The Women’s March, belatedly

I spoke at the Concord, NH, Women’s March. (Text below, and links to the audio. I’d have posted about this sooner, but we have to make a living and pay our child’s college tuition, so first things first.)

In December, I preached at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord, NH. (Sermon title: Trans People and the Cornerstones of Unitarian Universalism. Contact me if you’d like me to bring it to your church.). One of the happy results was that one of the congregants (I don’t know if she’d want to be named publicly) was impressed enough to pass my name and a recommendation along to Gayle Murphy, who was organizing the Women’s March in Concord. Gayle and I chatted by phone. I asked her how long she wanted me to speak for, expecting something perhaps along the 15-20 minute line, as is often the case when I preach or speak to groups. She said, “Two to three minutes.”

Well, I thought, This will be a challenge. I’d never written a speech like that before, and never given a speech publicly to an audience which could contain anyone.

But I came up with something which I thought would work. It ran about 3.5 minutes, timed cold. Being a newbie to rabble-rousing, I neglected to account for audience response, so in the event it ran about 8 minutes.

I invited my daughter, Valkyrie, to come with me. She follows her own mind, so I had no idea if she would choose to come along, but she did! So, on the appointed day we drove down to Concord, parked several blocks away, and walked to the event, where we listened to the end of the morning speeches and soaked up the vibe.

It was awesome. There were pussy hats everywhere (including on my own head, knitted by my wife, Sparrow, who is a competitive knitter (no, seriously — they have things like mandatory rest breaks to prevent nerve damage)). Valkyrie, knowing her own mind, said, “I’m not going to wear something that is historically degrading on my head.” I asked her if she minded if I wore mine, since we would be together. She expressed her complete indifference. Apparently, in her opinion, what she wears on her head is up to her and what I wear on my head is up to me. That’s my girl. It’s almost like she thinks she’s in charge of her own body. Republicans beware.

There were signs:

“I stand with Planned Parenthood.”

“Women’s Rights = Human Rights.”

“With Liberty and Justice For All,” followed by a marriage equality symbol.


“Fight Big Money”

“Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy”

“Respect our Mother”, superimposed over a picture of the globe.

“DIGNITY”, with each letter a different rainbow color.

“Our babies will not be warlords!”

“History has its eyes on you”. Shout out for the Hamilton Reference! XXXXXLINK

“Let us RESPECT all people CONSERVE and share EARTH’S RESOURCES”

“Girls just wanna have Fun-DAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS”

“Keep Your Laws off MY BODY”


“Take Back Our Elections”

…and my favorite, which I loved even before I noticed that a friend of mine was holding it:

“Jews have seen this before and know how it ends.”

One member of the crowd made sure that Daniel Webster, present as a statue, wore a pussy hat.

There was a counter-protest on one of the streets along the edge of the square, handing out literature to people who were willing to talk to them. They didn’t seem to be doing much business.

As has been much-remarked about the marches generally, it was all very peaceful and orderly. There were bored detail officers from Concord PD having nothing to do. I decided to extend a bit of sympathy and do a bit of activism which, as a retired officer, I was specially suited to do: I walked up to two of them, wearing my pussy hat, and introduced myself by name and as a retired officer, naming my department. We shook hands. I thanked them for looking out for us. I asked them if they were all set for water and snacks. They said that they were, as I knew they would; as an officer, you don’t accept food and water from people you don’t know. But it was a way to say, “I know what a detail can be like.”

I don’t know if they heard me speak, later, but if they did, that’s a second bit of activism, too.

Speaking of incidental activism, at one point, during the event, I interacted peripherally with someone who did not know I was trans, at first. We greeted each other politely and all was friendly. During conversation, the fact that I was trans came up, and someone else asked me a question, which brought it to their attention. From then on, each and every time I looked at this person, they were scanning my face with a manner both reserved and intent. I would meet their eyes for a second or two and then look away again, attending to business. The meeting-of-eyes lasted long enough for each of us to communicate awareness that we had noticed, but not so long that I was bothering to challenge their gaze.

I am familiar with this dynamic. Certain people, most often older and more conservative people, go through life under the impression that they have never seen a person who is trans in person, before. They have encountered a person who is trans, of course, because we are around 0.5% to 2% of the population, and distributed throughout the population by virtue of being born throughout the population, and so it’s impossible to go through life without brushing past us. But they carry with them the belief that they have never encountered a trans person, and so the first time they actually do, they have to process the differences between reality and their previous conceptions, which probably have to do with such things as The Crying Game and The Silence of the Lambs. I know what’s probably going through their heads, because this dynamic is often accompanied by such phrases as, “I’ve never met a trans person before” and “You’re not what I expected”, though that didn’t happen in this case.

It’s not particularly pleasant to be on the receiving end of it, but what are you going to do? It has been said that the most powerful activism a TLBG person can engage in is simply to be out. This is why: because everywhere you go, people are exposed to you as a real human being capable of actual thoughtful and caring social interaction… and the unconscious biases our society planted in them suffer a little bit of damage via reality-check. Sometimes I think of it as “interacting with the muggles whilst simultaneously trans and sane”.

Valkyrie and I located the organizers and participated in the last-minute briefing and planning on what order we would speak in, and how we would change speakers on the podium. I had never been involved in an event like this, but everyone seemed organized, knowledgeable and capable, so I followed their experienced lead.

The person who had been slated to do the final unifying speech was ill, and so Gayle asked Valkyrie if she wanted to. Valkyrie asked what was involved, looked over the speech, and agreed to do it. She did her vocal warm-ups and approached it like a pro. (I recorded her, too; clickable link, below, to audio of my daughter being awesome.)

As it turned out, I was among the first speakers, which turned out to be a good thing, because the crowd was fresh and responsive. I’ve never had the opportunity to fire up a crowd, before, and I have to say it was a lot of fun, and very gratifying to hear everyone’s enthusiasm roared back at me (literally; listen to the crowd reaction at 5:51 in the recording).

Here is the text of my speech:

Once, when Abraham Lincoln was waiting to hear the results of an election, he commented, “Well, it is the people’s business, — the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to sit on the blister.” [pause] When I was young, they told me that in the United States, anyone could grow up to be President. Now a large minority of voters have demonstrated that it’s true. And we’re going to have to sit on some blisters.

It sure would have been nice if we had had Instant Runoff Voting, so that qualified candidates didn’t split the vote. We need Instant Runoff Voting, and total voter access, and the end of the Electoral College.

The notion that anyone can be president is built on a key assumption: that merit matters. Our whole system is built on a foundation which says that we all have the same rights, that we all start essentially even, that our success depends upon our merits and our hard work, that our children are judged on the content of our character.

And yet, in fact, we grapple with a system where one cancer diagnosis, one drunk driver, can wipe out a lifetime of savings. 99% of us cannot earn enough in our lifetimes to be safe from a bad spin on that roulette wheel.

We also spin that wheel at birth. Over fifty percent of Americans grapple with a system where our own bodily autonomy is up for debate. We labor under a system where other people feel free to block access to necessary medical care because they don’t like the choices we might make if we were free to make them. Trans people experience this, both trans women and trans men. Cisgender women experience this. Cisgender men are free to ignore it, and when they are the only people in the room making decisions, their decisions show it. Representation matters.

This is not meritocracy. It is rouletteocracy.

We are the wealthiest society in the history of our species. We can do better than this. A child’s healthcare should not depend on the job prospects of her parents. As a society, we should be able to take care of our children. ALL people should rest secure in the knowledge that we make our own decisions about our own bodies, not just cisgender men. ALL people should rest secure in the knowledge that they can get medical care, and never mind any preexisting conditions.

Right now, our playing field isn’t even level and our elected representatives are tearing up the most level parts. We saw it last week, as they started to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It’s going to be rough, but when you fight for your freedoms, that’s what it takes. Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, … want crops without plowing up the ground. … They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”

We are women! Hear us roar! Make sure your friends and family hear you, and model what you’re doing. I’m here with my daughter so that she can witness this, and learn it. Maya Angelou said, “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

We kick ass right now. Make them pay attention. When your representatives are planning iniquity, flood their phones. Exhaust their staff. Make it impossible for your representatives not to listen to you. Make them react at your speed.

When they work toward the common good, for ALL Americans, send them a letter to tell them that you noticed. Let them digest it at their speed, and savor it. And remember it in 2018.

My name is Grace Alden. I am a woman who is trans. I am a woman who values her autonomy and the autonomy and worth and dignity of others.

And I am a woman who lets her representatives know it. I hope you all do the same.

Thank you.

I recorded our speeches:

Audio of my speech.

Audio of Valkyrie’s speech.

Afterward, people were very complimentary. I got my hand shaken a fair amount, and many people said, “Thank you” in various ways. A couple of them asked why they had never heard of me, before, and I had to explain about how I had been publicly neutral while I was a sworn officer. One simply said, “Public office!” in response to which I shuddered visibly. I learned yesterday that Arnie Arnesen commented favorably on my speech on her radio show.

It feels good, to take action, and to receive the appreciation of others for it.

In the time it has taken me to make a living since the Women’s March, a lot has been happening. I’ve wanted to write about it, and especially about the spontaneous demonstrations of support at JFK Airport. What a shining example of Americans being awesome. It feels good to know that many, many people in my country are also willing and able to take action on behalf of our country, and each other, and our family and friends who happen to be foreign nationals.

Show up.

If you can’t show up, then call your representatives, and the White House.

If you can’t call, then write.

This is our system. “It’s really stupid, but it can be made to work.” *

Let’s make it work.


* Cordelia Vorkosigan, in Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold


Public service announcement: “Obamacare” and the Affordable Care Act ARE THE SAME THING

President Abraham Lincoln is reported to have commented, in the agony of awaiting election results, “Well, it is the people’s business, – the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to sit on the blister.”

We’re gonna be sitting on a lot of blisters.

Possibly among the biggest is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which is apparently NOT known to everyone as “Obamacare”, because some people seem to be under the impression that they are not one and the same.

For the record: they are one and the same.

This kind of ignorance is what we get when our candidates who have actual, readable policy positions which can be analyzed on their merits (as Hillary Clinton did) have to deal with a media which would rather give free press to a buffoon with no substantive policy positions (that would be Donald Trump).

It’s also the kind of ignorance we get when we permit one party to reframe the public discussion in such a way that the terms we use hide the actual meaning we intend. Republicans are fond of characterizing liberal speech as “Orwellian”, but then turn around and engage in exactly that sort of rebranding. Much of that is courtesy of Frank Luntz, a professional pollster, who, on at least one occasion, actually redefined “Orwellian” as a good thing. Most famously, Luntz gave us “death tax” instead of “estate tax”. He also gave us “climate change” in place of “global warming” (because it sounds less scary), “energy exploration” in place of “off-shore drilling”, “opportunity scholarships” in place of “school vouchers”, “tax relief” in place of “tax cuts”, “personalizing Social Security” in place of “privatizing Social Security”, and, perhaps most chillingly, “electronic intercepts” instead of “wiretapping” or “eavesdropping”. He encourages Republicans to say “liberal” instead of “progressive”, because it resonates with the idea of loose morals or profligate spending.

At least as long ago as 2009, Frank Luntz counseled Republicans to characterize health care reform in scary terms: “government takeover” instead of “health care reform”.

Government takeover? Today’s Republicans managed to eke out a win in the presidency and both houses of Congress and made repeal of the Affordable Care Act their first priority. If that’s not a “government takeover” of our healthcare system, I don’t know what is.

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to “repeal [Obamacare] and replace [it] with something terrific”.

It damn well better be “terrific”, because the Affordable Care Act, while imperfect, is better than what came before by actual measurement. For one thing, it requires coverage of people with pre-existing conditions. That’s important to several people I know who have chronic conditions which didn’t used to be covered, and now are, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Trump said that he was going to keep coverage for pre-existing conditions, because it was one of the ACA’s best points. BUT, apparently not. Let’s hear from Mike Pence:

“We will protect Americans with pre-existing conditions so that they are not charged more or denied coverage, just because they have been sick, so long as they have paid their premiums consistently,” he said.

But that’s not something ordinary people have complete control over, is it? If you’re fired from employment, or have to move unexpectedly, you may not be able to have continuous healthcare. Once you don’t, you’re in the high-risk pool for the long-term.

And there’s the flaw in healthcare, right there: pools. If you sell healthcare in a free market, then as a coverage provider you can’t make money in that market unless you charge more for people who need more. When you’re buying kitchenware, or a boat, that’s fine, because people can choose to economize. But it’s not possible to economize on healthcare by not having an expensive condition. I’m a cancer survivor, and I promise you, I would have economized by not having cancer. But that wasn’t an option.

About 60 million Americans have pre-existing conditions. That’s about 18% of the population. This is not a small problem.

Most Americans believe in meritocracy. Work hard and earn what you get. The implicit promise behind that belief is a reasonably level playing field. Well, when it comes to healthcare, the playing field is not level. A lot of your health is luck-of-the-draw. Some people get cancer. One accident I investigated, during my career, involved a woman who fell asleep behind the wheel and crossed over, taking a car head-on and breaking both of the other driver’s knees and hips, among other things. Let’s hope he was insured, because he’s going to need lifelong healthcare just for that, let alone the fact that he’s just as likely as anyone to draw the cancer card.

Where is the merit in that? Is there any possible way that he could have saved enough to pay for that roll of the dice, while doing the other things we expect of him, like paying on a mortgage and saving for his childrens’ college educations? That’s not meritocracy. That’s rouletteocracy.

How many times have you heard someone say that they hate their job, but they have to stay in it for their family’s healthcare? Conservatives say that they’re all about the entrepreneurial spirit. If our healthcare did not depend on our jobs, if we could know that our basic health was taken care of, so that we could take small risks instead of huge ones, they would see an explosion of entrepreneurs such as they have not dared to dream of.

Instead, they want us to make free-market decisions in circumstances which are famously opaque, where not even experts can get real costs on medical treatments, where parents with no medical training make medical decisions. What if your ten-year-old child falls and hurts their arm? Republican Bill Huizenga says you wait until the next day to take them to a doctor, in order to avoid a costly visit to the emergency department. But hey, don’t worry! Huizenga’s kid’s arm was just broken. Waiting didn’t hurt anyone, right? I mean, anyone besides the ten-year-old?

Republicans want people to make healthcare decisions they are not qualified to make in order to keep their costs down.

What if Huizenga didn’t have health insurance? Then his child would not be insured at all. Rouletteocracy again.

The system we have is ridiculous. We are the wealthiest society in the history of our species, and yet, we do not ensure healthcare for our society’s children. The Affordable Care Act improved our system somewhat. The Republicans are planning to delete it.

Enough of this shame.

We should be improving this system, not dismantling it. Call your representatives and tell them that. Tell them to cover all children, whose healthcare should not depend on the employment status of their parents. Tell them to decouple healthcare from employment.


How to Contact Your Federal Government

Hello, all!

When you want your government to hear your voice, there are more effective ways and less effective ways. This is a reference document which I will be linking to when it’s time to make your voice heard.

Most effective: Call the elected representatives local office and speak to a staffer, in person. For our federal representatives, the local office is the office located in the state where they were elected.

To find your representative in the House of Representatives, click here. You can enter your ZIP Code and a page will pop up with a link to your representative’s website. Somewhere on that page will be a link to “Offices”, and you will find a local office number there.

To find your Senator, click here. Then search on your state abbreviation. You have two Senators, and they both represent your entire state. Click on their name, and it will take you to their website. Somewhere on that page will be a link to “Offices”, and you will find a local office number there.

The White House line for public comment is (202) 456-1111.

When you call, have a script. Tell them who you are. If you’re calling a Representative, tell them the town you live in, so that they know that they represent you. If you’re calling a Senator, tell them the town and state you live in, so that they know that you live in their state, and so that they picture roughly where, and for verisimilitude. Anyone can claim to be from a state. Few people who are lying will pick a town.

Be polite. You want them to listen.

“Hello. My name is {your name}. I live in {location}. I am calling to urge {Title, Name} to {support or oppose} {specific issue}.” Then give ONE reason why you care so much that you’re calling: “This legislation is going to make it impossible for people like me, who have had cancer, to get health coverage.” Or whatever.

They will reply. As long as the conversation stays relevant, stay polite and keep talking. Actual transmission of detail is secondary. Your primary goal is to grab their attention. You want that staffer to say to their boss, “Wow! The phones have been OFF THE HOOK with people hating on this legislation! I’m exhausted and can’t get anything else done!”

In other words, be polite, be relevant, and be unignorable.

Basically ineffective: Twitter, Facebook, email. Staffers don’t have time to look at the likes or read the comments.

Slightly more effective: a physical letter, mailed via the US Postal Service. They tally them, batch them, and reply with form letters. That times time and expense.

Does all of this favor the verbally able and disempower people who work best in print? Yes. It’s not fair. It’s just what works. I’m a writer; I feel your pain. But it’s what works. That’s why you write a bit of script on a napkin before you call. There’s a good writeup on how to do this contacting if you have social anxiety here.

This series of tweets from a former congressional staffer, Emily Ellsworth, went viral, and explains pretty well. I excerpt it here, for the day when the link is no more.

I worked for Congress for 6 years, and here’s what I learned about how they listen to constituents. First, tweeting or writing on Facebook is largely ineffective. I never looked at those comments except to remove the harassing ones. Second, writing a letter to the district office (state) is better than sending an email or writing a letter to DC.

But, the most effective thing is to actually call them on the phone. At their district (state) office. They have to talk to you there. [emphasis added]

We repped half a million people, it was impossible to read and respond personally to all letters. Impossible. This was something in particular that I cared about as a staffer and worked very hard on, but the sheer volume of emails is overwhelming. So, we batched them with computer algorithms and sent out form letters based on topic and position. Regardless of method received.

But, phone calls! That was a thing that shook up our office from time. One time, a radio host gave out our district office phone # on air. He was against our immigration policy and told our constituents to call. And they did. All. Day. Long. All I did all day was answer phones.

It was exhausting and you can bet my bosses heard about it. We had discussions because of that call to action.

If we started getting a pattern of calls, I called up our DC office and asked if they were getting the same calls and we talked.

In other words, use a contact method which is not ignorable. No one has to read an email or a Facebook message. But someone has to answer the phone.

But that just gets you a staffer. What if you want to talk to the actual elected representative?

If you want to talk to your rep, show up at town hall meetings. Get a huge group that they can’t ignore. Pack that place and ask questions.

We held town halls consistently that fewer than 50 people showed up for. And it was always the same people. So, shake it up.

If you run an advocacy group, invite local staffers to show up to your events. Let them talk to people you work with and set up meetings.

As always, please be kind but firm with those staffers. They will listen and talk to you. I always, always did. …if the staff knows you, when they have a question about a piece of legislation or amendment, [you] will be the one [they] call.

Don’t waste your time. Make them listen.


URGENT: Call Congress on Congressional Ethics Oversight

Update, 13:40:

REPUBLICANS BACK DOWN. Rachel Maddow reports.


“We’re from the Government. We’re here to help.”

Those words are a cliché of chilling authoritarianism precisely because we don’t trust the government with oversight of their own actions. They are accountable to us, not to themselves.

Well, now the Republicans would like the body which judges the ethics of members of the House of Representatives to be accountable to … The House of Representatives.

As reported over at Politico:

In one of their first moves of the new Congress, House Republicans have voted to gut their own independent ethics watchdog — a huge blow to cheerleaders of congressional oversight and one that dismantles major reforms adopted after the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Monday’s effort was led, in part, by lawmakers who have come under investigation in recent years.

Despite a warning from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Republicans adopted a proposal by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.

The office currently has free rein, enabling investigators to pursue allegations and then recommend further action to the House Ethics Committee as they see fit.

Now, the office would be under the thumb of lawmakers themselves.

The vote is this afternoon. Call your Representative.


ETA: I just called my representative, Ann McLane Kuster, her Concord office: (603) 226-1002. “Hello. I am calling to urge Congresswoman Kuster to keep the Office of Congressional Ethics independent, and NOT to put it under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.”

Congresswoman Kuster’s staffer told me that Congresswoman Kuster is advocating against this measure, and will vote against it when it comes to the floor for a vote.

The actual call took 1 minute and 48 seconds.

You can find your Congressional representative here. It is more effective if you CALL (rather than e-mail or like on Facebook or text). If you call at their state office, not their Washington office, they have to take your call, and it has more impact.

Make your voice heard!