Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Women Living and Working in Fear — What’s It Going to Take to Fix This?

Tonight I saw two scary-clear examples of women whose worlds were turned entirely upside down to the point of fear, in despair, shaking the very foundations their lives had been on, moments before. My reactions surprised me and it's taken three hours to process before sitting down to write.

It was a little after 8:15 pm. On my way home from dinner, I'm driving my usual route, slowly, because animals dart out. Coming down Copperfield Drive from University, on the left-hand sidewalk, an outlined shape appeared, either a light-colored dog bent over where arms met the ground with legs, but crouched, or it was a person bent over almost hugging the ground.

That sidewalk is often traversed by walkers in pairs for exercise, even after dark, and it will be until Daylight Savings returns. It’s never a good idea for a woman to be alone on any neighborhood blocks; none of them is safe in the dark. Was it a person or a dog? If it was a person, had they tripped and were they trying to get up?

I slowed to 20 mph and still I couldn’t discern clearly. I proceeded east about 0.25 miles, made a gentle U-turn and was shocked to see a woman bent over. As my lights approached her, she staggered to get up slowly. I cautiously pulled closer to the curb and asked, “Are you alright?” She looked into my eyes to see I was not a threat and shook her head gently ‘no’ while saying, “I was thrown out of my house and I’ve got to ….” And her voiced trailed off.

She wore a thick grey sweater, a handbag over her arm, just like any suburban wife or mom would have if you were heading to Target or someplace for a quick errand. Her steps were uncertain but nothing was broken. Unsure whether or not she had tripped or just bent over in tears, I saw no bruises or blood. “Can I call someone for you?” She shook her head ‘no.’ “What happened?” I asked. She was not intelligible, yet she showed no signs of disorientation or drunkenness. Something had happened, but what?

In the old days, I would have invited her into my car and offered to drive her someplace, but these are no longer those days. Seeing no mask, I could not in poor judgment or good choices invite her to ride with me. We’re all extra cautious right now; the last thing I can afford is to go down with COVID-19.

I asked, “Can I call Bryan Police nonemergency on my phone and have them come give you a ride somewhere?” She immediately shook her head ‘no’ and said, “I have a home. I just can’t get there. My husband threw me out.” I was devastated to hear that. I’m not here to cast judgment and I only know what she told me. “I’m okay.” She half-smiled and started making further progress walking on her journey, to where I wasn’t sure. So I did another gentle U-turn and no traffic was anywhere around. Where was everyone tonight? I had Bryan PD’s nonemergency number in my phone contacts and dialed to explain the situation to the Dispatch officer and he was great, as they always are.

It was not even 60°F and the wind wasn’t chilling, but her warm sweater was not going to help her with no head covering or scarf if she were going very far. He assured me he’d reach out to a nearby officer to have him or her check on her. He patiently waited with me on the phone as I stayed parked to see her cross the street headed towards Stripes because it might be three or four minutes before a patrol car could reach her. Wanted to make sure she didn't duck down a side street.

Thanking the officer, I threw up a quick prayer and asked the Lord and his angels to watch over her. As I drove to the safety of my home, I realized that every day around us are examples of women in fear. I don’t know a thing about this woman, her life, or her history. I only know I saw the look on her face and there was true pain, mental pain, emotional pain, and the words “verbal abuse” came into my mind…she was a woman, maybe she was a victim, but she was scared and I was helpless to help her. Damn.

I also knew my own protective instincts were taking care of me while the voices of my own guardian angels assured me that I could not bring her into my car. What if she had COVID? What if she had a gun? What if this was a time-tested ruse to get people to stop and help?

These days, my friends, we don’t have the luxury of picking up a stranger on the side of the road, lest we face injury, robbery, or fear ourselves. What a state of play our lives are in. Luxury everywhere around us, working electricity, running water, indoor plumbing that even our grandparents didn’t have, and we’re poor in spirit when it comes to trust. We’ve all got to work on that.

Then, I arrived home, made a cup of coffee, and turned on the news.

There was a United States Congresswoman being interviewed on TV, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), or AOC, as the kids call her. Now instantly some of you have formed an opinion of her based on prior media reports. That’s your choice. But, for a moment, I ask that you forget her "politics" and just think of her as a woman who was duly elected as a representative from the Bronx in New York. The interviewer had Rep. Ocasio-Cortez on together with fellow “freshman,” U.S. Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-CA).

The question to both representatives: During the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, where did Rep. Ocasio-Cortez go as the mob approached and what did she hear and what was she feeling? The discomfort and verge of tears that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez was showing was painful to watch as she explained that she had knocked on Rep. Porter’s office asking if she could come in, along with an aide from another representative’s office.

“Of course,” Rep. Porter replied, and without saying a word, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez started opening cabinets, closet doors, anything with a crawl space, until Rep. Porter said, “What can I help you find?” AOC said, “I’m looking for where I can hide.” AOC had been in the Cannon House Office Building. She had made her way over to the Longworth House Office Building because when she had been evacuated, no one told her where would be a safe place to go and find safety. Seriously?!

Outside the office, the quickly approaching crowd was banging on walls, yelling, “Where is she? Where is AOC? Where is she?” and by that time, Rep. Porter had turned out all the lights in the office. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez had found a space behind the bathroom door in Rep. Porter’s office, and the other aide was also hiding. The three women had to stay in an office, with drapes drawn and lights out, in fear for six hours. Unfathomable. No one was communicating with our elected officials as to where they could find safety. No one reached out to them to check and see if they were “okay.”

Rep. Porter noted that AOC had said, “Of all days to wear heels,” and Rep. Porter had found a spare pair of her own aide’s tennis shoes to fit Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and she wore them, “in case she had to make a quick run for it.” Our elected officials. Duly elected, officially sworn in. WOMEN. Fearing for their safety while they are in our buildings as public servants trying to do their best for this country.

So, too, are female Republican Senators and Congresswomen, being intimidated by fear of not having supporters, of “being primaried,” or of other loss if they stand up and speak up in behalf of their fellow women in public service, being threatened with punitive action should they speak out loud rather than taking orders to remain silent. It’s not about a political party that women are working and living in fear. There are bullies across the aisle and it doesn’t take long to learn all their names.

Women walking alone the streets of Bryan, fearful for the next hour, the next day, the next night. Nightmares and trauma are realities of present-day life that are exacerbated when people act rashly, motives designed to provoke fear, to intimidate, to strip away the power of decision to act of one’s own accord.

I don’t have any answers. There are so many good people in this world, so many great people around us here in town. No person is any different in the basic needs we all have: shelter, food, clothing, safety. Yet, it seems that women are becoming prey…some are victims of fear, having been pushed, shoved, and panicked into a heightened state of physical and emotional paralysis, where they can’t get out of a bad situation.

Locked into a bad place, they often despair alone, no one to turn to, to confide in, or to ask for help. Help is not necessarily the federal government. Here at home it’s more likely that our local municipal government has programs and resources and nonprofit agencies to help people through those times of fear. I’m familiar with some, but not all of them.

I’m angry that we live in a day and time where violence is often the answer, no matter the question. It’s beyond insane to work in a state of fear at home or traumatized in our own Capitol. But we do. Unless and until people in power deal with the fringe-of-sanity cultists, expect more of the same.

Never did I expect such a broad swath of people who accept as truth things that are not true. Science and mathematics do not accept things that are not proven. Some things we take on faith like what’s beyond this planet, this universe. Too far away, numbers fail, statistics are useless, and only time will tell.

Yet, I saw no difference in the fear that was in the eyes of tonight’s sidewalk stranger and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as she described how she feared for her safety, and her life. Her one thought was how Rep. Porter said, “I’m a Mom. I’ve got this, I’ll help you. We can stay here for six weeks if we have to, I have enough supplies” to calm her. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, replied, “I may never get the chance to be a Mom.” She truly expected to die. She'd been traumatized before in her lifetime; this just reignited every PTSD trigger the first time she suffered.

In retrospect of 2021, in the past six decades, my lifetime so far, I’ve seen Texas as a state that was one of only five states left in the U.S. that had a poll tax until 1964, when the 24th amendment to the Constitution prohibited poll taxes for federal elections. All but Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Virginia, and of course Texas, had abolished poll taxes. We were one of five states that didn’t voluntarily get rid of them. No pride there.

The Dallas Morning News reported, “The Texas Senate attempted to repeal the poll tax in 1949 and 1963 but failed both times. The state ended poll taxes for local and state elections with a 1966 resolution, but it didn’t formally approve the amendment until 2009, when Rep. Alma Allen, a Black Democrat from Houston, sponsored a resolution to ratify it.” In 2009; again, not proud.

It’s time things started changing for the better here in Texas, and in the United States. We deserve better, but we have to vote to get it.

Is it coincidental or on target that a recent rating of the least educated states in the United States include #1 Mississippi, #2 West Virginia, #3 Louisiana, #4 Arkansas, and #5 Alabama. Meanwhile people walk the streets here in town without a mask, still…really?

The more you read, the smarter you get, and the more you are aware of education, learning, and the power that comes from being informed, no matter how far you go in school. High school graduates I know are brilliant students of international politics because they read and stay informed of the facts.

Suddenly, an inspiration at 3 am…I cannot remove the fear or fix the world of that woman I saw tonight, but God can. I prayed for the Sidewalk Stranger. I cannot fix (alone), by anything other than my single vote, the atrocities that face our elected leadership as they try to put the pieces of our lives back together, for us, as they decide whether a Democratic $1400 check or a Republican $600 check or a compromise $1000 check “might” work to “solve” our problems caused by the virus that would get to “maybe 15 cases and then ‘by magic’ it would suddenly all go away.” I have disgust at those who stood by in silence, or helped perpetuate the lies, doing nothing while people died needlessly. It was a life-and-death matter, for hundreds of thousands, not 15.

Decision: I’m about to take part of whatever check they decide to mail all of us proudly working for a living, if anything, and buy a bunch of books to encourage reading for young children. I’ll be doing my small part of helping to train children to read, to learn, and to make the rules, not to be trapped by or victims of them. Mostly, I hope to be giving to them to help. If I had a foundation and could do what I wanted with it, anonymously, I’d make sure that every child in Texas could read beyond grade level and had the resources to do so. From there, they grow up with a rich love of learning that never ends.

Soltuions, in my personal experience: phonics will help a child dive into the world of reading and to express creatively in writing and art, eventually in music. Once we are equals in reading, and in mathematics, we can be equals at the decision table as we run the country one day with a better educated group of people who learned that most of all--truth matters, courage matters, and as Col. Alexander Vindman said, “Here (in the USA), Right Matters.”

May God bless the courage of Rep. Porter, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Speaker Pelosi, and the woman on the sidewalks of Bryan tonight for having the courage to walk where she did not know, where she could not see well, for the promise of “something better” in her life. Please Lord, deliver it now. Amen.

[Note: Those unfamiliar with Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA)—she was the one who questioned Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Chase Bank who didn’t know how much his tellers made every month, why he didn’t pay his tellers a living wage while taking a personal salary of $31,500,000/yr and getting federal funds for bailouts. She also stumped Louis DeJoy, the U.S. Postmaster General, about how much it cost to mail a postcard. He makes $303,460/yr but didn’t know how much it cost to mail a postcard. Congresswoman Porter informed him; it’s $.35. He should have known. She questioned Steven Mnuchin and he condescendingly snapped back at her, "Are you a lawyer?" as though she could not possibly be. She replied (paraphrasing), "As a matter of fact I am, now answer my question."]