MarchThroughMarch #16: Mister Rogers Would Be Heartbroken

On May 1, 1969 Fred Rogers, the soft-spoken sweater-wearing host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, made a statement to the Senate about funding for PBS. When Senator John Pastore asked Rogers about the programming that would be funded, Rogers responded, in part,

This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.” And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.

That day, Rogers was asking the Senate for $20 million for PBS, a station that we’re all probably familiar with. It was the home of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as well as other popular children’s programming such as Sesame Street, Barney and Friends, The Magic School Bus, Arthur, The Electric Company, and my personal favorite Wishbone. Countless other shows have become beloved parts of children’s daily television since. What would break Mr. Rogers’ heart is that a recent budget proposal from the current administration is proposing to cut all of that, even though 200 million people watch PBS per year.

In a press release President and CEO Paula Kerger said today,

PBS and our nearly 350 member stations, along with our viewers, continue to remind Congress of our strong support among Republican and Democratic voters, in rural and urban areas across every region of the country. We have always had support from both parties in Congress, and will again make clear what the public receives in return for federal funding for public broadcasting. The cost of public broadcasting is small, only $1.35 per citizen per year, and the benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids 2-8, support for teachers and homeschoolers, lifelong learning, public safety communications and civil discourse.

$1.35 per citizen per year. That’s not even a cup of coffee. That’s barely a pack of cheap gum. For just 135 pennies a year, which you probably have floating around your house or between the car seats, we not only get school readiness but also time for family: 37% of parents say they prefer watching PBS KIDS to other stations such as Cartoon Network and in fact many parents, especially those in low-income homes, say that PBS KIDS is “the most trusted and safe place for children to watch television.” Three-quarters say their children exhibit “more positive behavior” after watching programming on PBS. And that’s just children’s programming. I myself am one of the 1.8 million educators who have used PBS resources, which are free for ALL USAmericans, as a teaching tool in nearly all of my classes. As a viewer, I still have Arthur’s library card song stuck in my head and have Wishbone and Levar Burton (from Reading Rainbow) to thank for my love and knowledge of literature; as I got older, I watched Bob Ross paint his happy trees with my grandmother and laughed every time he “beat the devil” out of his brush while trying to clean it. Perhaps 45 should have watched those wonderful shows, especially considering that 83% of voters, including 70% of those who voted for him, want Congress to find something else to cut. (See the PBS website for these exact facts and figures and more.)

I will never complain about having $1.35 (as opposed $308, if MIT is correct in their estimate of a $38 billion wall) of my tax dollars go to fund amazing, educational, and entertaining television like PBS or other arts and culture supporters that provide us with what I consider to be the soul of our nation. Without shows that help our children learn, without art that helps their minds expand and their hearts grow, our nation will wither and become cold and hard. I must say, it seems like we’re already close to that when we’d rather build walls than keep Big Bird alive and well. But as ever, Mr. Rogers has something positive and poignant to keep in mind, “I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said ‘yes,’ when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to somebody else.” Let’s say yes to helping keep these resources going and building bridges between us, loving each other just the way we are.


MarchThroughMarch #15: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Today is Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 84th birthday! To honor her day, she and some of her best quotes are the focus of the 15th installment of MarchThroughMarch.

“We should not be held back from pursuing our full talents, from contributing what we could contribute to the society because we fit into a certain mold, because we belong to a group that historically has been the object of discrimination.” –RBG

As the second woman ever appointed to the United State Supreme court, it’s clear Justice Bader Ginsburg isn’t afraid to trailblaze. In a time when “an M.R.S.” (her pithy way of saying getting married) was the most important goal for a woman, RBG was more focused on getting that JD. She did her undergraduate work at Cornell then progressed to law school. She’d began her law school career at Harvard as one of only nine women out of a class of 500 students; later, she transferred to Columbia, where she finished at the top of her class. This did not seem to matter to the 14 law firms that rejected her application, however, because “We don’t hire women,” one said. Eventually she was nominated as a clerk to US District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri, but once she discovered that she was still making less money than her male counterparts, she, her husband and children moved to Sweden where she translated Swedish law code into English.

“You can’t have it all, all at once. Who — man or woman — has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan, I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time, things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it.” –RBG

Although RBG seems to disagree with the idea of women “having it all” (career and family), she believes that this is impossible for anyone to achieve. Whether we’re talking about children or other aspects of life, sometimes we have to make sacrifices or at least changes to our lives to accommodate these big changes. This is part of life. That doesn’t mean that she will not hesitate to don her infamous dissent collar to fight for the rights of women to have control and privacy for their bodies and lives. No one can have it all, but everyone deserves the same basic rights. In fact, her first case sitting on the Supreme Court, Reed v. Reed, decided that the 14th Amendment does protect against discrimination based on gender. Too bad this hadn’t been decided earlier, when she herself faced difficulties keeping her various jobs in the law world, including the decision to hide a pregnancy from her employer to avoid being let off the team for her pregnancy.

“When I’m sometimes asked when there will be enough [women on the Supreme Court]? And I say, ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” –RBG

Indeed, RBG has been one of the biggest frontrunners in supporting women’s right at the government level, never being afraid to show her disapproval of cases or potential decisions made by the Court. She also supporters men’s choices as well. As Ryan Park describes in The Atlantic, RBG was crucial in supporting and mentoring Park through his decision to become a stay-at-home-father. Overall, she’s a dissenter for gender lines in the law, which she says harm everyone.

“You can disagree without being disagreeable.”–RBG

In a time when all sides seem like they’re lobbing not just opinions but hatred at each other, this is one of the quotes that stood out to me the most. While no one should have to be “nice” to someone who is being mean or inappropriate as I mentioned in a previous post, we should be able to respect those with differing opinions than ours, instead of dismissing them in a barrage of name-calling and other insults. I think this also highlights how big it is to have a leader who is so disagreeable, whether one agrees with his politics or not; the more we make it okay for people in any role to belittle and disrespect others, the more we make it okay for future generations to treat people in that manner. This remark serves as a lovely reminder that everyone is a human being deserving of basic respect, even if they don’t share the same views as you. Another iteration: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

“Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.” –RBG

The final quote is one of my favorites as a teacher, writer, and voracious reader. Another trend I have noticed in the present time, is that people don’t seem to care very much about listening to experts who know their stuff and instead follow what their emotions tell them, usually the emotion of fear. While I’ll never argue with trusting your gut or acknowledging and sharing emotions you’re feeling, it’s also important to stay up to date with the facts of a situation and not letting those emotions cloud insights those facts give us to the world we live in. Reading is the key to not only open doors to “many good things in life” but also many good things for everyone around us. The more we read, the more lives we live and the more knowledge we have; the more room for love in our hearts. As Americans, we’re pretty big on Dreams, but no one will have a chance at making any dream come true if we don’t learn about ourselves and our world. RBG, in all her many wisdoms, is a speaker, writer, woman after my own activist heart.

MarchThroughMarch #14: Snow Day Musings

Today a nor’easter, aptly named, is blowing through the northeast. Heavy snow wasn’t predicted until later in the afternoon, but of course Mother Nature decided to show us how awesome (in every sense of the word) she is and the white stuff started coming down in the late morning. By the time my partner and I woke up and started our day, a layer of snow a couple of inches thick had already coated everything like powdered sugar on a cake made by a heavy-handed baker. It looked lovely since I wasn’t the one who had to venture out into it, but I was nervous for my partner having to drive in the snow. Even a plowed and salted road could turn dangerous if the snow is particularly fluffy and/or slushy– great for playing in and making snowpeople, but not for driving to your evening shift at work. “Please be careful, B.” I said, wringing my hands a bit as he pulled on two pairs of socks. In a parody of the southern saying “This ain’t my first rodeo!” my partner reminded me, “My love, this isn’t my first blizzard.” I’d have to stop doing my southern accent impressions for him, he was gettin’ too big for his britches, this one.

But all jokes aside, he was right. Neither of us is a true New Englander (he hails from Haiti, and I’m a Texan without a real accent, but a knack for imitation), but all it takes is a little extra care and some practice to be a good driver, snow or not. The real issue was confidence and trust. He had confidence that he would be just fine on the road since he was a fairly experienced snow driver, and he was jokingly reminding me to trust in that confidence; he wasn’t worried about it and so I didn’t have to either. Easier said than done to someone with mild anxiety and a natural inclination to imagine a worst case scenario, but a truth I could rationally see.

I helped him get his dinner together, and he and his three layers of clothing were ready to go. He was giving himself a full hour and a half before he usually left in case there was traffic. He hugged and kissed me and told me he loved me very much and that he’d text me when he arrived safely at work. “I’ll probably get there so early I’ll just watch a movie or something. It’ll all be good.” I smiled back, feeling a bit better.

Once he’d gone, I poured myself a second cup of coffee and watched the snow for a bit. It really was lovely and even though I’m quite ready for spring already (again, Texan over here) there wasn’t anything I could do to change the weather so I may as well enjoy it. There are lots of things in the world around us we simply can’t change, and shouldn’t try to; there are things we have to trust in even if it’s scary or different than what we’re used to. It’s hard to see that “it’ll all be good” when you’re so busy expecting or imagining people to be a certain way and not seeing them for who they are or even giving them a chance to show you. (And as Maya Angelou so wisely said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time.)

About 30 minutes later, I got a text: “Made it. Starting early so I can come home to you even faster. Love you!” It’ll all be good, indeed.

MarchThroughMarch #13: Cheers! To health, PT. 2!

Post #12 focused on my general discoveries about the pending healthcare replacement plan. Today I’d like to make a little more personal. Although as I mentioned in the previous post, I live in a state where healthcare coverage is mandated and has a minimum requirement for that coverage, to see that the replacement plan will take away coverage for between 14-20 million people is quite painful. People who truly were truly helped by the ACA will end up worse off– the plan wasn’t perfect, but there weren’t any “victims” of the plan, either. I also know what would happen if I didn’t have access to a healthcare plan that was affordable and decently covered my medical needs. There are two major ways I’d be affected if my healthcare insurance were taken away.

I would never have gotten the therapy I needed to overcome a hardship and learn to manage my anxiety. About a year and a half ago, I experienced the loss of a loved one. I was working on my thesis that same semester, preparing to graduate with my master’s of arts degree, teaching, and trying to survive the most horrible roommate situation on top of that. I have always lived with anxiety, but all of this made it all seem like too much and I was almost constantly angry, unable to focus on the moment, and had started to lash out at the people who were trying to support me. I was holding it together at work and school, but when I got home, my bully of a roommate would further aggravate my already frazzled nerves and all I felt like doing at the end of the day was cry. And cry I did. A lot. Finally, my ever supportive partner told it to me straight: I needed help. While I wasn’t opposed to therapy, per se, I had been avoiding the idea of it out of pride; I stubbornly wanted to deal with all of this alone. But he was right, I simply couldn’t deal with all of this on my and it wasn’t fair to him or our relationship for me to put the burden of dealing with this. So I went to my Primary Care Provider and got a reference to a mental health clinic that provided psychological care that was affordable and professional. For the next year and half, I attended a weekly session with a social worker acting as a therapist and discovered deeper thoughts and feelings that were affecting me even beyond what I had originally went in for. It even helped me gain insight into the workings of my relationship with my partner and we’re stronger for it today.  I would not have been able to afford the fee per session had I not had the government market plan through my state paying for these sessions.

I would not be able to control my life and would be at the whim of my own body. Since we’re already getting personal, I’ll tell you this: when I was a teenager into my twenties, my menstrual cycle was extremely irregular, and when my periods would come, they would last for 2 weeks or more and be very heavy. Not good, especially when you’re trying to establish your authority as a 21-year-old ACT instructor to sophomores in high school and not trying to worry about whether you’re staining your pants as you stand up to write notes on the board. The unpredictability of my cycle was stressful, which according to my doctor was only making things worse because stress can throw off so many of our bodily systems. I had just been accepted into graduate school and was fed up with this. After having my “monthly visitor” go MIA for three months straight was the last straw. I visited my local health clinic where I saw a trusted Physician’s Assistant (I still miss her!) and she advised me on all my options. I seemed in otherwise good health, so we decided to try birth control pills as a first treatment. It worked like a charm and now I can predict Aunt Flo almost down to the hour and she never overstays her welcome. And did I mention that my horrible acne I also struggled with as a teen cleared up completely? Good bye foundation, I don’t even need you! And you know what else I don’t need? To pay for said BC because they are covered by my insurance, which even allows my pharmacy to dispense a three month supply so I don’t have to go so often. Again, this would not be possible or so convenient without access to a healthcare plan or, I might add, a healthcare clinic that saw modestly-incomed individual like me.

These are my reasons for supporting sensible, universal healthcare coverage and clinics that provide even more affordable care to all patients, and I think I’m a pretty average person as far as medical history. There are many more people with much more severe, chronic, or emergency healthcare needs and they deserve easy and affordable coverage too, perhaps even more so. We’re all humans and caring for each other should be bigger than a bottom line, every time.


MarchThroughMarch #12: Cheers! To your healthcare!

I am privileged to live in a state where health care and insurance is guaranteed to me no matter what my income or pre-existing conditions are, and when I was shopping around for an individual, private plan, I learned that Massachusetts’ healthcare policy was kind of the original Obamacare. Everyone in the state had to have health insurance coverage and if they did not have access through their workplace or school, they could get one through the state. It was a long, often frustrating process (every time I called, I was on hold for 30-45 minutes every. single. time. It’s gotten better, but still. Dang.) to actually get on one of the state plans because I am not from Mass., but once I finally jumped through all the proof of residency and a couple of other hoops, I was covered under a decent plan, considering it is for lower income members.

When Obama passed his healthcare plan, officially called the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the whole nation adopted a similar policy as Massachusetts– everyone had to be covered and some limitations such as pre-existing conditions could no longer be used for companies to deny people coverage. Overall, this was and is a great improve since patients who had “pre-existing conditions” like cancer would get the care that might literally save their lives without then being figuratively killed by their own medical bills. People like me who no longer lived in the same state as their parents, were unsatisfied with their school’s plan, and/or did not have a full-time job that would grant them access to an employee plan would also be fairly easily transitioned into a plan just for them. The ACA wasn’t perfect, but it certainly changed the way we approach and think about health coverage.

While researching both the ACA and its potential replacement from the current administration, I learned that one of the things that I (and many others) found to be one of the ACA’s flaws is actually an asset that will be lost in the pending repeal: the individual mandate saying that everyone had to be covered or face a fee. This mandate actually helps keep the cost of coverage low because without it “people could just buy insurance when they get sick, which raises costs for everyone,” says managing director for health policy Maura Calsyn of the Center for American Progress in an interview with Salon. The replacement plan would also give smaller tax credits than the previous policy and base them on age rather than income, as well as remove the provision that insurers must offer a minimum amount/level of coverage in all their plans. This latter difference will mean that insurers will be able to offer plans that don’t offer adequate coverage for any subscriber.

In a more scathing criticism of Trumpcare (officially and rather confusingly called the ACHA) and the Republicans who are trying to push it through Congress ASAP, Jonathan Chait for New York magazine writes:

The main challenge in drafting any health-care plan is financing it. If you want to finance health-care access to people who can’t afford it, then other people have to pay for it. This is always a challenge in politics, since Americans don’t like paying for other people to get things, but it’s a special challenge for a party that has elevated opposition to new taxes to the status of theological precept.

Rather than financing healthcare coverage and subsidies with taxes from wealthier brackets, the ACHA will be funded with money cut from Medicaid, which in turn will leave millions in poorer brackets and many others who are very sick without coverage. In other words, moral issues notwithstanding (even they should really be the deal breakers here, but that’s not how capitalism trains us to think), the plan would not work financially either.

The potential effects of this repeal and replace plan now affectionately called Trumpcare are not entirely clear, except when we look at the things we will lose and how the new plan will be funded and implemented. It’s sad to think that the roughly 20 million people who gained coverage under the ACA stand to lose that coverage with the ACHA, especially when we consider that those people are low-income, older, and have pre-existing or chronic conditions that otherwise would have excluded or complicated them in getting the healthcare they need. It’s completely fine to disagree about the policies we use to go about providing and paying for healthcare coverage, but actual healthcare is not, should not, be up for debate. We need a policy that allows for everyone to pay fair prices for adequate healthcare coverage without excluding anyone of getting the care they need.

Personally though? Gimme whatever plan Congress is getting. Or better yet, have them go on a plan where they’ll have to wait on hold for 45 minutes just to ask for their options, and then be told they have to wait another year. We’ll all be covered in a snap.

MarchThroughMarch #11: My First Newspaper Subscription

When I was still living with my parents, I would wake up many a morning, especially on weekends, and look for the local newspaper, the El Paso Times. I would glance through it, looking only at the front page of each section quickly before turning to the section that I really wanted: the “Living,” where I could find the comic strips, Ask Annie column, and the horoscopes. They were the most fun parts of our newspaper and pretty much the only ones I cared about.

Recently, however, I have a new kind of interest in newspapers, and just signed up for my first ever subscription with the New York Times. It’s the most basic subscription and I got an even greater deal on it with an educator discount, but subscribing to the Times felt like a small act of resistance all the same. Even though I could just as easily settle for the 10-free-articles-per-month offering they have for non-subscribers, it seemed important to finally start paying because supporting publications that seek out the truth is more crucial than ever.

Political parties and politicians themselves increasingly using media as a means to decimate news and other messages is actually really cool. It makes keeping up to date even easier than ever before because media is accessible on literally every device– we’re no longer limited to TV screens and printed pages that might end up soaking in the puddle of a surprise desert rain storm like ours did.

Having media as a tool for politicians also makes it easier to get factual information confused (like when a situation is quickly happening and different media outlets can’t keep up with its progression) or for flat out misinformation to pass as real. One of the most alarming phrases that inspired me to get my Times subscription was “alternative facts,” which is famously from Kellyanne Conway’s interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. (Shout out to Chuck Todd for calling her out and directly saying exactly how I feel: alternative facts are falsehoods.) Part of the reason I decided to subscribe to the Times was to get access to as many different perspectives as possible, whether it’s opinions I don’t agree with or facts that might change my mind about certain topics. There are many ways of interpreting and manipulating what a situation means, but the facts of that situation will always be facts and staying as updated as possible with those facts is key to forming your own thoughts about how your representatives are reacting to and furthering those situations.

In fact, when politicians start offering their own variations of “alternative facts” aka falsehoods, that is often a sign of a regime or dictatorship trying to form. These words scared me to my core because as a teacher and former student of journalism, getting the facts straight is crucial. For politicians to use media to mislead their constituents and call it something so outrageous and obvious left me feeling more than a little hopeless. Although Conway’s interview with Todd was a couple of months ago, many other falsehoods seem to have made their way into our legislation since, permeating from top to bottom. In an article called “Death of truth: when propaganda and ‘alternative facts’ first gripped the world“in The Guardian (another reputable source for news), Piers Brendon says, “But propaganda, like advertising, only strikes chords when the conditions are right. For all his ranting, Hitler could never have won widespread support if he had not been able to exploit the multiple miseries of the Depression.”

These sentiments and the alternative facts of our own present time made me wonder what conditions exactly some of our politicians, including 45 himself, could be exploiting; which miseries have justified policies that have not done much to alleviate anyone’s condition, but have instead created even frustration and grief? Exploring that will be in other posts, but my point is that reading about the facts of the world as well as the different opinions surrounding them has helped me feel more confident in knowing what is really going on in this world I live in and what my role is within it. Being well informed is powerful. Supporting publications that empower me and other readers with accurate, factual information takes a few dollars a month, but it seems like money very well spent.

MarchThroughMarch #10: A Little TLC

Now that this blog is in the double digits, I have felt both exhilaration and some nerves. I think that’s common with any endeavor, especially a new one, so today’s blog is dedicated so TLC. Not the band, although “Waterfalls” is so dang catchy…

Anywho, back to TLC as in Tender Lovin’ Care, for yourself. No matter what work you’ve been up to, it’s important to take time to breathe and recharge those batteries. For me as a teacher and writer, my idea of TLC is probably more on the nerdy side, but hey, just like no two people get involved in the community in the same way, so too does everyone need their way of relaxing. As long as I get to “relax my brain” as my partner likes to say. My personal step by step guide:

  1. First, get into something comfy. Nothing like settling down in your favorite pj’s or yoga pants and surrounding yourself with something soft.
  2. Step 2 is pick a spot to do your settling. Perhaps it’s the couch, your bed (made or unmade, I won’t judge you!), or in downward facing dog pose on your yoga mat. Make sure it’s your absolute favorite place. Note: if your favorite place is outside, maybe tweak step 1.
  3. Next decide on an activity. For me, it’s creating a nest of books around me and disappearing into whatever story I’m into. You do you; you’re chillin’ after all.
  4. This is the most important part: remember that you deserve this! Never feel guilty for taking care of yourself when you need a break from every day life and/or your work. If you can’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for those around  you.

So go ahead! It’s Friday, take a little time this weekend to give yourself some TLC. Maybe re-listen to the song too. You know you want to.