SARAH VERBIEST

Looking Forward , Sarah Verbiest, founder of Every Woman Southeast, reflects on the new year and what it holds.
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A few symbols of my identities as a runner, friend, teacher and activist: inspirational jewelry from BFFs, my sneaker wings, and the pussy hat my students made for me.

The transfer of power from President Obama to President Trump today has made me reflect on my different identities.  As a cis woman and feminist, my heart is heavy as the biggest glass ceiling in our country remains intact. The promise of a Cabinet with half of the seats filled by females is lost. As a white mother, I am very aware of my privilege today – particularly as I look at a sea of faces that look like mine standing against the backdrop of Congress. In my professional identity as a public health social worker, I worry about funding for many different programs that seek to support and elevate those in need. As a Democrat, well, dang – it stinks to lose, especially when Rachel Maddox said for months that we would win.

But I think the identity that I need to most consider today is that of being an American. I was born in Michigan, raised in upstate New York, and gave birth to my children in North Carolina. I was educated in American schools and universities. I’ve paid taxes and used my financial resources to support capitalism – even McDonalds once in a while. My grandparents were square dancers, and one of my favorite runs is along all the monuments in DC. I may try to fake it when I travel but my fundamental Americanism is hard to hide – that darn optimism and clothing style.

american-flagYet, I’ve noticed a deep division within myself over the past few months about which kind of American I wish to identify with – and those from whom I find myself desperately trying to distance myself. I feel an inner fissure that is new and really uncomfortable. I feel angry and sometimes even think in passing that if bad policy decisions are made now, the people who voted a certain way will just learn the hard way. How awful! I hate to admit this feeling but it is there.

President Obama urged all Americans to  “Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued, they quarreled and eventually they compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.” So I have to do my inner work here, too, if I want to fully lean in to my identity as an American. The divide can’t close entirely but I need to better understand it.

Regardless of how I feel, my Americanism also means that I can’t just sit on my couch for the next four years drinking wine and binging on Netflix. Being an American means that I have to be a more active citizen. I must engage more now than ever. Democracy may be messy and hard and imperfect…but what is the alternative?

Sarah Mink from Bitch Media offered some great suggestions for taking concrete action. These include writing actual, thoughtful letters to the people who represent us, as well as diversifying our media and getting out of our echo chambers. She suggests that we offer our skills and give money to the local groups and causes that matter to us. She also challenges us to fight racism and learn from communities who have had to resist for decades. To be clear, I am NOT saying that to be American I have to resist Trump nor that you should do everything she suggests. But as an American I do hold responsibility for participating in democracy and seeking to uphold and move forward our ideals of “liberty and justice for all”.

As Obama said, “The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody.  For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.  But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.” I know that my country has many problems – we were founded on a fault line of slavery and the murder of indigenous people. But I also fervently hold true to our highest IDEALS and my belief that the “arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” as Dr. King so eloquently stated.

And for all of that, today I am going to wish our new President the best. Whether that makes you happy or sad, it doesn’t ultimately matter – as Americans he is our President now. I hope his heart is somehow moved to focus outside of himself as he assumes this most awesome and heavy responsibility. I pray that he can find words of unity in the future. And I offer my expectations that all of us – from members of the US Congress to the regular “person on the street” – wake up and stay that way.

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It is a mix of snow and sleet paired with freezing temperatures…in the South. Our world is shut down. It is lovely. It is Saturday and we suddenly have a weekend without obligations.

 

15941483_10211605274597122_6061374549231734917_nAn excuse to stay in sweats, work on small projects, actually talk to family, stay up late watching movies, even bake something. That is even better than the wintry landscape outside my window. It’s a Mother Nature imposed sabbath.

Normally my reflection might stop there. And that would be ok – we as women and an overworked, technology enslaved, “busy” nation could use a random day off now and again. It is both a luxury and a necessity to be able to do nothing on occasion.

But it is 2017 and being awake to power and privilege is long overdue. As I was sitting on my comfortable couch, I reflected that we have central heat, plenty of food, internet access, and in a pinch we can walk down our hill to a 24-hour pharmacy.  I feel safe in my home – it is a refuge not a minefield. Not all women can say this. I am warm in my home. The walls are firm, the roof is solid and whenever our power goes out it is usually back in just a few hours. This is not true for many families. I’m not isolated and alone nor am I anxious about the situation or find the gloomy skies heavy.

If this were a week day, I could work from home and still get paid…and keep an eye on my teen while he was out of school. For many people, not working today (and likely tomorrow) means they don’t get paid. My daughter was supposed to pick up a weekend shift while home from college. That gig is definitely off and she is out of luck for earning much needed textbook money.

Too many people navigate life without what they need to calmly and warmly shelter from life’s storms. For some the snow doesn’t bring a needed respite. How can we hold a space to rest, to enjoy the life we have – laugh in the excitement of our puppy or toddler discovering snow for the first time – while remembering that we deserve this no more than anyone else? Maybe for today it is the naming and recognition that matters – it doesn’t change the world but it can foster compassion. And if compassion in its truest form were a national value there would be no blizzard we couldn’t overcome.

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I’m a “resolutioner”. A reflector. A list maker. An organizer. All traits that pair well with the end of the year. As a girl I would make time on New Year’s Eve to write my goals for the next year on a small piece of paper. I’d then put them in a special box that held my thoughts from the years before. It was always interesting to look back at the girl I was and dream about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. The words on the paper didn’t change a whole lot over time – I wanted to pray more, to be a better friend, to lose weight, exercise more, to have a boyfriend…to change the world. Yep – every year my most ardent wish was to be an instrument for the greater good and to make a difference with the time I was given on earth. I was a geeky, preacher’s kid with social work DNA – what can I say? And so the years have rolled on.

While 2016 was a solid, unremarkable year for my family (just regular life – thank goodness), it was an upending year for us – all of us – collectively as we witnessed mass shootings, a difficult election, protests, HB2 (in North Carolina) and were forced to look directly at our country, naked – not pretty. I can’t deny my deep disappointment in seeing a glass ceiling unbroken, worrying about what is to come in 2017 and wondering how I can guide my white children in a society where our unearned privilege causes so much pain. Recent politics in my state have even made my optimism in democracy waver. Frankly, 2016 made me weary.

But as ritual demands, tis the season to think forward and lean into the work ahead. I still want to eat healthier, be a better friend, take better care of the guy I finally got and save the world. What I’ve learned over time, however, is that I am not powerful enough to save the whole world. If that is my benchmark I will fail. So this year I want to use my voice effectively, bravely and often. I will focus. I will not worry what people think about me. I will not hide behind my privilege, I will call myself on it time and time again. I will do a better job of refreshing my spirit. I will open my heart to exploring new ways of seeing and understanding. I may join a drum circle? I will speak truth to power.  I WILL NOT GIVE UP on my belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all beings and our shared right to happiness, safety and love.

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Solstice by Kylie Verbies

To be of use

By MARGE PIERCY

The people I love the best

jump into work head first

without dallying in the shallows

and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.

They seem to become natives of that element,

the black sleek heads of seals

bouncing like half-submerged balls.

 

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

 

I want to be with people who submerge

in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who are not parlor generals and field deserters

but move in a common rhythm

when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

 

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

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This seismic election has left our natiaudre-lordeon on a spectrum of emotions ranging from anger to jubilation and everywhere in-between. No matter where you might personally fall on the spectrum, let us continue to do the work that this coalition has set out to do together because you matter and the work you do matters!

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Smithsonian American History Museum and the Suffragette Carriage.

The 2016 Presidential Campaign has been a historic event for many reasons. Shocking, stressful, upending – this campaign has exposed the under belly of America and it isn’t pretty. Racism, classism, religious intolerance, economic uncertainty, xenophobia, the political establishment and misogyny – something to make everyone upset. Democracy is messy. It may be tempting to many to just stay home this year.

If you are contemplating taking a pass on your vote, I hope you’ll pause for a moment and remember the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention – the first women’s right convention that passed a resolution in favor of women’s suffrage. Do the names Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt ring a bell? For decades women filed lawsuits, marched, went on hunger strikes, picketed the White House, raised money and fought state by state for the right to cast a ballot.More Link

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It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

I spend a good portion of my professional life educating health professionals about “reproductive life planning,” or, basically, helping someone articulate whether or not they want any (or any more) kids and the steps they need to take to achieve their desired number of children. As a recurrent miscarrier – 7 pregnancies, but only 1 live birth – the irony is not lost on me.

I’ve always been a planner. I used to have every facet of my life planned out with such precision it would put a 5-star general to shame. When my husband and I decided to start trying for a baby, I knew exactly when I should get pregnant to interfere least with my master’s program’s comp exams and summer internship. Then the first miscarriage happened. I had to tinker with my plans, but I decided I could still make it work. Then came miscarriages two, three, and four. My plans were in shambles.

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We’ve all had it, the message from our email server fussing to let us know our account is 99.9% full. First response? Sort emails by size, save and delete a few of the largest offenders, then continue on with the day. Sound familiar? A few days ago, I took a look at the actual number of messages I had. Like a BMI reality check. It was a wake up call: Inbox = 12,543 messages, Outbox = 13,203 messages. And people wonder why I don’t take vacation!More Link

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I am a die-hard optimist. I am not only a “glass half full” kind of gal, I am a “glass is half full with half the calories OR I’m already partially hydrated”. I have always had a sunny outlook on life – to the point of being referred to as Pollyanna during a Fellowship interview (which felt insulting but hey I landed a spot). For many years I thought this positive attitude was genetic. In our family on my dad’s side there is the “happy” gene that can be traced across the generations. My grandmother Ethel had it as does my Aunt Mary, my cousin Marla and I, and Elaina in the newest cohort. This is the Monty Pythonesque “my arm is cut off but not the one holding my sword…how lucky” gene. This has been my truth for many years.More Link

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Vacations are good for us. They enhance our productivity, happiness and health.

I have an awkward relationship with vacations. I think about them – wish for them – have plenty of days to take them – and yet it’s July 27th and I’ve taken not taken more than one day off here and there this year. I’ve heard the recent stories on NPR about how
Vacations are good for us. They enhance our productivity, happiness and health.

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Green sprouts in the rain

Green sprouts in the rain

Green sprouts in the rain

It is time for white people to wake up from “the Dream,” recognize the pain our privilege causes, and begin to make amends.

There has been so much said on social media since the seven murders last week and now today. Some powerful words have been shared. Some people have remained silent because they don’t feel they have to comment while others have been silent because they just don’t know what to say. Each time I think I’m ready to put my thoughts out in the world there is a Huffington Post article or a blog that either encapsulates it all – much better than I could – or just shuts my mouth and forces me to think. As a human relations fellow and a social worker who has endeavored to learn about and discuss power and privilege, the readings I share below made me realize what a beginner I am in this essential work. Here is some of what I’ve been reflecting on recently.More Link

  • January 2017
  • December 2016
  • November 2016
  • October 2016
  • August 2016
  • July 2016
  • September 2015
  • May 2015
  • April 2015
  • March 2015
  • January 2015
  • December 2014