An Open Letter to My Father and Other Republican Family Members

So, here we are.  As we all know from experience, family and politics never mix.  Many a family dinner or special occasion has been ruined over political discussions that pit uncles against nieces, fathers against daughters, and brothers against sisters.  While I’ve never actually thrown my Thanksgiving dinner across the table and screamed, “What the hell is wrong with you people?” It’s only because I love turkey and cherry pie too much to waste it on an family argument.  And because I love them.

I grew up with my favorite aunt and uncle trying to indoctrinate me into the so called intelligence and viewpoints of Rush Limbaugh.  When I was 30 and pregnant with my daughter, another aunt quipped, “Well, when you’re young we’re all liberal, but when you mature you’ll become a Republican.”

Silence is Complicity.

My father is also a Republican.  Albeit it one that I view curiously from the perspective in the book What’s the Matter with Kansas?  He’s Republican based on the idea of what being a Republican is, not where the Republican party is now.  He gets his news from mainstream network news and is unbending in his political bias.  When politics is brought up between us, it’s a firestorm in under 5 minutes.  So we have learned to avoid the topic as much as possible when we see each other and try to stick to ‘safe’ subjects.  He knows I’m a women’s rights activist, he supports me and my sister’s dreams and believes we deserve the same as any son he could have had.

Another family member commented on a recent Facebook post I had made that she had voted Democrat in every election previously but this would be her first voting Republican.  Wait a minute, you voted for Obama? Twice? But now you’re vote for Trump?  Where are you getting your information from that you would change your vote to a misogynistic, racist, lying, blowhard whose never served in public office?  A man who proudly flaunts not paying the taxes he owes, a man who debases and insults women repeatedly, double downs on his flagrant lies, and who has done next to zero for real charity and service towards others.  A man who is frighteningly ignorant of the Constitution and the Declaration Independence and the moral compass that this country is founded on.

You don’t like HRC? I get it.  You don’t have to like her. That’s not the issue. Is she flawed? Yes. So am I, and so are you.  Has she made mistakes? Yes.  So have I and so have you.  Is she qualified?  More than any other candidate in recent history I can name. You still don’t have to like her, but you should respect her.

Over the years I’ve watched as we slide further apart on the politic spectrum; my father, aunts and uncles, and some cousins into the red and me firmly, proudly liberal in shades of blue.  We don’t talk about it too much, or at least we don’t engage each other in fierce debate, because we are family and feelings get hurt, and rifts arise.  Yet if we can’t debate our family, the people that love us best and unconditionally, about what is best for our country, what does that say about the bonds between us?  Discourse, debate, and differences of opinion shouldn’t be limited to a debate stage or protests.  Debating is about hashing out the truth, taking a stand, and engaging in intelligent discourse about what our core values are and what we want for our family, our community, our country, and the world at large?  Why are we too scared to debate the ones we love?

My core values?  Simply: I believe in equality for EVERYONE, not just people that look like me.  I believe in justice for EVERYONE no matter their nationality.  Skin color, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, culture, language, or economic standing are not acceptable reasons to discriminate.  Whatever rights you have as a white man in this country, which is still where the power of this country rests, are the rights that every man, woman, and child deserve – no qualifications.  Everything else comes underneath and we can debate the ‘how, when, and where’ but we cannot debate the ‘what’.

Silence is complicity.

The fact of the matter is, if you vote for Trump you do not have the same values I do.  And by values, I don’t mean menu list of specifics of gay marriage, single payer health care, taxes, abortions, etc.  I simply mean the core values that I strive to instill in my daughter; respect, justice, compassion, and equality.

I see a lot of talk about making American great again.  What isn’t great about this country is that I, as a woman, still have to fight for my rights in society.  Equal pay, family planning, birth control are all issues men control in order to ‘protect’ us, while at the same gender violence is at an all time high, and women are shamed, blamed, and ignored when we are victimized.  And I’m a lucky one because I’m white.  If I were a black woman or hispanic, or an immigrant?  My rights drastically diminish even further.  America has racism, sexism, poverty, violence, and economic gap that is now so wide between the 1% and the rest of us that the middle ground is disappearing.  We need a leader that champions equality for all, not one who fat shames women, believes in stop and frisk, and peddles fear for votes.  He is the lowest of the low, a liar and a fraud, and we must keep the high ground.

So here’s my voice.  If you vote for Trump, you are promoting a future country based on racism, sexism, ignorance, bullying, and profit uber alles.  A man who promotes anger and finger pointing instead of solutions and collaboration.  I don’t need to embed links to all the articles that back this up as fact.  You don’t need them, and you wouldn’t believe them if I did.  Just listen to him, he proudly spews all of that on a daily basis without a filter.  Today it’s former Miss Universe putting on too much weight and Twitter rants about a sex tape. Yesterday

I don’t care about your politics. You have a right as an American to align conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, Green or Libertarian, and to mix and match based on what candidates you feel represent your values.  But if your values in any way restrict the rights of others based on their skin color, religion, gender, or sexuality – than you don’t want to ‘make American great’ again.  You want to make America YOU.  White. Christian. Male. You are not America. America is all of us.  Believing that diversity makes us stronger, that equality is a human right for all, and that justice is blind.

This election is now beyond politics. This election is about humanity, intelligence, tolerance, and diplomacy. The Presidency of the United States needs to be held by a person that holds up the best of our country as an example for the world to see, that swallows ego and pride in the face of justice and diplomacy.  If you are voting for Trump, you are voting for misogny, racism, ignorance and intolerance. Many of you are simply voting against a candidate which is very different than voting for the future of our country. There has never been a time that I would say, if you vote for a Republican then we can’t be friends, or that our family relationships are at risk… because its never been a choice between a extremely qualified, intelligent, dedicated, yet flawed candidate that has made mistakes, and an ignorant, sexist, bullying blowhard that couldn’t give two shits about poverty, racism, equality, justice, and diplomacy before.

We can not be silent about this. Politics IS personal, but THIS is about a much more than politics and we cannot sit by and watch this like a reality tv show.  We must debate, talk, and be open about this if we are to get the leader we deserve. This is not entertainment, this is our future.  


Senseless Loss in Kandahar

Sad news arrived this morning via my friend, photographer Paula Lerner. Having recently come back from a trip to Afghanistan, both in Kandahar and Kabul she sent an email this morning describing the news of the murder of Sitkara Achakzi, a female member of the provincial council in Kandahar.   Paula had blogged about her during her time in Kandahar a couple of weeks ago.   Murders and assassinations are happening all the time in Afghanistan – this is easily one more that slips through our consciousness as another unfortunate happening in a troubled, war torn region of the world.

What makes this so heartbreaking to me is that this is one of many great women in positions of power and influence in Afghanistan that are willingly putting their lives at risk daily in an attempt to reclaim their country, build a stronger community, and further entrench their own rights to gender equality.   Sitkara Achakzi was assassination walking home from work and was shot outside her front door by two men on motorbike, blame being placed on “enemies of Afghanistan”, another term for Islamist Taliban insurgents.  

The same “enemies of Afghnistan”,  were also blamed for an attack in Kandahar in November in which acid was sprayed into the faces of schoolgirls. This attack happened during my first visit to Afghanistan and served to illustrate just how much risk girls and women are willing to take to receive an education.   

A month earlier, Taliban gunmen in the city shot dead the most high-profile female police officer in Afghanistan.  

Yet women still work in positions of power in and out of government, pushing back against those that wish a return to burqas and house restrictions.  These women are courageous beyond my own imagining. When just walking out your front door to go to work courts assassinations, it makes me treasure the freedoms I have.  Being able to not just walk, but run and bike to work, scantily clad by Afghan standards, without risk is an amazing gift.  

Simply by the luck of geography and the miracle of timing, I was born into a country and era that ensures relative equality between genders.  I enjoy the freedom to choose my career, where I live, take part in competitive sports, even the choice of who to love is mine to make without fear or reprisal.   It is humbling to go about my daily routine as I prepare for a return visit to Kabul in less than 48 hours.

When I was in Afghanistan last November, I was priviledged to sit down with two amazing women.  The first, Minister of Education, Dr. Massouda Jalal, who has run against President Karzai twice, and the second was Dr. Roshanek Wardak Parliamentary member representing Taliban controlled Wardak province.   These women are exposing themselves every day to great risk in order to push forward reforms in their country.  They believe in the future of a free Afghanistan and are willing to risk life and limb to be part of that future.   I can only hope that despite their high profile and high risk I won’t see their names in a news headline like Sitkara Achakzi’s anytime soon.  

My heart goes out to all of those who have lost courageous women. Families and friends will mourn their losses for years to come, but so will the community members and citizens that have lost great activists and leaders through these senseless killings.

Politics is Lying

wardaq-interview1Dr. Roshanek Wardak is one tough cookie.  Here is a woman that stares down the Taliban daily and I got a heady dose of how intense that gaze is today.  Dr. Wardak is a female member of the Afghan Parliament, representing the tumultuous province of Wardak.  This is a province still fighting, and with a large number of Taliban living there it is not likely to quiet down anytime soon.  It neighbors Kabul and its hard to comprehend the difference in security between the two provinces.  Harder still to imagine that the Taliban willingly stay put under Dr. Wardak’s intensity.

Dr. Wardak is Pashtun, the same ethnic group as the Taliban.  She is also the province’s only female OB/GYN – and as such is quite important as the one that delivers the babies to the women of the area.   During the Taliban’s time, most women wore the burqa, but she insisted she could not do her job wearing one and instead simply wore her black headscarf so that her face was covered except for her eyes.   She worked throughout those difficult six years in Wardak and then when the Taliban were removed and elections were held, the people of Wardak encouraged, and pushed, for her to run as a candidate for Parliament. With very little effort, she ran and won.

Sitting across from her, her eyes probe mine, questioning my interest, questioning my knowledge of the situation, and questioning deep into my heart of hearts.  Her eyes search and probe as we talk, and when silences come, they are not for me to fill.  They are there for her to decide if she will continue and when she does, its with direct honesty.   This is a woman with no time for playing games.  Her mantra, “Politics is Lying”, is repeated often throughout our conversation.  She hates politics and says so openly.  She is a doctor, and loves her work, and loves her people.  “A doctor must be honest and direct at all times,” she tells me.  As a politician, she sees the falsehoods, the games, and the outright lying,  and has no stomach for it.

We discuss women in politics, gender equality, Afghanistan’s political climate, and most importantly, due to her unique insight, the Taliban’s role in the future of Afghanistan.  Unique I say because she is a woman who had no rights under Taliban rule.  A woman that was forced to cover her face.  A woman who would not have been allowed to vote, much less run as a candidate herself, were the Taliban to have held elections.  Yet, she realizes that the Taliban are Afghan, and as such, must be allowed their place in society under the Afghan constitution.  Like Hamas and Hezbollah, the Taliban are part of their own country and hold great numbers within Afghanistan.  Wardak believes that they need to be part of the process to bring peace, and others like Karzai, and our own government are coming to the same conclusion.

“Let them run candidates if they wish, the same as anyone else.  If they win seats, then we must honor that.”  But the trick is that they have to abide by the ‘rules’, women as their counterparts, perhaps even their new president.  Yet, if they are given the chance to run amok, isolated from the political system, and peace process, it will be to the destruction of the country and will put Afghanistan in the center of the war on terror.

When asked what is the most important priority for her work at Parliament her answer is immediate.  “Security.  It is the ONLY priority for progress.”  Achieving it is another story.  Yet, the Parliament, Ministers, and the people of Afghanistan need to work towards a peace process conducted with all of Afghanistan represented as a complete way to end the violent spiral.

Staring back into Wardak’s tough gaze, I realize that while she may hate being a politician, she is the politician this country needs.

photo by Di Zinno

A False Sense of Security

bag_checkNajibullah greets me each day with my latte round-up.  He kindly replaces my need for a morning shot of espresso with a quick run-down of the latest Afghan security updates:  kidnappings (new and resolved), suicide bombings (completed and prevented), and the like, ensure that I remember to lock my car doors, and keep my headscarf from slipping down the back of my head.  The problem is, that Najibullah realizes that I would be quite happy to ditch the car any chance I get to wander the crowded markets, back alleys, and am practically salivating over the thought of hiking up one of the mountains to follow the path of an old stone wall that is calling my name.

I am so comfortable in this country, I had several friends comment that perhaps going back to Breckenridge will not be a home-coming after all as I seem to have found my place in the world.  More than one has mentioned past-lives as an Afghan, and I was honored to have two prominent female leaders in Kabul refer to me as an Afghan sister.   Yet, as a stubbornly headstrong, athletic, and independent woman, its strange to think that THIS corner of the world would be where my heart settles, a place of restrictions and security concerns that impede my natural desires and dress code!

Security is the name of the game over here and while I am at ease, I am still quite aware of the false sense of security that pervades daily life.  I may be comfortable, but get too much so, and I could easily be on the wrong side of newsfeed.  I have to remind myself of that when I jump eagerly on the back of motorbikes or stride through the tight streets in Old Kabul, lost in the sights and smells.  Immerse, experience, and interact, but stay alert.

The topic of security is a common thread through nearly every meeting and interview I have.  Both Cabinet Minister, Dr. Massouda Jalil, a female minister who has run twice against Karzai in the Presidential elections since the Taliban’s defeat, and Dr. Roshanek Wardak, a female Parliamentary member representing the conflicted province of Wardak, stated that security is the priority above all else.  Without security, growth in areas of infrastructure and education could not move forward.  Without security, drug smuggling and corruption would continue to run rampant.  Dr. Wardak emphatically stated in our meeting, “The ONLY priority for progress and peace is security”.

Yet the question continually bounces around in my headscarved head…how does a region such as this acheive security.  If it were such an easy fix, then wouldn’t the confluence of international militia, aid organizations, and UN personnel have that under control already?  This is the question I pose to Faheem Dashty, editor of Kabul Weekly, Afghanistan’s largest newspaper.  He takes the question of security further by describing how security cannot be a first or second priority in a list of Afghan steps towards peace.

“Security cannot be a priority above all else.”  Faheem explains.  “How is that possible with drug smuggling, poverty, and the needs of education, all influence our country’s security?  We need a clear view that realizes that all four are interconnected.”

The real key is with the Afghan people.  They will lay down their lives, quite willingly, for the good of their country.  Millions have died and many more are willing to take on the risks involved to create a lasting peace within Afghanistan.  They understand the complexity of their region and need the support of the international community to make real and lasting changes from within.   They realize that millions cannot be spent destroying poppy fields, if the void left isn’t filled by other viable crops or exports.  Infrastructure cannot move forward if corruption runs rampant through the private contractors hired to ‘oversee’ progress.  Schools can’t be built to further education if they are built in areas where the Taliban rule.  Security can’t be ensured if the Afghan police are barely paid a living wage and private security forces roam the streets, a law unto themselves.  Yet the number of guns you see on an average street in Kabul gives one the idea there is security all around.

A perfect example of my own false sense of security is made evident in the Kabul airport.  As I make my way through to fly back home, I had to pass through 10 separate security checkpoints and three additional body searches.  That’s a lot of security.  Yet, had a I chosen to smuggle something back I am quite sure I could have…each of the bag and body searches were insufficient.  Not to say that the security in our own airports is any better at home.  Taking my shoes off and putting my shampoo is a Barbie doll sized container is inconvenient, but not really aiding security, but apparently it makes us feel better.

Real American?

Ellis Island's Melting Pot

Ellis Island

I drink lattes.

I don’t own a gun, or have a desire to do so.

I have gay friends and believe they should be able to marry if they choose, the same as anyone else.

I believe that our freedoms are more important to preserve that any attempt at ‘complete security’.

I choose Boddington’s over Budweiser.

I don’t eat fast food or drink Coke.

I love sushi.

I speak several languages other than English – all poorly.

I have an i-phone.

I don’t watch Fox News…unless I want to test my blood pressure’s limits.

I am pro choice – in more ways than one.

I don’t go to church.  And don’t plan to.

I have Muslim friends.  And Hindu.  And Jewish.  (None of them terrorists).

I don’t watch NFL, NBA, NHL, or whatever acronym baseball falls under.  HUGE fan of rugby though.

I haven’t stepped foot into a Walmart in years and hope that never changes.

And horror of horrors…not only do I like the French, I lived in Paris for a short while.  Freedom fries my ass.

Yet last time I checked, so do many of my friends…all of us American citizens…all of us doing what we can to make our communities and the global community a slightly better place.  We see the faults of our country as something we can, and should, work to improve.  This country is a work in progress – and we want to see forward momentum not a backward slide.  We believe that our country has vast potential to lead by example in areas of tolerance, diplomacy, and progressive thinking.

We do not turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the issues that face our country, and as such, believe that our president should be smarter, ridiculously smarter, than we are.  We don’t want our president to be our bestest bud – we want him or her to speak intelligently with our civic and world leaders.  We want our government to work to improve the quality of life for us and our global neighbors.   We don’t waste time preaching against big government while advocating to reverse widely accepted Supreme Court decisions (Roe v Wade) and make constitutional amendments forbidding gay marriage – thereby taking power away from the states.

Most of all – we are real Americans.  (I, for one, grew up in North Dakota – a decidedly ‘red’ state.)   We believe in the melting pot that is this country, and believe that melting pot is chock full of ‘real’ Americans – and that those who throw rocks shouldn’t live in glass houses.

Palin – an interchangeable vagina?

Having lunch yesterday with my good friend Christiane to discuss my upcoming trip to Afghanistan, the talk eventually turned to the RNC and more specifically, Sarah Palin’s nomination as veep.  Disclaimer:  I’m voting for Obama – no question.  Despite being a feminist, I believe Obama is the change this country needs.   A woman as president?  Hell ya.  I loved seeing Hillary dispelling the myth that women can’t be strong, competent leaders.   We seem to be one of the few western countries that hasn’t had a female leader.  England, New Zealand, France, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland, China, Ireland, Israel, many African and South American nations, and India have all had female head’s of state.  Twenty six countries in all have had women at the helm.

The fact that it’s such a big deal that we have women vying for the two top positions in the country is a sad indictment of the state of our nation.  Seriously, Burundi? Liberia? Haiti?  These are nations not considered progressive by Western, democratic nations like the United States, and yet they’ve all had female leaders.   Switzerland has had five female heads of states, two of those as President.   At home in the United States, many can’t get pass the hormones, menopause, and perceived irrational mood swings that would make women seemingly incapable of leadership.  Soft on national defense? Hillary was more hawkish than many of her male colleagues in Congress.

Its now 2008 and we are finally breaking ceilings and letting the glass rain down.  So it should be an simple choice right?  Vote for the woman and prove that women should be standing shoulder to shoulder with men as their equal.  Let the feminist’s voices ring loud and clear.  Right?

But feminism is not feminism when you are willing to vote for a woman JUST because she is a woman.  As Christiane’s husband put it – “You can’t just substitute one vagina for another”.  Really?   Tell that to McCain.

As for McCain’s choice for vice president…let’s not kid ourselves, he wouldn’t have chosen Sarah Palin if she was a man.  Her lack of experience coupled with a closet bursting with skeletons would have made her way too risky.  He picked her because she’s a woman and thus can potentially sway the woman voters to stop using their brains and automatically side with the Republican ticket.  No questions asked.

The true irony is that Sarah Palin, while being in possession of said vagina (one assumes), is not on the side of women’s rights.  She is not a feminist.  That’s okay.  Woman have the right to choose their political viewpoints liberal or conservative the same as men – ironically its women’s ‘right to choose’ that may be at risk should the McCain Palin ticket prevail this November.  As a woman, I’m simply insulted that the Republicans think my vote could be swayed by gender rather than issues.  That we’re lumped together in big gender pie and that a Hillary vote is the same as a Sarah.   Causes be damned.

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