, “who’s going to take care of Dad if you get ill/hospitalized?”

I learned about the Fair Care Pledge, a joint initiative of Hand in Hand, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Care.com. The Fair Care Pledge is taken by people who employ others in their homes to provide fair pay, clear expectations, and paid time off.

Immigration Reform

Ana Cañenguez, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador who faces deportation, accompanied by her young daughter, asked “what will she do if I leave?” Since We Won’t Wait, I’ve learned more about Ana’s story, visualized her life in El Salvador (remembering the time I spent there in 2014 and the conversations I had with people who face gang violence and corruption juxtaposed against a BEAUTIFUL country with beautiful people) and the perils of her journey to the US, and come to admire her tenacity and true grace in the face of a horrible conundrum. (More about Ana here.)

canenguez-daughter

For more from MomsRising about their efforts to protect family unity, ensure our public policies address the concerns of immigrant women and children, and end human rights abuses in the name of immigration law enforcement, click here.

Voting Rights

Infused through all the passionate speakers we heard was the one action almost all of us can take to make sure we elect leaders who will advance our agenda: VOTE.

When states make it difficult for qualified voters to vote, we can advocate for change. (A review of current challenges to voting rights here.) As speakers at We Won’t Wait shared about challenges voters face now, in 2016, my mind kept going back to Edwina Stephens, who told me about black voters being forced to count soap bubbles or solve complicated mathematical equations in order to prove their suitability to be registered voters. How are we still having discussions that echo THOSE scenarios in the 21st century?

One speaker urged us to implore Walmart (among other large employers) to allow their employees three hours of leave to vote. To me, this is a no-brainer. If it’s too much of an economic burden for Wal-Mart, I’ll go to WM and be the warm body with a pulse that keeps the ship afloat for three hours. Surely they can spare that. Get involved by educating yourself and signing the petition here. I did.

Gun Safety

I have been virtually silent online about my opinions regarding gun safety, Black Lives Matter, and the plethora of policy and societal issues inherent in these topics. The one single time I posted a black friend’s commentary on Stop and Frisk, about how he was stopped on the way to church for no discernible reason, about how his 5 year old piped up from the back seat, “did he stop us because we are black?,” a loved friend who is a law enforcement spouse pushed back about her disagreement and her contention that law enforcement officers and family, having families of their own, truly want the best for everyone whose paths they cross. I feel utterly stuck in a mushy middle ground between people who are pointing out systemic issues within our law enforcement community as they relate to the treatment of black people, and my many friends in the law enforcement community, who I love and respect.

I still haven’t figured out how to navigate that divide, to be honest.

What I do know is, as I stood among the 750+ people at the “Our Families Are Worth the Fight” vigil at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, that the grief of the mothers who have lost their black sons in law enforcement-related situations that have gray areas at best … that grief WAS PALPABLE. In that moment, I wasn’t a policy advocate, interested party, or generic fellow American. I was a fellow mother, someone who had brought someone into the world and held big dreams for that someone. I felt their pain. I determined to learn more and form a more strongly articulated position, while trying to remain respectful to everyone in my universe. More about the vigil here.

Political Advocacy

NOTE: Her name is correctly spelled “Lucia.” My apologies!

Representative Donna Edwards, of Maryland’s 4th District, a speaker at the vigil:

There’s much work to be done. You have to be the ones to define that work, to say “here is what our priority list is.”

The greatest leverage that you have right now is the leverage and the power of your vote. As black women, we are the most powerful and consistent voting block in this country, but we need to make sure that our elected officials know that we understand the power of our vote. When we give it over on November 8, we’re gonna come knocking on November 9.

I am the proud mother of a young black man and that means something for me.. that HIS voice needs to be heard on Capitol Hill too … for the sons and the daughters that we have to have our conversation with  and we have to say to them “be careful what you do when you go outside” and sometimes it doesn’t matter how careful you are. You are still in harm’s way.

Political Advocacy Is Not Just About the Specific Issues; It’s About Your Approach

In one lengthy blog post, I have seriously only TOUCHED on the issues affecting women and the strategies for resolving them. But I need to comment on something that is not an issue; rather, it’s a way of being in the world.

At the Freedom Square vigil, one of the speakers was Monique Harris of Hand in Hand, who lives with Cerebral Palsy.  She talked about living with a disability as well as her fears for her son, a black man with autism whose behaviors can be misunderstood. Due to her Cerebral Palsy, she has difficulty communicating verbally. BUT the organizers created a scenario where she spoke, then a facilitator repeated her words in the event that we had experienced difficulty understanding Monique. That sounds minor, but it wasn’t to Monique and it wasn’t to me. I have been at many other conferences where this type of message would just have been read by the facilitator, or printed in the program. It mattered to hear Monique’s OWN VOICE.

Another of the speakers was Aber Kawas of the Arab American Association of New York. As she spoke eloquently about facing anti-Muslim prejudice in America, someone with a mental disturbance tried to disrupt her speech. She kept speaking, completely nonplussed. The organizers of the vigil took the man aside and tried to de-escalate him. Simultaneously, a group of women lined up between Aber and the disruptor, a solid line of sisterhood, giving her space to share her message safely while demonstrating, visually, SOLIDARITY.

Women, Succeeding Together

I was blown away by Labor Secretary Tom Perez’s speech.  While there were many quotable sound bites, this one sums up the point of We Won’t Wait.

Political Advocacy

How to Get Involved

There are so many ways to get involved! As Feminista Jones explained, there’s a role for everyone: from the foot soldiers who make a difference by showing up, through the guides who support, the visionaries who write/document/photograph, the funders, through the change agents, who affect direct change.

Whether you’re a foot soldier or a change agent, or any of the roles in between, take that first step today. Do it for your daughter, your friend, your sister, your aunt, any woman (or man) in your life who needs your voice to be heard on any or all of the issues mentioned here.

Take that first step by going to www.momsrising.org and adding your email address:

Political Advocacy

(If you prefer Spanish, Moms Rising is available as MamasConPoder here. Si tu prefieres español, haga click aquí.)

In one of these week’s prompts, Mama Kat encouraged us to write a blog post inspired by the word “change.” I’m so grateful to MomsRising and We Won’t Wait 2016 for the opportunity to be inspired by continue learning, supporting, and advocating for my fellow women and moms. Because, indeed, every mother does count.

Political Advocacy

Political Advocacy

Taking A Shot At Indifference

Measles Crying Child

Health worker Ronnie Tut prepares to administer a measles vaccine to 1-year-old Jessica María Pop, an indigenous Mayan girl sitting on her mother’s lap, at a health centre in the community of Sacanillá, in Cobán Municipality in Alta Verapaz Department, Guatemala.
Credit : © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-2218/SUSAN MARKISZ

I never seriously want a child to be as distraught as Jessica María, pictured. But the momentary discomfort of an immunization is worth it to keep a child from suffering a vaccine-preventable death. Through my role as a Shot at Life Champion, I am joining with other Champions in an initiative called “Advocate to Vaccinate – a Coast to Coast Challenge for Global Vaccination.” During Advocate to Vaccinate, which leads up to World Immunization Week (April 24-30), Shot@Life supporters in communities across the country are raising their voices to advocate for sustaining U.S. government support for global vaccine programs.

If you are a regular visitor to my blog, you have seen the basic facts of global immunization issues among my posts before. The most basic fact is this: Every 20 seconds, a child dies of a vaccine-preventable disease. (For more details about the global health threats of vaccine-preventable diseases, visit this link….) As I have said before, I know we face serious issues here in the United States, and those are not lost on me as I advocate for children across oceans. Children here on our shores, however, are affected by global immunization deficits. For example, there have been  106 confirmed cases of measles here in the United States since January 1, 2014.

I was struck by this passage from an article by Andre Picard that I read recently about measles in Canada. The article was an interview with Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance:

(interviewer) You visit parts of the world where mothers walk for days to get their children immunized and in Canada, where it’s easy, it seems [some people] can’t be bothered.

(Dr. Berkley) The difference is that in the places where they walk for days they’ve seen their children die. They know all too well how deadly these diseases are. Parents all over the world want to help their children. If Canadian women were living in a community where, God forbid, they would see the graves of small children who died of measles every morning, they too would be clamouring, they would be doing everything in their power to get vaccines. Here the problem is invisible.

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To treat a heavy subject slightly lightly for a moment, I am also a southerner, and those of us participating in Advocate to Vaccinate are engaged in a healthy competition to be the region that does the most (including in-district meetings with our congresspeople, letters to the editor at our newspapers, community events, digital events, and blog posts, to name a few). Honestly, I want the south to win, so I am giving it all I’ve got!

Andre Picard’s article was entitled, “Indifference Leads to Outbreaks.”  I would love your help in eradicating indifference and, ultimately, eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases. Here are some ways you can help:

Visit www.advocate2vaccinate.org for more information.

Join my Twitter party which is being cohosted by @PamLovesBooks (please!) Wednesday night, April 9, from 8-9 p.m. Use the hashtag #adv2vax: Amended Adv2Vax Twitter Party Logo

Become a champion yourself! Email champions@shotatlife.org for more info.

Advocate with your elected officials to continue support for global vaccine programs (they are a fraction of our national budget and they make such a difference). Shot at Life does most of the work for you! Click here to get started.

Make a donation. A $5 donation can protect a child from polio and measles for his or her lifetime. Donate via this link.

Yes, indifference leads to outbreaks. It makes me feel like this little girl at the top of this post. Join me in eradicating indifference in order to have a healthier world. Let’s give kids a shot at life.

three women

With my fellow champions (and Florida moms) Nicolette Springer and Sili Recio in Washington, DC, advocating for Shot at Life. March 2014. We want YOUR company!

Getting (and Giving) Pneumonia Like A Champ

cropped pneumonia

Immediately upon approaching the registration table at the Shot at Life Champions’ Summit last Monday, I got pneumonia. Having pneumonia throughout the end of the summit on Wednesday afternoon didn’t slow me down, though. In fact, I was a party to the spread of pneumonia,  polio, measles, and diarrhea all over Capitol Hill before I left.

Perhaps I should explain. My “pneumonia” (above) is actually about 3 inches high. So were the other plush diseases we passed out on Wednesday. Each of them represents vaccine-preventable diseases that causes the death of one child every 20 seconds.

I have been involved in Shot at Life for a little over a year. As I told the congressional staff with whom I met on Wednesday, the first and foremost reason to become involved in this particular cause is that I am a mom. I am a mom who does not want any mom, anywhere in the world, to know the pain of losing a child. Secondly, over the course of a career in a State Child Health Insurance program, I have seen the indisputable cost effectiveness of prevention over treatment. Although my experience is domestic, the same concept extends worldwide.

I had the opportunity earlier this week to participate in the Shot at Life Champions Summit in Washington, DC. I stand humbled and incredulous at the depth of intellect, commitment, and originality of the 130 Champions who were present. We learned facts about global immunization efforts, strategies for succeeding as teams, and ways to approach our elected officials to advocate for sustained funding and support for critical global health and global vaccine programs.

Rather than regurgitating 2 1/2 days worth of material for you in one blog post, I’ll share this infographic for the time being:

Vaccines and Economics

A few closing thoughts for this post (although there will be more to come on this topic!):

Teamwork Is Good

I woke up in a panic Wednesday morning, blanking on the fourth of the four “vaccine preventable diseases.” I thought, “gosh if I can’t even remember the fourth disease, how on earth will I make a finely articulated and researched point to Senator Rubio’s aide in three hours.” With the exception of the visit to Senator Rubio’s office, I had other Champions with me. If something slipped my mind, Nicolette or Sili could chime in. It’s not necessary to carry all the weight solo. (And when I was solo at Senator Rubio’s office, there was a Shot at Life staff member with me who could have helped if I had gotten stuck and it turns out the staffer went to Ethiopia last year on an awareness trip so she was exceptionally well prepared to discuss global health issues!).

Different Audiences Need Different Messages

I suppose this is obvious. It’s true in every area of my life. But this training helped me be more acutely aware of the different angles from which an elected official sees an issue. Anyone who knows me even casually knows I am a causes/save the world kind of girl. But it takes more than that to convince someone who may need a more nuanced presentation than “it’s the right thing to do!” I focused on the cost effectiveness of global vaccination programs, because I know our elected officials face a constituency who wants every penny accounted for. I learned, for example, that the United States recoups our total expenditure on smallpox eradication every 23 days, because we no longer have to vaccinate against the disease.

Diseases Don’t Carry Passports

Our world is big and vast physically. We have institutional structures set up to regulate who goes where. Germs really don’t care about those institutional structures. That’s why the fact that there is still polio in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan means that we are all still at risk.

I learned more, of course: that my visit to my Representative’s office will be just a drop in the bucket unless I follow it up with a letter delivered to his district office (preferably); that there is a national security tie-in for immunizations (because extremists can take advantage of weak government health systems by providing health services themselves to establish their credibility); that most discussions of the need for global vaccine programs will take a detour through the current domestic trends which find families refusing to vaccinate their children because of misinformation they have received.

I learned that there is a place for me in the creation of a healthier world by encouraging immunization of children in developing countries.

I learned that when you hand a little plush polio, diarrhea, measles, or pneumonia to a legislative staffer that everyone may giggle but no one will walk away uninformed.

A few pictures of my time at the champions summit:

dennis ogbe

Dennis Ogbe is a Paralympian, Polio Survivor, and UNICEF Polio Advocate

three women

We were told we’d be more effective if we “sounded like a team.” That team thing came together pretty seamlessly; these fellow Florida moms (Nicolette Springer and Sili Recio) rock!

I find it impossible to be cynical at times like this.

I find it impossible to be cynical at times like this.

 BUT it is important to remember the goal, protecting someone like this:

Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson

Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson

Do you have an interest in getting involved? There are many ways to be a part of Shot at Life:

Website:     www.shotatlife.org

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/shotatlifecampaign

Twitter:       @shotatlife

Fund polio vaccines by running, walking, cycling using the Charity Miles App: www.charitymiles.org.

Become a champion by applying at:  http://shotatlife.org/about-us/champions/.

Yes, we all chuckled a bit as we bid goodbye to the aides at the offices of Senator Rubio, Senator Nelson, Representative Southerland, and Representative Grayson (Sili/Nicolette) and “gave” them polio (in the form of a 3 inch piece of fluff). But the lack of access to life saving vaccines and immunizations against some of the most deadline diseases that children throughout our world face is no laughing matter.

Instead of “giving” them polio, measles, pneumonia, or diarrhea, let’s give them a Shot At Life.

Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson

Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson

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