The Path Of Allyship

I didn’t go to the Women’s March, the day after the 2017 Inauguration. I had a long list of reasons for not going.  I still have mixed feelings about my decision to not march. I still have unequivocal angst about the future of America under the leadership of its current President.

Since I had become an American citizen in 2010, up until this year there hadn’t been an issue that had galvanized me to take to the streets. Looking back, I would seem to have thought that “somebody else” had been doing their best to keep anything I might have been paying attention to pretty much headed in a direction I approved of.

In November of 2016, America didn’t suddenly become more racist, or more opposed to transgender rights, or more poor. But an electoral majority of voting Americans had been stirred up to become more afraid, and more angry, more eager to blame, and more hateful of their targets of blame.

Since election day, millions of Americans have felt tossed into a series of ever-more destructive topical storms of presidential pronouncements and policy controversy. There is barely enough time to recover from one before the next arrives.

That being said, when I (and arguably the Democratic party) wasn’t paying attention, millions of other Americans apparently spent the previous eight years feeling voiceless and uncaringly tossed-about.

Have you noticed? The effect is similar to being hit by a series of hurricanes. If all someone sees is an onslaught of attacks on everything she considered normal and familiar, she becomes numb. It’s all too easy to stop caring what’s happening to anyone in the next community or even the next block. Our only focus is on day-to-day survival.

That kind of atmosphere leaves a population easy prey to a leader with a large public platform who proposes to ease the pain by presenting someone (or better yet, a diverse array of communities — as the ones to blame, and to make those communities a focus of anger and hate?

In today’s America, the President’s words and actions have emboldened millions of people to think that it’s okay to say and do hateful things that their neighbors had considered not just unacceptable but completely beyond the pale.

Millions of others on both sides of the aisle have been citizens longer than I. They have seen cycles of change before. Maybe their lives weren’t too bad before the election, and they can’t imagine anything terrible happening to them now.

Experience has taught some that nothing really changes no matter who is in power. They commiserate in quiet corners of concern or continuing despair, but avoid engaging with the contrary-minded. Even if things change in the next election and the pendulum swings the other way, it won’t matter.

Others figure that, like riding out the stock market dips, all they need to do it wait it out. Things will eventually change in the next election, the pendulum will swing the other way, and nothing can go seriously wrong for long.

As a relatively new citizen, I found myself among those who have been tossed and confused trying to make sense of wave after wave of events that threaten to erode or simply wash away things we hold dear. We want to do something constructive, but have no base of experience in how to respond to or engage with people who seem passionately opposed to us. We are afraid of the consequences — from broken friendships and conflicted conversations to lost business — of wading into a disagreement on a flashpoint issue.

Staying silent suddenly feels wrong to me. What I find stunning is the range communities and policies I care about that I find under assault. The price of courage seems intimidating. But a growing number of communities are being hit with the tab of those who aren’t willing to speak up.

There is an overwhelming number of things happening that concern me and move me to wish for better actions and outcomes. I am frustrated by my lack of time to research and write thoughtfully about all of these things. I want the United States to have gun laws as well as access to mental health care that together can significantly reduce violence.

I want all Americans to have access to healthcare they can afford. I want all of us to stand up for each other regardless of our appearance or abilities. I want a clean environment for us and for future generations. I want people to be able to recognize the common humanity in us all, and to treat each other with dignity despite our differences of opinions.

I want people to have the ability to move away from places where their homes have been destroyed and the support and legal ability to start over (I’m talking about the international refugee crisis, which, at over 65 million refugees, is at an all-time global high).

Somewhere in the middle of all of that I am also trying to run a business and give my professional best to the people I am here to help. Thinking about even a fraction of those things on any given day can leave me feeling overwhelmingly inadequate. I also want to love and laugh and have time with friends and family and explore and adventure. That’s just the list that is top of mind at the moment. I don’t have answers for all of those things. I find it hard to escape the feeling that it’s my responsibility to make a difference on all of them.

I’ve come full circle to the advice I was giving myself almost a year ago. I need to pick a lead issue and dig in, and have faith that others will do the same across the board.

I took to the streets for the March For Racial Equality. This was my first experience as a participant in public protest. I had sorted out many of the questions the plagued me during the Women’s March. I had figured out what the point was.

I didn’t think the Department of Justice was going to pay the least attention to anything that several thousand people chanted or held up on signs.

I didn’t want to accidentally say or do the wrong thing when I arrived with the intention of supporting other humans.

Many people at the march were delighted when I asked to take pictures of them with their signs. I was thrilled every time another marcher wanted to take a picture of my sign. In that moment, we were a community in motion.

I did think that it mattered for a few thousand white people who saw us pass by to notice all the other white people who were marching for racial justice.

And it turned out to matter to me, to feel common cause with thousands of law-abiding fellow marchers. I feel a lot less alone writing my blog post.

I feel inspired to learn how to engage more deeply in conversation, with respect and curiosity, with those who seem to think differently from me. And while we explore our differences, to begin to find the things we have in common.


Educate, Don’t Incarcerate.

About 20% of Virginians are black. But 60% of its state prison inmates are black.

Black people don’t behave a certain way because of the color of their skin. If the way justice is administered in Virginia suggests that, then the system needs fixing.

The injustice of that outcome starts early. Commonwealth of Virginia has the distinction of referring nation’s highest ratio of young people of color into the criminal justice system.  16 of every 1000 Virginian young African-Americans end up there. That’s what “school-to-prison pipeline” means.

As a human being, I cannot abide a justice system that streams a record number of young people, and a disproportionate number of children, of color into prison.

local public meeting opened my eyes to the “school-to-prison pipeline.” It’s one more face of racism in America. It shows up in my header graphic for this post, adapted/expanded by Ellen Tuzzolo from an original graphic published by the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, with a similar rank of “social acceptability” as “Police murdering People of Color” and “Confederate Flags.”

In Virginia, African American students get suspended at 3.6 times the rate of white students. They make up 23% of the student population but account for 58 percent of short term suspensions, 60 percent of long term suspensions, and 55 percent of expulsions.

Why does that happen and how did it start? If you have had kids in school in the United States over the past 25 years you might know this: in many communities School Resource Officers (SRO) are on-site in the schools as employees of local law enforcement agencies. They are under the direction to use police procedure to enforce state and local law.  It was news to me…and so were the consequences.

In the early 1990’s, many communities started to place police officers in the schools to increase safety. But their roles expanded over time. Research showed that the presence of police in a school resulted in a greater number of young people being arrested for minor offenses. What in my day might have been a “mild scuffle” with the vice-principal could be today’s “assaulting a police officer,” which a law enforcement official must report as a crime.

Childhood trauma is often a cause of serious childhood misconduct. Black and Latino students are at a greater risk than white students of having experienced childhood trauma. Youth of color are also more likely than white youth to attend schools with police officers. This means that students of color, who may have greater need for mental health care than white youth, are instead dealt with by police officers who are untrained or insufficiently trained in responding to trauma.

~ 9/7/16


Without adequate training of adult teachers and leaders, and without detailed briefings for parents and students about the rules of engagement, even simple everyday interactions have the potential to escalate easily into disciplinary action and suspensions.

Suspensions mean missed classes. Missed classes bring students stigma and social isolation and put them on a path of failing grades that can be difficult to reverse.

Kids make mistakes. Repeatedly. They need more than once chance to get it right, and the criminal justice system often doesn’t give them that chance.

Once the get into the criminal justice system, these young people are imprisoned at an annual cost of $150,000 per person. That’s more than enough money to send that same person to college for four years!

Both the school board member and the Assistant Public Defender who spoke at the meeting agreed that the schools need more resources and better training for teachers and school resource officers, for starters. That’s yet another expenditure I’d support before putting kids in prison.

Imagine what kind of change we would see in communities if even half of those kids got the resources and opportunity to overcome obstacles they were born into, and the support to defy those disadvantages to see and make choices that would get them to college instead of to prison.

As a human being as well as a taxpayer, I’d rather my money send kids to college than send them to prison.

This isn’t just a problem in Virginia. It’s certainly an issue that all voters (but most immediately those in Virginia, which holds gubernatorial elections on November 7th, 2017) should know how candidates will address before they head to the polls.

And it’s an issue that we should all care about as human beings.