All posts by Susan Burgess-Lent

The Torture of Our ‘Safety Net’

I’ve known a woman (I’ll call her B), who has worked a good part of her life as caregiver.   She has no living family, she does not own a car.  She usually lives where she works, often on the overnight shift to serve the needs of a patient.

One gig was caring for a women confined to a wheelchair in an advanced stage of a degenerative disease.  B noticed the women on day shift spent more time on their phone and watching TVs than the spent caring for the patient. She reported her concerns about the quality of care;  the company that had assigned her promptly fired her.

She got another job with a facility that houses people with mental illness.  Soon enough, her employer became verbally abusive in virtually every interaction, withheld her paychecks on a whim, and did not provide the house with sufficient food. Her stress level skyrocketed, as did her blood pressure.  She suffered what was probably minor strokes on two occasions.  The most recent one, on Christmas Eve, put her in the intensive care for a couple of days.  She was diagnosed with kidney disease  Her vision began deteriorating and is now about 80% reduced.  When she returned to work, her boss harangued her about missing days and accused her of lying about being in the hospital.  He fired her, then allowed her to stay, then fired her again, with two weeks’ notice. He refuses to give her last paycheck until she leaves.

il_570xN.1193079674_d4bnB has been on the phone every day looking for shelter space, of which the county has precious little. She applied for Med-Cal and now has coverage, but only with certain providers.  Her doctor ordered a CT scan. But she can’t get that without lab work, and she can’t get that without an appointment. “And the scheduler just left for the day.” More calls to people who cannot or will not help in the way their job title suggests they might.

A homeless services group wanted her to come in for ‘training’ before she got on the list for a shelter space. She might be eligible for hotel vouchers from Social Services, but that’s not assured.  Call Social Services and you hear the message “We are experiencing heavy call volume, please call back later” – ALL day. She will have to get there without a car, money, or much ability to see, and hope she finds what she needs.

She not a drug abuser or chronically homeless, but now she’s disabled. She will be homeless in two days.

She’s caught up in a trifecta of fuckups among systems we pay our taxes to support.  How did so much inefficiency and dismissiveness take over?

Truth is, many of us are a paycheck or two from the street – a hell I would not wish on anyone. None of this uncertainty would be necessary if the State’s considerable wealth were fairly distributed by forward-thinking people.  Yeah – how naive!  But those of us who want to live in a more just and compassionate world must find ways to help untangle our social ‘safety net.’

More coming…

The Women’s March Disconnect

I’ve written extensively about the struggles of women living on the margins of our prosperous city, and the need for resources that help advance them. At some time in all women’s lives, the adjectives “vulnerable” and “marginalized” apply. Do we forget?

The messages streaming from the organizers of the Women’s March urge us to RSVP to a March, DONATE, and most recently are pushing to sell March merchandise ( t-shirts etc.).  An earlier email mentioned the formation of policy groups, but no one  responded to a query.

The Women’s March risks becoming a ’cause’ unto itself.

Consider the costs of dozens of Marches in major US cities. I can only guesstimate it’s in the double digit MILLIONS of dollars – much of it for police “protection.”

It’s the new nexus for donations to “Women’s Issues,” usually the least funded of all human services.

If a one-day event can induce an outpouring of so much money, but none of it is publicly earmarked to serve the most vulnerable women, then we have a serious failure to define purpose.

How can the March induce hundreds of thousands of women to gather and NOT enable them to do something more effective than carry signs?screen shot 2019-01-09 at 11.08.22 am

What’s needed now in Oakland – and probably most major cities:

Sufficient safe and comfortable space for all women who need shelter from domestic violence;

A safe place for women to discover and receive the help they need to finish high school, learn computers,  prepare for a job, get low-cost counseling, hang with other women, and learn to value their uniqueness. Too many women ravaged by poverty have a LOT of healing to do.

An initiative to educate EVERYONE our community about how to end violence against women;

A campaign to induce local major employers give public evidence of equal pay – or correct the inequalities.

That’s for starters.

When will the connection between March activism and effective community action begin?  Will the Marches disclose their finances, and will they opt to serve real needs?  It’s an open question that begs response.

Baffling sights, aural delights, and notable encounters of 2018

Navigating life is a daunting challenge most of the time, to say nothing of the considerable regular effort required to behave like a competent, contributory human being.

I do not have a television, having abandoned the device and the medium ten years ago in an effort to firewall my thinking, to improve my experience of a day.  Avoiding the mawkish, trite, corporate free-for-all of advertising relieves me of some anxiety.  If I feel a need to escape, I watch movies without commercials.

Without the clutter of factoids about shootings and disasters, money- or sex-related scandals, political embarrassments and rumors delivered by TV news, which is sandwiched among depressingly un-nuanced dramatic shows and unfunny comedies, I’m able, on more occasions, to be more attuned to observing and listening to the lives and life around me. It’s never boring.

Oakland, California where I live:

Plagued by a volatile racial divide. Some days it cools and softens with the balm of open relaxed conversations or random acts of humanity.

Too many people wandering across busy streets against the light and with no fear.  Suicide by random passer-by.  John George, the psychiatric facility where adults experiencing severe and disabling mental illnesses may commit themselves or be committed, has patients sleeping on mats on the floor in a dorm, unsheltered from each other, medicated but unhealed.

The upcoming Women’s March, spending an obscene amount of money on an events that is unlikely to produce any timely or tangible assistance to swelling ranks of women on the margins of our community,  where domestic violence shelters are always full, too many women have not completed high school, do not know how to use computers, and virtually stagger through their days under the burden of traumas rooted in their poverty.

The City’s infested with the cheap scooters that expose riders without helmets to head injuries and pedestrians without warning to vehicular assault.

The losing battle in West Oakland against graffiti and random trash piles. Not much sense that this is a neighborhood worth valuing. We need to change that.

On the plus side:

white unbrella fungi on tree CU
photo by David Lent

The Yuba River still flows with enormous power; a hike in the forest in the riot of furry mosses and spritely fungi and elegant ferns and nude oaks that have lain down rugged brown carpets on ochre clay – that resets a weary soul.

Women’s issues steadily are gaining traction in the public conversation, suggesting more action to correct the inequities and predations on women that are inherent in our society.

 

I’ve discovered the amazing music of Jessica La Rel  http://www.jessicalarel.com/  

ODI Dance Kenya   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqmIT3dVQyY   

Sol Development   http://soldevelopmentmusic.com/

JAX (Haiti)   https://www.facebook.com/pg/jaxmusic4/about/

WCI and I survived and rebooted after soul-busting betrayals by trusted women.  New strong allies are arriving with reassuring regularity.

Several extraordinary women I know through Oakland Women’s Center have become wonderful friends.  I cherish my connection with them. Black and white women have more than they usually realize to offer each other.

My next book is coming out in January:  Trouble Ahead:  Dangerous Missions with Desperate People

3D-coverIt’s a compilation of journals – commentary from my numerous missions in East Africa and the birth stories of Women’s Centers International.

Publication announcement to come.

After the holiday slack-off, I’ll be ready again to advance WCI in serving the women who need it most.

Sisters’ Guide to Howling – Part 3

Spend any time last two weeks practicing whimpering?  If you have, you’ve learned a few things about creating primal sounds.  Scary shit.  Also fun in a subversive way.

We’re working up to a howl –  a visceral way for women to join up in commanding public auditory space.  Why?

Well, what sort of pain are you holding on to from some belittling event(s), a rending betrayal of trust, verbal abuse, rape, ongoing harassment, unequal pay, a health system that believes you to be drug-seeking, abject trouble raising money for your organization?  You fill in the details.

Women reclaim power only when we heal, and this is one tool for the process.  The message – “change gonna come” – will live inside the wave of sounds. We’ll set a date for the first public Howl.

Onward. This week’s exercise:

STEP 1    If you’re just catching up,  review Part 1 from my blog Nov 6 on the art of whimpering

If you’ve been practicing, begin sound 2:  The whine. Whine night

A whine is serious business for dogs and wolves. It means something’s wrong.

STEP 2  As before, work up to it.   Find your range.  Get creative

Minimum 20 seconds per day. Your choice  whether or not people are close enough to hear. If you feel the need, give your significant others a heads up.

STEP 3  Continue looking for and connecting with your pack.

Here’s a bit of inspiration for your effort:  “You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weights you down.”  Toni Morrison

Till the next installment of the Full Moon Sisters’ Guide to Howling,

Susan

 

“You have to go on and be crazy. Craziness is like heaven.”  Jimi Hendrix

The Women We Nurture

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, the annual reminder to those blessed with a home, income, and food on the table to give back in ways that count.
We begin WCI’s campaign to build the stability of Baraka Women’s Center (BWC) and its growth into the hub of Women’s Centers throughout Kenya.

BWC is the most innovative service provider to women in Nairobi.After navigating a rough road in 2017,  BWC is back on level ground. The Center’s training programs and community of support enable over 600 women to embrace important advances in their lives. BWC has become the go-to lifeline for women of all ages throughout Nairobi.  Meeting the needs takes money – about $6.50 per month per woman.

Say ‘YES to BWC’ by donating generously during our holiday fundraising campaign.
We’re in this together, so please tell your friends. And stay tuned for special gifts to our donors.

With gratitude,
Susan Burgess-Lent, Executive Director
Women’s Centers International