The Devil’s at the Bookfair

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For the past three years, I have served as the Book Fair chairperson at my children’s elementary school which serves grades K through 3.   Working at the book fair has given me an outlet to my book obsession–smelling the new ink, flipping through crisp pages, and pouring over the illustrations, makes me think back to how exciting it was for me when I was that age, to explore and discover new books.

Kindergarten through 3 is a big range in age developmentally–kindergartners are just starting to read independently and third graders are preparing to leave and enter the middle school, independently reading chapter books that catch their eye.

Growing up, my parents did not discourage me from reading anything that I found interesting.  We did not have premium cable or fancy vacations, but we went to the library religiously and I was given the run of the place to read whatever caught my attention.  My love of books helped me succeed in college, helps me relate to many different people, and gives me a broader understanding of the world around me, all things I value as an adult, especially in this day and age.

My children (1st grade and third grade) helped me set up the fair last night and were able to do some browsing as they worked.  Two books caught my 3rd grade son’s eye–my son does not share my love of reading yet and so when he is interested in a particular book, I tend to buy it and hope it catches on.  The books he noticed were about WWII–a tough subject, but an important one to our world’s history.  The first book was  Making Bombs for Hitler and the second was Prisoner of War: A Novel.  I told him to make sure to write them down on his wish list so that he could purchase them later in the fair and was excited to think he found two chapter books that really interested him.

This morning I opened the fair with other volunteers and was told that the faculty coordinator said we could not display these books because they were inappropriate for kindergartners through grade three.  However, these books were displayed next to books about tornado disasters, about gross bodily functions, and fantasy books about zombies, vampires, and terrible beasts.  All things that some people may choose not to read and may find unsettling.

I was completely taken aback by this statement about inappropriate books–in my mind, almost no book is inappropriate if oriented towards a child audience and all teach us something about history, about others and about critical thinking.  Even books that espouse hatred still teach us about humanity and about thinking how to be better people and the opposite of those values.

This seems to be a slippery slope–who decides which books are inappropriate?  Who is the arbiter of these values?  How can we shield our children from these subjects when a news report will tell them about the evils there are in the world every day?  How do our students learn that without good people standing up for what is right, that we cannot survive as a human race?

The Bible has talk of rape, violence, sex, gambling, and damnation yet this is considered by many as the most holy and important of books–at what age does this book become appropriate?

In shielding children from these terrible episodes in our history, I feel that we are also shielding them from the idea that good can triumph and that despite such a horrible time, we have survived, have learned, and many of us are striving every day to do better by people who are marginalized.  In this day of political vitriol and hateful speech by many different groups, wouldn’t it be better to show students that this is not new human behavior?  That we should not despair, but should work to be better people and show love in our everyday actions, like those who helped people escape the holocaust, like those who fought in court to make their interracial/same sex love stories legally recognized, and like those who continue to fight for love and understanding every day?

If we shield students from the bad, we can’t help but also shield them from all of the stories of hope and courage, too.  There is great tragedy in our human history, but there are also amazing stories of triumph and the human spirit.  By deciding that students shouldn’t have the right to read about these events, we limit their ability to know and understand how average people can work to save the world.

 

Inequality in the Workplace is Still Happening

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The three Xs in this picture are my Great-Great Grandparents and their son, my Great-Grandfather. All were employed at a shoe factor in Buffalo, NY in the late 19th century.

There is still gender discrimination and bias in the workplace.  This is a fact coming from a woman in the workforce who can’t be dismissed for a variety of the reasons people like to dismiss those saying something uncomfortable and real about gender inequality in the workforce.  My parents are not wealthy and did not come from a wealthy family.  We are immigrant stock and my great-great grandfathers on my mother’s side were both dead before 30 from intense manual labor.  My parents and grandparents emphasized hard work and doing your best–nothing was ever handed to me on any type of a platter, let alone a silver one.

After working hard and doing my best throughout school, I earned a place in a prestigious university for my undergraduate degree and then earned a full scholarship to another university for my Master’s degree.  I carry some loans, but because of my parents’ help and my choice of programs that awarded need-based aid, I was able to minimize my loan footprint.

I took a wide range of subjects, not just ones that I thought would interest me. Even when these courses were no longer required, I took them to make sure I had the best possible chance in life–math classes all through high school and into college, foreign language classes, English classes, science classes, music, and a variety of others.  I did well in these subjects and for the comparison, I received perfect scores on algebra tests, trigonometry tests, environmental science courses (yes, 100%) and a 98 on geometry (damn 2 point question!).  In college I received an A in oceanography (study of the ocean as a system, not just sea animals), and in calculus.

I worked throughout high-school, college, and graduate school–food service, mail room, library aid, and in a factory doing trick work (three shifts on a rotation). When I graduated from my master’s program, I came home and got a low-level job because I needed health insurance and there weren’t many jobs available in 2004.  This was the time before students could get onto their parents’ medical plans until age 25.  I made only a little more than minimum wage, but figured that I would get some experience and learn something, so I did it because that’s what adults do.

I worked through two pregnancies and came back to work afterwards.  Despite my husband having many serious illnesses that have since taken him out of the workforce, I have been promoted many times and am now a manager with global responsibilities at my current company.  At one point, I managed people who were hired with me at the same time and who had served as my managers.

All of these facts about my background are to explain that I am not a special snowflake.  I have worked hard for everything that I have and am teaching my children the same lesson.  Besides having parents who loved me and supported me (which I recognize is no small thing), I did not have a charmed background and came from solidly blue-collar stock.  The following anecdotes that I am sharing are to illustrate that these things do happen to women in the workforce and are not figments of someone’s liberal imagination.  Rather than dismissing these stories and blaming those who report them, we can use them as a demonstration of systemic issues in the American workforce and work to fix them.

Women are repeatedly told they are “emotional” at work.  Male colleagues often raise their voices and drop obscenities in meetings and on conference calls, yet the only employees I have heard being identified as emotional are female.  In the past year, I was on a call where I showed figures in a table in Excel to illustrate my point of view and was told I was being defensive because my point of view was not what the organizer of the call wished to hear.  This has happened multiple times on calls throughout my career–being labeled as emotional and defensive is the go-to when facts and opinions voiced by female employees are not popular or do not support the party line.

Titles conferred on male colleagues for the same work have not been conferred on me.  There were openings where I have been given full responsibility to speak in a specific capacity, yet I have not received an increase in pay nor the title to match.  Yes, I did speak to managers, yes I did speak to HR, but no, this was not remedied, oftentimes for more than a year.

 The time I most successfully lobbied for an increase was when I cornered one of the upper level managers visiting my site coming out of the bathroom.

His wife happened to also be there and overheard me asking for the increase in pay that matched the role I was performing.  This was the one time I was successful in quickly accelerating the formal promotion timeline.

The issue of children and motherhood is a hot button in the workplace.  One of the primary reasons I chose not to breastfeed my children was because I had no where to go to do it.  There were no offices and I was the only woman in a management position at that company location.  There were already bets going on in the office about whether I would return to work after having my children and colleagues already told me it wasn’t fair that I had “time off” to give birth to my children, so I did push for any more “special privileges” such as asking my employer for the right to pump breast milk at work during the day.   Another employee who called himself liberal thought it was unfair that I had a federal subsidy for child care (money I earned that I could take out pre-tax on my check) and for maternity leave (technically, short term disability).  This is the same colleague whose mother had no means of supporting herself after his father left the family and four kids.

Women are still sexually harassed at work.  I have been followed at work by another employee on a fork lift until I turned and engaged him in conversation and told him I was not interested.  While walking through one employer campus, I was cat-called by other employees who were working outside.  This is when I was wearing work clothes and steel-toed boots, so no, I was not “asking for it” or “seeking attention.”

These issues don’t just happen on a peer to peer basis, but are often issues from those in a position of power relative to my own.  A previous supervisor of mine followed me to my home supermarket and shopped with me the entire time I was there at one job–all because I mentioned that I had plans that night and was going to the market before hand.  This was interpreted as an invitation to follow me and intrude on my personal time.

Female leaders are either interpreted as bitches or as sluts.  If the manager is not feminine enough or takes a hard line on a particular issue, it’s because she’s not getting enough sex or hates men, etc. etc.  A young, pretty supervisor is named a slut or an airhead because being feminine and pretty is also “asking for it” or makes her less intelligent than others.  These has happened innumerable times in my presence–if this is happening when I can hear it, I can only imagine what has gone on out of my hearing.  One woman who worked in my building had her computer screen updated to X-Rated material by someone who didn’t find her pretty enough and bullied her until he was finally fired.  She was a single mom who worked full time to support her child–a child that the father would not help pay to support.

In summary, the myriad statistics published by many, many reputable institutions are not making this up.  Women who claim that their pay is not equal or that they are subjected to unequal conditions are not lying

There is real, systemic gender inequality in the workplace and dismissing those who speak up as snowflakes, or whiners, lazy, or demanding of special privileges is lazy and encourages inequalities in other areas of life.

Feminists are not all bitter, angry man-haters.  We’re simply people who acknowledge that there is still work to be done and that we can do better.  I am proud to call myself a feminist.  I hope that a frank outline of my experience in the workforce will allow studies that are often maligned as containing inaccurate or skewed statistics to be taken more seriously by those who would dismiss them.

Daily acts of protest: standing up to those we love

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The past few months have been difficult for anyone paying attention to current events.  The presidential campaign and Trump’s subsequent election showed us that we still have a very long way to go as a society and that now is not a time for complacency.  Many of us have found ourselves taking part in protests, writing to elected officials, and talking about politics and current events more than any one of us born after the Vietnam area ever have.

It has also been physically exhausting to hear the rhetoric of hate that has come with some of these recent political changes.  We have people who pride themselves on their Christianity turning their backs on immigrants and refugees all while holding Bibles and posting religious quotes to social media.  We have women whose ancestors fought for the rights they take for granted each day stating that they don’t need to continue to fight for equal rights because they already have equal rights  Blog on the Women’s March.  This is in the face of the recent efforts to restrict access to abortion, when the reality is that pay is unequal between men and woman in the same position, and when Breitbart, the invention of Trump’s current chief advisor, has featured an article as recently as 2015 about why women should stay out of the STEM subjects because we’re taking the place of men Breitbart Article on Women in Stem.

Despite this, or maybe because of this, any voice that speaks calmly for justice and peace seems to echo more loudly and makes me realize that not all protests have signs and megaphones; some protests are as simple as having a conversation with someone who disagrees with you.

My husband has been one of these people whose voice has echoed in the darkness.  On paper, my husband is in a demographic that one would assume is a Trump supporter based on what is reported in the news.  He’s from a small town in a rural area.  He likes to hunt and has grown up with guns.  He spent his winters on a snowmobile and his summers camping.  He attended some college courses, but didn’t go away to a major university.  He has worked hard since he was a teenager in the retail industry and has never been abroad except for a few cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico.   However, his background has not stopped him from seeing what is right and how we should treat each other.  It also hasn’t stopped him from speaking up to those around him who do not believe as he does–to continue to articulate the belief that people deserve to be treated fairly and that we cannot judge an entire group for the actions of a few.

My husband’s acts of protest are more subtle, and I would argue, a lot more effective than mine.  I hear him on the phone with family members who talk about Isis as though it is representative of Islam as a religion.  Rather than staying silent because it’s uncomfortable to disagree with family, he will speak up about why that family member’s opinion is wrong.  He uses facts and examples of real people who disprove those stereotypes..  He does not give up when people he knows cite “facts” that are untrue, but instead, takes the time to explain why this is wrong shows the many examples that contradict that particular opinion.  While I get frustrated and want to shut down after continuing to hear these opinions, he remains patient and kind in an effort to show his audience another way to think about others.

His more measured and quiet approach is a powerful voice against ignorance and hate.  Instead of giving up on people who refuse to see facts or who cite TMZ as a source, he will take the time to speak with them because he wants these people to be better versions of themselves and to make the world a better place overall.

 He serves as an example of true freedom of speech; rather than just shutting down and dismissing these peoples’ opinions, he listens and offers a different point of view.

Protests and demonstrations, letters and phone calls to elected officials, are all critical to our political and humanitarian process.  However, another powerful action that takes place every day is the one between people who take the time to listen to others and to attempt to talk through differences of opinion–even ones that are as emotional and polarizing as issues of race, gender, sexuality and religion.  By taking the time to listen and not giving up on those around us, we have the opportunity to change the tide one conversation at a time.  There are those  people who will never change and who refuse to listen; however, we cannot allow that to be an excuse to give up trying to work with those who are open to at least listening to a conversation with someone who disagrees with their world view.

Who said Christianity was supposed to be easy? A reflection on what it means to be Christian in the light of an immigration ban against Muslims

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A few days ago, I had written about the conflict between the immigration ban placed by President Trump and one of the fundamental values of our country–the value that we welcome the poor, weak, and down-trodden, a value etched into a 225 ton statue in New York Harbor.  The ban also is in direct conflict with the  Christian values upon which our country was founded.

While we are a nation built of many people and creeds, our President places his hand on the Bible (or in Trump’s case, two Bibles) when being sworn into office and, to date, our presidents have all been ate least nominally Christian men.

When I am gladdened to see the up-swell of support from many Christians who find the ban on immigration and refugees unconstitutional and unchristian, I am also seeing a number of Christians online citing examples of refugees or immigrants who have committed crimes as a justification for the restrictions.

In my earlier blog post One Nation Under What I cited statistics showing that immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, but rather than discussing statistics,  I’d like to discuss where it says that it should be easy and safe to be Christian?  At what point when we state that we believe in God and in Jesus Christ, do we get to place any caveats on his teachings about love?

Jesus preaches radical love for all: for enemies, for our neighbors, for God and for him.  When he was betrayed by Judas, he simply went calmly to his fate.  When someone asked him how many times he should forgive someone who wronged him, Jesus said as many times as is necessary.  Jesus preached to turn the other cheek and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  One of the most famous verses in the Bible states that “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son” John 3:16.  God was willing to sacrifice his only child out of love for us, a world of sinful people.

With the Bible’s foundation of radical love and Jesus’ sacrifce, where do we find Jesus stating that we should only love those who are good to us?  Those who love us back?  Those who have the means to repay us for our kindnesses?  Where does Jesus promise that life will be easy if we follow his teachings or that everyone who comes in contact with radical love will change for the better?

God promises none of these things; his only promise is that he loves us enough to promise us eternal life if we follow him.

So to those who post examples of crime committed by refugees or immigrants, what does this mean to us as Christians?  Does it mean what we are permitted to turn our backs and to justify the deaths of thousands of people who have nowhere else to go by closing our borders?  Does it allow us to paint an entire religion as “bad” because of the actions of a few?  Does it allow us to add an “except” to the mandate to love our neighbors?

It is not easy to be Christian.  It is not easy to love a neighbor as yourself or to forgive someone who has wronged you.  I cannot pretend to be able to do these things perfectly either, but I am willing to try and to give others who need our help the benefit of the doubt.  The best any of us can do is to try.

As a mother, an American, a wife, and a Christian, I am not willing to turn my back on a tide of people where 99.99% have done me no harm to penalize 0.01% who have or may in the future.

I will fight for the safety of my family and my country every day, but when a policy is founded on hatred and misunderstanding and will serve to drive people towards the very radicals against which the government purports to defend us, I will chose the path of radical love every time.  It is my duty as a human being and as a Christian.

 

One nation under what? Where is God in the abandonment of immigrants and refugees in today’s White House policies?

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One cannot dispute that Christianity plays a large role in the traditions and foundations of our United States.  God was a central point in many of our colonial documents–the Pledge of Allegiance that we grew up reciting in school states, “One Nation Under God.”  The  Declaration of Independence clearly argues that:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The traditions upon which our Founding Fathers built our nation still inform the traditions of our country today and presidents are deeply affected by Christianity in their inauguration traditions.  President H.W. Bush was sworn into office on George Washington’s bible from his inauguration in 1789.  President Obama was sworn into office on President Lincoln’s and Dr. Martin Luther King’s Bibles.  President Trump was sworn into office most recently while also placing a hand on the Lincoln Bible and while also using a personal Bible given to him by his mother.  After the termination of the oath, the new President traditionally states, “So Help Me God,” as well.

We also have a foundation built on immigration–with the exception of our Native American citizens, people have come from countries all over the world to settle this land.  Our Pilgrim ancestors came to Plymouth in 1621.  They were a group of people who could not openly celebrate their religion under King James in England, and because of this, had moved to the Netherlands where religious freedom was a possibility.  However, they did not want to lose their English identities and began to plan for a trip to a New World where they could found a community based on their own values and as English people.

When this group of religious pilgrims left the Netherlands, Plymouth was not their original goal.  They were given permission from the London Virginia Company to settle the area near New York City in the New Netherlands; however, because of the time of year and unforgiving tides, they chose to stay near Cape Cod and pick Plymouth as their destination rather than risk heading further into the winter season without a settlement.

In and above the fact that they were settling on Native American land without permission from the Native Americans, the Pilgrims were even settling on land they had no right to settle in terms of their agreements with the powers that be in Europe.  Our Protestant Christian country began with a small group of illegal immigrants.

Fast forward to the immigration concerns we have today.  We hear a lot about people coming into our country illegally, some of whom have been coming in through an unsecured border with Mexico.  We’ve also seen where our country is refusing to bring in refugees from Muslim countries, especially Syria, in recent months and weeks because of concerns about terrorism and religious extremism. It’s very interesting how short our memories are and how short our Christianity falls in light of these issues.

There were very few restrictions on immigration until the 20th century, except for restrictions against Chinese people in the late 19th century, which were found to be unconstitutional.  There was not a ream of paperwork to fill out before venturing to the US nor were there large costs associated with the applications for citizenship.  Today, it costs $725 for a person to apply to immigrate to the United States.  If you multiply this by a family of four, this is $2900 to begin the process in and above the cost to physically move ones’ family to the United States.  The website states that there is assistance available for low-income immigrants; however, it’s not clear how much of these costs are covered.  American Immigration Center.

Some face not only financial issues, but in the case of refugees, have a time issue to consider.  While some may have the luxury to wait for applications and background checks to clear in the case of routine immigration, others are literally digging loved ones out the rubble of their homes and do not have time or the paperwork required to follow this path.  The path to become a refugee requires paperwork, applications, and meetings with officials–something that is not possible if one’s home and town are destroyed by militants with bombs. https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/refugees

People from Central and South America and also Muslim immigrants are the most recent targets of this anti-immigration sentiment (prior waves in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries targeted the Irish, the Chinese, Italians, and Polish people  as just a few examples), and the rhetoric has crept into our presidential platforms and is starting to inform our foreign policy in the first few day so of Trump’s term.  During the presidential debates, the term “bad hombre” became a catch phrase of Trump’s candidacy as well as the promise to build a wall between the US and Mexico.  The instances of terrorism in the Middle East have made it popular with certain groups of Americans to want to lock down the flow of Syrian Refugees to our country as well.

Where is Christianity in all of this, the promise to love our neighbor as ourselves and to treat others as we would wish to be treated?   Where are we in the words of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  I can’t think of a more tempest tossed group of people at the moment that those coming from Syria.

I am sure that there are people coming in from other countries who have done bad things and should be held accountable; however, is this enough of a reason to turn our back on the foundation of our country and our Christian principles and deny access to entire groups of people?  Have we really lost more as a result of the flow of immigrants from these areas than we have received in terms of crime and job loss?

The answer is No.  The American Immigration Council states the following facts about crime and immigration:

Higher Immigration is Associated with Lower Crime Rates

  • Between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.

  • During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary. 

The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States

In regards to job loss or a perceived decrease in prosperity for native-born Americans, this is also not true.  There is an uptick for first generation immigrants’ costs in terms of education of children, but in the second and third generations, these immigrant families serve to generate billions of dollars for our government. Job Impact of Immigration

At what cost are we abandoning our principles?  It’s not because of a real, factual threat from immigrants.  In fact, they’re more law-abiding that native-born citizens of the US and have a dramatic positive contribution to our country’s finances.

So what is it?  It’s fear and the desire to look outward for a cause of issues that are perpetuated by citizens of our own country.  We still have pay inequality between men and women.  People of color are still marginalized.  We treat corporations and the rich as more important than the populace.  We have traditionally de-prioritized the environment and are headed down this path with more gusto than we’ve seen in decades.   Can you imagine what we could do to invest in our country if we used the costs of a wall between the US and Mexico to update our roads, our schools, our water infrastructure, etc.?   Instead, we’d rather invest in a policy of exclusion that may not even be feasible from an engineering perspective.

We should have secure borders and know who is coming in and out of our country; but, are we willing to abandon our principles to build a wall and exclusively block entire groups of people from our shores because of the phantom threats generated by a fear-mongering group of politicians?   Let’s be careful and not forget our history.  This declaration of a group of people as “other” and blaming this group of people for our issues is exactly how Hitler began his platform of hate.

We’re not there yet and people are much more fearful of this happening again, but the parallels are undeniable.  We also cannot forget that our United States colonies in the northeast were started by a group of people looking for religious freedom who prioritized their survival over the law when they chose to settle in Plymouth rather than New Netherland.

Let’s be the country we aspired to be when we declared our independence from England and when France gifted us the Statue of Liberty: a proud nation that recognizes we’re stronger together and in drawing from the things that make us unique  rather than a fearful one that pulls shut the gates in response to issues that should drive us to pull together and work harder as Americans in order to create a better country for everyone who lives here.

Little Blue Penguins: World’s Tiniest Penguin

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Little Blue Penguin.  Photo by JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12200820

In light of so many articles highlighting attacks on our ecosystem via big oil, pipelines, and a denial of global warming, I thought it would be fun to switch gears and talk about one of the wonderful animals on our beautiful earth, penguins!

My daughter, who is in first grade, learned how to do a report on a penguin of her choice this month and she chose the Little Blue Penguin (or Fairy Penguin as our Australian friends say) because it was the smallest penguin on earth.  The same week she chose the penguin, this video was posted to share an amazing conservation program to protect this little penguin, Sheepdogs protecting Little Blue Penguins.  On one small island, there was a huge issue of foxes attacking the penguins which almost wiped out the population.  Sheepdogs were added about ten years ago and since then, the population of penguins has rebounded to almost 200 birds.

The Little Blue Penguin is only a foot tall at maturity, lives as far north as southern Australia and New Zealand, and can lay two eggs at the same time.  They live in burrows, eat seafood like fish, krill, and small squid, and have blue feathers.  Imagine these penguins in contrast with Emperor Penguins, the earth’s largest penguins, who stand 44″ tall at maturity–the same size as an average 6 year old!

There is a very well written children’s book that Lily used as a basis for her penguin research called Facts About the Little Blue Penguin A Picture Book for Kids by Lisa Strattin.  There are many facts about the penguin as well as pages that children can color to stay engaged with the content.  Penguin World–Little Blue Penguins is a digital resource about this penguin with a variety of photos and information about penguin conservation.

The Women’s March: When do we have it “bad enough” to speak out?

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A viral Facebook post attributed to a woman named Christine explaining why women feel they don’t need to march took the internet by storm on Sunday, January 22nd. A large number of women spoke up agree that they didn’t need to march because they are equal, they feel heard, and there are those globally who have it worse off then women do here in the United States.

Another powerful post rebutted Christine’s argument and was published today by Susan Speer, https://medium.com/@susan.speer/to-christy-on-facebook-who-doesnt-need-the-women-s-march-beb4948e1e4b#.i3kemzrob Continue reading