It’s surprising how affecting a pair of shoes can be. Particularly when they’re empty, and when they’re one of 17 pairs representing the students and faculty killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day.

These empty shoes, bereft of those who normally wore them, were on the steps of my town’s high school as part of a student-led nationwide walkout to protest Congress’s failure to do anything to stop gun violence.

There have been 17 shootings on school grounds in the United States so far in 2018, 208 since Columbine. Including that initial 1999 rampage, which shocked the nation and defined the country today’s teenagers know, more than 200 have been killed. This does not count the additional 29 assailants who died, all but two of whom turned their guns on themselves. Far more have been injured and traumatized.

A dispassionate account of these incidents, most of which never rise to the level of national attention, makes for sobering reading. Most of the victims are young, but so are most of the attackers—too young to even be called gunmen (almost all are male). One six-year-old boy fatally shot his six-year-old classmate. So many of the incidents arise out of arguments, and have nothing to do with the usual false narratives of lone nuts, terrorists, and other bad guys. It’s easily accessible guns—not mental illness or monsters–that turn mundane hot-headedness deadly.

School shootings account for a tiny fraction of the 33,000+ (and rising) annual gun deaths in the United States, and schools remain among the safest places to be. Too many kids have more to fear in dangerous neighborhoods and volatile homes or, if they’re young men of color, from police. All mass shootings, including highly publicized tragedies in nightclubs, workplaces, churches, concerts, and Congressional ballgames and meet-and-greets, account for only two percent of firearm fatalities. Almost two-thirds of all gun deaths are suicides. Research by the Harvard School of Public Health and Everytown for Gun Safety consistently shows that guns in the home are far more likely to increase the risk of injury, especially but not exclusively when domestic abuse occurs. States that have more guns (and less restrictive gun laws) tend to have more gun injuries and deaths than states that don’t. Whether we’re talking about suicide, homicide, or accident, limiting access to guns saves lives,

When we widen the scope of gun violence beyond the school shootings that understandably horrify us, we see, if we care to, the grotesque number of casualties—38,658 gun deaths in 2016, the last year for which CDC data are available. That’s a lot of pairs of empty shoes.

But it is those kids in schools—the post-Columbine generation—whose grief and rage now galvanize a nation. They are not activists for arming teachers, turning schools into prisons, or rounding up the mentally ill. They want politicians to stop cowering before the NRA and commonsense gun safety regulations, and they won’t stop until they get them.

“We are only 24 percent of the population, but we are 100 percent of the future!” The girl leading the walkout I attended exclaimed through her tears.

Her fellow classmate urged everyone to vote. The students paid tribute to the lives that would never be lived, the contributions that will never be made by students just like them. Too many empty shoes. But the kids still here are stepping in and stepping up. It is our sacred duty to step, walk, march, run, speak out—and vote—alongside them.

Does Love Trump Hate?

Love trumps hate. It’s a nice sentiment, but is it true? Arguably, fear and anger are stronger motivators, and bipartisan to boot: Trump capitalized on those passions to propel himself to electoral college victory, and fear and anger are also fueling the strong opposition that’s emerged since his election.

So what’s love got to do with it? Listening, connecting, empathy—the small and steady force that goes to work on hearts and minds like water on rock. That’s the spirit behind the canvassing I’m doing each month with Swing Left. We travel outside our deep blue bubble to engage with people in the nearest swing district to try to turn a red House seat blue. Door-to-door canvassing is like phone banking with exercise—moving down the list of people who mostly don’t answer. But when they do, something small and miraculous happens: listening, connecting, caring about the other person.

We ask people about their local concerns, how they’re feeling about the direction of the country. Talking to people helps me curb my own tendencies toward writing off those with different viewpoints. Of course we are trying to identify votes for Democrats in the mid-terms. But we also seek to understand what matters to people. I can assure you, it is not the Russians, or Trump’s tweets, or shutting down the government (a move that generally generates disgust, not kudos).  Mostly, people are concerned with traffic, healthcare costs, jobs. Danica Roem, the Democrat who unseated a long-term Republican in Virginia’s House of Delegates last fall, understood this. She may have won a place in history by being an out transwoman, but she won her campaign by focusing on fixing the congestion on Route 28.

She also won because of voter turnout: the highest statewide in 20 years for an off-year race, with the youth vote doubling in less than a decade.

Which brings us back to love and hate. Love’s opposite is not hate but indifference. We hear it all the time: “It doesn’t matter.” “Both parties are the same.” “My vote doesn’t count.” “Nothing will change.” Political demoralization is rampant across party lines, and it’s easy to understand why people who feel that politicians are indifferent to them are indifferent to voting.

The silver lining to the 2016 election is that many people who have never before participated in politics now see that elections have consequences, the outcomes are not the same, and that their involvement matters very much.

A sign I saw at this year’s San Francisco Women’s March sums it up:

This past election was not determined by Trump voters.

It was not determined by Democrats.

It was determined by non-voters.

Love won’t trump Trump and his GOP enablers. Voting will.





A recent AP story about how people are starting to see a bit more money in their paychecks reveals the scam at the heart of the GOP tax overhaul. One woman notes that she is now earning an extra $1.50 per pay period. I assumed that must be a typo, until the article explained that this amounted to $78 more per year.  A man whose paycheck boost covers two-thirds of his increased healthcare cost enthuses, “I have heard time and again that the middle class is getting crumbs, but I’ll take it!”

Actually, the middle class is getting screwed.

Unstated in the article, or in the massive GOP snow job touting this “reform,” is that the wealthiest individuals and corporations will pocket the lion’s share—not just in dollars, but in percentages. According to NPR and the Tax Policy Center, households making $1 million or more per year will get an average tax cut of $69, 660, or a 3.3 percent increase in income. Those making under $100,000 will average a tax cut of just under $1,000, a paltry 0.1-1.8 percent increase. The trivial amounts with which the Republicans are attempting to buy off ordinary Americans end in a few years, whereas slashed corporate tax rates on wealthy companies are permanent. There’s also no mention that tax cuts for the super-rich are funded by targeting blue states, healthcare, and many other programs Americans depend on. These include Social Security and Medicare, which House Speaker Paul Ryan has already vowed to go after next. His rationale? To curb the deficit, which he and his cronies have just enthusiastically exploded by massively cutting taxes for millionaires and billionaires.

Speaking of Paul Ryan, he evidently saw the same AP story I did. He didn’t think $1.50 was a typo, though, or cause for horror. Instead, he saw it as something to celebrate, tweeting about it as a success story. Ryan deleted the tweet after being roundly attacked for it.

He may try to cover his tracks, but Republicans can’t erase the truth. Their motto is, “Let them eat crumbs.”

We shouldn’t swallow it.

March On!

Yesterday I marched in the San Francisco Women’s March to secure our future with the future: my 20-something daughter and her friends. Last year my husband and I went to the march in Oakland, but this year he was at a climate conference all day. So I asked Ally if I could join her group as an unobtrusive mom.

“Sure,” she texted. “Just don’t wear like five fanny packs.” (Apparently, Valley-Girl-Speak is still an essential feature of women’s empowerment.)

I promised to wear only four, so I was in. Such delicate mother-daughter negotiations must have been rampant: Not only were there many two-generation duos at the march, but this sign:

(Hmm. I assumed my daughter’s sign referred to Trump, but perhaps she meant her mother?) Other signs read:


1. Smash the Patriarchy

2. Brunch

Ally and her friends had their priorities straight, though, and began with brunch. I huddled in the kitchen with another unobtrusive mom while the millennials spilled all over the living room, munching on fruit and making their signs. Finally, we were ready to go. The sole young man in attendance took the obligatory photos on the doorstep to mark the beginning of our march:

Then we headed for the Civic Center, the younger generation dancing and singing to the music on a portable sound system.

It was a gorgeous day in San Francisco, and the crowd was exuberant. Ally and her friends took selfies and pictures for their Facebook feeds (“You can tell it’s a millennial march,” she remarked to me):

I squeezed through the throngs checking out the signs. There were a jillion references to body parts—ovaries, uteruses, dicks, and two certain nether-regions made famous by the President himself: one to describe what he felt entitled to grab and one he used to demean places mostly inhabited by brown-skinned people. Here are some of my G-rated favorites:

A couple of enterprising men had set up a table on the fringe of the plaza, and were inviting everyone to sign their petitions. I recognized the sponsors and the cause (anti-tax) as Republican-based, but the pussy-hatted women adding their names apparently did not. I approached a couple to ask them if they knew what they had signed. They were shocked when I told them; one went and scratched out her name and told me she would alert her friends. Score one for the Resistance.  Score one also for Mom Lesson #1 (an extension of everything we told you about Stranger-Danger!!): Don’t assume that everyone hanging around a friendly gathering is friendly—some of them are out to hurt you, and will take advantage of your trust and goodwill.

After the rally, we marched down Market Street to the Embarcadero. It was fantastic to see not only so many of us marching, but so many lining the sidewalks cheering us on. It has been an exhausting and destructive year, but we’re still here, stronger and more determined than ever. Not only will we march, we will organize and vote all over the country to stop this administration and its enablers.

As my favorite sign put it:

Year-End Report from the Resistance

The arc of a year is often depicted as a joyous, energetic baby who ends up as a hunched-over old man, bruised and battered by the passage of time. 2017 didn’t exactly start out on such an optimistic note–how could it with Donald Trump set to move into the oval office? But along with millions more, I marched the day after the Inauguration, with high spirits and firm resolve to resist. (That’s my husband and me at the Oakland Women’s March in the picture above.)

I’ve spent the year plummeting between impotent rage and despair, punctuated by a few marches, calls to representatives, some phone banking, a little local affordable housing advocacy, some op-eds and letters to the editor, and check-writing to organizations fighting the fight more effectively than my demoralized self could muster. Mostly, though, I’m ending the year with a different kind of resistance: resisting the urge to crawl under a rock until it’s safe to emerge:

(Here we are again–has the “All clear” sounded?)

We knew this administration would be awful, but except for Trump’s own incompetence and self-destructive tendencies, it’s been far worse than imagined. The assaults are constant and brutal, effective and exhausting. The saving grace has been the strong opposition that’s been aroused. People took to the airports to protest Trump’s travel ban; they took to their representatives’ offices to thwart the repeal of Obamacare; they took to the streets to protest.white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

Most important, people have taken to the ballot box. Democratic victories in Virginia and Alabama, as well as less splashy ones throughout the country, speak to the importance of electoral politics. After I crawl out from under my rock, that’s where I’ll be putting my energies in the new year, traveling with Swing Left to my nearest swing district to try to turn a red House seat blue.

So like the decrepit figure of Father Time who ushers out the old year, I’m ending 2017 battered and bruised, but with  determination for the new year. Onto 2018! Onto the mid-terms!


How have you survived this first year of Trump’s presidency?


Bystanders Stand Up

As men who have used their power and privilege to harass and assault women and children continue to be called out and sometimes punished (others are elevated to the White House), the discussion has expanded to include the role of bystanders—those who knew, but turned a blind eye.

Speaking out—not just by victims, but by all of us, particularly men–will be crucial to change the culture. Offenders must make amends. Bystanders must become upstanders.

We see this in the political realm as well. Jeff Flake, following his impassioned concession speech from the Senate floor excoriating his fellow Republicans for tolerating Trump’s behavior, wrote in the New York Times,” to have a vital democracy, there can be no bystanders.”

And yet there are plenty—not only Republican enablers in Congress, but among voters.

The United States has one of the lowest rates of voter turnout among western democracies: According to the Pew Research Center, we rank 28th among 35 OECD countries. This is partly because many other governments take the lead in promoting voter registration, whereas the responsibility falls mainly to individuals in the United States. A confusing patchwork of rules, access, and requirements that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction further complicates voting. The Pew report points out that the percentage of voting-eligible Americans who register is much lower than in similar democracies. Additional impediments include seemingly innocuous ones such as Election Day occurring on a weekday. And, of course, there are brazenly discriminatory barriers like restrictive voter ID laws, the denial of civil rights, and other forms of voter suppression.

But another huge factor is voter apathy.  I have done a lot of phone banking in the past several years, and I can’t keep track of the number of respondents who tell me that “Politics has nothing to do with me,” “They’re all the same,” and “What difference does it make?”

A lot, actually, as anyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the last year can attest.

In the 2016 presidential election, about 58% of voting-eligible Americans voted. This was about the same as the 2012 election, and a few percentage points below 2008’s turnout. There are a lot of reasons Donald Trump now tweets from the Oval Office, but one of them is that his campaign was successful in turning out a higher proportion of swing state white rural voters than turned out for Romney in 2012, while Clinton lost ground from Obama’s 2012 tally in those same crucial areas. Social science research has found that conservative/Republican voters tend to value loyalty more and therefore coalesce around their party’s candidates, whereas liberal/Democratic voters—especially young ones–are less inclined to do so.

Mid-term and off-year elections are decided by even fewer people. The United States Elections Project estimates that only 36.4 percent of voting-eligible Americans bothered to vote in 2014. That’s when Democrats lost control of the U.S. Senate, just as they lost control of the House, many statehouses, and redistricting in the 2010 mid-terms, with devastating, long-term consequences.

But as with the sexual misconduct revelations, perhaps people are waking up to the consequences of being a political bystander. A robust resistance has arisen against the current administration, with more people running for public office from the local to national level than ever before. The surprisingly large Democratic victories in Virginia underscore the impact of moving from bystander to participant: Turnout was the highest it’s been in 20 years for a gubernatorial election. Voters aged 18-29 came out in especially high numbers, doubling their turnout rate since 2009. More than two-thirds of the youth vote went to the uncharismatic Democratic candidate for governor, and an astonishing 15 (and counting) seats in the House of Delegates flipped from Republican to Democrat.

In the realm of sexual misconduct and abuse, people who formerly stayed silent are finding their voice. We are witnessing a hopeful sea-change as a result. In the realm of politics, your vote is your voice. Perhaps we will see a similarly encouraging sea-change as more bystanders understand how necessary it is to stand up and speak out.



I thought about the Confederate monuments controversy while hiking in Austria recently. Although you would hardly know it from the rolling green hills and tidy, prosperous houses whose window boxes brimmed with geraniums, this area was part of the Third Reich only a few decades ago. Not just because it had been taken over by Nazis in the Anschluss, but because many Austrians sympathized with Hitler’s ideology.

My husband and I were walking among the ghosts of those who had fought for his horrendous vision, just as Confederate soldiers had fought to preserve the horror of slavery. Thankfully, they lost their wars. They also lost homes, loved ones, and often their lives.

Real and grievous pain needs to be acknowledged without glorifying causes that deserve to be lost. How do we dignify the suffering of the victimizer without demeaning their victims or creating false equivalencies?

As we hiked into the tiny town of Strobl, on the tip of the beautiful, mountain-ringed Wolfgangsee, we came across a war memorial unlike any we’d encountered. It was a statue of a seated woman, her head bent in sorrow. One of her hands holds a golden olive branch. The other rests atop a huge belly whose swollen contours suggest both pregnancy and a military helmet. Baby or soldier? It is impossible to discern, except to know that it is mothers’ babies who are served up endlessly to the maw of war. At the base of the statue is a simple square etched with the years of the two world wars.

The Strobl memorial stands in sharp contrast with the symbols that have become the focus of heated debate: military “heroes” enshrined in bronze, Confederate flags, and swastikas  Defenders of these despicable icons claim they merely commemorate lost forebears or are innocent emblems of heritage. But this disguises, even exalts, the bloody evils of that heritage.

The sorrowing mother of Strobl does no such thing.  She is instead a somber reminder that there are no winners and losers in war; no glory, but only sorrow.

Where I’ve Been


My husband and I just spent three lovely weeks in Austria and the Czech Republic . While traveling, our biggest worry was whether or not the predicted rain would materialize on our hikes. We returned to an inferno, our neighboring counties ablaze.

This was just the latest in the long list of calamities, which we’d followed from afar on our smartphones: hurricanes, earthquakes, the threat of nuclear war, Trump’s latest and unending vileness in style and substance, Las Vegas, Harvey Weinstein.

Our friend Mary remarked that the pall of smoke in the sky felt symbolic of the pall over our country since the election. I want to resist the pall, to rise to the occasion—take in those made homeless by the fires, take in refugees and Dreamers, take to the streets and the halls of Congress. Or at least I want to be the kind of person who rises to the occasion instead of the person I am: someone who just wants to–and mostly does–retreat.

This is where I’ve been as the world burns. Then I came across a book review by James Wood in the 9/25/17 issue of The New Yorker.

Wood, too, had just been on vacation, in an Italian villa near the border with France, free to come and go with his family. Noticing the number of African migrants who are not so lucky, he writes:

I had read moving articles and essays about the plight of people like these—I had read several of those pieces out loud to my children; I had watched terrible reports from the BBC, and the almost unbearable Italian documentary “Fire at Sea.” And so what? What good are the right feelings if they are only right feelings? I was just a moral flaneur. From inside my speeding car, I regarded those men with compassion, shame, indignation, curiosity, profound ignorance, all of it united in a conveniently vague conviction that . . . “something must be done.” But not so that it would disturb my week of vacation. I am like some “flat” character in a comic novel, who sits every night at the dinner table and repetitively, despicably intones, without issue or effect, “This is the central moral question of our time.” And, of course, such cleansing self-reproach is merely part of liberalism’s dance of survival. It’s not just that we are morally impotent; the continuation of our comfortable lives rests on the continuation—on the success—of that impotence.

Wood captures precisely what I’ve been feeling. Something must be done, though I don’t yet know what, or even how to wrestle with my preference for doing nothing much. But I feel comforted that Wood is on to me, in a way that my friends who reassure me that I do plenty are not.

Do you know what I’m talking about? How are you feeling? How do you handle it—or not?

Disorganized Attachment in the Oval Office and Beyond

In March, Joel Whitebook, Director of Columbia University’s Psychoanalytic Studies Program, published Trump’s Method, Our Madness in the New York Times. Whitebook likened the disorientation many feel in trying to make sense of the new president to a clinician’s experience of working with psychosis. As the title of his piece suggests, Whitebook saw Trump as employing a deliberate strategy designed to sow confusion, anxiety, and exhaustion.

Now the president’s chaotic and self-defeating gyrations suggest less method than supposed. It may not be madness, but what we are witnessing bears the hallmarks of disorganized attachment.

Disorganized attachment can result when a child’s primary caregivers are simultaneously a source of safety and danger. Such parents are often abusive, frightened themselves, or operating in a dissociated manner from their own unresolved traumas. What attachment researcher Mary Main describes as the child’s dilemma of “fright without solution” leads to a collapse of strategy. This and other characteristics of disorganized attachment–erratic behavior, hostility, aggression, lack of empathy, problems with trust and truth, an incoherent narrative, and viewing the world as an unsafe place–describe the president.

Trump grew up amid material indulgence and emotional harshness. His father, notoriously demanding, critical, and controlling, mercilessly targeted vulnerability. The young Donald Trump, already constitutionally inclined toward aggression, so thoroughly identified with the aggressor that he was sent away to military school at age 13. Trump describes the tough and often physically abusive treatment there admiringly. Recapitulating the dynamic of turning to those who literally and figuratively whip him into shape, he’s now stocked his administration with generals.

Paradoxically, Trump the boy—for whom safety and danger were fused—became President Trump in part by promising security to those fearful of economic and cultural displacement in a changing and often frightening world. Under the authoritarian’s guise of powerful protector, he fans and quells fear simultaneously, pitting one group against another. Just as he seeks but can never find safety, he promises but never delivers it.

Examples abound: pledging healthcare to all by depriving millions of it; loving coal miners while defunding programs that support them; undermining his allies; protecting us from North Korea by bullying us to the brink of nuclear war.

Nowhere is this contradictory dynamic more apparent than Trump’s recent treatment of the Dreamers. He is neither the first nor last politician to sell out vulnerable populations. What’s unusual is how much Trump’s actions reflect his erratic internal state. Harsh rhetoric intertwines with proclamations of love and care-taking for the Dreamers. Then Trump rescinds DACA, sending his less conflicted Attorney General to announce it. The president has since issued a stream of contradictory messages. The Trump/Sessions duo splits into two the one who cares yet cowers behind the one who bullies. But it is our singular president in whom safety and danger are incoherently fused, creating uncertainty and anxiety. With Trump’s punt to Congress, maybe the Dreamers will be safe, maybe they’ll be hung out to dry. Maybe it’s method; more likely it’s a collapse of strategy. How fitting that this most poignant example involves vulnerable children dependent on authorities who have the duty and capacity to protect, but instead endanger.

My fellow therapists and I see the effects of such traumas in our practices, and know how commonly they are acted out, how difficult they are to heal. We also know that the arduous road to recovery comes from being able to feel the pain of the past and integrate it into a cohesive, complex narrative.

This holds no interest for Trump.  “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see,” he’s told his biographer, who notes: “This combination of love and hate is Donald Trump’s psyche turned inside out. . . .He’s making us experience what he experiences inside of himself.”

The effects of disorganized attachment are writ large in this man and across the globe.

Sad. For him, and for us.


Standing Up to Bigotry, SF Style

Like a lot of people alarmed in general by the election of Donald Trump and horrified in particular after he lent aid and comfort to white supremacists and Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to respond. It’s hard to know what’s just a feel-good but meaningless exercise, what is effective, and what inadvertently gives the issues and views I deplore oxygen.

Since my activism is more aspirational than actual, I often turn to my friend Ruth, whose pragmatic idealism inspires me to try to at least occasionally emulate her persistent roll-up-her-sleeves-and-get-to-work ethos.  When I bumped into Ruth after Charlottesville, I asked what she thought of the protests being planned to counter right-wing advocates descending on San Francisco and Berkeley. Was showing up a good idea, or just playing into their hands?

“I don’t know,” Ruth offered. “But you know what? I can’t go anyway—I’m going to be phone banking. We’re trying to get Democrats elected to the state legislature in Virginia.”

I don’t really like phone banking—who does? But as far as I’m concerned electoral politics are where it’s at. You snooze, you lose, particularly at the ballot box. Besides, I felt nervous about the volatile mix of right-wing rallies and counter-protests.

“That sounds like a much better plan,” I told Ruth. “Send me the info.”

Mid-week, Ruth texted that the phone banks had been canceled so people could participate in a San Francisco rally against hate. It would be several miles from Chrissy Field, where the right-wing Patriot Prayer group planned to gather, and I felt much better about that. Proximity often breeds trouble. Besides, I had been horrified to learn that, thanks to a 2010 federal law, national parks—which includes Chrissy Field–must allow open carry. (Thankfully, SF city officials wouldn’t grant a use permit until the Patriot Prayer organizers agreed to stringent contingents, including no weapons.) I also did not want to attend the Berkeley counter-protests even though I know many good people involved. Berkeley is a flashpoint, with the opposing sides in much tighter quarters. The city is often the epicenter provocateurs love to goad, with an Antifa contingent only too happy to oblige; predictably dismal results just feed the right-wing narrative.

But it felt important to show up in San Francisco. My husband and I made plans to take BART over to the city with friends. Ruth was making her own way there via a different route, and we texted back and forth about our anxiety and hope. Then, at the last minute the Patriot Prayer organizer canceled the Chrissy Field event, though his protestations of victimhood and promises of showing up elsewhere were disquieting.

“Are you still going?” I texted Ruth.

“Yes! As important today as yesterday,” she responded.

And so we went. Blue skies and a festive atmosphere prevailed in San Francisco. We arrived at the gathering spot long before the march to City Hall commenced, so sought shade and refreshment in the Mission District. We thanked the police lining the sidewalk. They were taking the scene in stride, but confessed to preferring a day off more than overtime pay. We checked out a “Dance for Equality” counter-protest, full of face-painted kids and rainbow attire. We detoured quite a bit from the march route, but caught up eventually to join the crowd at the Civic Center. Great signs, great spirit, great to see that people of goodwill vastly outnumber the haters.

We showed up, we stood up to bigotry, we went home.

Tomorrow we phone bank.