Vote in every election like it’s a Presidential

I’m going to do something I don’t do very often, which is to talk about our parallel universes. That’s how important this is.

That’s how important the November 4th election is.

In the West Wing universe, 2014 is a Presidential election year. After two terms, President Santos will be stepping down and his successor will be elected.

In the universe of real-world America, 2014 is a midterm election year. But it’s every bit as important as a Presidential election year. Some might even say it’s more important.

Consider how much is at stake. Control of the Senate could shift to the Republicans, leading to even more gridlock than exists today. It’s very possible that Congress will accomplish even less than it did this year, if you can imagine that.

In state races across the country, the extremist conservative wave that crashed to the shore in 2010 could continue on its destructive path — or the tide could be turned by replacing Republican legislators with Democrats. From gubernatorial races to school boards, elections matter. They will determine the direction of the state and, in many instances, the country.

Look at where we’re headed. Voters are being asked to decide on some extreme amendments this election cycle, like the personhood measure in Colorado. If amendments like these pass, it will embolden other states to go to extremes. In states like Wisconsin and Michigan, voters can decide whether to kick out Republican governors who pulled a bait and switch — making promises they never intended to keep while silencing the voices of their citizens — or continue to live under leadership that’s serving special interests, not voters.

How did America get here? Because historically, Democrats don’t vote in midterms with the enthusiasm that they do in Presidential elections. They get complacent. They definitely got complacent in 2010. That can’t happen again.

As Republicans in many states do everything they can to take away voting rights — from passing onerous voter ID laws to allegedly tossing out 40,000 new voter registrations in Georgia — citizens must stand up and be counted.

Every vote matters. Your vote matters. A lot of these races are going to be close. Just a few ballots could make the decision.

Do you want to make those decisions? Or do you want to let someone else make them for you?

President Bartlet knew what he was talking about when he said, “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

Democrats need to show up for this election. That’s how we win.

The best defense against a system that’s going off the rails is to set it right again by exercising your democratic rights.

If you can vote early, do it. If you need to vote absentee, note your state’s deadlines and get on it. If you need a ride to the polls, find a way to make it happen.

Whatever you do, vote as if your life depends on it. Because in some cases, it actually might.

In the West Wing universe, Election Day will mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. There’s no reason it can’t be the same in both universes — in the best possible way.

<Image via Wikimedia.>

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I’ve Had It: Standing Up to Gun Culture

I’ve had it.

I’ve had it with gun culture. I’ve had it with this ridiculous notion that the Second Amendment means every citizen is entitled to an unlimited arsenal of military-grade weapons.

I’ve had it with the NRA and their bullying. I’ve had it with their outright lies and arm-twisting. It turns some of our country’s leaders into puppets for gun manufacturers, and brainwashes otherwise well-meaning citizens.

I've Had ItI’ve had it with threats being hurled at me every time I bring up gun violence. (For the record, if you want to engage in a civilized debate on this issue, I’m happy to do so. Send me hate mail and I’ll block you. Because I’ve had it.)

I’ve had it with children shooting other children. Who buys their five-year-old something called “My First Rifle” — and what kind of crazy person markets such a thing in the first place? Giving teens or young adults rifles for hunting as part of a family tradition, with proper training and handling rules, is one thing, but a five-year-old child?

I’ve had it with people dying every day at the end of a gun: children, grandparents, sons, mothers … even police officers, those who are among the best-trained gun handlers in the country. If they can be gunned down, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I’ve had it with the cowards in the Senate who voted against background checks because they didn’t want to be on the NRA’s bad side — or worse yet, just to oppose the President. So every day, more guns get into the hands of people who have no business owning them, due to sheer greed and political pettiness.

I’ve had it with the people who tell me I don’t know how to be responsible for making decisions about my own reproductive health while insisting that they can be responsible for their guns. Tell that to the people in Newtown who died because someone who was obviously mentally unstable got his hands on his mother’s arsenal. An arsenal so large that maybe, just maybe, someone should have thought to question her need to own so many guns.

I’ve had it with being afraid that the next person to be gunned down will be someone I love. Because I’ve watched people I know personally go from being what I’d consider sensible, responsible gun owners — who, just a few months ago, thought universal background checks were a good idea — to being zealots who think background checks are infringing on their liberty and assert that we’re coming for their guns and dammit, they’re not going to stand for it. They’re keeping all their guns and buying more.

I’ve had it with the idea that a large number of Americans think an armed rebellion in our country might be necessary soon. There’s an actual number, in fact: 29 percent. Just let that sink in. More than one-quarter of our citizens are thinking they’ll need to rise up against our government and take matters into their own hands. If that doesn’t frighten you, it should.

I’ve had it with being afraid. I’ve had it with wondering how many people will die every day. I’ve had it with being told I’m trying to take away someone’s rights because I don’t think they have any need for weapons or ammunition that can fire off who-knows-how-many rounds in seconds. That’s not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. They couldn’t imagine the technology we have today. They were thinking about muskets and cannons, not assault rifles and nerve gas.

I've Had ItI’ve had it with people who ignore the words “well-regulated militia” in the Second Amendment. The Framers of the Constitution were smart enough to know that the world would change, so regulating things like, say, weapons of war might be a good idea. If someone wants to wield a weapon of war, he or she should enlist in the armed forces. Not in a rogue militia that wants to overthrow the government. There are, in fact, laws against that.

I’ve had it with the attitude that the rights of gun owners are more important than everyone else’s. I am not saying people shouldn’t own guns for things like hunting or self-defense. I’m not saying we should change or disregard the Second Amendment. But when children can’t go to school, families can’t walk down the street, people can’t open their front doors or drive to work without fear of being shot, it’s time for reasonable limits.

I’ve had it with the idea that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is about gun owners first, and everyone else second. They do not control this country and it’s time we fought back — not with guns, but with our votes and our voices. A majority of Americans think there should be some sensible measures in place to make it harder for criminals or the mentally unstable to buy guns, such as background checks that are no more onerous or intrusive than applying for a driver’s license or a passport. Many of those people are gun owners. And we need to stand up and say we’ve had it. We’re not going to re-elect representatives who put the interests of a lobbying group or a vocal minority ahead of the wishes of their constituents. Who put political ideology before the sanctity of human life.

I’ve had it. If you have, too, now is the time to do something about it. Let your elected officials know that you won’t live in fear. And if they won’t do something to change that, you’ll change the playing field by electing someone who will.

You can find your members of Congress here.

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Thanks, Male Feminists

I was already a fan of Male Feminists when they asked me to write a guest post.

This is what I came up with:

Watching Women: Why Are Female TV Characters Judged So Harshly?

My thanks to Male Feminists for asking me to contribute. It was a pleasure.

I hope you’ll check out their other posts and follow the smart, clever conversation.

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It’s time to get to work — together

I can’t say I know exactly how I’d feel if the President hadn’t won re-election. Deeply disappointed, I’m sure. Heartbroken, probably. Maybe even angry.

But I do know this: I would not be taking it out on my fellow citizens.

Enough is enough. It’s time to move on. I say that to Democrats as much as I do to Republicans. No more gloating, no more blame, and for goodness’ sake no more hate and vitriol. From either side.

I’m not talking about intelligent, measured post-game analysis. It’s fine to look at what worked and what didn’t and learn from it. It’s the irrational, ugly responses that trouble me.

I freely admit that some Democrats have rubbed the other side’s nose in it too much. Let’s be gracious in victory.

But it’s the unrestrained anger I’m seeing and hearing from some Republicans that’s downright disturbing. These are actual quotes, seen online or heard in person.

“Our country is ruined. We’ll all be communists now.”

“I’m not hiring any more employees. No one can force me to give them health insurance.”

“My family’s wealth helped stimulate this economy. Why doesn’t my vote count more than the vote of some loser who doesn’t even have a job?”

“The President would never have won if all those sluts hadn’t voted with their vaginas.”

“I refuse to tip anyone ever again. I know all those people voted for the President.”

“It’s your fault that China is going to own our country now, because you voted for that guy who isn’t even an American.”

Putting aside the ignorance of these statements, the unabashed hatred and divisiveness is painful to witness. As the President has said time and time again, we aren’t always going to agree but we have to work together if we’re going to move forward.

Do these angry citizens who want to inflict more suffering on the middle class or hurl insults at others, including the President, think they’re doing our country a favor? Can’t they see that they are making the problem worse?

It's time to get to work - togetherI will fight to the bitter end to help our President achieve the goal of bipartisanship in Washington, to reach across the aisle and find ways to compromise that are fair for everyone.

Most of us want exactly the same things. Freedom. Happiness. Security. Good health and strong communities. But when ideology becomes more important than our shared humanity, we begin to lose the chance of ever finding solutions that make it possible for everyone to have these things — provided they’re willing to work for them and do their fair share.

If you’re one of the people who still wants to place blame or is still hating your neighbor who voted the other way or is still gloating over victory, it’s time to stop. Because you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Now is the time to come together as a nation, put country before party and get to work.

It’s what I plan to do. I hope you’ll join me.


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What kind of American do you want to be?

This is not about how you’re going to vote in November. That’s important, of course, and making an informed decision and casting a ballot is something every American should do.

But this is about the choices we make every day, about the kind of Americans we want to be. It’s about the kind of people we want to be. About how we want to treat the other people we share this country with. Because this isn’t your land, or my land. This is our land.

What kind of American do you want to be?So what kind of American do you want to be? Do you want to be an American willing to consider the widely varying viewpoints and beliefs that exist in our country? Or do you want to be an American who shouts down someone who doesn’t see the world exactly as you do, or believe exactly what you do?

Do you want to be the kind of American who respects other people’s faith, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and life choices? Or do you want to be the kind of American who hurls insults or might even take violent steps to show how much you hate them and everything they stand for?

Do you want to be the kind of American who will do what you can to help your neighbors? Or who will grab everything you can for yourself, no matter what it takes or who it hurts?

Consider these two true stories of people who are volunteering by knocking on doors to talk to neighbors about a candidate they support. One of them spoke to someone who said, “I’m voting for the other guy but I appreciate that you’re out here doing this.” The other volunteer — who took her daughter along to teach her about civic engagement — was told by her fellow American, “Get your black ass off my porch.”

Which one of those Americans do you want to be?

What kind of American do you want to be?It’s not even just about politics. Do you want to be the guy at the grocery store who doesn’t rush to the newly opened checkout lane because other people were already waiting? Or do you want to be the guy who pushes everyone aside as if they’re not even there?

I realize that as Americans, we’re going to have our own opinions, as we should. And with those come differences and disagreements. I’m not shy about speaking my mind — and yes, I am sometimes critical of politicians and others whose actions or policies trouble me. Especially if they’re lying, cheating or being hypocritical. I check my facts and I focus on educating people about the truth. I often use humor to make a point and, I admit, sometimes I can be downright snarky. That usually means I’ve been pushed to my limit. But I don’t believe in stooping to the level of lying or hate-speech or attacking someone’s personal choices.

And that, right there, is where I think people too often cross the line. I have no problem with someone disagreeing with our President or anyone else. I do have a problem with blatant disrespect, lies and abusive rhetoric. It’s never okay to threaten violence, even if you’re doing it from behind a computer screen.

The next couple of months are going to be intense. Yes, both sides will fight hard because that’s the reality of modern politics. It would be ideal if every candidate talked about nothing but the issues and specific plans for our country’s future. I’m eager for the debates, where we’ll see which candidate focuses on those points. Sadly, though, for the most part that’s not what tends to get in the news or capture the attention of much of the public.

What kind of American do you want to be?But each and every one of us has the power to change that. In the words of Leo McGarry, we can raise the level of debate in this country. We can work hard to be civil, to be fair, to debate based on facts instead of hyperbole and hysteria. We can have conversations that serve to educate those we disagree with instead of tearing them down. We can have conversations that open our own minds. And we can certainly be kinder to each other, not just in political discourse but in everything we do, every day.

We can either be a country of Americans who treat each other with respect, tolerance and acceptance, or we can be a country of Americans who resort to insults, violence and hate.

What kind of American do you want to be?

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Speaking your mind

A lot of people have been asking me about messaging lately. I don’t mean at work — that’s nothing new. I’m talking about people who want to know how to have conversations with the people in their lives about politics and issues they care about.

Most of these people are Democrats who are frustrated by trying to respond to right-wing talking points. Although I’m not a fan of talking points as a replacement for meaningful communication, they have their place. But talking points should be an appetizer, not a main course.

Speaking your mind

That said, the reality is that we live in a world where talking points are a steady diet for many people — politicians, pundits, reporters and citizens. People swallow these morsels and think it’s the whole truth.

Of course, it’s not.

To be fair, I know many Republicans who want to have meaningful, rational conversations about the issues. I’m dating one of them, and I promise there are others. When you get to have a civilized debate with one, make the most of it.

But when that’s not the case, how can smart, motivated Democrats articulate complex issues in a world of oversimplification? How can they be heard above the din of shouting and nasty rhetoric that is so often hurled at them by people who don’t share their views?

Whether the conversation is over the dinner table, over the phone or on social media, here’s a three-step strategy for personal messaging.

1. Know Your Stuff

Speaking your mind

Many Democrats do this already, but it bears repeating. Be as well-informed as possible — and make sure your knowledge is well-rounded. Don’t just listen to the reporters you agree with and don’t just follow people on Twitter who share your views. Get your news from a variety of sources and know the key facts. For those who are eager to support the President, there’s some excellent information to be found here and here. As credible as those resources are, think for yourself. Read, watch and listen to everything you can. I know it’s time-consuming, but the more you know, the better you can concisely convey your thoughts with confidence. Facts are facts. Yes, people will give you their own set of facts — and be willing to accept that, sometimes, they may have a point. Find out where you went wrong or learn from the experience. But if you’ve done your homework, chances are much higher that you’ll be speaking the truth.

2. Keep Your Cool

A shouting match never ends well. You only succeed in alienating people. In fact, many GOP pundits are starting to turn voters off with their nasty rhetoric. Go ahead and let them. Every day, I try to live by the words of Leo McGarry: “We’re going to raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.” Plus, nothing stops bullies faster than seeing their tactics aren’t upsetting you. Take away their overblown sense of superiority and you’ve already made a powerful point. You don’t have to shout to be heard. Plus, you might actually get them to have a rational conversation. If not, at least you tried.

3. Make It Personal

Find a way to humanize the point you’re making. For example, the President wants to put more teachers, cops and firefighters back to work. Mitt Romney thinks we need fewer teachers, cops and firefighters. Start with facts: The President wants to create jobs, Romney wants to take away jobs. Romney said that by hiring less public sector workers he plans to put more Americans back to work. But he has yet to say how he’d do that. In fact, I have yet to hear him say specifically how he’d create any jobs. After you state the facts, personalize it. Tell the story of your brother the firefighter who lost his job or your friend the teacher who is frustrated by how large her class size has grown, making it nearly impossible to give students the individual attention they need and deserve. If the story is one of your own, so much the better. But even a hypothetical story can underscore your point.

Speaking your mindMaking it personal is key.You start with the facts and then take them out of the abstract and place them squarely in people’s real lives. The mother who can’t take her child to the doctor because they don’t have health insurance. The recent college graduate so buried in student debt that he has to work three jobs to make ends meet and pay off his loan. Think about it: The plight of a multi-millionaire or corporation having to pay higher taxes, or a factory having to install safety equipment because of regulations will never be as compelling as the family who pays their mortgage on time but still can’t afford to stay in their home, or the man who died because his workplace wasn’t safe.

While many Republicans spend their time pointing fingers and hurling insults, let’s stay focused on the messages that matter. Let’s do a better job of communicating than the other guys do. Let’s have conversations every day that help raise the level, that help amplify the President’s accomplishments and clearly outlined proposals for moving this country forward.

Chances are, we can’t outspend the other side. But I am confident we can outsmart them.


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We, the Women

The war on women is real. It’s nothing new and it’s not going anywhere.

That clearly has to change. We’re working on that.

But while we defend ourselves, women can’t let the soldiers of misogyny separate us. They’re already trying. It’s a diversionary tactic, a political strategy, an ideological agenda. Divide the women and take away their power.

We don’t have to let that happen.

Women can either stand united or allow ourselves to be divided. It’s that simple.

We, the WomenHonestly, most women don’t really care about mommy wars and cat-fights and judging whether a feminist “has it all” or not. We’re too busy living our lives, whatever those lives are that we’ve chosen.

We don’t have time to start fighting with each other. We have better things to do. Like leading the best lives possible. Like working together to gain ground on issues that make the lives of women — and all people — better.

We, the Women is a declaration of women’s unity. As an online petition, it gives voice to our combined strength. But the principles of the declaration go deeper, reminding us to focus on what’s actually important and talk about the real issues.

This project came from the fabulous mind of Marti McKenna, who was kind enough to ask me to be involved. Most of this project is her, and she’s amazing. I am as eager as she is to see how We, the Women might evolve as a project for the greater good.

We, the WomenI recognize and celebrate that every woman is unique. Just because we’re all women doesn’t mean we all believe the same things. That’s as it should be. A woman who raises a family works just as hard as a CEO. A woman living in poverty does have it much tougher than a woman of wealth, but that doesn’t mean we should turn on each other. Instead, we should help each other. Respect each other. Honor each other’s lives and choices. Work together, not against each other.

That’s the idea here, and we hope both women and men will join us.

The war on women is undoubtedly going to get worse before it gets better. The last thing women need to do is help those who would defeat us, who would control the decisions we get to make about our individual lives. Whatever those decisions might be.

We, the women, can take charge of our own destiny with much greater strength if we remain unflinchingly united.

So let’s stick together.

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The truth about women’s health

Women’s health is all over the news. And, mostly, not in a good way.

I wish more people would talk about women’s health, if they were getting the facts right. But they’re not.

Some people are misinformed while others are simply not telling the truth. Either way, it’s dangerous for women.

First, there’s the willful ignorance or outright lies of people pushing their own agenda, be it political or ethical. No, Rick Santorum, abortions do not cause breast cancer. And no, Karen Handel, we don’t believe you really care about women’s health. People with the power to influence others should be held accountable for the misinformation they spread. It hurts women, especially those who need assistance the most.

The truth about women's healthBut there’s also a woeful lack of knowledge among women themselves, who deserve better education and a world where the difference between truth and myth is abundantly clear. If we don’t give women the information they need to stay well, they’re going to get sick. It’s as simple as that. It’s dangerous to women — and expensive to every aspect of our healthcare system. Paying for prevention is significantly less expensive than paying for treatment.

I can’t cover every issue related to women’s health in a single blog post, so I’ll just tackle three points.

1. The Department of Health & Human Services mandate that religious organizations serving the public must provide birth control coverage to their employees.

I understand that people of certain faiths don’t believe in birth control or abortion, and I respect that. No one’s forcing them to opt for either. However, I’d like equal respect for my choice to use birth control because I don’t want to get pregnant. But that aside, millions of women rely on birth control for health reasons. Is it better they bleed to death from a gynecological condition that could be treated with birth control pills? Or perhaps they should have a hysterectomy instead. How are those “choices” humane, let alone cost-effective?

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did an excellent job explaining the balance the HHS worked to find that would respect a majority of people’s rights in this op-ed. People seem to be ignoring that there are exemptions for certain religious organizations. By the same token, many insurance plans cover Viagra. I honestly would like to know: How many religious organizations include coverage for Viagra in their employee healthcare plans? Seems to me that male impotence would be an excellent form of natural birth control.

2. Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s defunding (and, last I heard, refunding for 2012) its support of breast health care at Planned Parenthood.

Disagree strongly though I do with the actions of some of Susan G. Komen’s leadership, I’m not wasting energy being angry. I’d rather use that energy to stand with Planned Parenthood. For countless women, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can get preventive care. And claims that Planned Parenthood exists primarily to provide abortions simply are not true. That service only makes up 3-4 percent of the work they do. Their primary focus is on prevention and wellness and, yes, providing birth control. Yet there are people who don’t even want Planned Parenthood to offer birth control, which is the best way to prevent pregnancy. Let’s be honest: People will have sex. And the more access women and men have to birth control, the less chance there is that they will be faced with an unwanted pregnancy. This article from Slate makes that case extremely well.

The truth about women's healthJust how ignorant are people about what Planned Parenthood does? Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana was reportedly up in arms about an article by The Onion saying Planned Parenthood was opening an Abortionplex. I shouldn’t have to say that this isn’t true, but it isn’t. (Rep. Fleming, The Onion is satire. Please learn the facts. Also, work on your sense of humor.)

There are plenty of other women’s health issues that many politicians and elected officials are just not well-informed enough about. Perhaps they should have to pass a basic health sciences test before trying to pass legislation that affects women and their health. And women’s health should never, ever be used as a political weapon. No one’s health should be politicized.

3. Troubling signs that women aren’t nearly as educated about their health as they could be.

I think many organizations are doing a great job of providing information to women about their health and wellness. However, there’s clearly a need to do more. President Bartlet tweeted, “Scariest thing to come from the #Komen debate? The women I’ve heard who don’t know the difference between a breast exam and a mammogram.” Margaret Hooper responded, wisely, “Sounds like a sad side effect of a lack of access to proper medical care, sir.”

This conversation has had me thinking about women’s access to good healthcare — and healthcare education — ever since. I just read a report that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers found a shocking lack of knowledge among teenage mothers. Yes, it might seem obvious that teenagers get pregnant because they’re not making good choices. But only half of the 5,000 teens surveyed used birth control, many due to lack of access, and others believed countless myths including this horrifying one: drinking bleach after sex prevents conception. (Source: The Week, Feb. 10, 2012.)

The truth about women's healthWe must do a better job educating women of all ages about their health and their options. I personally want to do more in this regard, so I’ll be sharing good information about women’s health when I see it. For starters, I recommend following on Twitter. I also encourage and welcome input on other good resources for information.

It’s impossible to make an educated choice about your life — reproductive or otherwise — without knowledge. It’s also dangerous for people to make or believe false claims out of ignorance.

We can all be smarter about women’s health. Let’s start here: Women’s health is not a political issue. It’s a personal and human one that nearly everyone could be better-informed about.

Let’s focus on people, not politics.

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The choice is ours

America is the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Which is why the freedom for a woman to choose what she does with her own body must be protected. Many brave women and men fought for that right, which resulted in the Roe v. Wade decision. And people continue to fight for that right every day.

This is not the only battle being fought for women’s reproductive rights — and the fight is far from over. I’ve written about this before in detail and I’m pro-choice. I believe every woman should have the freedom to choose whatever she believes is right for her. And my definition of pro-choice encompasses every possible choice a woman might want, or need, to make.

The choice is ours

To mark Blog for Choice Day, here’s what I plan to do this year to help get more pro-choice candidates elected.

I will continue to stand with our President, who respects women’s reproductive issues. The most recent example? He approved nearly universal insurance coverage for contraception. Availability of birth control can’t be overlooked in a pro-choice conversation. Choosing not to have a baby must start there. Greater access to birth control for all women translates to a decline in unwanted pregnancies. Just you wait and see.

I’m going to share facts about reproductive issues and rights at every opportunity. Facts I hope can counteract the angry, ill-informed rhetoric some try to pass off as the truth. Educating people is essential to helping them understand what’s at stake.

I’ll communicate the facts about candidates who are either staunchly pro-choice or anti-choice. The public must be fully informed when they cast their vote.

I will spread the word about pending legislation that could infringe on a woman’s right to choose. This includes the rights protected by Roe v. Wade but other reproductive issues, such as personhood amendments, can’t be ignored. Any attempt to manipulate or control what a woman does with her body is a violation of her rights.

At every opportunity, I’ll tell legislators and elected officials that it’s time to stop trying to meddle in the private business of women’s bodies. I’ll make my voice heard in ways such as signing and sharing the NARAL petition to challenge Speaker Boehner not to hold any anti-choice votes in 2012.

The choice is oursI will use my ability to communicate what’s at stake with as many people as I can, however I can. When anyone else tells a woman what she can and can’t do with her body, it’s an assault on her basic human rights.

We are the land of the free and the home of the brave. However much bravery it takes, we must fight those who try to take away the freedom of American women. It’s our right, as citizens and human beings, to make our own choices.

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Inspiration may be closer than you think

I’ve been doing more writing than usual lately, which is a lot. But I read once that if you feel stuck, one of the best ways to get unstuck is to write — something other than what you’re focused on. (Well, that and tossing a rubber ball against the wall. That helps, too. Quite a bit, I’ve learned.)

So I’m writing this.

The whole idea of writing, writer’s block and keeping the flow going got me thinking about the things that inspire me. And they often have absolutely nothing to do with what I’m actually writing.

Inspiration may be closer than you think

Of course, the best inspiration is a good idea. And the people I write for and work with have more good ideas than you can imagine. Brainstorming and exchanging ideas with them is a constant source of imagination and hope. So that’s certainly not a roadblock.

But as anyone who writes or creates anything knows, sometimes that isn’t enough. You need something else to nudge you from inertia into action and restart the flow when it stops. Very often, inspiration catches me completely by surprise, found buried in a magazine article or an overheard conversation in a coffee shop. But there are certain things that never fail to inspire me. Thank goodness.

Inspiration may be closer than you thinkFirst, there’s always music. The writing music I like best doesn’t have lyrics, because I can listen and write at the same time; lyrics are too distracting. My go-to artists are Mozart, Brian Eno, Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Rós (yes, there are lyrics, but they’re gibberish so they don’t distract me). Taking breaks to listen to music with lyrics is another great motivator. Stephen Sondheim is consistently inspiring, and lately Florence + the Machine seems to conjure magical powers of insight.

I have countless other sources of inspiration, one standby being Eddie Izzard. Watching even a clip of one of his comedy routines sets my mind off in a different direction — because his brain doesn’t seem to go in a straight line, but in a zig-zag pattern that still ends up somewhere brilliant. (From yappy dogs to the Romans, anyone?) Watching him encourages me to look at things differently, to make new connections. Plus, a good laugh is always good for you.

Inspiration is closer than you think

Right now I’m taking inspiration from myriad, diverse sources. Downton Abbey and a re-read of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides for great storytelling. Visits to DC sites like the Library of Congress and the National Archives, because they remind me of the vastness of our country’s past challenges and triumphs. Florence + the Machine’s Ceremonials is on repeat alongside Sondheim’s Into the Woods (which wasn’t written, I don’t think, as a political parable but it sure could be taken as one). Even conversations on Twitter or looking at random feeds — to see what people are thinking and talking about — serves as inspiration.

Sometimes, inspiration is right over our shoulder, so close we might miss it if we’re not paying attention: in the laughter of someone we love or the eyes of a dog that wants nothing more than to be petted. Life can be much simpler than we make it sometimes.

Inspiration is all around us. And I’m more grateful for that than ever when I have something truly significant to work on.

Speaking of which, time to get back to it. But I’d love to hear what inspires you. That might just inspire me, too.

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