Saturday, May 12, 2018

#EducatingReformers - Pt. 1 Samuel

Credit: AJ Garcia - UpSplash
Last week I wrote about how I was going to tell the stories of students who, far too often, become statistics on both sides of the education battle. 

This is my first installment. This story comes from a teacher who works in an alternative high school for students who have not been successful in the regular public school setting. This isn't because of 'bad teachers', it's because they face a host of other challenges, including overwhelming obstacles at home. Over 90% of the students in this school are minorities and qualify for free and reduced lunch.   

As with all of these posts, certain identifying information, including names and locations have been changed. It is also edited for brevity and content.

This is Samuel's story:

I’ve been peripherally noting that one of my senior students, Samuel, who is inches from graduation, comes in as soon as the doors open for teachers at 7:30 am. A bit disheveled, but I know his home life isn’t perfect. Today I came in at 7:15, and he was there. Spent 15 minutes in the bathroom with a lot of water and paper towels. Couldn‘t disguise the filth. I told my school counsellor I thought he slept on the street and yup, he’s homeless. The staff who know Samuel knew immediately what had happened. Of course there were clues: dirty, not shaving, downing energy drinks without eating, and not looking at us in the eyes even for a lunch order. BINGO. I have great staff support this year.

(Note: This teacher went on to say that next year her school is getting a new principal who knows nothing about working with this student population, but simply needs more 'experience' on their resumé, which will be a huge blow to the atmosphere at the school.)

We all kind of enfolded him with gentle questions. He finally opened up and cried. We bought take-home food for him and got him the address of a men’s shelter. He is so reluctant to accept help. As I would expect, knowing his pride.

He is so smart! He can read a lesson 2 or 3 times and pass a test with no notes anywhere! He was on ADHD and anti-depressant drugs throughout elementary school and middle school. Mom married an alcoholic and threw him out. He's been off all prescription drugs, but living on caffeine. He moved in with his girlfriend this year when he was homeless. They had a fight over the weekend. He is back on the streets. 

The counselor, principal and I talked to Samuel at different times today. Lots of work ahead — not to get him to graduate, but to get him to realize he deserves to not be thrown around like an empty trash bag. And a lot of help to get him on his feet after graduation. Meanwhile, his mother called today to find out “what’s going on with Samuel?” Samuel is 18. Our counselor talked to him before she would call mom. She will not call mom back. Samuel is an adult now, and his wishes come first. He wants nothing to do with her. (emphasis mine)

Thank you. This kid is brilliant and broken. 

Standardized testing will not help Samuel, nor will school choice or vouchers, and certainly not decreased school funding. Not being 'college and career ready' is not his problem. This child needs love, security, a home, proper medical and psychological care and a strong support network. He is getting some of that at school, but as this teacher said, what happens after he graduates?

Will he be able to get health insurance from whatever remnants of the Affordable Care Act are left in his state, or will he continue to suffer the debilitating effects of ADHD and depression? Will he find the inner strength to succeed? Or will his life continue to spiral out of control? If he is unable to find that support network, the odds are not in his favor. And yet, 'reformers' say public education is the problem. For Samuel, public education has been his only hope for survival.

If you have a story you'd like to share about a student facing extraordinary odds, and how public education is helping him or her, email me at mcorfield610@gmail. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

It's Time To "Get Uncomfortable"

“Get uncomfortable, challenge your own perceptions to find clarity, be fearless, be kind, meet someone new.”

Those words were spoken by Mandy Manning, newly elected National Teacher of the Year. More on her below...

Time to focus on the little stuff

In a recent NY Times interview, Joan Baez said of her own activism, "I don't think we can think in big terms now, or we'll just get under the covers and never get out. The little stuff almost becomes more important right now, because you have a chance at it. The world we are living in is being made horrible and is going to need every little victory—that your family and friends feel some kind of support, some kind of goodness." 

It was like she was reading my mind.

With the advent of the current administration regime, education activism has become much more than fighting against vouchers, charter schools and standardized testing. It now also includes gun violence, immigration rights, racism, LGBTQ rights, women's rights, an education secretary who is a religious zealot, and the overall fight for the survival of our democracy. As our nation veers toward a Constitutional crisis, I want to focus—as Joan says—on "the little stuff"—our students, because that's where this all started. 

Time to challenge perceptions

In a recent open letter to Betsy DeVos on the current national wave of teacher strikes, I included some pictures of the horrendous conditions in which children in the wealthiest nation on earth are expected to learn. Far too many of our students also live in these—or worse—conditions. In another post, I called out the current keepers of the ideals of this once great nation for abandoning her most precious resource: our future, our children. The wealthiest nation in the history of humanity has turned its back on its children because tax cuts for the wealthy are supposed to magically cure our nation's ills. 

These posts are but drops of water in the vast ocean of education activists who, for more than a decade, have been challenging our nation's leaders on their failed and profit-driven education policies. But every drop combines to create great waves that batter the established shoreline—right on up to the White House—like this one last week:

On Wednesday, EdWeek reported that, at the State Teachers of the Year meeting with Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, National Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning, staged a silent protest. She "wore several buttons on her dress, including one that said Trans Equality Now, one for the Women's March, and one of a rainbow-colored apple." She also presented him with letters written by her students. 
Manning said on a press call that the pins were meant to convey her message of support for all of her populations of students. "[Our students] are wanted; they are loved; they are enough; they matter," she said. 
Manning teaches newly arrived immigrant and refugee students in Washington state. She told Education Week that she had her students write letters to the White House to share their stories—from bureaucratic red tape splitting up families to being told to "go back to Africa." 

She was prohibited by Trump from giving her speech, which focused on the plight of her students, but later gave it on CNN's Van Jones Show:


Thank you, Mandy, for being a powerful voice for all your students, especially those whose voices have been silenced for far too long. I look forward to your advocacy this coming year.

The other State Teachers of the Year sparred with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over a host of issues including vouchers, school funding and the current wave of teacher strikes, to which DeVos responded with her tired script about teacher protests being "at the expense of kids and their opportunity to go to school and learn."

Montana's Teacher of the Year, Melissa Romano told reporters, "For her to say at the ‘expense of children’ was a very profound moment and one I’ll remember forever, because that is so far from what is happening."

Time to name names

Among the most moving memorials I have ever seen are the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC, the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, and the placards outside the late Senator Frank Lautenberg's DC office that listed the names and pictures of all our brave service men and women killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They remind us not only of profound events, but forever memorialize the individual human beings whose lives were ended by man's inhumanity to man. 

For far too many children in this country their home life is as horrendous as—or worse than—the conditions in their schools. It's easy for anyone (myself included) on either side of the education fight to speak of these children in terms of statistics and/or generalizations. Sometimes we need to. But we also need to give a name to these statistics. We need to hear their stories in all their heartbreaking detail, we need to confront our own fears, admit our misconceptions, and, as Mandy said, "get uncomfortable" with the reality they face, because that is what really matters.  

To that end, going forward I will be devoting much of this blog to telling your stories of individual students and the education professionals who are their greatest champions. The series will be called "Educating 'Reformers'". As always, student and teacher privacy and confidentiality are my number one concerns. Unless I have written permission from teachers and students, all names and locations will be changed.

If you have a story you would like to share, please contact me at

Monday, April 9, 2018

Dear @BetsyDeVosED THIS is what it means to "serve the students"

Dear Betsy,

I hear you aren't happy with Oklahoma teachers who walked off the job to protest the drastic cuts to school funding in their state. You told them they should "serve the students." You also called the strike by West Virginia teachers—who, along with OK teachers, are among the lowest paid in the country—an "adult squabble." Interesting choice of words from the head of a department that has, for the better part of the past 20 years, treated us like servants. Interesting choice of words from someone who knows virtually nothing about education law or policy; who never spent a day in her life inside a public school; who has absolutely no concept of what a public school teacher does or what it's like to work two, three or more jobs to keep a roof over your head; who wants nothing more than to shutter public schools and use that money to fund religious schools. 

What, exactly, should that "service" look like? Tea and crumpets and classical music at lunch? Neck massages after computer class? Or perhaps valet parking for those students who are fortunate enough to afford a car? 

How much more "service" must teachers perform? How many more classroom supplies, and food and clothing for their students must they buy with their own money? How many more students must be packed into their classrooms? How much more are they supposed to do with ever-decreasing budgets before you, or some elected official with strings attached to the oil lobby realizes what's going on in Oklahoma's schools? 

When is enough enough?

Since you continue to remain woefully ignorant of the workings of public schools (I guess that stuff's just not important to a billionairess who can build whatever school she wants with a wave of her magic wand), allow me to educate you on exactly what those teachers—and others around the country—are doing in "service" to their students:

Did you see these images? I can't imagine you didn't, seeing as how they went viral. But just in case you missed them, here's CNN's report. They were taken by real Oklahoma teachers, and are real pictures of what they have to work with every single day thanks to their state's massive education cuts. Did you have these problems when you were in school? Did your children? I bet not.

Sarah Jane Scarberry
According to the article: 
Scarberry also shared images of her classroom's broken desks and chairs, and said they weren't too bad compared to other classrooms. 
"As for the desks, I'm more fortunate than most I guess. My husband works with me at Heavener and works in maintenance. He usually can use salvageable parts from discarded desks to keep me going," she told CNN. (emphasis mine)

Sarah Jane Scarberry

Mary Burton
Teacher Mary Burton shared this picture of the anatomy books her students have to use at Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma.
"I don't have enough and the ones left are in terrible shape," she said. 
Last year, her class's 25 anatomy books were shared by about 70 students, Burton said. 
"Because graduation requirements changed, I only have one section of human anatomy, so there are enough books for my students for the first year in a long time," she said.
On Twitter, user jamiebh73 shared a photo of a textbook from her daughter's eighth-grade history class in Owasso. In the book, George W. Bush is still president, she said. (emphasis mine)

Allyson Kubat, who teaches at Mustang High Scool, just southwest of Oklahoma City, said the textbooks students in her public speaking class use are so old that they advise them to ask librarians about "this new thing called the Internet" and explain how to use microfiche. (emphasis mine)
 The article ends with this quote from Scarberry:
"I could go on for days about the things we need, and the opportunities my students deserve. For myself, a raise sounds great, but this walkout for me was never about that. It was always funding for our schools," she said. (emphasis mine)

Can you imagine this??? I can. This is what happens when states give massive tax cuts to corporations. This is what happens when teachers are treated like servants instead of highly-educated professionals. This is what happens when years of begging and pleading with elected officials, who care more about tax cuts for corporate donors than the future of this country, falls on deaf ears. This is what happens when teachers and parents say, "Enough!" This is not an "adult squabble." This is a fight for every child in the state of Oklahoma (and West Virginia and Kentucky and Arizona) to have a good education. This is what happens when teachers "serve the students."

This is a national disgrace, and as Secretary of Education, you should be leading the charge to fix this instead of trying to sweep it under the rug. The wealthiest country in the history of humanity has schools that rival those of third-world countries while our government blames teachers, slashes budgets and says testing and privatization are somehow going to magically fix everything. 

This is just the beginning. This "service" to the students is only going to grow. You would do well to educate yourself.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

America Does Not Love Her Children

I usually start my day with the news and social media. It does a lot more to get me fired up than caffeine. I do ask my Higher Power to help me to not be mean or demeaning. It's far too easy to get into endless debates with anonymous profiles who are entrenched in their beliefs. Alas, I'm not perfect. I've shared more than enough snark and pointed my finger at others many a time. I've been trying to distance myself by taking news blackout days, but not so this morning. My friend, DEFEND NJ PUBLIC ED!, aka. @StopTheFreezeNJ, posted this piece of brilliance from Bill Maher and I was off to the races.

I quickly dug out the draft for this post.

I started it several years ago, during the Obama administration, amidst the upheaval of Race to the Top and the useless standardized tests that accompanied it, and are still in practice in many states. (So happy to report that this will be the last year for the CCRAP PARCC test in NJ!) I started it during Arne Duncan's utterly tone deaf tenure as Education Secretary (do read the comments for a trip down memory lane); during NJ Gov. Chris Christie's reign of error when he slashed education funding and berated educators on an almost daily basis; after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker shoved Act 10 down teachers' throats and Ohio Gov. John Kasich failed to pass SB5; when we thought things just couldn't get any worse... 

I had to put it down because the more I researched, the more upset and overwhelmed I became. It was just too painful. I couldn't step out of what I was living through.

But America has reached a new high in all-time lows. We are no longer a democracy, we are a hypocrisy. The wealthiest nation in the history of humanity does not love her children:

  • The wealthiest nation on the planet has one of the highest child poverty rates in the industrialized world
  • We have the highest infant mortality rate of comparable countries
  • We have the highest child obesity rate of all OECD nations
  • That number continues to climb and there is a direct correlation between it and poverty
  • The richest 1% are getting richer and the rest of us are getting poorer
  • Our lowest-paid workers are not paid a living wage
  • Our current administration is rolling back regulations that keep our water, air and food safe
  • The GOP tax increase will eventually take more money from the poor and middle class, and millions will lose health insurance
  • Tax cuts in state after state are having a devastating effect on public education budgets 
  • Educators often work two, three and even four jobs to survive
  • Our teachers earn far less than other industrialized nations, and our female teachers earn even less
  • Our schools have become shooting galleries for lunatics with semiautomatic weapons
  • Elected officials would rather arm teachers with guns than supplies to effectively do our jobs
  • Elected officials would rather offer 'thoughts and prayers' and continue to take blood money from the NRA than enact sensible gun legislation that the overwhelming majority of Americans—including NRA members—want

The education piece is not a D or R issue. There's plenty of blame—and profits—to go around. From Bill Clinton's New Market Tax Credits which opened the floodgates to corporate profits from charter schools, to George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind, to Barak Obama's disastrous Race to the Top that made NCLB look like child's play, America's schools—especially those in high poverty districts—have been defunded to the bone and accountability has skyrocketed. Our teachers have been reduced to trying to force information into children's heads who are then expected to regurgitate it to prove their school's and teachers' worth. And that Arizona teacher in the video who posted her measly $320 pay stub is more the rule than the exception. Veteran educators are fleeing the profession, taking decades of experience with them. Charter schools open and close like Wack-A-Moles. Public schools are shuttered often with no public input, disrupting the lives of families and communities. The Network for Public Education even has a regular column dedicated to the dysfunction and fiscal mismanagement in that industry. All of this is supposed to help America's children. 

And I haven't even touched Betsy DeVos.

As Maher said, "We pay such lip service to our kids." But they have been watching and suffering, and now they are fighting back—and voting.

This is insanity. It has to stop—and it will.

Teachers have been protesting for at least the past ten years, but in the past few months, the tone has changed. Teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, Oklahoma and New Jersey are walking off the job not just for higher wages but for more funding for their schools—for their students. This is only going to continue.

America is in the middle of a revolution. On any given day, in any given state, grass-roots campaigns are mobilizing to stop the injustice and inequality that have long festered in this country, and that ultimately hurt our children. These are just a few:  


I'm sure I forgot a few. If so, leave them in the comments.

But thanks to Bill Maher, we now have a new one:

Welcome to the Revolution!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

It's a New Dawn, It's a New Day for NJ, and I Feel Good!

If you don't know Nina Simone, you don't have a pulse. Listen to the lyrics. Feel the passion. What an incredible talent, gone too soon.

As I sat here this morning, reading my newspaper (yes, I do still read the paper every day. If you're not sure what it is, google it.), and scrolling my Twitter feed, this song popped into my head because my new governor, Phil Murphy, was all over both, doing good things for New Jersey. 

The long, dark reign of Emperor Christie is over. I wrote about all the ways he screwed us in my farewell to him (and in many other posts along the way). There's a new kid in town: Phil Murphy. What a breath of fresh air! In the scant four weeks he has been in office, he has done all this (in no particular order):

No doubt Phil Murphy will make mistakes. He's human. No doubt he will not be able to make good on every, single campaign promise. No politician does. But so far, he is a breath of fresh air for a battle-weary state.

Yes, indeed, it's a new dawn, it's a new day and I feel good!

Adding... I think it's pretty safe to say we won't be seeing anything like this...

Public beach closed to all but Christie & family

Or this...

Using a state helicopter to attend son's baseball game

from Governor Murphy. 

* This article goes on to say:
Murphy rejected a different offer that would have broadcast the program free to all television sets in New Jersey. A spokesman for Murphy declined to comment. 
News 12 does not reach all New Jerseyans, but neither did New Jersey 101.5, whose signal is either spotty or non-existent in the state’s southern and northern extremities — including some of the most populous areas of North Jersey. News 12 is available only to cable subscribers and Verizon Fios customers do not receive its broadcasts. But, like New Jersey 101.5 did with Christie, the program will be streamed free online, according to the source.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Real Truth About Fixing NJ

Former GOP Assemblyman (LD16) and 2017 Gubernatorial Candidate, Jack Ciattarelli, closed his recent op-ed in the Star Ledger with this:
New Jersey can be fixed. But first we need some truth-telling.
I agree. But, as the saying goes, "Position determines perspective"—and in this case, the truth. 

While it's true that the state is "facing a fiscal precipice", it's not true that the only outcome of "progressive rhetoric" would be "a culture of dependence," or worse: "socialism"! If that's the alternative to eight years of Chris Christie's disastrous version of trickle-down economics that left this state in a shambles, I say, "Bring it on!" (Good thing I'm not running for office. I can just see the oppo mailers: 'Corfield is a Marxist!')

He says:

  • We cannot afford, nor do we need to fully fund pre-K - we simply need means-testing and fairer distribution of current funding.
  • We cannot afford, nor do we need to fully fund public pensions - we simply need fair benefits reform. 
  • We cannot afford, nor do we need to make community college free - we simply need to fairly subsidize tuition.
  • The truth is our most taxed citizens cannot afford, nor do we need to raise taxes on the most taxed people in America - we simply need to reform our tax code to benefit all New Jerseyans.
  • Our small business economy cannot afford, nor do we need a $15 minimum wage - we simply need to adjust the current minimum wage.

Ciattarelli tries to speak in a unifying voice, using "We" over and over. But who exactly are the "We" of which he speaks? The "We" of the 'Healthy, Wealthy and White' suburbs? The "We" of the solid middle class? Or the "We" of our low-income urban centers? All three groups fared far differently under Christie. And all three will fare very differently under the Trump/GOP tax scam: the rich will win, and the poor and middle class will lose. Ciattarelli offers no solutions except those that hurt the largest number of "We" in the state: children, young adults, seniors, the working poor and the middle class. Christie 2.0.

When reviewing the quality of life indices in the top ranking countries in the world (hereherehere), it's important to note that a) the US is not in the top 10, and b) what Ciattarelli decries as "socialism" (including quality, affordable education and a live-able minimum wage) is in part what makes the quality of life in these other countries so high. But putting the needs of the people first isn't as profitable in the "Corporations Are People" era.  

The truth is that greatest investment in socialist programs this country ever made pulled us up out of the Great Depression and built the middle class. If we want to pull New Jersey out of its tailspin, we must invest in our people, not continue to give huge corporate tax breaks that yield few jobs. We must invest in infrastructure and education. We must pay workers a living wage so that they have a real chance of getting out of poverty. We must have a tax system where everyone pays their fare share. And the state must uphold its contract with its public employees to fully fund our pensions. We have kept our end of the bargain while both Republican and Democratic state leaders reneged on their promises. We have made concessions. We now work longer, pay more and get less in return. While the wealthiest 1% in this state have seen their net worth skyrocket, many public employees (along with countless others in the private sector) have seen their paychecks decrease every year since Christie took office. That's the "We" in my circle. And that is not a recipe for recovery.

Take a look at that counter on the upper right side of this page. That's how long the state teachers pension has to live. That's the biggest fiscal precipice facing this state. Nothing—including tax revenues from legalized marijuana— should be off the table when it comes to creative solutions for this mess. 

Ciattarelli blames his party's lack of "direction" or "solutions" for Guadagno's defeat. But the larger truth is that the GOP allowed itself to be bullied from the get-go. Bills to spur job creation, Port Authority reform, funding for women's health care, and so many more issues that would have helped the state get back on its feet— and shown that the GOP had a heart—fell by the wayside as electeds cowered in fear of the "Wrath of Christie" for daring to override one of his vetoes. A party so beholden to a man who chewed us up and spit us out, who left this state for greener—albeit unattainable—pastures to advance his own political agenda was never going to win that race. 

Ultimately, fixing what's wrong in any system comes down to priorities. Phil Murphy can affect many of the changes he ran on as long as those who govern with him hold those same values, and the people of this state hold them all accountable. 

And that is the truth.

PS: Also contained in Ciattarelli's piece was a cheap shot at NJEAs decision to endorse Sen. President Steve Sweeney's opponent in November. While I don't always agree 100% with what my union does, I can count on the fact that we will hold accountable those who break promises to our members. Maybe if Ciattarelli's pension was about to fall off a cliff, he'd think differently.

Friday, January 5, 2018

This is How We #MAGA in 2018

"We the People" means all of us because if you're not at the table, you're on the menu

In an op-ed in today's Washington Post (not available online as of this writing), Joe Scarborough asks:
What will finally move Republicans to deliver a non-negotiable ultimatum to this unstable president? Will they dare place their country's interests above their own political fears? Or will they only move to end this American tragedy when there is nothing left to lose?
To which Eugene Robinson replied this morning on Scarborough's Morning Joe:
This Congress won't do it's job, and I see no reason to expect that to change. I think the duty of the American people is in November to elect a Congress that will... This is not in terms of partisanship. They can be Republicans; they can be Democrats, Independents. Whatever they are, that they are patriots, that they are willing to do clearly what is their job, their constitutional role right now in this extraordinary situation. (emphasis mine)
We the People have to stop this runaway freight train because the Republican-controlled Congress won't. We can scream and yell and protest and tweet at them all we want, but they have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to reality, so it's up to us. We can and will succeed in November. We started the fight on January 21, 2017. The wave of activism that has swept across this country since that day makes the Tea Party Movement look like watered down decaf.

A sad statistic: 

This year we will see a record number of primaries and challenged House races. My guess is that this will be the most expensive non-presidential election cycle in history. 

But none of that matters if we don't vote. Almost half of all registered voters didn't vote in 2017. If we want to save this country, we simply cannot afford that this year, especially when nothing has been done to prevent foreign powers from tampering with our elections, and the GOP has done far too much to suppress the voting rights of minorities.

Change the demographics

Flipping the House also includes electing many more women. Women outnumber men in the US by the slimmest of margins, but we are woefully underrepresented in elected office at all levels. New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the union, has only one woman representing us in Congress, Bonnie Watson-Coleman. Electing more women is the only way we will truly have a voice for the issues that matter to us including pay equity, health care and reproductive rights, sensible gun legislation and poverty. 

US News and World Report ranked Sweden, where women hold 44% of Parliament's seats, #2 out of 60 industrialized nations for its overall quality of life. The US is in 18th place.
[C]ommitment to human rights, public service and sustainability have helped to make [Sweden] a respected leader in international affairs. 
Sweden operates under a model similar to those of other Nordic nations: heavily capitalistic with a large percent of spending going toward public service. Once well above the global average, tax rates have decreased, and an advanced infrastructure and transportation network assist with equal wealth distribution. Health care, as well as a college education, are free, and its people boast one of the longest life expectancies in the world. Almost all of Sweden's trash is recycled. (emphasis mine)
All that in a capitalistic system. Imagine that.

We all have to work

I live in New Jersey's 7th Congressional District, a GOP bastion for as long as anyone can remember and a DCCC target this year. Right now there are six candidates for the Democratic nomination. I have been volunteering on the campaign of Linda Weber. Many of us here in the 7th believe she is the right candidate at the right time. She is the most qualified, the most representative of the district, and best-positioned to defeat Rep. Leonard Lance. I could go on about why, but check out her website. It tells the story far better than I. And of course, if you like what you read, please consider donating and/or getting involved.

Linda is but one. There are many other highly qualified candidates running in districts all over the US. You owe it to yourself to find out who is running in yours and support them. Any amount you can donate, whether $5 or $500, helps these candidates fight for you. It's a sad state of affairs, but candidates have to raise a boatload of money to be viable, so every dollar counts. 

If you are an unaffiliated voter, consider registering for the party of a candidate you support so you can vote in the primary. Volunteer to phone bank or canvass. Host an informational event. Register voters. Whatever you do, do not sit this one out. The future of our country truly is in our hands. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

12 Ways to Survive Trumplandia in 2018

Happy New Year! 

If you are like me, you spent the majority of 2017 like this:

Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister in "Home Alone"
It's been brutal, no doubt. I freely admit to losing it on social media on more than one occasion, and lying awake at night wondering if I'm stuck in that Dallas episode with Bobby Ewing in the shower. But sadly, no, it's not a dream. All of this is quite real (more on this later). 

I am not a religious person, I do believe there is a power greater than all of us, that lives inside all of us, that surrounds us, that is the source of all our joy, happiness and strength, that is accessible any time day or night. It goes by many names: God, Allah, Love, the Force, the Universe, the Collective Unconscious, meditation, and many more. Whatever it is, it transcends this 3-dimensional reality. It's the glue that holds us all together. 

In between fits of rage and an occasional shoe-throwing-at-the-TV episode, I found myself calling on that power quite a lot last year. It brought me to the point of surrender. Not the white flag waving kind. Rather, the kind Obi Wan had when he turned off his light saber and let Darth Vader turn him into space dust. There's strength in letting go. There's strength in nonviolence. 

Violence doesn't have to be physical. It manifests in thoughts and words, too. And it's exhausting. Being at peace requires much less energy. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being tired. I'm tired of being angry and frustrated. I'm tired of being depressed. And I'm the only one who can fix that. 

I'm not one to make New Year's Resolutions, so let's just call this a big coincidence. Here are 12 ways I plan to implement for a more peaceful journey through Trumplandia this year. I've already started doing some. I don't claim to be perfect, but I will make a concerted effort. 

If any of them bring you comfort, terrific. If you think this is all a bunch of hokum, I'm okay with that, too. Take what you like and leave the rest. 

  1. Hate the behavior, not the person
    At some point or another, those whom we love unconditionally will do or say something by which we feel hurt. It's normal. But do we hate them? No. We hate the behavior. The behavior is not the totality of them. It's a choice they made in that particular moment. It's easy to hate. It's much harder to love. 
  2. Practice Loving Kindness
    The strongest force on this planet is Love. Every human being on this planet burps, farts, has bad breath sometimes... and suffers. No amount of money will change that fundamental fact. Loving Kindness is a specific practice of cultivating loving thoughts and feelings starting with ourselves and moving outward all the way to those we dislike. If there is more love, there is less hate. It's that simple. 
  3. Don't name-call
    Name-calling makes us no better than those to whom we are calling them. What do we gain from calling Donald Trump or someone on social media any number of names? A momentary feeling of satisfaction? Sure, but in the long run, we are no better than Trump in his worst name-calling moments. 
  4. Put policies before personalities
    After my infamous YouTube moment with Christie, and while I was running for state assembly, countless people shared Christie fat-shaming memes with me on social media. I made it clear that my issues with him had nothing to do with his weight, and everything to do with his policies. Think about this: would you be proud of your child for making fun of an overweight child? Would you laugh at and share memes if Christie was blind? In a wheelchair? Had some other disability? Food addiction is a disease like alcoholism or drug addiction. It's not something to shame someone for having. Neither is dementia. And there are a lot of people out there making the case that Trump may have that or some other form of mental illness.
  5. VOTE!
    Almost half of all registered voters did not vote in 2016. Can you imagine the possibilities if they did? This is a right that many people around this world only dream of. Many people fought, suffered and died for our right to do so. Even if you don't like any of the candidates, you can write in someone. But please, don't take this basic freedom and cornerstone of our democracy for granted.
  6. Get involved
    Everyone is really busy, so don't even go there. But ask yourself, Am I too busy to fight for my freedoms? For my children's future? For my country? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Not everyone can march in a protest rally, but ALL of us can make one phone call to our representatives. ALL of us can send them an email. And if we do it once, we can do it again. And again. Activist organizations have devised so many quick and easy ways to do so that there really is no excuse. If "we the people" don't speak up, our representatives will only vote in their best interests.
  7. Give yourself news blackout days
    Malcom McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange"
    If I let myself, I could leave the news on 24/7, but then I'd end up like this. So, give yourself a break. Turn off the TV. Go for a walk. Pet the cat. Have coffee with a friend. Do something to take your mind off the insanity because you know it'll still be there when you get back, but you'll be better able to handle it.
  8. None of this is real
    Yea, I know, this one may be tough to swallow. It is for me. But in my quest for understanding, I have come to embrace the belief of many spiritual and metaphysical teachers that this 3-dimensional reality is an illusion. The real real is what lies beyond, in other realities of which we only get glimpses in dreams, déjà vus states and some heavy duty meditation (of which I am no where near). As I said, this is tough to swallow, particularly for those who stood on long lines last week waiting to pre-pay their 2018 property taxes. But do try to dip your toe in the waters of possibility.
  9. Turn on, tune in, drop out
    Unlike Timothy Leary, I do not espouse dropping LSD to escape from Trumplandia. However, Leary did say, 
      Like every great religion of the past we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of [insert name of higher power of your choice]. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present — turn on, tune in, drop out.  
    How do you take care of yourself? I've taken up meditation, yoga and tai chi as means to deal with the stress I feel on a daily basis. I watch my sugar intake. I have stacks of inspirational daily readers on my nightstands. Make sure you're taking care of yourself: body, mind and spirit.  
  10. No violence
    Ghandi said, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind." Self defense is one thing, but inciting violence makes us no better than those whom we oppose. Violence manifests in words as well as deeds, so watch what you say, too.
  11. Don't let politics ruin families and friendships
    Loving families and friends are priceless gifts. I'm fortunate in that my family is in agreement politically. Most of my friends are, too. But, I have some dear old friends with whom I don't see eye-to-eye on politics. We discuss—up to a point. Then we agree to go back to our political corners and drop it. I do appreciate hearing their side of things. After all, none of us knows everything.
  12. Don't be the second person Just because someone says something or posts something on social media that you don't like (even if it's an attack against you), you don't have to respond. Remember, it's the second person who starts an argument.
I hope you find something useful in what I've written. If so, please share with others. As I said earlier, take what you like and leave the rest. 

Wishing you a healthy, happy, peaceful and proactive 2018.