broken walls and narratives

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Deconstructing Duluth’s Demographic Crisis

Deconstructing Duluth’s Demographic Crisis

H. Bradford

4/11/18

On February 24th, the Duluth News Tribune ran an article about Duluth’s impending demographic crisis.  I wanted to write a socialist feminist response to this, but never got around to it.  Not that I am the authority on socialist feminism, but I am a feminist and a socialist…and I do think about these things…so, why not break it down?  Now, whenever I hear the word “demographic crisis” I want to run for the hills, or burn something, or both.  Not really, but I think it is one of those sexist, ageist, racist, pro-capitalist concepts that begs to be dismembered.   Here is why…

Ageism:

Early into the Duluth News Tribune article, when describing the shifting population of the Duluth region, the aging population is described as problematic.


“If population levels were even across age groups, this wouldn’t be much of a problem. But, as you may have heard, the largest generation in the country’s history is marching into retirement, leaving many jobs vacant just as unemployment levels are bottoming out and productivity growth is stalling (Johnson, 2018).”


It is true that our population is aging, but, one must consider why this is a problem.  According to the article, it is a problem because there will not be enough workers to replace those who retire.  On the surface, this seems like a problem, as society needs workers to produce things.  However, this frames the post-retirement age population as the cause of a social problem.  Framing the older population as a “problem” is ageist.  It also ignores their labor, as labor does not end when wage labor ceases.  Their contributions to society do not cease when they reach the age of 65 (or higher ages for the many people who do not have retirement savings, pensions, or the ability to survive on social security alone).  Older adults do unpaid work such as volunteering, caring for grand children, gardening, baking, canning, sharing their knowledge, checking up on one another, and a plethora of other important economic activities that are dismissed because they are unpaid.  Just as the invisible, unpaid labor of women is ignored as a natural or unimportant, this invisible labor and its contribution to society is also ignored.


This connects to the socialist feminist concept of social reproduction.  Basically, in capitalist society, the labor force must reproduce itself.  This can literally mean that the work force must replace itself through biological reproduction, but also means that each worker must sustain themselves through sleep, eating food, washing clothes, maintaining their health, relieving stress, and all the many things that are required to survive and work another day.   Typically, women have played an important role in providing the invisible, unpaid labor that keeps the work force …working.  Caring for children, giving birth, caring for the elderly, washing clothes, cleaning a home, doing dishes, making meals, grocery shopping, etc. are all important unpaid activities that ensure that capitalism will continue.  Of course, older adults who leave the work force also provide some of these services as they are “free” to (my own grandparents made many meals for me, baby sat me, bought me school clothes, taught me information, etc.).  Thus, is it really a problem that people grow old?  Aging is a natural process.  It may happen that we have an aging population, but why is this a problem?  Some people might respond that it is a problem because this group requires more care and there are not enough young people to care for them.  The article itself argues that it is a problem that there is not enough workers to fill jobs and that productivity will decline.


I am not an expert on matters of aging, but I imagine that the “problem of aging” could be mitigated by providing quality, free health care to people of all ages, along with clean environments, living wages, robust pensions, housing, etc.  The aging population might very well “age better” if a high quality of life was ensured for people of all ages.  What does it mean to “age well” anyway?  I think to most people means the ability to care for one’s self, enjoy a high quality of life, and live independently for as long as possible.  If this is what this means, the locus of “aging well” is framed as an individual responsibility and the very human need for care is viewed as burdensome.   This concept is very individualistic and puts the rest of society off the hook for taking responsibility of providing and caring for the variable needs of older adults.  It is also ageist, as aging well is basically the ability to live as similarly to a young person for as long as possible.  Maybe it is okay to be wrinkly, sedentary, crabby, or anti-social.  Society is awful.  Living through decades of economic ups and downs, cuts to social programs, pointless wars, and the general nonsense of everything deemed meaningful by society might sour a person against living with youthful optimism and vibrancy.   After years of being alive, “aging well” might seem like a racket to sell beauty products, skin treatments, fitness memberships, etc.

Image result for aging well

(This image leads me to believe that aging well has something to do with being white and wealthy.  Capitalism doesn’t have resources to spare on caring for the elderly, so make certain you stay healthy with fresh air and bike rides in the country.)


If indeed there is a shortage of workers, there are certainly plenty of people in the world and United States itself.  These people might be more inclined to move to this frigid region and provide elder care if this was not low paid, under appreciated service work but unionized with benefits (including retirement plans!), better wages, and better working conditions.   A true shortage of workers might require open borders to allow new workers to enter the country, but this would require a move away from our current racist, xenophobic, nationalist, and exploitative immigration policy.  The “aging population problem” is not a problem with age, but an ageless problem of capitalism to meet the basic needs of humanity.


Of course, the notion of declining productivity must also be challenged.  Why is it a problem when productivity declines?  Why must productivity always increase?  What does this mean for the environment?  When have we produced enough?!  Productivity is a problem in capitalism because of the tendency for profits to decline.  Because competition lends itself to increased investment in fixed capital and there are human thresholds of how much variable capital can be exploited from workers, profits decline over time.  Markets also become saturated as there is only so much people can buy (again because wages only allow so much consumption).  When too much is produced and too little is consumed, capitalism falls into a crisis, which Marx called the crisis of overproduction.  Therefore, productivity is not necessary good.  It is not good for the workers (who must work longer or harder).  It is not good for the environment (as it creates waste and overuse of resources).  And it is not even good for capitalism, since it lends itself to instability.  I think it is important to think against blind productivity and instead think about rational, careful production in the interest of human needs.

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(Capitalism probably produces enough…  though I suppose the gulls don’t mind.)


Sexism:

Another reason why I dislike the concept of “demographic crisis” is that it is sexist.   Although the article only mentions it briefly, increasing birth rates is often suggested as a way in averting the crisis.  Even if it is not mentioned in detail in the article, it is implicit in the premise of the argument.  If the population is aging and this is a problem, that means that not enough new people are being born.  Thus, not only are older adults the problem, the bigger problem is that women are not gestating enough babies.  The bodies of women have long been treated as public property, inasmuch as their reproductive power is harnessed for state interests.  The fight for reproductive rights is a fight to liberate women from their role as the producer’s of the next generation of soldiers and workers.  The birth rate in the United States (according to 2018 CIA World Factbook Information) is 12.5 births per 1000 people.  Our birth rate is slightly higher than the UK, Sweden, France, and Australia which all have 12.x births per 1000.  The rate is higher than Finland, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Denmark, which have 10.x births per 1000 people.  Our birthrate is certainly greater than South Korea, Japan, and Germany, which range from 8.x to 9.x births per 1000 people.  Despite our higher birth rate, there is enormous pressure upon women to reproduce- to the point that the organized movement against abortion has made birth nearly compulsory in many parts of the country due to restricted access to abortion.  In many of these countries with lower birth rates, the issue of abortion is far less controversial.  Here, anti-choice activists bemoan the loss of millions of fetuses, which they argue contributes to our demographic crisis (fewer workers, fewer students, etc.)   At the core of demographic crisis is a demand to control reproduction- because if population is viewed as a resource, women’s bodies are responsible for producing this resource.


 In the context of capitalism (and unfortunately many economic systems), population is treated as a resource.  Workers need to reproduce so that there are more workers.  This leads to a precarious balance.  Capitalists do not provide for the reproduction of labor (this has often fallen upon women and families) as this requires an investment in workers.  At the same time, workers have to have a basic level of sustenance to continue working and to allow for a new generation.  For instance, if a woman works too hard or consumes too few calories, she may stop menstruating.  Therefore, workers generally have a basic threshold of exploitation which if reached these workers will no longer be able to survive and reproduce.   In the United States in particular, our status as a world power has an economic component and a military component.  The military domination of the world is an extension of the economic component, as military might ensures access to markets, thwarts competitors, offers access to capital (for instance natural resources and labor), etc.  For the United States to remain an economic and military power, babies must be born.  Babies are needed so that there will always be a supply of soldiers and workers.  Reproduction is a national interest.  I think this contributes to the controversy around abortion and the drive to limit it.
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(A piece of art that I created called Capitalism is Built on the Bodies of Women)

As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, capitalism has a contradiction.  On one hand, in seeks to increase profit by extracting more surplus value from workers.  Because profits decline over time, workers are pressured to work harder and longer.  This increased exploitation limits the ability to reproduce labor (to reproduce biologically, but also to maintain a certain level of health as workers).   In the United States, not a lot of profit is redistributed towards caring for our existing population (i.e. ensuring the reproduction of labor).   We do not offer paid parental leave.  We do not have free day cares.  There is a shortage of housing.  Health care is expensive.  The list goes on.  The conditions of capitalism are so extreme that 5.8 infants die out of 1000 born.  In Japan, two infants die per 1000 births.  In Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, there are slightly more than 2 infant deaths per 1000.  In the European Union as a whole, there are about 4 deaths per 1000 according to the CIA world Fact Book.  Once again, rather than a demographic crisis, our crisis is an inability to care for our population.  Certainly, anyone worried about our economic or military strength might begin by tackling the causes of infant mortality.  But, this would mean diverting profits towards human needs.  Re-thinking profits and capitalism itself would undermine the logic of militarism and nationalism.


Supposing that the United States provided free access to abortion, birth control, all health care, and social conditions favorable to reproduction (paid leave, free day care, adequate housing, etc.)  Even if these conditions were met, women have no obligation to reproduce the next generation.  They should not be scapegoated for demographic crisis.  In the end, it is up to society to creatively adapt to changing populations- not women.


Racism and Classism:

The article concluded that a key to averting Duluth’s demographic crisis is promoting immigration to the city.   Regarding this point, Mayor Larson said,  “Duluth needs to be a community that is welcoming and open to new experiences, new faces, new ethnicities, new races to solve workforce shortages (Johnson, 2018).”  I think that it is generally a positive, feel good conclusion, since well, who doesn’t want Duluth to be a more welcoming city?  The mayor suggests working with education and health care partners to attract more diversity to the city.  Hmm…alright.  What does really this mean?


In a subtle way, the statement hints at what kind of diversity is acceptable in Duluth.  I interpret working with education and health care partners to mean attracting diversity by attracting professionals of color.  The center of this argument is not “let’s build more low income housing so we can attract all of the African Americans in Chicago or Minneapolis who are on housing waiting lists and house those who already exist in our community!”  Duluth DOES have some racial diversity BUT, this diversity is segregated into poor neighborhoods, homeless shelters, and jail.  Yet, because they are poor and people of color, this population is not seen as a solution to the “demographic crisis” because they are an OTHER at best and problem at worse.  They are those people.  Those people who are blamed for crime or making things not like they used to be for white people.  This is another problem with the notion of “demographic crisis”- since demographic crisis always refers to the shortage of a desirable population.  We have a low income population that would probably be happy to invite friends and relatives and grow if Duluth was a more welcoming, less racist, expanded housing, housing and employers ceased discrimination against criminal backgrounds, day care was expanded, public transportation was more reliable, schools were not segregated and plainly racist, etc.


Truly making Duluth a city for everyone, as the Mayor suggested, would mean changing what Duluth is right now.  Right now, Duluth is focused on being a city for business.  In particular, it is a city for businesses that serve tourists.  Centering the city on the tourist industry makes Duluth a city not for everyone, but for middle class, mostly white people, who have the leisure and money to stay at a hotel or the outdoor gear to enjoy our nature.   Duluth can’t be a city for business and for everyone.  We CAN be a city that is for everyone that happens to attract tourists, but the reverse is not possible.  The reverse is what has made Earned Safe and Sick time so controversial, as segments of the business community that are most opposed to it are those sectors that serve tourists (restaurants and hotels).  The reverse has also been what has stalled the Homeless Bill of Rights- because homeless people are a “problem population” not one that should be accounted for in “demographic crisis” and certainly not one that deserves to be treated with basic dignity.  After all, they might just spook the customers!  If we want to be a city for everyone, then we should start by being a city for workers, for the homeless, for people of color, and all of the oppressed in our community.


Conclusion:

Duluth is just one city.  It would be pie in the sky to try to think we can build socialism in a single city.  Many of my suggestions require a massive struggle on a national scale to accomplish.  I do believe that we have local activists with the talent and audience to contribute to such a national struggle.  I am not one of them, but am a small and marginal voice in that struggle.   Beyond the national, there are some things that can be done on a local level.  We can focus local priorities on meeting human needs and support things such as Earned Safe and Sick Time and the Homeless Bill of Rights.  We can challenge the policies of our schools and police to make the city less racist and classist.  We can also think against business interests and promote diverting profits towards social good.  Beyond these material things, I wrote this because I wanted to challenge the ideological logic of “demographic crisis.”  Like many crisis and panics, it is a social construct.  Inherent in this constructed crisis is ageism, racism, sexism, nationalism, and classism.  There are no population problems.   There are only failures of societies to address the needs of populations.  It is only through struggle that we will win the means to address these needs.


Johnson, B. (2018, February 25). ‘Stability’ not enough for Duluth jobs; aging population isn’t being replaced on pace. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/business/workplace/4408874-stability-not-enough-duluth-jobs-aging-population-isnt-being-replaced

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2091rank.html

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Navigating Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Navigating Public Service Loan Forgiveness

H. Bradford

4/8/18

In 2007, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was launched under the Bush administration.  The program allows student loan borrowers to have their loans forgiven if they make 120 qualifying payments on their loans while working full time as a public servant.  This includes work for state, tribal, and federal organizations, 401c non-profit organizations, Americorps, Peace Corps, and some other qualifying non-profits. I did not learn about this program until about two years ago when I was faced with the reality of paying my student loans and spent some time looking through repayment options.  Since the program is not well promoted or advertised, many people are not aware that they may be able to have their loans forgiven. Had I known about it, I could have enrolled years ago and made some headway towards the 120 qualifying payments. This past year marked the 10 year anniversary of the program, which meant that the first cohort of enrollees in the program were qualified for loan forgiveness.  However, many found that they had not been making qualifying payments and would potentially have to start over. In all, only about 1000 of the 7,500 people enrolled in the program are expected to actually qualify for loan forgiveness this year (Lobosco, 2018). It is unknown how many, if any, have actually seen their loans forgiven, but the frustration of many borrowers has resulted in some lawsuits against loan servicers.  I have had my own frustrations and setbacks as I have tried to navigate the program. I will try to share some of the things I have learned along the way so that others can avoid the pitfalls that have thwarted so many borrowers.

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Direct Loans and Consolidation:


One of the criteria for loan forgiveness is that student loans must be Direct Student Loans (which confusingly are also called Direct Plus Loans and Unsubsidized/ Subsidized Stafford Loans.)   Payments on loans that are not Direct Loans (such as federal Perkins Loans and FFEL loans) do not count and so if you spend time making these payments, it will not works towards the 120 or 10 years of payments.  If you decide to consolidate these loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan, you will loose credit on any payments on the Direct Loans you had been making payments on.  Thus, if you make payments on loans that are not Direct Loans or make Direct Loan payments AND then consolidate all of the loans, and the payment clock will reset once the loans are consolidated. Therefore, aside from working at a qualifying institution, it is important to consolidate non-Direct loans into a Consolidated Direct Student Loan early in the payment process.  In general, it is best to consolidate all federal loans early in the payment process (since once they are consolidated into the Direct Consolidation Loan the 120 payments reset).  I made the mistake that some of my loans were consolidated and some were not.   This is because I had consolidated some of them years ago.   I accumulated additional loans which were not part of the consolidation.  Both of these loans were serviced by Navient with qualifying payment plans, which I made payments on for a year.  It  was my belief that some of the loans may not qualify for forgiveness after 10 years of payments.   Because of this error and to make certain all loans were forgiven, I reconsolidated the loans.  Consequently, I lost a year of payments towards my 120 qualifying payments.   Despite the loss of time, I figured it was better to start over and have everything forgiven than reach the end with only some forgiveness.  Thus, if you are entering the program, make sure that your loans are Direct Loans and that you consolidate early on if you have multiple loans!  There are some other entities that try to offer consolidation loans.  If your consolidation loan is through a bank or some other entity than the federal government, it will not qualify for PSLF.

(Originally, I wrongly wrote that only consolidated Direct Loans qualify.  All Direct loans qualify for the program- but in my case, I was unsure if my loans qualified and was making payments on consolidated and non-consolidated loans.  When I consolidated them I started over.  If you are confused on this matter, read the section on eligible loans: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service/questions)


 Qualifying Payments:

 

To qualify for student loan forgiveness, borrowers must make 120 qualifying payments.  This means that only certain payment plans meet the criteria for forgiveness. A person can qualify by making payments under a standard payment plan.  There are also several income driven plans (IDR) which include Pay as you Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay as you Earn (REPAYE), Income Based Repayment (IBR), and Income Contingent Repayment (ICR).  To qualify for IDR, I filled out a request form and submitted it with my income taxes. Generally, if a person qualifies for IDR, the payments are 10-15% of discretionary income, or income above 150% of the poverty line.  Borrowers must also demonstrate some sort of financial hardship, but simply having a high loan balance compared to annual income is sufficient to qualify. Each year, a borrower must submit new tax information and a new request form to qualify for the payment plan.  To apply for income driven repayment, you can visit StudentLoan.gov https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/ibrInstructions.action?source=15SPRRPMT


Not all payment plans are qualifying payment plans.  For instance, some borrowers were on extended or graduated payment plans.  These plans are NOT qualified for forgiveness, as borrowers found out the hard way when they tried to apply for forgiveness this year.  While these plans also lower monthly payments and are also government sponsored payment plans, they do not qualify for the program. However, the federal spending plan passed in March has made $350 million available to borrowers who made ten years of payments under these plans so that they do not have to restart the clock on repayment (Lenza, 2018).  Despite this recent provision, the funds are only available until they have been used up, so, it is best to either apply for these funds immediately if you have been on the wrong payment plan or switch over to a qualifying payment plan. Image result for public service loan forgiveness image Image from: https://blog.iontuition.com/qualifications-public-service-loan-forgiveness/

Employment Verification:

The heart of this program is employment in public service.  It is important to note that this does not have to be continuous employment or even employment at the same job.  For instance, if you make qualifying payments while doing a year of Americorps service, spend a year working at a for profit company, followed by a year of non-profit work, this would still count as two years of qualifying payments, even if the work was interrupted.  Of course, the year at a non-qualifying workplace would not count, even if payments were made on the student loans. Full time is considered an average of 30 hours a week or more, so it is possible to be a “part-time” worker in terms of hours and benefits, but still be considered full time by PSLF standards.


The program does not require individuals to submit employment verification each year in order to qualify in the end.  When I applied for income driven repayment, I checked a box stating that I worked in a non-profit. I figured this was sufficient for their tracking purposes.  It is…and…it isn’t. While a person COULD work at qualifying workplaces for the duration of the ten years, then, at the end of the 120 payments submit an employment verification form to prove this, it is better to submit this annually for a number of reasons.  1.) This program is under attack by politicians, so, officially enrolling in the program is a good way of getting grandfathered in should the program end. 2.) Your employer may not qualify- so it is better to know sooner than later. 3.) It is a way to keep track of progress towards the 120 payments and avoid any mistakes that will cost time and money by delaying forgiveness.


If you wish to submit an employer verification form, here is is.   Simply have your employer fill out the required parts, then you can mail or fax it to the Department of Education.  But, beware, submitting this form will set in motion a series of unfortunate events….


https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-employment-certification-form.pdf

Changing Loan Servicers: A Series of Unfortunate Events

While there are many good reasons to immediately submit the employment verification form, there is one major downside.  The major downside is that this will switch your loan servicer to FedLoan, which is the most unpopular and poorly rated loan government servicer.  The government has several student loan servicers including Great Lakes, Navient, Nelnet, and Fedloan. Despite the fact that they all oversee student loans for the government, only FedLoan is used for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  This means that once you submit your employment verification form, your loans will be transferred from your servicer to FedLoan. FedLoan has poor reviews for customer service, miscalculating IDR, delayed processing of payments, slow processing time for paperwork, etc.


I submitted my employment verification form in January.  In the meantime, I continued to make payments with Navient.  It took four months for the loan to finally be switched over to FedLoan.  And, when it finally switched over, I was given less than a week’s notice that my payment would be due!  Not only was my payment with FedLoan due in a week…it was for the full amount…as the income based repayment plan was not transferred with the loan.  While FedLoan had no problem transferring my banking information for automated payments from Navient along with the due date of Navient’s payment, the servicer was completely incapable of transferring my payment plan, even though I had renewed the payment plan in December.  The payment plan was not set to expire for eight months. Worse, I was expected to make a nearly immediate payment of over $1000. Yes, this was a nightmare.


To navigate this disaster, I submitted a renewal for my income driven plan on the same day that I learned my loan had been transferred.  This form can be submitted electronically on FedLoan’s site. Borrowers are also able to submit tax forms electronically on their website.  Despite my quick action, I read that FedLoan is notoriously slow and inept at calculating IDR. Some borrowers have had to wait three months to have their income driven repayment plans approved.  In the meantime, borrowers are expected to make full payments. I also called the next day and spoke with a representative, wherein I explained my situation and the surprise at the sudden high payment.  I was able to defer my loans for several months while the IDR is being processed. I actually asked to continue to make payments for the same amount that I made with Navient for this duration, but was told that these would not count as qualifying payments for PSLF.  Although I was approved for temporary forbearance, to make 100% certain that my checking account is not debited the full amount of the loan, I suspended payments for the month. This can also be done electronically on FedLoan’s website. Now, I am hoping that with this multifaceted approach, I can avoid some of the frustrations other borrowers have experienced.  My main piece of advice is to be observant and proactive.


I am still in the early stages of my relationship with FedLoan.  With time, FedLoan should provide me with a report on my payment progress towards the 120 payments.  I have not yet received the report, but I have read that some borrowers have found errors in how this was calculated.  Again, it seems like FedLoan is the shit show of loan servicers. But, I will say that the representative I spoke to was helpful and my forbearance was processed within 24 hours.  I also received notice yesterday that my IDR was processed. This means that it was processed within four days. While the new payment plan has not yet gone into effect, perhaps this is a kernel of hope that FedLoan may not be absolutely awful. Image result for fedloan

Other Information:


Currently, borrowers who do not work at work places which qualify for PSLP can still qualify for loan forgiveness.  Borrowers who make qualifying payments on their undergraduate student loans for a MERE 20 years can have their loans forgiven.  And, if you have debt from graduate school, you can see financial freedom after 25 years of qualifying payments! Hope springs eternal as there is the possibility that debt can be forgiven by retirement.  If it is not, delinquent student loan payments can be taken out of social security benefits (up to 15% of benefit). It is important to note that any student loan debt that is forgiven by the government is counted as taxable income.  It is also important to note that at this time, PSLF debt forgiveness is tax exempt (but 20 and 25 year forgiveness under extended payment plans is not). One final thing to be aware of is that marriage means that Income Driven Repayment plans are calculated with both incomes.  This changes payment amounts and may bar some people from qualifying for these plans. Thus, another piece of student loan repayment advice is to never get married.

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Conclusion:


Navigating Public Service Loan Forgiveness can be frustrating to say the least.  I am thankful for my education, but certainly wish that education did not require taking on such debt.  In exchange for my education, I am certainly willing to provide a service to society. Though, rather than creating debt that is escapable only through death, we should provide free public education from pre-k through Ph.d.  For those who are passionate about lifelong learning, there should also be free or low cost, varied, and plentiful continuing education programs, certificate programs, and trainings. We should all be passionate lifelong learners.  Instead, education is becoming increasingly private, expensive, and market driven- qualities that are anathema to creating a population with a zeal for expanding their human experience through learning. The present system is flawed in many ways.  At a basic level, it is bad for capitalism since it thwarts the reproduction of labor. If people cannot marry because of debt or must pay student debt into old age, there is a diminished ability to ensure the sustenance and continuation of labor. While I have no sympathy for capitalism’s continuation, the student debt system will inevitably cause crisis in capitalism as workers are increasingly burdened by loans.  PSLF is a small, relatively unknown escape hatch from student loan burden (which still requires 10 years of payments and a lot of hoops). But, for many people, it relieves them of the worst burdens of their debt as they provide various services to society. More must be done. This modest program must be defended, but beyond this, we should demand forgiveness of all crushing educational debt and quality education for all.

Related image

Image from:  https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/senate-bill-would-provide-student-loan-debt-relief-070617.html

 

Sources: (not formatted correctly…)

https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/student-loan-ranger/articles/2018-04-04/how-student-loan-borrowers-can-requalify-for-public-service-loan-forgivenesshttp:

https://money.cnn.com/2018/02/02/pf/college/public-service-student-loan-forgiveness/index.html

Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed: Reflections on Being the Easter Bunny

Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed: Reflections on Being the Easter Bunny

H. Bradford

4/3/18


This spring, I saw an interesting opportunity posted on Facebook.  The post was a call-out for anyone interested in becoming the Easter Bunny at the mall.  Despite the fact that I already have two jobs, or three if you count subbing, I posted my interest and was interviewed later that week.  The interview was pretty informal, mostly consisting of questioning why I was interested in the job and trying on a giant Easter Bunny head.  With little effort, I was hired on for a two week stint as a costumed Easter Bunny at a mall kiosk for seasonal photos.  I thought the whole thing seemed silly and certainly would provide the raw materials for a good story.


The Costume:

The costume itself was hot and claustrophobic.  When I first tried the whole thing on, I felt a little overwhelmed by the sense of being trapped.  The trapped feeling came from the general heaviness and stuffiness of the head, which provided a dim and limited view of the world.  The head does not allow for adequate peripheral vision or the ability to look down.  The rest of the body is less challenging.  It consisted of oversized rabbit feet, baggy fur pants, a velcro velvety blue jacket, and furry gloves.  One thing that I appreciated about the costume was that the bunny looked intellectual, with round glasses and gold trimmed velvet clothes.   This was not a rowdy Peter Rabbit, but perhaps his pedantic uncle who is allergic to carrots (unless they are boiled) and whose favorite painting is Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.

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(My first time wearing the costume)

In any event, the costume could become hot.  Thankfully, there was a fan aimed at the bunny.  The only downside was that sometimes the fan upset children or messed up their hair, so it was turned away or tilted up, resulting in a sweltering rabbit.  On the upside, I tried to think what skills wearing the suit might translate to.  Paul (a fellow rabbit) said that maybe I would be more comfortable in a gas mask, since those are also claustrophobic.  I thought perhaps I would do better underwater (with a lessened sense of the space around me or a sense of confinement in a wetsuit or scuba/snorkel mask).  Yes, I want to believe that being the bunny better prepares me for revolution, apocalypse, or underwater adventures.


 

Gender:

The Easter Bunny was usually gendered as male by parents and children.  The bunny doesn’t have any specific gender markers, but might be viewed as male due to the blue velvet vest and jacket.  In a Twitter Poll, 80% of respondents believed the Easter Bunny to be male.  Though, velvetty anything seems pretty gender ambiguous in my opinion.  Only Paul suggested that the bunny could use they, them pronouns.  Otherwise, parents almost universally used masculine pronouns with the rabbit.  A few people inquired about the gender of the person inside of the costume.  For instance, a girl asked me if I was a girl bunny or a boy bunny.  An older woman asked one of the cashier/photography workers if the person inside was male or female.  I don’t expect that most customers would have the knowledge or experiences to envision the bunny outside of the binary of male or female.  I myself tended to gender the bunny as male, hence my Peter Rabbit’s uncle story.  I often wondered how parents felt about setting their child on the lap of the Easter Bunny.  Did the parents envision the person inside as male?  If so, how did this make them feel?  Male gender and sexuality is always viewed as more potentially threatening to children.  This is because we are socialized to view women as more “naturally” disposed for caretaking, more nurturing, and more invested in children.  Statistically, men are more likely to be perpetrators of child sexual abuse, though females make up 14% of the abusers of male children and 6% of female children.  With this in mind, I wondered how parents might react differently based upon their perceptions of the gender of the person in the costume.  As far as I could tell, most parents were extremely comfortable putting their child into the lap or company of a stranger in a rabbit costume.  This leads me to my next point…


Consent:

I was not able to speak as the Easter Bunny.  This made negotiating consent difficult.  As I mentioned, parents were pretty comfortable with placing their child in the temporary care of the Easter Bunny.  However, many children were not at all comfortable meeting the bunny.  It seemed that children over the age of two and under the age of five were often quite terrified of the bunny.  From a distance, they seemed excited.  As they grew nearer, the magnitude of meeting the bunny struck them- as well as the general weirdness of having to sit on this character’s lap or beside them.  This resulted in reactions ranging from shyness to terror.  Parents addressed this a number of ways.  A common tactic was to bribe the children.  Children were promised that they could ride the train, have candy, go to Build a Bear, or get a toy if they endured a photo with the bunny.  Parents also assured their children that the bunny was safe and nice.  This was done by approaching the bunny, touching its paw, high fives, sitting next to the bunny with the child in arms, and other tactics to increase the child’s exposure to the bunny and demonstrate that it was no threat at all.  Some parents threatened their kids, telling them there would be no candy or that they would go straight home.  A final tactic was to simply place the child on the bunny’s lap or on the bench, then run, hoping that the photographer would grab a few shots before the child inevitably ran away.


Parents played an important role in mediating the child’s consent.  However, most parents wanted a photo for their own collection of memories or to send to relatives.  They had a vested interest in forcing their child to endure a photo.  This put me in an awkward position.  When one parent placed a child on my lap, the child immediately thrust themselves off my legs and flopped onto the floor.  This resulted in more crying.  Since I did not want more children to fall over, I would hold them securely on my lap- a violation of their consent.  Parents encouraged this, even telling me to hold on tight to their child.  When I finally released one child, the crying boy wailed that he would never return to the Easter Bunny again.  I felt bad that many kids did not consent to being photographed with the bunny.  While I think that with time and patience, many frightened children would warm up to the bunny, the length of the line or impatience of the parents did not allow for this to happen in some cases.  In other cases, children naturally became more comfortable with the giant rabbit and ended up having a positive experience.  Thus, I can conclude that I think it is alright for parents to challenge their children to overcome their fears in a patient and supportive manner.  But, I do think it sends the wrong message for parents to threaten or force the encounter.


As for my own strategies for trying to make children comfortable, I would sometimes grab an egg for the children to hold.  This seemed to distract them from the frightening, giant rabbit.   I would also try to make the children comfortable with high fives and thumbs ups.  If kids rushed towards me (without showing fear) I might gesture for a hug.  I didn’t want to be a cold Easter Bunny with walls of boundaries, but I also didn’t want to make children uncomfortable.  I found that this was a little challenging to balance, as I naturally am more reserved when it comes to showing warmth and affection.


 

Working with Kids:

While I work with children at Safe Haven Shelter, I enjoyed my interactions as the Easter Bunny far more.  Within the context of the shelter, I am just me.  If a child is placed in my care, it is usually in the office, where there are computers, office supplies, and phone calls.  Thus, I always feel pretty stressed out about childcare at the shelter because 1.) I have nothing to entertain them with.  2.) I am in a room full of expensive or breakable things- i.e. computers.  3.) I often don’t know how long the encounter will last.  4.) I may have other work to attend to.  5.) I am not actually all that fun or interesting to children.  As the Easter Bunny, I was immediately fun and likeable.  Afterall, I am the one who brings candy and hides eggs.  On several occasions, I was able to ride on the mall train which was a grand entry and an opportunity for sort-of dancing.  While I could not speak, I could wave, gesture, high five, and pretend to hop.  In all, it was great to NOT be boring old Heather, who has nothing to offer children.  Really, being the Easter Bunny is the closest I will ever be to being a celebrity or God. Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting and child

(a photo of a photo- of my friend Jenny’s niece)

 

Labor:

From a Marxist perspective, all workers sell their labor power in exchange for a wage.  Labor power is not only labor (i.e. selling shoes, making shirts, paving roads, or other examples of the act of working).  It is time, work, along with the whole human being.  In short, every worker sells their work and time, but also their personality, body, and the sustenance the person (physical health, mental health, caloric use, bodily wear and tear, etc.).  My temporary gig as the rabbit was a “hobby” job or one that I did more on a whim than for my actual survival.  Therefore, I didn’t feel particularly exploited.  At the same time, I think it would be very hard to be the bunny all year long or as a professional job.  There are some people (such as Disneyland workers) who do not have the luxury of a two week gig.  Thus, I think it is useful to illustrate the way in which this form of work is exploitive (as all work is).


When a worker sells their labor power, they are selling themselves.  In the bunny example, the worker is invisible, hidden inside a stuffy, hot suit.  The sweat of the worker, the inability to scratch an itchy nose, immediately use the toilet, easily ingest water, move hair that has flopped into the face, to speak, to see beyond the periphery of the eye holes, etc. are all ways in which the body is subjugated in the sale of labor.  Playing the character is how the personality of the worker is subjected in the interest of the emotional labor of entertaining children.   The way in which work subjugates the body and personality of a worker is pretty obvious inside the confines of a costume.  Even other workers tended to ignore the bunny, sometimes neglecting to turn on or move of the fan.  The bunny can’t easily communicate needs.  Another hardship as the rabbit was a lack of a sense of time.  There was no nearby clock, so time could move quickly or slowly depending upon how many customers were visiting.  At the same time, the bunny was paid better than other workers.  Workers who were not the bunny were pretty adamant that they did not want to end up in the costume.  I believe that at some level they realized that the bunny produced more “value” in terms of labor output (i.e. had a harder job but also contributed more to overall profits).


But, a person does not have to be in a bunny suit to realize the bodily oppression of labor.  A waitress who has to smile and look pretty for more tips, a social worker whose stress or compassion is a strain on their mental health, and a janitor whose heavy routine deteriorates physical health are all examples of how labor is more than just our work and time, but our whole being.

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(A little house of capitalist horrors)

Conclusion:

I would say that the job was certainly novel.  Towards the end, I was happy that the season was over since my coworkers seemed worn out and the hours in addition to my regular work hours was making me weary and eager for free time.  It was a fun side job and more insightful than one might imagine.  While hidden in my costume, I had plenty to think about in terms of gender, consent, and labor itself.  There were fun moments.  I liked to make children happy.  I liked to play a character.  I liked the opportunity to be something other than the more serious and quiet version of myself that I sometimes am as an activist and worker at my other jobs.  I enjoyed eating at Noodles and Company at the mall and visiting the mall at all!  It was something different from my normal routine.  I was also happy to have stories to share with my friends, coworkers, and family.  I even had a several people visit me as the bunny.  If the opportunity arises, I may be the bunny again next year.  Being the Easter bunny made me feel more inclined to celebrate Easter.  I visited my family and even purchased myself an Easter basket full of candy I don’t need.  But, even the Easter bunny needs a little treat!   Anyway, we’ll see what next Easter brings.  And who knows, maybe I will be one of Santa’s helpers…

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https://www.quora.com/Is-the-Easter-bunny-male-or-female

End the Lies: Activists Confront Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Duluth

End the Lies: Activists Confront Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Duluth

H. Bradford

3/24/18


On Thursday, March 22nd, activists gathered at the Women’s Care Center in Duluth, MN to draw attention to Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs).  The event was organized by the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Student Advocates for Choice as part of NARAL’s national End the Lies campaign.  The student organized event in Duluth was also attended by members of several local feminist groups, including H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia, Feminist Action Collective, and Feminist Justice League.  On March 21st and 22nd, similar events were held across the country as part of an effort to expose CPCs. These fake clinics use tactics such as deceptive advertisements, websites, and misinformation to deny abortion and other reproductive health services.  The March 22nd protests coincide with NIFLA v. Becerra, a Supreme Court Case which is set to decide whether or not a California law which requires crisis pregnancy centers to post information about abortion and contraceptive services offered by the state and whether or not staff are licensed by the state is constitutional.  NIFLA or National Institute of Family Life Advocates has sued the state of California for their right to mislead women as a matter of free speech.


The Women’s Care Center in Duluth was chosen as the site of protest because it is located across the street from the Women’s Health Center, one of six abortion clinics in Minnesota (State Facts About Abortion: Minnesota, 2018).  In addition to performing abortions, the Women’s Health Center offers STI testing, cancer screening, a variety of contraceptives, annual gynecological exams, menopause care, and other reproductive health services. The Women’s Health Center has provided abortion and other reproductive health care since 1981 to Duluth, as well as large swaths of northern and central Minnesota and Wisconsin as the nearest abortion provider.  In contrast, the similarly named Women’s Care Center was launched in 2012 across the street from the Women’s Health Center (Rupar, 2012). While the Women’s Care Center offers free pregnancy tests, parenting classes, and baby items, it can only be described as an anti-abortion center due to its strategic location, similar name, vague website, and pro-life affiliation. Furthermore, the Women’s Care Center is the annual launching point of the 40 Days of Life Campaign, an annual 40 day anti-choice protest outside of the Women’s Health Center.  Although protesters are commonplace outside the Women’s Health Center on clinic days, the 40 Days of Life means that each fall there are larger numbers of protesters outside of the building and that they are there for longer hours.

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Unfortunately, Duluth is hardly an exception when it comes to crisis pregnancy centers.  As of 2012, there were over 90 crisis pregnancy centers in the state of Minnesota. These fake clinics receive over $2.4 million of state money through the Positive Alternatives Act.  The Naral-Pro Choice Minnesota Foundation found that 73% of the CPCs that they investigated provided false medical claims about the association between abortion and breast cancer, 87% lied about the connection between abortion and severe mental health problems, and 67% provided misleading information about the connection between abortion and infertility.  None of the CPCs investigated referred women to birth control and 67% provided misleading information about the health risks of birth control (State-Funded Deception: Minnesota’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers, 2012). This is just a small sample of the ways in which CPCs use deception and lies to promote an anti-abortion agenda.

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Nationally, CPCs have operated since 1969, when Robert Pearson founded the first center in Hawaii.  Pearson created the template which has been used for decades by CPCs across the country. His manual explicitly called upon CPCs to falsely portray themselves as abortion providers to lure abortion seekers away from actual providers.  His manual instructed “councilors” to never counsel for contraceptives. In a 1994 speech, he said that a women seeking abortion has no right to information that will help her from killing her baby. Make no mistake, CPCs were founded on a concerted effort to deceive.  These fake clinics have flourished in recent decades as they have found support from Focus on the Family and Care Net. They have also obtained state funding through federal “abstinence only” programs, “choose life” license plates, and through tax credits and direct funding allocations (Stacey, n.d.). Image may contain: 3 people, including Jenny Hoffman, people smiling, outdoor


With 2,300 to 3,500 Crisis Pregnancy Centers across the country and fewer than 800 abortion clinics, it is vital for activists to fight the tide of shrinking abortion access.  To this end, feminists should demand an end to state funding to crisis pregnancy centers and work to educate the public about their deceptive tactics with the demand of increased state oversight.  Abortion itself should be destigmatized, state funded, and added to the canon of regular healthcare. It should be safe, legal, and accessible. At the same time, choice cannot exist so long as we live in a society defined by poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, transphobia, and the myriad of oppressions that divide and immersate us.  Choice cannot exist so long as women are paid unequal wages, bear the burden of unpaid labor, and endure the high cost of childcare. Child care should be provided free of charge at facilities that are open all hours and all days. Some Crisis Pregnancy Centers provide clothes and diapers for babies. Lying, anti-abortion organizations should not be left to fill the gaps of our deficient, war mongering state which gives tax breaks to the rich while denying a living wage to the poor.  Housing, healthcare, child care, parental leave, living wages must also be a part of the larger campaign to finally realize the true meaning of choice and thwart the anti-abortion forces once and for all.

Image may contain: Jenny Hoffman, Lyle Matthew Koesterman and Heather Bradford, people smiling

 

 

Sources:

 

Rupar, A. (2012, July 2). Duluth’s only abortion clinic braces for anti-abortion center to open across street. Retrieved March 24, 2018, from http://www.citypages.com/news/duluths-only-abortion-clinic-braces-for-anti-abortion-center-to-open-across-street-6546494

 

Dawn Stacey. (N.D.). The Pregnancy Center Movement: History of Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Crisis Pregnancy Center Watch.  Retrieved MArch 24, 2018 from http://www.motherjones.com/files/cpchistory2.pdf

 

State Facts About Abortion: Minnesota. (2018, January 05). Retrieved March 24, 2018, from https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/state-facts-about-abortion-minnesota
State-Funded Deception: Minnesota’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers (pp. 1-26, Rep.). (2012). St. Paul, MN: NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota Foundation.

Another Birthday Month

Another Birthday Month

H. Bradford

2/28/18

Well, February is ending.  This means that my favorite month is almost over!  I feel a little sad, as usually I meet February with such enthusiasm.  I often have a long “to do” list of birthday activities.  This month, I have found myself feeling sluggish, with less zeal for living.  There were some days that I felt downright depressed.  However, I still did my best to make the most of the month and celebrate my birthday in smaller ways.   This is fine.  Sometimes a celebration can look more like hibernation and the best gift is solitude and sleep.  With that said, it was a pretty low key birthday month.  Here are some of the highlights….


 

Sax Zim Birding Days:

On February 3rd, I braved the slippery roads and headed to the Sax Zim Bog to do some birding.  I was even able to convince Adam to come along with me.  Although the day was probably a bit long for him, I had a fun time.  We drove around and visited several bird feeders.  I even saw two new species of birds: snow buntings and Bohemian Waxwings.  I almost missed the Bohemian Waxwings, but happened to turn my binoculars to a tree.  I assume at first that they were Cedar Waxwings.  The two birds look pretty similar.  However, I grabbed my bird guide and was pleasantly surprised to see that the birds had a rusty coloration under their tails.  This meant that they were Bohemian Waxwings.  There are only three species of waxwings in the world (the other is the Japanese Waxwing).  There is always something magical about identifying a new species of bird for the first time.  There are many birds that I will confuse or forget, but I think I will always remember the plump and rusty Bohemian Waxwing.   As for snowbuntings, I have seen these birds before- but not since I began birding a few years ago.  So, they were a target species this year.   I have driven around looking for them throughout the winter, but finally spotted a huge flock of them.  They were too quick and white to photograph (as they blended into the field pretty well).

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The birds were pretty far away so the photo quality is not awesome.


On February 5th, I returned to the bog alone and added two more birds that day.  I was fortunate enough to find that a flock of Sharp-tailed grouse were active in the early morning.  Later in the day, I moved on to Virginia, where I found a lone Canvasback duck.  Both were new to the list.  I also believe that I saw a Boreal owl as I was driving through Cotton, but I did not have time to stop as I was on a main highway.  Thus, I was unable to add that bird to my list.

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Since those dates, I have done some birding elsewhere, but have been unable to find any new species of birds.  I have been trying to spot a long tailed duck and a spruce grouse- haunting HWY 2 and Agate Bay in Two Harbors.  My field trips have yielded nothing, but with some days off in the near future- perhaps I will find them.  Of course, birding isn’t about adding new birds to a list.  This is “listing.”  There is joy in seeing familiar birds and becoming better at identifying what is already known.  But, as a person who likes lists and obtains a sense of accomplishment from setting goals- adding to the list motivates me to go out more often.   This weekend, I will make my final winter visit to the bog when I go snowshoeing there with my mother.  This is how we celebrated my birthday last year (even though this runs into March…escaping the neat borders of my birthday month).

 


Bird Feeders:

One of the outcomes of visiting the Sax Zim Bog on February 3rd with Adam was that we were both impressed with how people living in the bog area set up public bird feeders.  These individuals welcome people to view birds on their property.  Feeders such as Mary Lou’s and Loretta’s attract both birds, but also large groups of strangers.  It is inspiring to see people open up their yards to strangers.  They also invest a lot of their time and money into maintaining these feeders which benefit both birds and people.  I wish that more communities broke down the barriers between private and common spaces.   This is something that the Solidarity House tries to do by offering a free garden, free books, as well as a variety of free goods on our porch.   After we returned from the bog, we decided to set up more bird feeders in our front yard.  I purchased two feeders and Adam purchased one.  I also bought some more suet.

Our efforts have regularly attracted birds to the yard.  Although we do not have a huge diversity of species in our small yard, we regularly have several cardinals visit the feeders.  I have also seen black capped chickadees, a white throated sparrow, white breasted nuthatches, a downy woodpecker, and dark eyed juncos in the yard.  I enjoy looking out the window and watching these birds.   While this isn’t an elaborate way to spend my birthday month, I will say that I have enjoyed my quiet moments at the window.   Holly, my roommate Elizabeth’s cat, also enjoys these moments.

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Owl Tattoo:

Another bird related highlight of the month was getting a new tattoo.  I reached my 300th bird in February, so I decided to get a new tattoo.  I determined that the new tattoo would be a snowy owl, as this was the first bird that I saw in 2018 and the last one I saw in 2017.  It has been an irruption year for snowy owls, so there have been more than usual in my area.  I had not seen one before this year, so seeing them several times this winter has been special.  I felt that the snowy owl was a good choice since it represents this year (due to more being around) and winter in general.  I also thought that the white contrasted well with the black of my raven tattoo.  Although the birds have different shapes, I wanted two birds that at least had a sort of imperfect symmetry with one another.

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Painting:

Another activity that I have engaged in this month is painting.  I have no training in painting or in art in general, but I have always liked creating art from time to time.  This month, I wanted to create a piece of art for an upcoming feminist art show called WTF!   So, I created a painting about how capitalism depends upon the bodies of women to function.  It is a little graphic, but it is meant to convey the idea that the reproductive power of women is used to create the next generation of workers.  Of course, the unpaid care work done by women also ensures the continuation of the working class.  The art show will begin on March 8th and it is my first time participating in a public art show!   The same day that I painted that piece, I also painted the windows of the Solidarity House to look like a forest.  I had promised Adam that I would do this a long time ago, but forgot all about it until recently.  We had several ovenbirds crash against the window and die last fall.  By painting the windows with a scene, we thought we might break up the empty space and prevent bird fatalities next year.   Additionally, I am trying to create a second painting for another feminist art show at UW-Superior.  The piece will also have a labor and feminism theme.  Finally, Jenny wants me to create a painting for an auction that Critter Harbor is hosting.  Critter Harbor is an organization that traps and neuters feral cats.  These cats are returned to the outdoors, but are provided with food and water.  Some may be rehabilitated and adopted.  I think this is all exciting, since it pushes me out of my comfort zone.  I know I am not a great artist.  I know I have a lot of room to improve.  However, I think that I should not be limited by self-doubt or imperfection.  If I want to paint, I should paint- skill or no skill.

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Trivia:

Every other Thursday for the past year, I have done trivia at Pizza Luce with a group of friends.  We usually do okay, but not often well enough to place.  On February 15th, we gathered for trivia again.  I wasn’t going to attend since I was dead tired from working for nine days in a row and nearly 95 hours.   It had been a hard day, I was extremely sleep deprived (I had slept about 3 hrs between a 10 hr shift and a shorter 4.5 hr shift and about 3 hrs before the 10 hr shift the day prior).  Somehow I pulled myself together enough to show up for trivia with my friends.  Well, we actually won first place at trivia- out of 24 teams.  I am glad to be friends with a bunch of smarty pants!

Image may contain: 6 people, including Heather Bradford and Chris A Mrozinski, people smiling, people sitting and indoor


Sleeping:

I am going to be honest and say that I have had a very strong drive to sleep this month- though this drive has not always resulted in actual sleep.   The drive to sleep has increased since the middle of the month.  On my actual birthday, I skipped an activist meeting so that I could get a little extra sleep before my 10 hour shift.  I don’t think I actually got any extra sleep, but it was nice to just stay in bed.  This week, there have been days were I have done little more than sleep, eat, and work.   Like usual, I am working an 8 day stretch of 10 hour shifts, followed by a bonus 9th day with a shorter shift.  I have typically had a high tolerance for work and moderate lack of sleep, but lately- not so much.   I slept 14 hours on one of my days off last week.   I have been taking power naps during my 30 min work break.   But, winter has been long.  February has been cold and we had three snowstorms in the past week alone.   Since I do have some very busy days, I think I am okay with allowing myself to indulge in sleep.


 

Activism:

Like every month, there is always a schedule of activist events.  This month, I have stepped back a little.  Nevertheless, some activist highlights of the month include a union steward training and getting elected to the E-board of my union local.  Another highlight was a small, but meaningful discussion on feminism and non-binary gender.  On February 10th, I participated in a Valentine’s Themed Letters to Prisoners event.  It was a fun event where several local activists sent Valentine Cards to prisoners.  Socialist Action organized a modest rally for Immigrant Rights.  This was followed by our monthly Socialism and Slice discussion group.  The discussion group has grown so large that we will have to seek out another venue.  I am also excited to help out with HOTDISH Militia’s Bowl-a-thon.   Yeah, I will say that this month I was much less engaged in political activism.  Usually, I have far more meetings and events to attend.  But, one my New Year’s Resolutions was to step back a little.

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Overeating:

I ate too much this month.  The downside of my birthday month is that I justify going out to eat with the line….Well, it’s my birthday month!  I ate a lot of Mexican food.  I treated myself to sushi and green tea tempura ice cream.  I had Indian food.  I really don’t want to think about how much I treated myself in the form of food.  It is little wonder that I have ended the month a little chubbier.  Now, as a feminist I should be fat positive.  I should allow myself to take up space, fully enjoy life, and not sweat my size.  That isn’t the case.  While I don’t obsess about it and have come to terms with the fact that I won’t be a thin as I was in my 20s, I am not a huge fan of the scale going in an upward direction.  On the other hand, I sure did enjoy all that Mexican food.   I guess March can be a month of moderation…


 

Zumba and a Sauna:

I wasn’t as physically active as I would have liked to have been this past month.  But, I at least took time to attend a zumba class and take a sauna.  Zumba is really a fun way to engage in fitness.  As for taking a sauna, I think it feels so primal and rejuvenating.


Hiking:

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to make sure that I hike, bike, run, kayak, etc. 365 miles this year.  I don’t think it will be that hard of a task, but it is not something I have ever actively tracked before.  Right now, I am behind on my miles.  But, February was both cold and snowy.  I ended up with fewer miles in February than in frigid January.  As of today, I have hiked about 47 miles in February and January combined.  Usually, these are pretty mild three mile jaunts.  Because I was falling behind this month, I was going to try to do five miles- in a snow storm last week.  This did not pan out.  It was cold.  Snow whipped my face.  The wind was wicked.  I made it about two miles total.   This snow storm was followed by two other snowstorms later in the week.  While I should have 59 miles by the end of the month to keep on track, I will likely end the month 10 miles behind.

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Birthday Party:

I had a low key birthday party on February 17th.  Years ago, in my late 20s, I would host giant, extravagant birthday parties with pinatas and trivia.   For the most part, I have smaller, less involved parties in recent years- if anything at all.  I already do a lot of planning and preparation for Marxmas, so I have lost the energy to host two large parties so close to one another.   But, honestly it was nice to hang out with a few people without a whole lot to do.  Jenny hosted an Arbonne Party for her birthday in January.  I actually did the same this year- since I wanted the free protein powder (which costs $60 a bag in their catalog).  Yep, so I had a product presentation themed party.  This was an unusual choice, but it wasn’t bad.  We had some snacks, soaked are feet, and listened to a presentation about products that I don’t NEED but somehow felt compelled to buy because well…it’s my birthday.   I think that “it’s my birthday” can be a bit of a dangerous mantra- since it has encouraged me to be excessive all month….

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Airfare:

I worked on my actual birthday, but one thing that I did on my birthday for myself (aside from sleeping) was book my flight to Romania.   I will be visiting Romania in late August, spending some time in Romania, Moldova, Macedonia (with a day trip to Kosovo), and then ending in Iceland before heading home.  I am trying to hit a few European countries that I have not yet visited- but I think that all of them will be interesting.  I will be gone for about three weeks.  I am excited for an adventure in the lands of Ceausescu, Vlad the Impaler, break away semi-autonomous states, the social construction of Alexander the Great, and geothermal wonders.


 

Black Panther:

Another highlight of the month was seeing Black Panther with Dan.  I love Marvel movies, even if they are predictable and cautious.  Black Panther was unique in that it was set in Africa with few white characters.  It had great costumes, engaging characters, and a story line that wrestled with racism and colonization.  Now, I would like to write a longer review.  I will say that I wasn’t satisfied with the political conclusion that the best bet is to work within system to uplift the oppressed through charitable institutions.  I felt that the character Killmonger had some great lines and was far more politically relateable than a princely and privileged isolationist (or was until the conclusion of the film).  Killmonger wanted to arm the oppressed- even though his vision of revolution also involved an expansion of Wakanda as an empire.  That is the annoying thing about Magneto/Killmonger type characters is that revolutionary philosophies of liberation are often coupled with authoritarianism/supremacy in comic book movies.  There are many visions of how to overthrow systems of oppression and radically alter society- yet so few are represented.  It creates a villainous strawman out of radical politics.  Oh, and another very annoying aspect of the movie was the fact that the CIA character was a good guy!  Come on!   The Wakandan characters are very aware of colonization and slavery, but somehow the United States- and the the CIA no less, ends up playing a heroic role.  Never mind the assassination of Patrice Lamumba, support of the coup against Kwame Nkrumah, support of Mbutu Sese Seko, assisting in the arrest of Nelson Mandela, fighting MPLA in Angola, supporting the overthrow of Gadaffi in Libya, etc.  But this was a Marvel movie and these tend to fetishize secretive organizations (i.e S.H.I.E.L.D) and align the good guys with America.  Still, I did enjoy the movie and I don’t want to take away the joy that Africans and African Americans have experienced by seeing positive representations of Africa and Black people.  Also, I did enjoy the movie and feel it is one of the better films in the Marvel universe.


Conclusion:

Well, there you go, that was my birthday month.  There were some positive things, such as fun times with loved ones, birding, painting, visions of travel, time spent outdoors, trivia, and activism.  There were some not as positive aspects of the month, such as over-eating and sleeping too much/too little.  Looking back, I think I made the most of my month without exhausting myself trying to zealously seize each day.  Yes, there is a limited amount of time in a lifespan.  Birthdays are a good reminder of that.  But, I guess if from time to time, I want to just spend a whole day in bed or eat Mexican food three days in a row- that’s okay too.   It would be cool if I ran 4 miles on my birthday or did one celebratory thing each day of the month- but that would be exhausting.  Despite some lows, I think the month had a good balance of fun, friends, work, and hiding from the world.

This Beast

I have failed to write a poem for EVERY book I have read this year, but the most recent book that I read was The Democrats: A Critical History by Lance Selfa.   This book was well written and clearly identifies the long history of contradictions, empty promises, and duplicity of the Democratic Party.   The book is wonderfully enraging.    Here is a poem to express my revolutionary anger.

 

This Beast

2/12/18

Know this beast

Study it everyday

Like the features of a monster

With gnashing teeth to grind up the working class

Bludgeoning them like Hartley and Taft

The demon who ignores poor women

The Jekyll and the Hyde Amendment

The Jackal and the corporate cabal

Who broke bones with austerity?

Who championed NAFTA, WTO, World Bank, IMF, and the CIA?

These are not gladiators,

But emperors and vampires.

There is no lesser evil

There is only the evil of two faced capitalism,

Which devours children and shortens lives,

The time must come when people no longer bow before

Great and terrifying things

Yielding power to imagined behemoths

Their immortality is mythical

The immorality is real

We already possess the power to end this nightmare

To liberate the dispossessed

And dispose of every neo-liberal liberator

 

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100 Resolutions for the New Year

100 Resolutions for the New Year

H. Bradford

1/30/18

I like making New Year’s Resolutions.   In the past few years, I have had about 50 resolutions.  I accomplish about half of them.   And, to be honest, my New Year’s Resolutions tend to be more like a a giant “to do” list.  So, many of the things on the list are things I hope to do over the year.  Another portion of items on the list of resolutions are things to track.  For instance, last year, I tracked the books that I read, birds that I saw, and political events that I attended.   This year, I am going to be even more ambitious and have made a list of 100 New Year’s Resolutions.  (I am a little short of 100 in case I think of anything important to add to the list).  Some of this requires data tracking.  Some is more like a check list.  There is no science behind this.  I don’t expect that it will make me a better person.  Perhaps, it just creates a weird frenzy in my life to check things off or write down data.   But, I think it does shape the year and gives me things to think about or plan.  Here is my 100 Resolutions for 2018!


    1. Travel to Romania and Moldova:  This will be my big trip of the year- in late August.  I will visit a few other countries as well on this trip.

 

  • Take an additional trip:  I am not sure where else I will travel, but I would like to take a mini trip somewhere….

 

 

  • Read 30 Books

 

 

  • Read a Classic Non-fiction (among the 30)

 

 

  • Read a Classic Fiction (among the 30)

 

 

  • Read a socialist feminist book (among the 30)

 

 

  • Continue Ballet Lessons

 

 

  • Attend Yoga Classes

 

 

  • Play Soccer in the Fall or Summer

 

 

  • Take up Fencing Again

 

 

  • Run a 5K

 

 

  • Try Fat Tire Biking

 

 

  • Go to Two New State Parks

 

 

  • Try Paddleboarding

 

 

  • Go Camping Four Times

 

 

  • Go Snowshoeing

 

 

  • Go Skiing

 

 

  • Practice Violin

 

 

  • Study Russian

 

 

  • Study Spanish (so it is easier to travel to Central and South America)

 

 

  • Study Romanian (for my trip)

 

 

  • Find 50 Geocaches

 

 

  • Add 50 New Birds to My Life List

 

 

  • Substitute Teach

 

 

  • Visit the Planetarium

 

 

  • See a Meteor Shower (this did not make my list last year, but was on it the year before)

 

 

  • See the Northern Lights

 

 

  • Create a Painting

 

 

  • Celebrate International Bog Day

 

 

  • Celebrate International Squirrel Day  (I already failed at this goal!)

 

 

  • Write a poem about each book I read this year.

 

 

  • Get a Snowy Owl Tattoo

 

 

  • Get an additional tattoo

 

 

  • Take saunas for self care

 

 

  • Plant a tree

 

 

  • Attend Zumba

 

 

  • Do Polynesian dance with my DVD or in a class

 

 

  • Watch a Classic Film

 

 

  • Plant a Free Garden

 

 

  • Attend 50 Political Events 

 

 

  • Keep a Food Log

 

 

  • Try a Vegan Challenge (1 week?  1 month? Every Monday?)

 

 

  • Really Clean my Room

 

 

  • Donate 2 bags of clothes

 

 

  • Get rid of one tote bin of belongings

 

 

  • Try to survive one month on the USDA food budget challenge

 

 

  • Try to spent Less than 10% of my income on food  (yeah, yeah, I eat out too much…)

 

 

  • Attend the ballet

 

 

  • Attend a musical event

 

 

  • 365 Mile Challenge (hike, bike, swim, kayak, canoe, etc. 365 miles in one year)

 

 

  • Volunteer

 

 

  • Write 50 Blog Posts

 

 

  • Regularly Floss

 

 

  • Reduce Junk Food 1/2

 

 

  • Try a New Activity

 

 

  • Regular Dr. Visit

 

 

  • Regular Dentist Visit

 

 

  • Regular Gyn visit

 

 

  • Save Seeds

 

 

  • Successfully Dehydrate garden produce

 

 

  • Visit a New State

 

 

  • Visit a National Park

 

 

  • Attend an artistic event

 

 

  • Visit the Museum of Russian Art

 

 

  • Finish Book 5

 

 

  • Promote the Christmas Spider tradition

 

 

  • Focus on a Fungi of the Year

 

 

  • Focus on a Butterfly of the Year

 

 

  • Focus on a Spider of the Year: White Lady Spider

 

 

  • Attend a Conference

 

 

  • Hang out with someone new

 

 

  • Hang out with someone old (someone I haven’t spent time with for a while)

 

 

  • Send Valentine’s Day Cards

 

 

  • Focus on a Fern of the Year: Lady Fern

 

 

  • Focus on a Tree of the Year: birches in general?

 

 

  • Learn to Make Jam

 

 

  • Learn to watercolor

 

 

  • Grow in Domestic Violence advocacy

 

 

  • Grow as a patient educator

 

 

  • Try something new each week

 

 

  • Make a travel album

 

 

  • Start buying for x-mas in July

 

 

  • Do something towards teaching re-licensure

 

 

  • Try a new fitness class

 

 

  • Try a new food

 

 

  • Put more money away for retirement

 

 

  • Buy a kantele (this has been on my list for a long time, but I don’t really need any new hobbies…)

 

 

  • Read the news each day (already failed, so perhaps just try to do it more often!)

 

 

  • Try a new restaurant

 

 

  • Create a podcast

 

 

  • Go Shooting

 

 

  • Take a self defense course

 

 

  • Write an article for S.A.

 

 

  • Write something monthly for the Northern Worker

 

 

  • Take vitamins

 

 

  • Study Finnish (I have to many languages on my list, but we can dream…)

 

 

  • Learn to identify 50 birds by their song

 

 

  • TBD

 

 

  • TBD

 

 

  • TBD

 

 


There you go!  I am sure I will fail at some of these resolutions.  Perhaps others will create new patterns in my life.  A few will just continue the trends that I have already started!  Overall, I am always hoping to be a healthier, more knowledgeable, broader, more creative, and more traveled person each year!  I hope that 2018 is a great year.

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The Lenin In Me

Once again, I am trying to write poems about each book that I read.  Since I mostly read non-fiction, it can be a bit of a challenge!  One of the books that I read in January was Lenin on the Train, by Catherine Merridale.  This poem was what I came up with after reading the book.  It is about gender as a revolutionary train ride.

The Lenin in Me

By H. Bradford

1/30/18

There is a Lenin inside me,

A man with a sharp mind.

The female body is his train.

Taking him places, carrying that brain to those who will listen

to a program that cuts through

time and space and night,

also like Lenin on the train.

I am on my way to revolution.

I am on my way to change.

The she, the he, and the they will meet at Finland Station.

We are writing what we will say.

In eight short days the world will change.

But, I am content to bide my time.

It is enough to enjoy this ride.

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Drawing by Pyotr Vasilievich Vasiliev, Lenin on the Train to Petrograd

Nicu Ceausescu

One of my goals this year is to write a poem about each book that I read.  Earlier this month, I read Red Horizons, a book about the dictatorship/foreign policy of Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu.  A character that captured my imagination  in the book was the villainous portrayal of Nicolae’s son, Nicu.  His story raises questions about justice, especially in light of all of the sexual harassment and assault that has garnered media attention this year.  What is justice?  How do we make the horrors of history right?


Nicu Ceaucescu

H. Bradford

1/28/18

Nicu crashed the car he was given for raping a 15 year old.

He pissed on the only oysters in the country, when the people ate nettles and scraps.

The only justice he saw was an early death by cirrhosis.

But, what is justice anyway?

A bullet to the head on Christmas day?

Or is it a century and a half spent locked away?

Is justice the sanitized violence of the state?

Or is it a mob with machetes?

Is it a mantra to make the boogeyman go away?

or a myth to comfort the victims of a meaningless world?

When words won’t make it better, bars and bullets do the trick.

Maybe the long shadow will pass.

The better world we’ve built will erase the darkest parts.

If we aren’t too traumatized to continue,

we might believe in that myth too.

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2017: Year in Review

2017:  Year in Review

H. Bradford

1/26/18

It is hard to believe that another year has ended.  When I stop to think about it, this felt like a marathon of a year.  I feel tired.  I would say that it was generally a good year.   At the same time, I have the creeping sense that something in 2018 will go amiss.  I suppose it is simply the regression to the means.  I have had several good years, but nothing exceptionally good (or exceptionally bad) lasts forever.  So, while I have an ominous feeling about the future, I will take a moment to reflect upon the past!  And, I can only hope that 2018 continues the stretch of happy years.


 

154 Political Events:

I think that this year will mostly be remembered for the flurry of political events that I attended this year.  In the end, I attended 154 political events this year, including meetings, marches, protests, vigils, etc.   I basically did something related to activism every 2.37 days this year.  In 2016, I attended just under 90 political events.  Suffice to say, the presidency of Donald Trump has been the catalyst of a great deal of organizing, such as the Women’s March, March for Science, and Climate March, Immigrant Solidarity Marches, etc.   But, there have been plenty of local issues that have warranted attention as well, such the program cuts at UWS, Homeless Bill of Rights, Graham Garfield domestic violence case.  The largest expansion of social movement organizing was in the area of feminism this year.  Unfortunately, there is next to nothing in terms of anti-war activism.  I suppose war is just normal at this point, seeing as we have been in Afghanistan for 16 years.  I appeared on the news several times for organizing/participating in various events.  I was even interviewed by a British socialist newspaper.  I spoke out at a county board meeting and also did a radio interview about domestic violence.   So, I think that it was a big year of activism and I was in the spotlight far more than what is normal for me and this challenged me to be less quiet and introverted.  Looking back, I can be proud of this and I am sure in the years to come I will remember this as a time of dutiful activism.   For now, I am a little worn out and disappointed.  There are massive, startling, systemic problems.  Activists are rising up to challenge some of these- but so much more is needed.  Most importantly, we need a political program capable of energizing and emboldening social movements beyond the status quo of our dual capitalist political parties.

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A sign I made for the Climate March- one of the 154 events that I attended last year….


Central Asia Trip:

A major highlight of the year was that I spent most of June in Central Asia.  It was an extremely fascinating part of the world.  I saw astonishing things, like the Gas Crater in Turkmenistan, Ashgabat-Turkmenistan’s white marble capital, the remnants of the Aral Sea, Kiva, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent.  Honestly, this was one of my favorite trips in my lifetime, simply because of all of the surreal and strange things that I saw.  The world is always different and new, with many things to see and learn, but this part of the world is not heavily visited by tourists.  It felt unique and much more remote than other places I have been.  The trip also challenged me since it involved some bush camping and dry, hot conditions.

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Camping in the basin of the Aral Sea


Continue Birding:

I saw over 200 species of birds this past year.  I was very engaged in birding throughout the year.  Highlights of my birding include attending an International Migratory Bird Day bird count at Wild River State Park, attending Hawk Weekend at Hawk’s Ridge, birding at the Sax Zim Bog for the first time, various return trips to both Hawk’s Ridge and Sax Zim Bog, birding at Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge, and casually birding in the Caribbean and Central Asia.   I am impressed with the number and variety of birds that I have seen this year and that my birding skills are slowly growing.  There are a number of species that stand out, but I was most impressed with seeing a Northern Hawk Owl and Great Gray Owl at the Sax Zim Bog as well as a pair of Spectacled Owls in Costa Rica.  Interestingly, my very first bird of the year for 2018 was a Snowy Owl and the last for 2017 was also a Snowy Owl.  I guess it is a good year for owls!   Otherwise, Rosy Starlings, Red-billed streamertail hummingbirds, Yellow-crowned night heron, and Pied-Billed Grebes (since they are cute) are some of my other highlights for the year.

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New Job:

In December, I applied for and began a new part time job.   I already work full time at domestic violence shelter, but on a whim I decided to apply for an additional part time job as a Patient Educator in the field of reproductive health.   I will say that it is pretty exhausting working two jobs.  But, back in my late 20s I worked four jobs, so…I know I can handle this.   Really, I am pretty excited about this new position.  I often feel that I am stagnating or that I don’t do enough- so this is a great opportunity gain new knowledge and skills.  It is also a new way for me to learn more about reproductive health and an expansion of my feminist activism.   I enjoy learning new things and this really is a wonderful opportunity.   The job itself is unique.  I do not have any experience working in the health field, but I have enjoyed challenging myself to pick up new information.  Plus, I get to wear scrubs.  I have some awesome sloth scrubs…as well as Ninja turtle and dinosaur scrubs.  You know, because wearing fun scrubs is also important….


Raven Tattoo:

This is a pretty minor detail, but I got a new tattoo this year.  I decided that when I hit my 200th bird, I would get a new bird tattoo.  I chose a raven.  I really love the tattoo.  Now, I am just one bird away from my 300 th bird.  What will I choose for my next tattoo?  Perhaps a snowy owl?

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Blue Hair:

For many years I have kept my hair black.  This year, I decided to mix it up and dye my hair blue.  Thus, I have had blue and black hair all year.  This is another minor detail, but I have enjoyed the new color.  It has inspired me to wear more blue (rather than my typical red and black).  The only downside is that dying my hair black was far easier and took far less upkeep.  Nevertheless, I am getting the hang of it.


Try Two New Activities:

Every year, I try to attempt at least two new activities.  This year, I tried geocaching and snorkeling for the first time.  As far as geocaching goes, I think it is a fun distraction and something easy to do when I am hiking.  I began geocaching in March and by December I had already found 100 caches.  As for snorkeling, I am not a water person.   I don’t like swimming.  I don’t like being wet.  I am not a strong swimmer.  I get sea sick.  Water and me are not friends.  But, I don’t want to live my life entirely in fear (even if I am not always ready to dive right into water sports).  So, I went snorkeling for the first time.  It was sort of neat.  I was surprised by how many fish I could see from the surface of the water.  I was also astonished by how salty salt water actually tastes (when I accidentally dipped my head a little too low for a closer look at a fish).   I would go again.  I am not in love with the water, but it interested me enough to give it another go.  I saw some sort of parrot fish, which was a pretty sight.   My goal is to try snorkeling again when I (hopefully) visit Iceland in 2018 (as tourists can snorkel between the North American and Eurasian plates meet).  As for diving…hmm…well, baby steps.


Four New State Parks:

In recent years, I have tried to visit a new Minnesota state park each year.  This year, I visited four new state parks.  I visited St. Croix State Park, Wild River State Park, Savannah Portage State Park, and Mille Lacs State Park.   At least two of them I visited when I was a teenager, but since that was so long ago, I will count them as “new.”  They are new to my adult life anyway.  I also visited Copper Falls State Park in Wisconsin as well, bringing the actual total to five.  With the exception of Copper Falls, I visited all of these state parks by myself.  These solo adventures were a peaceful escape from work and activism.  I enjoyed Savannah Portage State Park the most, since I liked hiking around the lake, hiking the continental divide trail, and walking along the bog walk.

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Solo Camping Trips:

I went on several solo camping trips to the previously mentioned State Parks.  The first adventure brought me to Wild River State Park, where I hiked and birded for International Migratory Bird Day.  I later went on a trip to Mille Lacs State Park.  It rained during this camping trip, which I undertook shortly after my trip to Central Asia.  Oh, it was also plagued with flies.  I also went camping at Tettegouche State Park- where I went on a wildflower guided hike and hiked the second tallest peak in Minnesota (not that impressive, I know.)  Finally, I went camping at Savannah Portage State Park, where it also rained, but I still had a lovely time hiking and enjoying the autumn leaves.   My solo camping trips gave me a small dose of adventure and independence, offering escape and peace of mind.

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Bog Awareness Week:

I celebrated the heck out of Bog Awareness Week.  I did more for Bog Awareness Week than for…Christmas.  But, bogs are cool.  I went to Savannah Portage State Park’s bog walk, I participated in Sax-Zim Bog’s Bioblitz, and I convinced my friends to head to Cable, WI with me to check out a bog there.  I bogged myself down with bogs.  A highlight of bog week was realizing that Pitcher Plants produce flowers.  I had never noticed this before.

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A pitcher plant at Savannah Portage State Park


Color Run and Pride 5K:

This year I tried the Color Run for the first time.  I love it, since it is not timed.  Although it is crowded with enthusiastic runners and walkers and the que to begin is pretty long, it was a fun time.  Various parts of the run are marked by groups of people who douse the participants with colors.  There are also foam bubbles, unicorn mascots, group dancing, and medals for everyone.  I loved it.  I also ran the Pride 5k.  The race was rather hot.  It was timed.  But, I did it!  Even if I did it terribly, I ran it and hopefully next year I will do better!

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At the start of the Color Run!


 

Go to the Ballet and Continue Ballet Lessons:

Speaking of things that I am terrible at…I continued ballet lessons this fall.  Continuing ballet lessons was one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2017.  Another resolution was going to the ballet.  Well, I went and saw Stravisnky’s Firebird.  It was super.  I enjoy Russian folktales and liked how Koschei the deathless was portrayed.


Write Poetry:

Last year, I began writing poetry.  My goal was to write two poems, but I ended up writing at least two dozen poems.  It is a neat experience, since I never really cared for poetry when I was younger.   I often objected to it because it was too flowery and emotional. A lot of poetry takes itself too seriously.   I try to look at it differently now.  To me, poetry is just a short story.  A story about a moment, an emotion, a passing idea.  It expresses what narrative does with frugal words but ample meaning.


33 Books:

To many of my friends, 33 books is a light reading list for the year.  However, 30% of Americans do not read a single book in a year.  The average number of books read in a year is 12.   This average is skewed by some super readers, as the median number of books read each year is 4.   All of the books that I read this year were non-fiction, which is something that I hope to change in 2018.  The BEST books from this list include The KKK in Minnesota  by Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America by Mamie Till, An Environmental History of Russia by various authors, and Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici.  I read four books about witches, eight books about Central Asia in preparation for my trip there, four books about the Caribbean, including two about Puerto Rico, two few books about mycology, two books about birding, and several books on a variety of topics.  I will say that I came out of 2017 with greater knowledge of birds, mushrooms, Central Asia, the Caribbean, and witches.  I would love to read 50 books in a year, but with my work schedule, other hobbies, and activism schedule, it would be difficult.    

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Some graffiti on a bridge in Superior


Create Four Works of Art:

Another resolution for 2017 was to create at least four works of art.  I did this by dabbling with watercolor (the results weren’t awesome, but it was a start!).   I also painted four bird houses for the Solidarity House.  Beyond that, I framed some photos that I have taken.  I will say that I am not especially great at watercoloring or photography, but it is worthwhile to shamelessly create.  Through practice, I would like to improve my skills in these areas.

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This watercolor painting is still wet!  It depicts a magpie, mulberry tree, and fountain in Ashgabat.


Study Russian:

One of my goals was to continue studying Russian, or at the very least brush up on it from time to time.  Generally, I am not at all disciplined at studying languages.  There were a few times throughout the year wherein I tried to teach myself some new words or review some old ones.   Traveling through Central Asia helped me to brush off the cobwebs in my brain and try to remember how to speak some Russian.  I was able to communicate a few times, so knowing some Russian was certainly pretty helpful.  An elusive goal is to attend the Friday night Russian table at Sir Ben’s.  Alas, I lack the confidence to go!  I feel so foolish and incompetent when I try to string together what I remember.  Still…I sort of worked on this goal, at least by using Russian on my trip.


Attend Yoga Classes:

Attending yoga classes was on my resolution list for the year.  I squeezed in some yoga at the very end of the year.


Go Snowshoeing and Cross Country Skiing:

I did not go cross country skiing a single time in 2017.  As for snowshoeing, I only went twice.  But, the two times that I went snowshoeing were pretty awesome!  Back in February, I went for a full moon snowshoe hike organized by UWS.  I did not go again until Christmas Eve Day, when I went snowshoeing along a trail at the Sax Zim Bog.   Each year, I try to make a point of doing both of these activities so that I can better embrace winter.

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Snowshoeing over some icy, sand covered mounds at WI Point.


New Car:

A major event of the year was purchasing a car in March.   My car is a Volvo V70 and I love it!  It is the first time that I have purchased a car/financed a car loan all on my own.  I like my car.  I like having reliable transportation and my car took me on many adventures this year- such as the camping and birding trips.  I will say that the car is not great in the winter and since it is very low-set the passenger door bumps against the curb.  However, I am generally very happy with the car.  It has a moon roof and heated seats- which seem pretty luxurious compared to other vehicles that I have owned.

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Not my actual car- but similar model, year, and color.


50 Blog Posts:

I actually wrote 77 blog posts in 2017 and had between 350 and 1000 viewers each month.  My goal was to write 50.  The numbers don’t matter all that much.  However, I do like sharing my writing and opening up myself to others in this way.  I have had quite a bit of feedback that people enjoy reading my blog or at least find some of the posts interesting.


 

Texas/Caribbean Trip:

In November, I went on a cruise to the Panama canal, which also visited Jamaica, Aruba, Curacao, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia.  I really wanted a vacation that felt like a vacation- where I could de-stress from the 150 political events I had attended/everyday stress of working with survivors/victims of domestic violence.  In other words, I wanted a super easy trip.  To that end, I went on a two week cruise.  It was really wonderful to relax and feel a true sense of easy escapism- even if cruises are consumerist monstrosities.  I saw many birds, especially in Aruba, which was an added bonus for the trip.  I have a lot of happy memories from the trip.  Once the trip was over, I spent a half a week visiting my brother in Texas.  We once again hiked at Government Canyon and visited the Botanical Gardens.  These are two of my favorite places to visit in San Antonio.  My brother will be moving to Minnesota in May, so this will probably be my last opportunity to visit him in Texas!

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Two spectacled owls in a public park in Costa Rica


Union Organizing:

Another highlight of the year, which also relates to my political events, was being more active in my union.  I have been a union steward since November 2016 and this year, went through contract negotiations in October.  I will say  honestly that contract negotiations was extremely stressful.  I worked night shifts, then would have to spend the morning to early afternoon in negotiations.   It was hard to fall asleep after negotiations, then return to work for another night shift.  Negotiations themselves were tense.  The whole thing felt very intense.  I was not overly fond of being on the negotiations team, but it is an honor to have the privilege of fighting for the interests of my fellow workers.  I feel that the negotiations went well and the contract was better because of our hard work.

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Loved Ones:

I often do not highlight this, but my year would not have been as great without my loved ones.  Yeah, I am not the gushy sort.   I am fortunate to have had some good times with Adam and Lucas.  We went to Copper Falls together as well as on an adventure to explore the bog near Cable, WI.  Of course, they also attend many political events with me.  Adam probably went to 200 political events last year- but unlike me, he does not keep a tally.  Another great friend is Jenny, who is my collaborator in feminist and bisexual activism.  She pushes me to show my emotional side-but being a rebel- I usually stubbornly resist this.  Dan is patient and supportive- sometimes even partaking in my adventures with some coaxing.  Lonnie always offers a fun time when I visit him in Texas.  I enjoy our long hikes together and that he humors my interest in birds and plants.  I have wonderful coworkers, some of whom I have attended fitness classes with, invited to trivia, and invited to political events.  They tolerate my eccentricities and listen to my newest ideas.  This year, I went to the State Fair with my mother.  I was crabby the whole time- as I was deprived of sleep.  But, she did not let my bad mood get in the way of a good time at the fair.  There are many others, like Chris, Angie, Amber, Carl, Jared, my grandma, Tiffany, Alexa, and many more.  I can be a real weirdo and anti-social turd.  I am fortunate to have people to enrich my life.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Alexa Connolly, people smiling, outdoor

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