Friday, November 11, 2011

Positivity: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

People ask me how I stay so positive. Well, there are a lot of ways that I use that I would love to share with you. Feel free to use any of it to help yourself!

One reason I think is my personality. I am just a half glass full sort of person. I have a positive attitude about life naturally. Also I think it was the way I was raised. My Mom gave me a lot of self-esteem and encouraged my self-growth. She was a major force in my life, believed in me, and rooted for me—always my biggest fan. Surrounding yourself with positive people helps you to be positive too.

Also I took classes in high school that taught me about something called "self-talk." Self-talk is the constant and automatic chatter that goes on inside of our heads-- basically it's when we talk to ourselves but not out loud. For many of us negative thoughts come into our minds automatically—often times they are unrealistic and unreasonable thoughts. If we don't do work to replace those negative thoughts with more realistic thoughts and/or positive thoughts the negative thoughts can have a negative influence on us. They can not only make us feel bad but they could make us take negative actions and lead to negative patterns of behavior that hurt us and our relationships with other people. 

I learned early on in life to train my brain to automatically recognize and replace negative thoughts with more positive and often times more realistic thoughts—silencing the inner critic. We should be able to slow down our thinking process so we can purposefully examine our thoughts and be able to accurately access our feelings based on clear thinking. When we think reasonably and clearly we can come up with ways to solve our problems, come to acceptance of things we cannot change, and work to change our negative perceptions that are not rational. 

When I was working on my Masters in Social Work I learned about something called cognitive distortions, which is basically the fancy term for "negative self-talk." For more in-depth info on cognitive distortions and how to minimize them read here:, here:, and here:

I also learned there is an entire branch of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which helps one learn how to manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I call the self-help work to recognize our negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts self CBT-- because it is like doing CBT on yourself. The process of changing ones negative thoughts consciously is called cognitive restructuring: Here are some basic self-help guides to doing it: and

For those with anxiety, borderline personality disorder, sexual abuse, and substance addiction a version of CBT that could be helpful is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy:

It takes time and practice to learn how to do apply cognitive restructuring. It may feel very strange at first but if a person keeps applying it eventually it works to bring comfort and peace to people. This is especially important for people who are impacted by stress, worry, and anxiety. I have told people about this technique and they look at me like I just spoke a foreign language to them. Yes, I admit it seems strange and counter intuitive-- maybe even artificial, but heck if it has any chance at working why not try it? Also it does not work overnight... like most things in life it takes concerted effort, practice, and time. It also helps if you believe it could work.

One must believe it is not a waste of time-- I know if you're used to negative thinking you would probably think it is realistic to think something like this won't work-- but you have to trust that it can and just try. Believe me, we often think we are being realistic but we are often seeing in black and white terms when life is more in shades of grey. In addition, the pessimist stays in inaction because they don't believe in their power to change the way they think, feel, behave, or make choices that will improve their life. They view life as something that just happens to them that they have no impact on—they may think they are doomed to live the life they live—they are cynical. But if you believe you have a choice-- choose optimism. 

I think that happiness and positivity is a choice. If we have a choice in life to be happy or be sad or laugh or cry or think negative or think positive, then let's try to choose to be how we want to be. So choose to focus on the positive and let the negative go. Yes, there is a time for sadness, disappointment, frustration, and yes, even anger. We should feel those emotions when they come and learn to express them in constructive ways, but also let them pass over us and be able to leave them behind. 

Those that live in the past are depressed. Those who live in the future are anxious. Those who live in the present are content. If we allow emotions to overwhelm us and wallow in them, they do not benefit us, they instead hinder us. The ability to bounce back from setbacks in our lives is called resiliency. Resiliency is a very important skill to develop. Being able to adapt in stressful situations gives one stability and hope. Learn more about building your resilience here:

Attitude is also very important. If we approach life with a positive attitude then we think on the bright side of things and no matter what obstacle or conflict we endure we know that things will work out eventually and that we are capable of handling it and then moving on. It is important that we see that outside forces do not control how we think, feel, or act-- we control those things. You must know that you can do things to make your life better by maintaining a positive attitude and making positive choices. You only have control over yourself so use that control and power to shape your own life choices and don't give power to others to hurt you continually. Use creative problem solving and use the power of positive thinking to empower yourself and not get caught up in negative thinking or actions that weigh you down and keep you from living your best life.

Most of life should be lived in the present moment in a stable and restful way-- this is called homeostasis. Sometimes when we are under stress our bodies will key us up to respond to the challenge we face, but we need to learn how to calm ourselves down and go back to normal mode. If we live in a heightened state of awareness much of our day we are going to be fatigued and frazzled. In that overwhelmed state we are less likely to be resilient, think clearly, or make good decisions. We need to learn relaxation techniques and coping skills to make it through hard times and chill out. 

One way to do that is to accept things we cannot change. Accept people we cannot change. Accept situations we cannot change. We need to learn how to let go and move on. It is easy to get stuck into patterns which only serve to disappoint and frustrate us further if we are not aware and do not notice the repeating patterns we get locked into. We must be conscious of how our actions impact us and be able to tell ourselves no. No, I will not get stuck in this. No, I will not worry. No, this person is not worth getting this upset about. Just let it go. 

Part of this process is to accept the unpredictability and mystery of life. We must accept that we do not know what the future holds but if we are strong in ourselves we should believe in our ability and capability to handle whatever comes our way. If we live in fear of the future we live anxious and miserable lives. We must tell ourselves "everything will be okay" because even if we are in the middle of a crisis, we need to know that eventually things do get better and we can move forward. In the long run things really do work out mostly because we are able to make it so they do. We have a lot of strengths we do not even recognize. That is why it is good to believe in yourself and your ability to cope and persevere through adversity—to have confidence in yourself. 

Some relaxation techniques one can use to calm down and cope include breathing, yoga, walking, writing, painting, or any activity one enjoys. One practice in particular that can help is called mindfulness. Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment, noticing your thoughts and feelings, and not allowing yourself to place judgment or blame on them. Mindfulness allows you to respond to thoughts and feelings appropriately through awareness but not to over-react to them. It can also help to clear the mind of constant self-talk and bring one into the present moment and focus. In addition, it can quiet and calm the mind and center oneself so one can focus on happiness and positive feelings. Some mindfulness exercises include: meditation and/or guided mediation, deep breathing, listening to music, observing ones thoughts, or journaling. An extensive guide to what mindfulness is and how to practice it is here:

One way people get tripped up is getting too personally involved in situations and taking things said to them or done to them in such a personal way they become debilitated by others. Allowing oneself to do this is like giving away ones power. It is important to learn not to take what others do so harshly that it ruins you. That is why the saying "forgive and forget" exists. It is not for the other person-- it's for you. 

Forgiving allows you to let go of the anger, bitterness, and pain, and forgetting allows you to put it in the past and move on. Another thing is if you have confidence in yourself then you can tell yourself, "hey, I didn't deserve that but I am not going to let that person get to me. It's too bad for them they have some issue. I'm going to move on and find someone who deserves my attention." Or if it's just some opinion someone has you can say "Well, that's their opinion, I can consider it but it's not an end all be all, and I can always agree to disagree." Getting very upset over what others say is a sure fire way to hurt you and/or your relationship. If it is abusive then by all means confront the person and tell them that what they said hurt you. But otherwise it is best to hear what they have to say and if it applies to you use it and if it doesn't leave it. When you can validate yourself and have self-assuredness you don't beat yourself up thinking there is something wrong with you and you don't get defensive when someone says something you don't like. 

In addition, it helps if we recognize our own values and expectations. If we value something and others don't we tend to get disappointed. But we should expect that not everyone thinks like we do and not everyone has the same values or expectations. We must accept that not everyone is on the same page we are on. It does not have to be seen as a negative-- we should just see it for what it is-- it is what it is. We need to focus instead on finding people who do share our values and those we do click with. If we run into people who don't, what is the point of getting in a tizzy about it? Release them and go find someone who you do have a connection with. Or agree to disagree. Getting so upset that we want to rage at them, get revenge, or retaliate only hurts us and it will rarely teach them anything—they will probably come away thinking there is something wrong with you and that is all. There are healthier ways to express ourselves. If we get upset over people not fitting what we are looking for all the time who do we hurt? Only ourselves. Those people move on...why shouldn't you? If we want to be happy, it's a choice.

Other things I do to maintain as much positivity as possible include:

Creating a support system/network --friends, family, etc.

Doing activities/hobbies outside the house that I enjoy.

Getting exercise-- hiking, swimming, walking, doing chores, etc.

Volunteering and helping others.

Try not to judge or blame others or myself. 

Rescuing animals.

Patting myself on the back/appreciating myself/celebrating my accomplishments big and small.

Trying to not be passive or aggressive-- being assertive!

Set limits and boundaries.

Take care of myself. Self-care is important to maintaining sanity in a sometimes insane world.

Do things I am passionate about.

Trying not to worry what others think about me. Trying to drop self-consciousness and live for me with no apologies! 

Ask for what I want, need, and deserve. Be willing to ask for help and support when I need it. 

Get copious amounts of affection. Give copious amounts of affection. 

Encourage others and get encouragement.

Standing in my truth. Tell others the truth and be willing to confront others.

Being real is more important than being nice. However, one can be compassionate and empathetic while speaking the truth.

Respecting others self-determination even if they make choices I would not make.

Respecting my own time and energy —try not over-extend myself. 

Learn the art of patience. 

Trying not to be too hard on myself/perfectionist/beat myself up. Be compassionate-- towards myself!
Learn to effectively problem solve.

Learn to take responsibility for my own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Learn to manage and regulate them effectively.

Don't rely on others to make me happy.

Play with, take care of, and pet my animals. 

Love, embrace, and accept myself the way I am at any given moment-- everyone has insecurities, but we should focus on our positives and learn to love ourselves despite of our faults and flaws... and maybe learn to love them too! Remember no one is perfect-- so I try to be perfectly imperfect! ;)

Try not to compare myself to others.

Take risks! Open myself up to vulnerability!

Try, try, and try again. There is only one way to fail-- not to try. When we try we will always gain something-- even if it is learning what not to do. If we don't try, we doom ourselves. Be the "little engine that could" and will yourself to try!

Know my own self-worth.

Be my own best friend.

Build and develop my skills, talents, and creative abilities. 

Put positive intentions into the world. 

Create goals and accomplish them one step at a time. Do not rush it. Success is a journey, not a destination.
Get enough sleep.

Participate in social activism, grassroots organizing, and/or advocating for a cause.

Don’t try to change people—people need to change themselves if they want to. Support them, don’t push them. 

Give back to your community. 

Write, journal, and/or blog.

Know I deserve to be treated well-- don't put up with mistreatment. Acknowledge deal breakers and be willing to move on.

Be willing to compromise. Learn to adapt and be flexible.

Learn to communicate effectively.

Every day is a new day-- and a new opportunity-- just because something happened before doesn't mean it will happen again. Notice patterns and work to change them... start with putting positive thoughts and intentions out into the world. 

Do not seek revenge-- revenge only serves to hurt one more. Learn to let it go for one’s own sake.

Embrace paradoxes, conflicting ideas, contradictions, cognitive dissonance, and the grey of life. Try not to get caught in false dichotomies or false dilemmas. 

Take responsibility for my own actions and own my own BS. Don’t get caught up in self-defense mechanisms.
Laugh—develop a healthy sense of humor.

Others cannot complete me, solve my problems, make me fulfilled and whole—only I can do that. Others can only be our partners in the journey.

Learn how to soothe myself and calm myself down. Find whatever works for me and use it!

Do not assume because something seems impossible to obtain that it is. Don’t criticize your dreams as unobtainable…. Instead keep trying and embrace the journey. Do not get too tied into outcomes… keep searching and believing that someday it will work the way it is meant to.  

Try not to get caught up in self-fulfilling prophecies—allowing my fears, negative thoughts, and false predictions become my reality. Try not to fortune tell – have rigid expectations for how things will turn out before they happen. Be open-minded. 

Make an impact, leave my mark, think about the legacy I want to leave behind. 

Eat healthy as possible but indulge sometimes. Try not to beat oneself up for eating unhealthy. Enjoy all foods in moderation. 

Try not to act on defense. Disarm people with humor, empathy, and understanding. Seek to problem solve with others and agree to disagree. 

Create my life consciously-- manifest my own destiny.

Believe in whimsy and that things happening for a reason. Believe in karma. But don't believe in it on faith alone—believe in it because I have seen it work in action. Use that belief to help me trust that things will work out and when one door closes another will open.

Sometimes we must let go of the ideal version of the life we think we deserve, and instead embrace the life we can create realistically one step at a time. 

Practice some creative expression—make art, paint, create jewelry, knit, write poetry, play music/sing, draw etc.

Notice patterns in my life and try not to repeat them. Learn from my mistakes. 

Be hopeful and grateful.

Don’t pretend I know it all. Admit when I am wrong or make a mistake. Take responsibility for my own actions. 

Be self-reflexive and willing to learn from mistakes in order to grow.

Be real, authentic, genuine, and honest.

Be generous, compassionate, kind, empathetic and giving -- help and understand others!

Take responsibility for my own happiness.

Have strong values, morals, principles, and ethics-- as a Secular Humanist (or whatever one chooses to live by)

Don't try to rescue other people. They must rescue themselves, and you must rescue yourself. 

Get out in nature/travel.

Try to have good time management skills. 


Balance work/play.

Life is what you make it.

Vicktor Frankl, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." ~Helen Keller

"In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure." ~ Bill Cosby
I’ve been told before in response to my positive thinking— “easier said than done.” No one said it would be easy, but what is the alternative? Being miserable? I think it’s worth it to try to be positive. Being pessimistic means you think there is no point in even trying and that is a sure fire way to fail. Working hard to be positive and take risks in life allows one to truly live and live a happier life. Positive attitude and positive choices gets one a long way.... We can only manage ourselves so let's use what power we do have for good. 
At the end of the day totally stress free is a misnomer, but learning to manage stress and contain it helps one live a more productive life that is filled with well-being and the space to create a happy life. While it is impossible to eliminate worry, doubts, judgments, blame, and negative thoughts, we can learn to minimize them and focus our minds on things that will help us instead of hurt us. Don’t let the past shape your future—every moment is an opportunity to turn things around— if only in your own mind.

So don't worry, be happy! Hakuna matata (there are no worries in Swahili)! Remember to live in the present moment and to live each second with good intensions, abundance, total abandonment, and joy for embracing life. Look at every opportunity to become a better person and be more positive. Everyone is capable of learning how and the practice and process of it is never ending, but the rewards are endless too. No one said life was easy-- being happy is work but it's work worth doing. If you feed the negativity that is what will run your life. Choose to feed the positive and become more emotionally liberated.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Making It Better Together: A Personal Narrative of Bullying

                                                                         When I was a young child as young as a kindergartener, I was teased because of my weight. I have always been a fat person. Our society, which values thinness and devalues fatness, lead to even my five year old peers tearing me down. Five years old is a delicate age. One is barely able to take in the world and express oneself verbally. To be so bombarded with messages that one is not good enough, pretty enough, or thin enough is not a good thing. 60% of all children bullied are bullied because they are fat.

In fact, the notion that one should go on a diet starts as young as age five and eating disorders start that young as well. There is probably a high correlation between starting school and this statistic. Young people are like a sponge for all that is in our society and since they are too young to be able to properly filter the information and have the higher reasoning skills (which develop much past age 18-- and only fully matures around age 25) and critical thinking to dismiss it. So this means they are more likely to hurt each others' feelings with negative junk they take in and spit out.  

Children are sensitive because they have not yet developed all the self-esteem, self-confidence, self-assuredness, positive self-image, self-efficacy, and self-actualization they will need in life. In fact, that is one of the main goals in a child's life-- to develop those exact qualities and learn to be self-contained. In early life it seems many children learn to put each other down in order to build their own sense of self and power, instead of getting that intrinsically from the inside out. 

Sadly, there are many adults who never learn these skills and have the low self-confidence and body image that goes with it. Into adulthood many people in our society continue to suffer with low self-esteem and low self-image. They continue to listen to society's negative messages instead of being able to filter them out and realize their own worth and value despite what others may think or say. In general adults learn tact and learn to be nice to each other. Adults learn how not to be mean and rude as they develop genuine care for others outside of self. On the other hand, children are often selfish by nature-- as they work to meet their own needs in their process of growing up. Unfortunately, emotional abuse and verbal put downs do continue into adulthood for many and some don't know how to handle it and it can drag some down. But adults in general have more tools to help them get through these times such as support networks, therapy, friends, faith communities, family, co-workers, or social ties. Adults also learn coping skills so they can cope with challenges and separate what others say from reality. Whereas this is very difficult for children to do because their brains have a hard time with this skill and they take a lot personally and internalize it. In general kids are not taught effectively enough self-soothing skills, coping methods, how to self-regulate their emotions and feelings, or how to assert and advocate for their own needs. Kids are often not affirmed or encouraged nearly enough by adults in their lives. Kids are thought to be resilient and tough, when in many cases they are not. Children need the protection of adults..... but often times they are left lacking. 

I recall the teasing I endured for being fat, growing not stopping, as I progressed in school. From kindergarten to elementary school it grew by leaps and bounds. I was never in the "popular crowd" and had very few friends. I would say I was more a loner who had a few acquaintances here and there. As a child I was more an observer than a joiner. There was another fat kid who I remember started hitting me. He would make jokes and then punch me on the shoulder. Even when I asked him to stop he kept doing it. Apparently the oppressed sometimes become the oppressor. Those bullied can become bullies. Those abused or neglected at home can act out their pain through hurting others. This kid even told me if I ever told anyone he would hit me more. But one day I did tell my Mom who called our teacher. The teacher played it off as if it were no big deal and supposedly spoke with the kid hitting me. But the hitting still happened sometimes. Eventually the kid stopped bothering me but he probably moved on to some other seemingly-helpless target.

I remember always being picked last to play on sports teams during P.E. And kids rolling their eyes and groaning at me because I wasn't fast enough or good at sports. P.E. teachers never made anything better for people like me. It was embarrassing and made me feel bad. Why did I deserve that just because I happened to be fat? I remember a really rude kid who bullied everyone around him calling me "butt nugget" and "fat-so" when we got on the bus together at the end of the day to go home. The bus driver never said anything to him even though he harassed everyone. Who would think a fourth grader could be a terrorizer? But it happens. And tyrants like that get away with it if no one tries to stop them and they face no consequences for their actions. Little kids can't stop it. It's up to adults to stop it. 

I remember early in life my grades were not so great-- average. My self-esteem was not so great either. In general I was a happy child but I wasn't as fulfilled as I could be. I felt left out and ostracized. As I transitioned to middle school my grades got better. I started to come into my own and realized I was capable of doing good work. Getting on the Honor Roll became an avenue of self-esteem for me. I had friends here or there but none of them stuck around too long. One became more popular and ditched me for in-crowd girls. One was not so popular herself but the first chance she got to tell others bad things about me she did--spreading rumors. I began to get teased for not wearing the right clothes. There were two girls who were best friends who would follow me around on the playground and sometimes after school when I was walking home and make threats to beat me up. They never went through with it but it was scary to me.

My family was never rich or big into labels. We did not shop at Macy's or any department store for that matter. We shopped at thrift stores, way before that was a cool thing to do. We bought our shoes from Payless. I wore multicolor cotton clothes-- for little girls, instead of jeans and more expensive clothes teenagers were supposed to wear according to the other kids around me. That is the funny thing about middle school-- mine had 5th-8th grade all together in one school. Some kids were 10 years old going on 15. I was content to act my age. But there was a toll to be paid for it. I was teased for not wearing the right clothes and being "poor." One day I was walking home from school and some boys threw rocks at me. They were big rocks and I was scared. I ran as fast as I could up the hill to my house and luckily did not get hit. But it was very traumatic. 

Around sixth grade is when I developed a crush on a neighborhood boy. He had returned the feelings but because he was much more thin, into sports, and popular, he told me straight to my face he would only date me if I wasn't fat. He would flirt with me but when push came to shove our relationship never progressed past that. As a twelve year old with her first big crush, I did the thing twelve year old girls do, I wrote down all my feelings in a journal. 

I wrote extensively about how I wanted to date this boy but that I had to lose weight in order to get him to want me back. I have re-read all my childhood journals since and it breaks my heart. Most of them are filled with page after page about the deep desire to lose weight-- as if my weight equated to my ability to get a date, be happy, or my self-worth. As if my life would only begin once I was thin-- or that I would only find romantic love if I lost weight. I thought that no one would ever want to date me if I were fat. This was a notion drilled into me by the messages of society which would filter from mass media, TV, magazines, and into the mouths of all of those around me. It had to be true, right?

Unfortunately, my younger sister ended up giving my journal to this boy I had a major crush on. Apparently she had a crush on him too and his influence over her skewed her judgment. After reading it he gave it back and told me flat out that I "disgusted him" and he no longer wanted to be friends with me. I was completely crushed, defeated, humiliated, and mortified. It was challenging to pick myself up from that and move on. But I did. 

Later in eighth grade, students would come up to me and say I was the "waterfall girl." I didn't know what they were talking about. I asked once and someone told me that this boy I had had that crush on years ago now had spread a sexual rumor about me that in my journal I wrote a fantasy about having sex with him under a waterfall. I reported this to a counselor and they called him into the office. We sat across from each other as the counselor asked him if he would at least say sorry to me. He said he didn't want to and she didn't make him either. The principle told me that because they couldn't prove it wasn't actually in my journal they couldn't do anything about it. I felt abandoned. Later on I found out that sexual rumors are considered sexual harassment and the rumor he spread about me didn't have to be proven true or not-- he had no right to do that without any consequences. Adults who could have made a difference in my life let me down. 

By the end of middle school I was becoming known as a geek. I was smart and it showed. I never got into trouble, got the highest grades in my classes, and had one or two friends who were also high-achieving. Although we scored top scores on all our assignments, we were all the bottom of the barrel of the school in terms of social status. So if I wasn't being teased for being fat, it was because I was poor and didn't wear the right clothes and that I had no friends and wasn't popular enough. Others seemed to think that I was so pathetic I had to make up stories about having sex with boys, and even something that was a sense of pride for me-- my grades, made me a moving target. But all of that didn't stop me from continuing to be myself.
My mother raised me to be that way-- to be myself no matter what. She has since told me that she read the experts before she had me and they all said self-esteem was the number one thing to instill in your children. So my mother tried the best she could to shield me from the crap this would had to deal out. Of course she couldn't always do it but at least I had that foundation and unconditional love and support. 

Eventually I lost weight and then gained it back-- plus more. I started caring more about my appearance and I did start wearing jeans even if they were off brand. I developed my own style. When I entered my freshman year of high school things took a down turn-- and my grades started to slip. I had made a lot of new friends but they were a crowd of rockers, skaters, punks, and goths who hung out on the outskirts of the school. Many of them were in the out-crowd too. Sadly many of them had suffered abuse, turned to drugs, and were involved in partying and having promiscuous sex. Being the strait-laced goody two shoes I was-- and continue to be til this day-- I didn't quite fit in even in the out-crowd. But as the natural helper I was I got sucked into trying to help them through their problems. Along the way I developed unreciprocated crushes and got way too enmeshed and over-involved in these kids’ lives. But at least in a high school of over 4,000 students I wasn't really noticed enough to get teased very often. 

There was one girl in one of my classes who did bother me. She would pick on me and try to intimate me. She would threaten to beat me up sometimes too. I went to my counselor at school and told him about it. He called her in and spoke with her and the bullying stopped. That was the last bully I can recall bothering me in high school. 

Eventually I figured out that it didn't matter if I had no friends at all, I had me. I was going to be the best friend I would ever have in life-- to myself. I decided I needed to live life for me and not for anyone else. My grades went back up and I continued to dress however I wanted to, hung out with acquaintances here or there, and spent many days hanging out with myself and having lunch with teachers.

I came out as bisexual when I was 15 years old. All of my friends were supportive and most of them came out as bisexual later on. We were all part of the Gay/Straight Alliance at my school, which at the time was called "Rainbow Pride" club. The club was a huge source of support for me and allowed me to feel encouraged. It became the start of my activism as I helped educate students and teachers alike about homophobia and how to support LGBT people. At least 70% of all LGBT youth face bulling in some form at some point and many are bullied for being perceived as gay or for not conforming to socially constructed rigid gender roles. 

Sometimes I felt the pressure though to not out myself. As a feminine person no one questioned that I was straight. I had people come up to me and ask on occasion if I was gay, and I would simply answer "no" knowing that I was bi -- what we call "half gay." Haha. It took me until I was 22 years old to figure out that I don't like men-- I just like masculine women. Anyway, the gay/straight alliance was what made high school bearable and allowed me to carve myself out a little place to be myself, be accepted the way I was, and advocate for myself and others. 

Since graduating college I haven't faced formal bullying. Kids grow up and mature. They develop those higher reasoning skills and well, manners. They know it's rude to call someone fat, although I have since embraced the term and actually find nothing wrong with being fat. In fact, I now feel quite the opposite about it. I like being fat and I think it's attractive in me and in others. But it really doesn't matter what shape or size or color one is. We're all human beings and deserve respect regardless. Difference shouldn't be derided-- it should be celebrated and embraced. That is a value we must teach young people. 

Many adults figure out that they don't have to put others down to feel good about themselves and they move on from that type of behavior. When a person becomes more secure in themselves they often have no reason to pick on others. Once in a college class some boys in the back of the room supposedly made some rude comment about my girlfriend and I who were taking the same class together. We would hold hands and kiss sometimes. Apparently other women in the class stood up for us and told them to keep it to themselves. I've been told people stare at me sometimes when I am with my current partner or talk behind our backs. However, I have never been called a "dyke" or anything like that to my face. I live in the SF Bay Area and feel pretty safe being openly gay and using public displays of affection with my partner. I am lucky because I know others; especially masculine women and gay men do receive a lot more harassment. 

The most harassment I get nowadays about my weight seems to be from my doctors who need to learn a thing or two about the HAES (Health at Every Size) movement. No one ever complains about what I wear-- I actually get a lot of compliments about my fashion now, even though many of my clothes continue to come from thrift stores. I also get a lot of respect and admiration for the fact that I am smart. In grade school being smart makes you a nerd, in life, being smart makes you cool.

When I was a child ways I fought back against bullying varied. Sometimes it was to be direct with the person and ask them to stop. That didn't always work. Sometimes it meant telling a teacher or counselor. In most instances that stopped the behavior once the teacher/counselor spoke with the student and warned them of the consequences of bothering me again. I also found ways to try to avoid people or find people to hang out with that made it less likely to run up against bullies-- such as not being alone or hanging out with teachers. I was open often times with my parents too about whatever was going on. They did not always know what to do to make it stop but they tried to help me and support me. I eventually was able to join the gay/straight alliance, which helped me feel supported. Later in life I also learned how to prevent bullying on a larger level-- by educating, raising awareness, and advocating for the LGBT, POC, and disabled populations within my school through formal methods. I even won a scholarship for service to the LGBT community in part because of that work. 

Since high school I have continued my advocacy for all kinds of causes and populations. I consider myself an anti-racist activist, a fat-positive and fat acceptance activist, feminist and women's rights activist, LGBT rights activist, a youth rights activist, a poor-people's advocate, among others. I have particularly dedicated my efforts to the LGBT community and have done so in a volunteer and professional capacity. 

In the past three years I have volunteered my time to do LGBT 101 workshops at Castro Valley High School during the Days of Diversity every March. I was asked to speak to any LGBT topic I wanted to and I chose to do an overview of LGBT terms in the introduction, but then get into the nitty gritty of the main issue facing high school students right now: which is bullying. 

I give the students facts and statistics about just how many LGBT students are being impacted by bullying. I talk about how many LGBT students feel harassed, are physically assaulted, feel their safety is threatened, don't show up for or drop out of school, are kicked out of their homes, become homeless, engage in substance abuse, are the target of a hate crime, or attempt suicide or complete suicide. So many young people want to ignore the reality but I make sure they hear the truth. So many are quick to downplay it and say it doesn't happen at their school but I challenge them on that notion. 

I talk to them about the phrase "that's so gay" and how that impacts others and the use of the word "fag." I teach them effective tools for confronting others when they hear these words and phrases. I empower them by letting them know that they are responsible to each other and their community and it's up to them to create an atmosphere where these types of put downs are not tolerated, are unacceptable, and become "uncool." That is the point at which grim statistics become something we all can do something about and reverse the tide of negativity.

I attempt to get the students to get in touch with their own experiences of bullying, of being teased, put down, made to feel inferior, etc. This helps them feel empathy for others who may be in a similar situation. When they can make that connection to people those folks become less otherized and less different. They can see those people are more like them. Empathy is very important to develop in young people. As empathy is built up people are more likely to have compassion for others, to stick up for others, and are less likely to harm other people. Since the teenage brain is not fully developed complexity is hard to come by and ethical reasoning and decision making is more of a challenge. Empathy is the bridge to break through the stereotypes as it is a universal feeling. Almost all people are capable of developing it, even children. We have to start early in teaching children to put themselves in other people's shoes and remember to treat others how they want to be treated.

The complicated matter is that children's brains are not fully developed..Their frontal lobes still develop until they are 26 years old. This is a little known fact, but true none-the-less. From my research about that area of the brain it impacts ethical decision making, emotional development, higher moral functioning, decision making skills, judgement, creates a lack of complexity, and leaves youth without a proper grasp of the full consequences for actions taken. without the complexity necessary youth stereotype very easily. They are in often in a toxic pressure filled environment that sends them messages to fit in at any cost. Their normal stage of development is partly about exploring who they are...and identity formation. This is natural for them so they are already doing that. But they are thrown in a situation where they don't have many options in terms of identity. Being themselves is often frowned upon and many kids become insecure and self conscious. Difference is what becomes a target because of the pressure to fit in and the lack of complexity in most youth's thought process. This leads to many developing a low self image and can lead to further issues with bullying as people struggle to gain popularity by any means necessary. Given the lack of youth's abilities in making good decisions based on sound judgement, and understanding fully the consequences and impact of their actions on themselves and others.. this is the recipe for disaster we see today.

We don't give kids the tools they need to navigate their everyday emotional lives and express their feelings in healthy ways. We don't embody children with self esteem or self determination so they feel a lack of control and power..and feel that one upping another is the way to get it. In a system where people are made to feel inferior
youth are bound to develop maladaptive behavior. We can't change the brain development of youth, but we can support their development.. and help them develop prosocial and protective factors to counter act risk factors. This would include teaching them empathy and healthy ways to express their feelings. It would mean giving them a proper outlet for their feelings and helping them to solve interpersonal conflicts in healthy and effective ways. We need to support developing trust with youth so they feel they have someone to turn to. It means training students to be upstanders instead of bystanders. It means training teachers, administrators, and counselors to prevent and intervene in bullying. it would take a lot of work...and resources, time, energy, and money. But whatever it takes, it would be worth it.

We can all help create the positive environment that will welcome people no matter what their differences are. Instead of picking on people because of those differences-- or letting it slide when we see others do it, we need to stop it by confronting it and also working on prevention. Everyone plays a part and we cannot allow words to be a vehicle for oppression or actions to bring others down. If we ignore injustice we become part of the process of it perpetuating it. It is our own actions, adults and students alike, that can help put an end to bullying and create a culture of support and positivity for our young people to flourish in. 

A couple of years back a person from the past sent me a message on facebook. It was no one I recognized. She explained back in middle school she used to tease me and she said she wanted to apologize and let me know it had nothing to do with me-- that she had been going through a hard time and just found people to lash out on. I replied telling her not to worry, not only had a moved on from the bullying I had endured in school, I didn't even remember who she was. Haha! It was wonderful to know that someone would go out of their way to apologize for something like that... but even better to know that I have truly come out the other side of bullying-- a survivor. I have more self-esteem and self-confidence than most people I know. I truly love myself and it shows. I shine from the inside outward and I don't let others drag me down. I have learned how to fight through adversity and take on challenges to better myself and my community along the way. 

Some have called to criminalize bullying and lock up all those who are guilty of it. However, I caution against that. While it is important that we enforce and put into action all laws that protect youth against bullying and to pass a nationwide federal policy against bullying, making bullying a crime and locking kids up isn't a good solution to the problem. As far as legislation goes, it is great to have social and school policies that are supposed to protect students against bullying. However, the problem is when they are not enforced. We have to make sure they are implemented vigorously and enforced. Every one of us must work to make sure these policies work for students. This means that teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers, the school board, and students themselves must work together to implement and enforce policies to protect students. Everyone must be held accountable to each other to make sure bullying is prevented and stopped. 
In addition, zero tolerance policies at schools can do more harm than good. Many kids who bully do so because they themselves are in trouble. Whether it's because they suffer from low self-esteem, they are being bullied themselves, or maybe even abused or neglected at home, we need to get bullies the help they need and in the process stop bullying. Also encouraging conflict resolution and restorative justice programs at schools as well as peer education and support groups can help. Give students opportunities to come together and learn how to express themselves, communicate in healthy ways, and solve their conflicts without negativity. We can teach youth to be part of preventing and stopping bullying. We need to provide more social workers and counselors for kids at school. We need to train every adult and every child so that they become change agents and so they feel confident that they can intervene to resolve situations should they arise. 

Furthermore, as adults in children’s lives, whether parents, guardians, teachers, social workers, therapists, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, mentors, etc. we can instill kids with self-esteem. If we help children develop good self-confidence, acceptance, and to love themselves the way they are at any given moment, we teach them a lifelong skill that will sustain them. When children have self-contained self-assurance they are less likely to seek outside sources to make them feel better about themselves or feel more powerful. This means in both situations, whether kids attempt to get what they need from tearing others down or look to others to validate them, they will be less likely to do so. They will instead get what they need from inside of them, reinforced by caring adults. Children who can validate themselves and who see their intrinsic dignity, worth, and value are more resilient and less likely to become bullies. In addition, children who are taught this are more likely to stand up against bullying and ask for help to combat it. Children need to be taught that the highest value is to respect oneself and then others. With this in mind it will be easier for children to stick up for themselves and each other and not give into peer pressure to accept teasing, taunting, put downs, harassment, mean jokes, threats, physical assaults, and cruelty in any form. 

No matter what method of fighting bullying we use, we need to do something! From my own story of bullying I experienced one can take inspiration in overcoming it and combating it for future generations to come..... We can no longer allow children to take their own lives because they can no longer take the pain of rejection and abuse. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem but due to their lack of higher reasoning skills, young people being targeted and bullied have a hard time seeing a future. They are wrapped up in their suffering and they just want it to stop and many don’t realize that death is as permanent as it is. We have to make bullying stop together and share the burden to prevent and end bullying. Let's all dedicate ourselves to doing something to prevent bullying and stop it whenever it does occur. We are all capable of making it better today and for tomorrow too. Ensuring safety for all children and youth starts with our actions.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Oh yea I started a blog....

I finally decided to get a blog up and running for the world to see. I have been recently publishing my writing in the California State University, East Bay student newspaper, The Pioneer. However I also recently graduated with a Masters Degree in Social Work so I can no longer publish in The Pioneer. I figured it was time to start a blog where I can self-publish my own work. Maybe others will be interested in publishing my work later on too. I look forward to creating and using my "art" -- writing -- to make an impact and promote social justice.

I will continue to upload my work from the past, present, and into the future..... so watch out for it.

Thanks to all who read and appreciate my work!


What is All this Hullabaloo About Class Warfare?

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, like myself, making the minimum wage and living a comfortable life is near impossible. We spend at least half our wages just on rent alone. I myself am also part of the 12.1 percent of Californians and 10.6 percent of those in Alameda County who are unemployed. I count myself as lucky, for now, to be on unemployment insurance. Although it isn’t much, combined with my partner’s unemployment insurance (that’s right we’re both unemployed) we scrape by. But I wonder how those who do not have any source of income are surviving….. or not.

Many are living on credit. This is a symptom of a screwed up social, economic, and political system we currently have. When people feel forced to rely on credit to survive it’s not a good sign. Not to mention you have to go into debt to take out student loans, buy a car, or a house unless you can buy those things outright...which the vast majority of folks cannot afford. And all it takes is one big medical bill and you could be in debt for life. We still don't have universal health care. Most major debt is attributed to medical bills (from greedy health insurance companies which mark up the prices astronomically). In addition, financial institutions in recent years have created very sneaky ways to gain on the system due to being allowed to do so via unregulated activity. They used these opportunities, provided to them by the government, to totally screw people over by selling people bad home loans and then bet against them not being able to repay those home loans in order to make money off their misery. Financial institutions straight out stole thousands and thousands of people's money and caused them to lose their homes most recently during the 2007/8 economic crisis, which we are still feeling the effects of today.

It is corporate welfare I worry about at night not the poor few who get scraps from the government. Sure all people need financial education about how to spend within their means and balance their budgets. I think it should be a mandatory class in high school. But most people go into debt out of necessity. The fundamental financial issue of our time is greed. Not financial irresponsibility on an individual level but financial irresponsibility on an organized level. It’s organized crime if you ask me where corporations and the government conspire against people like you and I. But this is nothing new.

You may have heard a lot of talk in the media recently about “class war.” Some Republicans started calling out class war in response to President Obama’s plan to help the economy, in which he called for the rich paying equal taxes to those in the “middle class.” Ironic given our current economic situation in which the rich have been propagating a full on onslaught against the rest of us. If it were up to me we would be taxing the rich by a lot more, not giving them tax breaks or even making them pay equal to everyone else. I believe those who have more should pay more because that is the ethical thing to do. Those who have extra money they do not need must be expected to give some to those who need it. This of course comes in the form of taxes which go to the government. The government then creates public policies and social programs which benefit all people, not just the wealthy.

Republicans are claiming that we have to cut the taxes of the rich so they can create jobs for our unemployed. They go as far as to call rich people “job-creators.” But we know better.

We know by now that “reaganomics” or “trickle-down economic theory” (the theory that if we give money to the rich they will create jobs for the rest of us) has been proven not to work. Rich people take that money and invest it in assets which grow their money more than businesses do. Their attitude is that they would be wasting their money by employing people. Why employ people when investments make so much more money with so little overhead costs? Capitalism does not operate ethically—it only exists to accumulate wealth. Whichever method works best to do that-- that is what rich people do. The consequence and causality is you and I.

Capitalism does not in fact, “make all boats rise” as many pro-capitalist economists once claimed. It creates an incredibly stratified and unequal economic situation in which the majority of wealth in the society is at the top. Every day that situation grows worse as more and more of our money transfers into the hands of the wealthy and less and less is in the hands of everyone else.

We are seeing corporations willing to move operations to developing nations and/or cut their work force permanently—with no plans to ever bring back those jobs. They are proving that the American people are expendable workers. They are too expensive to employ with their demands for a minimum wage and benefits. Greedy corporations and the greedy individuals who run them only care about making more and more money and could care less who suffers in the process. If the corporation were a person, which it is not, it would be a psychopath—with no regard to others welfare or well being. And yet our own government empowers those psychopathic organizations we call corporations more and more every day to do untold damage on every day Americans and their families.

We now have a seemingly growing group of people who are permanently unemployed because no new jobs are being created. Instead of taxing rich people and corporations and using that money to create jobs for people, the government is trapped in gridlock once again trying to figure out how to create jobs with no funding to do so and talking about cutting essential social services instead of cutting off the rich from the money train. There are solutions out there but no one will try them because to do so would be to compromise the values of the rich and powerful to grow in riches and in power even though they already have amassed gross sums of concentrated wealth and assets which continue to grow exponentially every day. Anything that challenges the power of corporations or rich people and their ability to make more profits is something Democrats and Republicans would dare not do because they depend on them for their campaign contributions so they can keep getting re-elected.

Money in politics is not the only problem we have, but it is the largest problem. Corporate power is our number one threat in America today because it is the corporations, and the rich people who run them, who control this country not the workers, not the voters, and not even really the politicians who are just puppets for the multinational corporations. Oh yes, class war is nothing new.

In fact, we have had an underlying class war since the founding of the country. And even before our founding when many of our ancestors lived in Europe and else where there were class struggles then too and there are class struggles all throughout the world both past and present. There have been periods of strife throughout our history where the lower and working classes have risen up and organized for better conditions for their lives. These included union strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, fighting for better wages, working conditions, fighting for better housing conditions, and for better social programs, a social safety net, and jobs. There has always been push and pull among the upper and lower classes in America and a deep class consciousness in the past. 

However, the upper class and the government would rather we forget there is something such as class at all. It has been their job via brainwashing propaganda and mental slavery to convince us all that we are a classless society in America and that this is the best country on earth. They try to convince us that this is the land of good and plenty and that each American has the same opportunity as the next to pursue happiness. But it is a lie. Their mains strategy to enforce their rule and play on our insecurities is divide and conquer—meaning they pit us all against each other. Based on race, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, and any other difference. It is one of the largest victories of the capitalists that they have instilled in us the insidious notion that some of us are better and more superior than others based on some of these non-sense made up classifications (called social constructs) and that we have nothing in common. The truth is that we have a lot in common. First, we’re all human beings. And second, the vast majority of us are exploited by a tiny group of us who use various means to do so. One mean is to divide us along class lines so that we maintain a false consciousness and are more likely to follow what they say.

In fact, anyone who is not an owner and is not accumulating wealth and making money off of money is of one class—the working class. So in fact there are not three classes in America—the lower, middle, and upper. There are only two classes—the working class (the workers) and the owner class (the rulers).

We need to realize that we are all in one class together—that of the working class. As such we should unite in solidarity and organize together for our collective needs, wants, and desires. As long as we stay apart we are doomed. If we are together nothing can stop us.

In addition, the owner class exploits us out of what our labor is really worth. We are the creators… they are just the takers. They benefit off of our hard work way more than we ever will because they are only willing to pay us so much—which is proving to be less and less every day. Meanwhile they are paying themselves way more than any fair-minded person would think reasonable and far off from what is ethical and right. They claim since they own the means of production they should get the most money but it’s all trickery. Who says they deserve the means of production to begin with?

They only own them because they paid for them off the backs of workers and often times slaves. Most rich people inherited their money, stole it from workers, and become wealthier by not having to pay their fair share of taxes and being able to invest the money and assets—all from money they got from us. They claim they “earned” it but it’s not true. One may wonder how the heck they get away with these schemes they are so outlandish and unbelievable….

They throw us a bone here or there to keep us content enough so we do not overthrow the entire system. Things like employer health insurance (which has been getting more and more expensive for us when they are supposed to pay for most of it) and unemployment insurance (which only lasts so long). However, as days go by workers are getting less and less and employers are gaining more and more. If workers fight back or complain, the owners and the government, who work in tandem to maintain their hegemony and hierarchy, work hard to suppress us. Nowadays it is even harder to put up a resistance of any kind. Protesters as I write this are occupying Wall Street and have been beaten, sprayed with pepper spray, and arrested by riot police even though there have been no riots. The police know they can get away with it most of the time.

People know what is at stake when they lay their bodies down in civil disobedience. Even when it is non-violent direct action, the police are an apparatus of the state and as such they protect property and the rich that own it by any means necessary.  The police will also do anything the government asks them to do. If you go to jail as a result of your activist actions and are charged with a felony of any kind your life becomes very difficult because you become criminalized. It is challenging to find a job, a place to live, you are denied student loans, and your rights are taken away in many ways. This is already happened in massive numbers to many African-American men in our society. There are now more African-American men in prison than there were in slavery at the height of slavery. That is no accident. Policies have been deliberately created to make that happen from sentencing laws, to drug laws, to laws that unfairly target the poor and ethnic minorities. The prison industrial complex works to corporate advantage because it employs people to run the prisons and it creates a large pool of virtual slave labor via prisoners being forced to work while incarcerated. America now has more prisoners incarcerated than any other nation in the world—over 2 million people.

Social control is out of control. People saw what happened to those in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and to the Black Panthers. Many were systematically murdered, systemically suppressed, and systemically eliminated as a threat. Because any threat against the established order, economic exploitation, and capitalist rule must be crushed. Right now most people are not at the point of being willing to risk their lives to fight back against class oppression but that does not mean there is not a resistance building and that eventually people will be willed to act—they will have no other choice because they will be literally fighting for their lives.

In many ways class oppression and economic inequality as a result, is worse than it has ever been in our history as nation. The majority of us are being totally exploited by the rich people in our society. This has been increasing over the years and the concentration of wealth is now so disproportionately in the hands of the super wealthy that our society barely functions. The politicians, who are supposed to represent us—the people who elected them, are solely influenced by corporations and the rich people who run them. So politicians in turn create policies that only benefit the wealthy and their corporations. It’s a symbiotic relationship that the American people are not privy to. We are left out to fend for ourselves. The transfer of wealth upwards is undeniable. So the only thing left for us to decide is do we believe it is moral or immoral for those folks to amass all society's money or do we think the ethical and right thing would be to share those resources with people in need? And if we do believe it to be immoral and wrong, what are we going to do to right the wrongs?

I, for one, believe it to be totally wrong, immoral, unethical and frankly anti-American what is taking place. For a large period of time the tax rates on the rich were very high... now it's super low..and all the loopholes, shelters, and subsides allow them to pay virtually nothing. The "middle class" is disappearing. I think many of them are a proud people not willing to admit it. And not willing to admit they need help either. In addition, their false consciousness of being “middle class” keeps them thinking things will be okay. That is part of why we don't see a larger outcry and action from the average person among other reasons. However, it is all a matter of time before people simply cannot take anymore. Then we may see a massive panic as people get a hard reality check. Right now the government relies on those people to prop up our society with their labor, their taxes, and their spending. Soon that labor, tax base, and spending will dry up. Then what? Who will pay? How will people survive?

It’s time for the average working class American to stop being the one to pay. We can only sacrifice so much. And the time is coming.... to say enough. Our society should be one that benefits all and one that helps people obtain basic needs when they do not have jobs or enough money to pay for them. Our society should work for the common good of all people. We need jobs, homes, food, clothing, healthcare, childcare, education, transportation, and the ability to survive without debt. How do we have that kind of society-- one that would actually be civilized and humane? It’s simple: create it through public policy.

What is hard is changing the policies given who creates them and the underlying reasons they do so. Right now our government policies favor the rich for reasons already explained. Those policies need to change so that everyone can be helped through programs of social uplift. It will take re-prioritizing on the government’s part. The majority of the American people are already on board the re-prioritizing but the government is still stuck in their old ways because the congress still want those checks made out to them from the rich and powerful.

Policies many Americans are on board with that we need are: ending foreign wars, cutting the military budget, ending the drug war, and taxing the rich and corporations by a lot. Americans realize that then we would have plenty of money to do what needs to be done without compromising social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, or other vital essential services our country has guaranteed to our citizens for generations. Every single one of those policies favors the rich and powerful and that is why they are still on America’s agenda instead of peace, economic and social justice, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness.

There are two main competing veins of philosophy for looking at social policy. Either you think individuals are fundamentally capable of taking care of themselves or you think we need each other. As an observer of society, cultures, history, and sociology, I believe it has been proven that we need each other and thus we must take care of each other. We are mutually dependent and interdependent on each other to help fulfill each others needs. Also I just think we would have a better society that way overall. Taking care of each other builds community. Many conservatives believe differently.

Many conservatives believe that we should take care of ourselves. They think American should remain all about “rugged individualism.” No need for social programs or public anything really. Privatize it all-- and base everything on making profit. They believe everyone can be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. And those very few who cannot, well enough charity will come from churches to cover it. Well, we live in the real world and we know it simply doesn't work that way.

Where would all that privatized money go? Does it benefit everyone? Reality has shown us it doesn't benefit us equally. The rich get richer from exploiting the workers and on top of it privatization creates more corruption because there is less accountability to the community since these private entities are not regulated and have no oversight or checks and balances. Charity barely helps anyone since there are so many in need. In addition, as the government stands right now it is becoming privatized in a way because it is bought out by the rich and corporations. However, if government did function the way it is supposed to... as representatives of a democracy in which politicians ran their campaigns in a non-profit way, through publicly funded campaigns, then they could represent all of us since our tax payer money would fund their campaigns instead of corporations. This would create a healthy environment in which to deliver services we all collectively need.

For example: take out the health insurance company. There would be no more middlemen. We could have universal socialized health care with a single payer—the federal government. The tax money goes to the government and comes out in the form of services that we all collectively and socially own together for the good of all of us. The government would not jack up prices for medical services or deny medical procedures people need like the greedy health insurance companies do. Everyone is guaranteed quality health care no matter what. That is what I believe in and that is what I think a big part of the solution is. It would drive costs way down and cover everyone because we believe health care is a human right.

Profit motives pervert systems and organizations. We need our society organized for human need, not for profit. To meet all of our basic needs we need government to work on our behalf instead of on rich people and corporation’s behalf. That is what it would take and that is what it would look like.

Just think about this: in “the past 20 years, more than 80 percent of the capital gains income realized in the United States has gone to 5 percent of the people; about half of all the capital gains have gone to the wealthiest 0.1 percent." "Most of the richest Americans pay lower overall tax rates than middle-class Americans do. And this is one reason the gap between the wealthy and the rest of the country is widening dramatically” (from the Washington Post). 

That is a big part of why we as a society (our government) have so little money—because the rich don’t pay their fair share after stealing it away from us to begin with. It’s really incredible that they get away with that. 

Just between 1979 and 2005 “the income of the very rich, the top 100th of 1 percent of the income distribution, rose by 480 percent. No, that isn’t a misprint. In 2005 dollars, the average annual income of that group rose from $4.2 million to $24.3 million” (The New York Times). 

Think about this: the average American household in the bottom 90% of the country, we are not even talking just a single person but the ENTIRE household, only earns $31,244 in income per year. I don’t even know how people get by but they find a way. It’s not right that people have to work so hard and suffer so much. As people we just don’t deserve it and we can all live better lives if we create a more egalitarian society. A better world is possible. 

The rich, corporations, the financial industries and institutions, are in bed with the politicians and the results are deregulation, corruption, and neo-liberal policies that hurt working class Americans only to benefit the very top of our society. The concentration of wealth at the top is enormous and undeniably a bad thing for the majority of us. It creates a society in which corporations and rich people have all the power and privilege and the average person has very little to none. Think what we could do as a nation if we had that money…and how it could change all of our lives for the better.  

The rich, corporations, and the government have conspired in a plutocracy and oligarchy to steal our hard earned money in a multitude of ways and oppress us to boot. Our bosses exploit our hard earned wages and pay their CEO's 150 times what we make. Our government makes us pay taxes but doesn't make our bosses pay their fair share of taxes. Our bosses overwork us, don't give us enough time off, often don't give us healthcare or other benefits we need, often put us in unsafe working conditions, create work related stress injuries and mental illness, threaten our jobs, etc. 

The government and the rich work together through a system of the most destructive form of capitalism to decimate us, destroy our spirits, and crush our souls. The rich say they don’t believe in redistributing wealth but there has been a systematic and deliberate massive transfer of wealth from us to them-- upwards. 

Even after the economic crisis hit in 2007/8, the Obama Administration bailed out the financial sector, Wall Street, many banks, lending companies, and others with tax payer money. He did that in order to make those institutions financially solvent so they could keep making record profits and giving bonuses to their CEO’s—it was if he rewarded them for screwing the average American over. That means we got triple screwed. Screwed once when these institutions gave us bad loans that they knew we couldn’t pay which resulted in us losing our homes, screwed twice when a Democratic president used our money to bail these thieves out, and screwed three times when no regulations were put in place to hold these institutions accountable, no one was charged with any crime, and no one was stopped from being able to pull the crap that lead to the crisis to begin with again. 

Did Obama or congress pass a bill to help out the average American get through the financial crisis? Nope. America has had a high unemployment rate since then and it has never let up. Many people have lost their jobs and their homes. Obama did nothing to hold the people responsible for the crisis accountable. He not only let them walk away scot-free, he gave them our money so they could go on spending sprees at our expense (they gave huge bonuses to top executives). What has been the result? More income inequality and less political, economic, and social power for the rest of us. We also now have less of an ability to survive day to day. As if matters were not bad enough, government policies have been making things worse when we needed help the most.

Income inequality is a fact and it is not occurring because we stopped working, the rich are working harder, because of bad luck, and not even because the economy is just “bad” right now. We work harder now more than ever we just get paid less. The rich work less more than ever and just get paid more (and don’t have to pay much taxes). The economy is not some mysterious thing. People made it up. So people can make it do certain things… like make rich people richer and make the rest of us pay for it. It all depends on economic policies and the social and political barriers created to keep people out of the economy. That is one thing being in the owner class buys you… whatever you want. They get privileges and opportunities we cannot. This just goes to show you we don’t have a democracy on any level. Not a political democracy, not a social democracy, and not an economic democracy. The rich have just gained the system against us and they bought the government off. It’s not government of the people, by the people and for the people… It’s government of corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. This is the new world order. 

So who is to blame for this mess and who is responsible in fixing it? Let us be clear where blame and responsibility lies. The government is responsible for this mess and they should be responsible for fixing this mess that they created on purpose to screw us over so they could get more money and power. In addition, corporations and those who run them are responsible. We should never blame the victim and say it is up to them to right the wrongs. So it is not our fault. However, as it has been for all of time it seems we do have to hold those responsible accountable because people who do wrong on that level usually do not correct things themselves without any pressure, demands, or any rules put in place. 

Outrageously and unfairly so we're going to have to force the government to fix it, yes, because they won't do it on their own. We are going to have the force the corporations to do the right thing too. Hopefully the government will do the heavy lifting with that one eventually. But should we have to do any of this? No. We shouldn't because we did nothing to deserve this and we shouldn't have to fight for our rights and fight to be treated fairly in this society. We deserve it just for being human. Freedom should be free and is supposed to be guaranteed. Unfortunately, I know the reality is we'll have to do whatever it takes to survive and eventually thrive..... but let’s put blame where it lies, be angry at those who are at fault, and hold those truly accountable to be the ones to fix things.

One way already mentioned that could help fix things would be to raise taxes on the rich. And the people are with me on this. Taxing the rich and corporations, closing tax loopholes, ending tax shelters and subsides, and rescinding the Bush tax cuts is very popular among the American people. Here are several polls proving it below:

Of course politicians on the other hand don’t want to raise taxes on the rich at all or too much because then they could threaten their own ability to get re-elected and stay in power. They represent the rich and corporate interests above all else. The government is not willing to raise taxes on the rich even though the American people want them to. I have now proved in the case of taxes, (however there are many more examples) that the American government is not a representative democracy.

Read this wonderful article below for some facts on inequality in America today displayed in numbers and graphic charts. The facts speak for themselves…….

It makes one wonder why haven’t people rebelled yet? It really does boggle the mind just how patient, hard working, positive, resilient, humble, and hopeful the American people are in general. For instance the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in July that “the employment-population ratio for youth—the proportion of the 16- to 24-year old civilian noninstitutional population that was employed—was 48.8 percent, a record low for the series.” Given the same conditions somewhere else we would have seen riots, rebellions, mass strikes, civil disobedience, uprising…etc. by now as we have seen in several countries recently including Britain, France, Greece, and the Middle East. Another possibility as to why Americans have not risen up on mass level yet is just how beaten down the American people are. 

So many are tired... overworked and over stressed. Along with those who are hopeful and optimistic there are those who are depressed and nihilistic. There are those that are hopeless and those that have given up looking for work or trying anymore. It could also very well be a combination of feeling oppressed, beat up, knocked down, suppressed, beat down, embarrassed/ashamed, disillusioned, and defeated too that keeps people from acting. These are people who may have even become cynical and jaded. They don’t believe the system or government can work for them anymore but also they don’t think they can change it or their circumstances. 

They may feel stuck and may have turned to other methods to get their needs met. Some may be using substances to escape, dealing substances to make some cash, or participating in any number of activities on the black market just to survive. In addition, there are those who feel asking the government for help is beneath them. Many people are proud and they are influenced by their own culture and/or that of American culture which is very individualistic and demands people pull themselves up by their bootstraps even if they have no boots. Many people are too proud to look for what they see as “hand-outs” and even if they receive government assistance are very grateful for the little they get. 

Many who are industrious have turned to the black market—a type of underground and off the grid economy to scrape by. This is “work that doesn't get regulated by the government or reported to the IRS, and it's a far bigger part of the economy than most of us are aware—in 2009, economics professor Friedrich Schneider estimated that it was nearly 8 percent of the US GDP, somewhere around $1 trillion” not including any illegal activity (Alternet).  For women this type of work can mean sex work but also “braiding hair, babysitting, selling CDs/DVDs, drugs or other skills like sewing and laundry” (Alternet). 

This sort of thing is often the result of the government not creating effective public policy and creating a common good, social safety net, and social contract that includes all Americans. Those marginalized and left out… make ends meet whatever way they can even if it means doing things they don’t want to do. 1 in 7 people in American now receive food stamps because they can’t afford food to feed themselves and their families. Some sell their food stamps to pay rent. Since Welfare Reform which was signed into law in 1996 by then president Bill Clinton, many families have not been able to get government assistance past two years without finding a job and five years total in their entire lifetimes because that is the life time cap. This dooms many single mothers.

Not to mention people of color have much higher rates of unemployment and underemployment in general. For instance the African-American population’s actual unemployment rate is closer to 25%. People are forced to do things that often times compromise their safety or pay them much less than their labor is worth, just to get by. Everyone wants a job and a place to live. Most people would take a job over welfare or unemployment insurance any day!

I worked in a homeless shelter as part of my Masters in Social Work internship for a year and all my clients wanted was a job and housing. The entire time I worked there only two people found work and in the end we were able to find temporary housing for only a handful. We must ask ourselves is this right? Is this the society we want, need, and deserve? And if not, what can we do to change it?

We can’t wait for government action or response. We do need to create our own work, gardens, and social services. Become a volunteer in your community and support your friends, family, and neighbors through these hard times. Start co-opt businesses. This is a form of fighting back… because we can create better and more democratic systems and communities outside of corporate control. Becoming self-sustaining as possible will move us in a positive direction. 

Here is a website that helps one do just that:

We must remember though that simple random acts of kindness, generosity, and charity will not fix what is wrong with America fundamentally. While it is important that we heal our own communities to the capacity in which we can... it just simply is not possible that we can organize the type of and amount of help that people need that the government can. When it comes down to it... what is the point of the government if it does not take care of us when we are need on a mass level?

The people who have orchestrated this deserve scorn—the government and the rich. They deserve to be excoriated and exposed. They deserve to be held accountable for what they have done and what they continue to do. And they MUST be stopped by any means necessary! We will not be wage slaves any longer. We are 90% and all they have is money. We can go on a nation-wide general strike tomorrow and their money will not save them. Mark my words... we will not stand for this for too much longer........ We will reach a breaking point and the signs are already beginning to show if you observe carefully enough.

I believe when push comes to shove the American people will stand up and fight. While some are too stressed, too disconnected, or too disillusioned with the system to think they can ever be responsive to our collective needs, others are still holding on to hope and believe in the good of America and the government. They think eventually our luck will turn around. But sooner or later the anger will bubble up to the surface and the discontentment and lack of ability to survive will force people to act. Sometimes only when people have lost everything do they feel they have nothing left to lose…… 

Right now many lack the will to revolt. They may think it would be pointless or they may feel isolated or alienated. If the working class do not unite, organize, and work in solidarity together, they won’t be able to accomplish much. In addition, the type of action needed calls for sustained coordinated mass demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, etc. over a long period of time in every part of the country. In fact, we probably need several campaigns akin to the civil rights movement. 

I keep waiting for the tipping point and every day I feel like we are getting closer and closer. There will be a point at which people will not be able to sustain themselves and survival instincts will kick in. The flight or fright reaction will begin, anger will overwhelm this country, and people will do what is needed—whatever that is. It may be that people will only be willing to risk it all...when they have had everything stripped away from them. But that day is coming…faster and sooner than most of us realize. And when it happens, that will be the real class war. 

I may be against foreign wars and the war on drugs, but I am pro-class war. No war but the class war. If we are going to be liberated and emancipated….we will do it from below. They have made it obvious that they will not give us what we need so we will have to take it. When we’re done with them, the government, the rich, and the 
corporations will be begging us for something as simple as a tax increase on the rich.  

I think the best alternative to capitalism is democratic socialism. We must abolish the capitalist system and replace it with a democratic socialist one. Democratic socialism is a concept embraced by people ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Albert Einstein, to Hellen Keller and George Orwell. To learn more about democratic socialism read here:

Given the way the global community is now connected in many ways, including transnational corporate power and capitalist oppression, it is only a matter of time before the whole world is united in a world-wide revolution. "Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains" --Karl Marx.

I leave you with the words of the great Fredrick Douglass:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reforms. 

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions, yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.

The time has come to demand justice. Let the struggle continue and let the spark of resistance begin with us.