What I saw in Washington, D.C.

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I will be writing about my perspective on the political implications of the November, 2016 election in other outlets, but the shift in the country is having many personal impacts that I will be writing about in the coming months.  I have been dismayed by the racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anti-lgbtq sentiment on display in the last few months, the blatant use of power by ICE and CBP agents, stopping individuals from places like Australia and even the former Prime Minister of Denmark at airports (not that these types of stops are new). The weekend that the first executive order on immigration was released I barely slept – but quickly realized that I couldn’t keep up that kind of pace. We are in a marathon not a sprint. I’ll have to pick my battles carefully and not get caught up in every issue where I have some expertise.

My last trip to D.C. was in 2013 for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Since then, the country has, of course, gone through some major changes that I could not have foreseen at that time. I expected a very different place when I took a quick trip to Washington D.C. in late February. This trip was for a meeting at the American Political Science Association, and I was curious to see what the atmosphere would be like under the new administration.

I arrived early evening to my hotel and immediately headed to one of my favorite restaurants near Dupont Circle for some dinner. I rarely watch TV news, I tend to listen to NPR, but CNN seemed much more relevant as I sat at the restaurant bar in our nation’s capital. CNN was reporting on the breaking news that Reince Priebus had asked the FBI to discount the reports that Trump’s campaign had contacts with Russian officials. As I sat enjoying my meal, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of twenty-somethings discussing the political situation.  I chatted with them for a bit, sharing our interest in politics, and the need to understand populism and racism in the current climate.

The next day I made my way to the White House and was surprised to find it surrounded by fencing and no trespassing signs.

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The obstructions are there ostensibly because of the inauguration, but this is the longest it has ever taken to tear down the stands and construction after the inauguration. It also conveniently keeps protestors away from the White House. I did find the peace protestors who have had a long-standing presence near the White House and they explained the situation – the Park Service has been accommodating, but they are subject to the dictates of the White House. It does not feel like the people’s house anymore. I’m glad I was able to visit with my boys while Obama was still President.

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Later I met with friends who talked about how the helicopters used by Trump and Pence would “buzz” the bike paths and I even noticed how the helicopters would fly low over residential areas – under Obama the helicopters would do their best to fly over the Potomac and avoid residential areas and the park. Friends who work in government agencies are concerned that they still don’t have agency heads, don’t know what will happen to their funding, and are concerned that programs that provide a lot of bang for the buck will no longer be funded, hurting the U.S,’s standing in the world.

These are the small changes that don’t get into the news – but they have great impact on those who work and live in DC, and ultimately, the way our government functions. We need to pay attention to all of these changes.

Belize: The Forgotten Country?

Belize
Let’s Make Belize A Place We Can Be Proud To Call Home!!!

I took this picture during our last evening in Belize, near the light house in Belize City. This sign epitomized the feeling I got as we drove around Belize – a country that clearly has a problem of low self-esteem. As a social scientist, I couldn’t help but observe the class and race divides in the country.  One evening while we were in San Ignacio we had a discussion with the proprietors of our jungle lodge.  I asked them about the divides in the country and they noted that many of the hardest workers came from Guatemala, and the women favored these men as husbands.  The Belize of San Pedro and Ambergris Caye was very different from that of the Cayo District or Belize City.  Our hosts also noted that the people who lived in Belize City looked down on the people in rural areas, although it wasn’t apparent that the poverty in the rural areas was any worse than in Belize City.  In fact, we found it much harder to navigate Belize City without being set upon by children or disabled people begging for change.

Although Belize has gang violence, it is nowhere near the scale of that in Guatemala or Honduras which is leading to the flow of children and families to the U.S. (see http://www.immigrationtexas.org/2014/07/unaccompanied-minors-and-refugees-from.html).  A very small country, with a population of only ~325,000, and having only gotten independence from Great Britain in 1981, Belize seems to be struggling to develop a middle class.  There are expats from the U.S. and other countries who buy land and even develop businesses that employ many people, but poverty seems to be a persistent problem.

Flag of Belize
Flag of Belize

I was struck by a story from one of our guides who wanted to come to the U.S., just as a tourist. He had to save up the $250 needed for the application form, and then hope that it would be approved which it was.  Still he had to save up the money to actually make the trip, and he said it would be a couple of years before he would be able to make the trip, even though his visa had been approved.

When we visited the Belize Zoo, all of the signs were clearly written to encourage Belizeans to preserve and support their wildlife. Tourism has had a positive impact, for example, people realize they can make more money by helping breeders find iguanas for their preservation program rather than hunting them for food.

I plan to read more about the history of Belize, but given the current state of the country, the British had to have left the country in a very impoverished and under-developed state, and the country has had to work very hard to build an economy that seems to rely primarily on tourism. I felt very safe in Belize, and the people were very friendly and grateful for the tourists who came from the U.S., Europe, and even Australia. However, the border with Guatemala will be a concern as well as general economic development that can help the country build a middle class.  I am no expert on Central America, but I feel like I learned a great deal from our trip to Belize and I hope to learn more as I observe from afar.

Awakening the giant…

On November 6, 2012, my friend Dean Lofton and I decided we’d had enough of the war on women and we wanted to start a group that would encourage women of all political persuasions to get involved in politics.  Thus “Austin Women for Political Action” was born on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Austin-Women-for-Political-Action/114614922031858?ref=hl).  Little did we know that this would become the summer of women’s discontent in Austin.  The legislature avoided issues related to abortion (although not women’s health) during the regular session, but then came the special session.  The stories of the first special session have been well documented by people like Jessica Luther in this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/13/07/use-your-voice/277481/  Wendy Davis’ filibuster helped to mobilize a group of women, including many in our own organization, that had stood on the sidelines while the Texas legislature passed laws during the last session, like the one requiring sonograms before an abortion.  Many of these women had never been involved in a political protest or rally before.  I was in Europe for a conference that fateful day, but I followed the events as closely as I could and many of my friends were tweeting and posting the latest details on facebook, so in many ways I felt like I was a part of the action. Those who participated were encouraged to wear orange, and the rallying cry began as “Stand with Wendy” and has morphed into “Stand With Texas Women” (#SWTW on twitter).

I returned to Austin last Thursday and got caught up on the latest, including the fact that Governor Perry had called a second special session. I was able to join the large protest at the capitol on Monday, July 1st.  It’s very likely that the abortion bill will pass but the most exciting part of all of this has been the energy that has been created.  This is about much more than a law that will limit abortions.  It’s about women’s access to healthcare, which has already been limited by Texas’ decision to turn down federal funds.  This will impact women across large parts of Texas.  It’s also about the democratic process, and allowing women’s voices to be heard.  Referred to as an “unruly mob” this is much more than that.  In what can only be described as a nearly spontaneous outpouring of frustration, Texas women have finally said “we’ve had enough!”  Here are a few images from Monday’s rally:

What comes first? Being a professor or being a mother? What about being a father?

DNC makes for good TV

Photo from: http://www.salon.com/topic/michelle_obama/

It seems that the issue of women and work is a never-ending saga.  Since the Republican and Democratic conventions I’ve been thinking about the issue of women, politicians and being a mother. Ann Romney, a stay at home mom, was expected to “humanize” her husband, and let the country know what a great father and husband the Republican candidate is and why he’s the right man to lead the country.  Michelle Obama played a similar role at the Democratic convention, reminding viewers of their strong marriage, but it was interesting that Michelle emphasized her role as “mom-in-chief,” but didn’t mention that she had a career, or that as First Lady had an important role to play, as seen in her initiatives with childhood obesity and support for veterans and their families.  So was Michele’s focus simply designed to be a counterpoint to Ann Romney’s speech?  Does it matter that Michelle focused on being a mom vs. a career woman?

In my own twitter profile, the first words used to be “soccer mom” — I recently changed it to blogger, since that seems to be how I spend a great deal of my time these days, but my main career is professor.  I don’t necessarily want to downplay that, but I think it’s cool that I can be a mom, blogger and  a professor. I wonder how many men put father first?  Many commentators have pointed out that few people have criticized Paul Ryan the way that Sarah Palin was over her decision to run for office while having small children.  I know I have made my own career compromises in order to avoid taking time away from my kids and so has my husband. I will always proudly put my role as mom at the top of my list of accomplishments – at least for now that is my most important role in life.  But I will feel better when more men feel the same about being a father and support women in their careers the same way they expect to be supported.

I think we are in this interesting time when women are getting past the “supermom” era, and realizing that we need to look at families as a whole.  How do we make it easier for men and women to be able to pursue their careers and parenthood?  Can we honor Michelle Obama for having a career and being “first mom?” How about just having a more open dialogue about the way we criticize women who manage to balance careers and families, while we ignore men’s roles in their families, assuming it’s OK for them to work long hours and miss out on so much of their children’s lives.  Haven’t we gotten past the era of “Cat’s in the cradle” – the song that epitomized the life of the work-a-holic father? And it’s about time we got past the idea of “supermom” — we need to work harder towards developing  a society that acknowledges and supports both working parents.  For example, schools and employers could be better about accommodating the schedules of parents with school-age children (OK, so that’s my pet peeve right now, but it’s a big one).

I will continue to think about these issues — as I wrote in my previous post, each year brings new challenges to being a parent and having a career.  I will continue to be grateful that I have a husband who is a great father and partner.  But I also realize that we have the advantage of the financial means to make things work. For now, I will do what I can to help move along the work that needs to be done to develop policies that will strengthen families at all income levels, including supporting politicians (particularly women) who call for policies that support working parents.