Saturday, May 31, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I'm growing a garden!

So far I have some very healthy tomato plants, a few struggling green beans, some very enthusiastic pea plants (that need something to grow up onto) and some pathetic little pepper plants that have been chewed to pieces by some unknown chompy bug. I'm going to try planting some corn plants in a sunny spot on the side of the house next and see what happens.

Oh, there is also one surviving baby carrot plant in a planter box on the side of the house. We started with six or so so, but they all died. I'm afraid to pick this thing and find one skinny pathetic carrot, so I keep putting it off.

Here are some pictures of my wee garden:

I'm really excited about the tomatoes. They seem to be coming along nicely and so far no aphids!

Ninja-The-Wonder-Hound guards the failing carrot plant in the lower right corner. Good dog!

Here's the little veggie patch. Beans in the front, peas in the middle and sad little peppers in the back. We trimmed back the trees last week so the garden will be getting more sun. Maybe that will miraculously heal the pepper plants.

Maybe I'll go to Osh and miraculously replace the little buggers with healthier plants.

Ninja sings to the plants to help them grow big and strong!

With any luck, after months and months of hard work and patience, I might have enough veg to make myself a salad. I shall keep you aprised of the progress of my produce.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Take Back the Night Part II

I know it's taken me a while to post the other half of this one so here it is. This is the "hard news" story I wrote about the rally at CSUN. One of the things that I've noticed about journalism thus far, is that "hard news" is supposed to be considered more challenging, more real. Feature stories seem to have a reputation for being fluff oe soft. This pisses me off.

I would much rather read a Wall Street Journal style feature story that a typical inverted pyramid who-what-when-where-why news story any day. I also find it to be much more fun to write a feature story. Knowing what the news is is important, but I also want to know who it affects. How does it affect them and why? Putting an individual, human take on a story does not make it weaker. I think it strengthens it and can have much more impact.

One way isn't really better or more important than the other, but I hate how feature stories are dismissed by some people. The real news-men cover the real news and the women write fluffy little feature pieces. Ugh.

That said, here's my "real" news story about the Take Back the Night rally. I admit, I had a much more interesting time writing the feature piece below, but this was challenging as well because I had to distill all the information into something readable.

(Warning: there is some explicit language at the end that could be triggering for some readers.)

Here you go:
Over 250 CSUN students attended the Take Back the Night rally at Plaza del Sol Thursday night to raise awareness about violence against women and offer support to victims of domestic violence.
Domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual abuse are still common occurrences but are rarely talked about in public. Take Back the Night rallies have been organized around the country for more than 20 years in an effort to educate the public about the issue.

CSUN alumna, Alexis Lawrence, founder of the university’s first Take Back the Night rally five years ago, opened the event. “Every eight minutes a woman is raped according to R.A.I.N.N. Every two minutes a woman is sexually assaulted,” she said. “That’s appalling. I’m here because we are going to take back the night. This is our night to take it back.”

The evening continued with short speeches by representatives of campus and community groups. Mark Stevens of University Counseling Services, Professor Shira Brown from the Women’s Studies Department and Peggy Raina director of Peace Over Violence spoke, read poetry and offered their thoughts about ways to end the violence.

“Why does rape exist?” Stevens asked. “For one main reason, because it can. It is essential for us, as men, to break the code of silence that we have been taught to uphold and speak out against rape,” he said.

The plaza was ringed with tables set up by different groups such as The Valley Trauma Center, the CSUN V-Day club, the CSUN Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alliance, the University Counseling Services and Project D.A.T.E.

Behind the tables a clothes line hung with t-shirts provided a back drop for the speeches and activities. The shirts are part of the Clothesline Project, an art project where women who have experienced violence can express their emotions by decorating a t-shirt and displaying it as part of the larger piece. One small, pink shirt read, “It’s not my fault” in red fabric paint. A larger, yellow shirt had the words “No means no!” scrawled across it in blue paint.

Once the speeches had concluded, participants were given candles by volunteers of the campus Women’s Resource and Research Center and hand-painted posters to carry in an evening march across campus. They chanted “Two, four, six, eight, no more violence, no more rape!”, as they walked past the Oviatt Library and the Arbor Court. Others chanted “Join together, free our lives, we will not be victimized.” Their signs were emblazoned with slogans such as “My body my right” and simply, “I won’t be afraid.”

When the boisterous group reached the corner of Etiwanda Ave. and North University Dr. they fell silent and continued their walk to recognize victims of domestic violence who have not survived. They ended the march in front of the Chicano/a House where a small stage had been set up on the front lawn with a microphone and speakers. The approximately 200 marchers extinguished their candles and gathered together, sitting on metal, folding chairs and blankets on the ground to share their stories and support one another.

Stephanie Montes, student director of The Women’s Resource and Research Center and the lead organizer of the event, thanked the crowd and encouraged them to support the group at an upcoming meeting with the University Provost’s office. The Women’s Resource and Research Center is seeking funds to rebuild their house which was gutted by an electrical fire on Dec. 18, 2007 following a power surge that occurred the same night.

The rally concluded with almost two hours of people getting up onstage and telling their stories of surviving violence, some through tears and shaking voices, many with the support of friends standing with them. Women and men got up over and over again and told variations of the same story. “He pinned my arms over my head and penetrated me,” said one woman while her friends stood beside her.
“He hit me over and over again,” said a young man of his father’s abuse.

Lawrence told the group why she decided to share her story five years ago and start Take Back the Night at CSUN. “Some people call it a transformation from victim to survivor, I just call it surviving.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Same Sex Marriage Ban Struck Down in CA!

Today, California became the second state in the country to strike down a same-sex marriage ban and allow gay and lesbian couples to marry (not just be domestic partners). Currently, lesbian and gay couples may legally marry in Massachusetts and in Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and South Africa.

The decision is in response to lawsuits brought against the state by nine couples and various civil rights groups after the San Francisco same-sex marriages of 2000 were struck down. It also overturns a ban on same-sex marriage that passed in 2000 as a voter initiative.

In the 4-3 decision the court ruled: “In light of the fundamental nature of the substantive rights embodied in the right to marry — and their central importance to an individual’s opportunity to live a happy, meaningful, and satisfying life as a full member of society — the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all individuals and couples, without regard to their sexual orientation.”

I knew this case was up before the California Supreme Court, but I honestly was too nervous about the outcome to pay too much attention to it. Since it has only passed by one vote, I may have been correct in my apprehension. I am beyond thrilled that it passed…but I’m also sad that it was such a close vote. I just don’t understand how people can be so narrow-minded and cruel about something that does not directly affect them.

Ok – I’m gonna rant for a minute. Fair warning.

If I want to marry the person I love and am committed to, why should anyone but the two of us care? How does my getting married to another woman affect the heterosexual couple next door? How can it possibly do any harm to the Christian conservative right-wing nut jobs down the street? It can’t because it’s none of their business. Just like their marriage is none of my business.

The legal status that goes with marriage (ie. tax status, health benefits, discrimination laws) have nothing to do with religious beliefs. A straight couple can go down to the courthouse, get married by a judge in front of a stranger and receive the same rights and benefits from the government as a devoutly religious couple who holds a full ceremony in a place of worship. The religious aspects have nothing to do with the legitimacy of the union under the law.

Rant over.

The ruling continued:

“Furthermore, in contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual’s sexual orientation — like a person’s race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights. We therefore conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.” (Emphasis mine)


Of course, some people are not too happy about this ruling. There is a plan underway to try and get enough signatures to force a voter initiative on the September ballot to overturn the ruling.
My favorite quote from the opposition (in the CNN article linked above) is this one:
"So-called 'same-sex' marriage is counterfeit marriage. Marriage is, and has always been, between a man and a woman,” said Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues for the group Concerned Women for America, in a written statement. “We know that it's in the best interest of children to be raised with a mother and a father. To use children as guinea pigs in radical San Francisco-style social experimentation is deplorable."

What is a San Francisco-style social experiment anyway? Does it have to take place on a street car like the Rice-A-Roni commercials? (ding, ding!) Can it be radical if it occurs outside the city limits? Shouldn’t it really be a radical Massachusetts style social experiment since they’ve had legal same-sex marriages for years? Maybe that’s not radical enough since the state seems to be doing just fine and has not collapsed into anarchy and degradation. Hmmm..

I did enjoy this little written statement from the govenator:
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger - "I respect the Court's decision and as Governor, I will uphold its ruling. Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling."

There’s a lot of things Arnold has done in office that I disagree with, but I hope he really intends to stand behind this statement. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
So, now that California has gone down this path I wonder what effect it will have on the rest of the country. Iowa’s Supreme Court is about to hear a similar case later this year. I suppose we shall just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Take Back the Night - Part I

Well, better late than never, right?

I went to CSUN's fifth annual Take Back the Night rally about two weeks ago now (April 24th) and had an amazing time. I wanted to go anyway and I managed to talk my journalism prof into letting me cover it for my final writing project. (Whee!) We had to write a hard news story and a feature piece. We could also put together some graphics and take pictures if we wanted.

I had never been to a Take Back the Night rally, myself and it was quite an experience. It was amazing to see so many people come together and speak out against sexual violence. There were some men who spoke as well which I thought was great. I was afraid there wouldn't be much support from the college guys, but it was very encouraging.
After the formal speeches, we were all given candles and we marched across campus to another location. I guess the rally is usually held earlier in the year, so at 7:00 is actually dark. This looked more like Take Back the Afternoon, but it was ok. The people involved were just as motivated anyway.

Once we got to the end of the walk, there was a stage set up with a microphone and a little podium. People could come up and talk about their own experiences with sexual violence. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. People got up there alone, or with friends, and told an audience of people they didn't know about rape, sexual molestation and assaults. Everyone was supportive and made sure that those who shared knew they were in a safe place.
I chose to write my feature piece about one of the girls at the open mic and one of the presenters at the formal speech portion...
(I have changed some names and other info to protect privacy.)
Madeline Hoover , a 22-year-old CSUN student, is working towards a degree in sociology and criminology. When she’s not at school or working at her job as a teacher’s assistant at San Fernando High School, she can often be found at local night clubs performing her poetry at open-mic nights. One of her most emotional pieces centers on her experience with a sexual assault.

“The first couple of times I performed it, it was really hard to read it out loud. I’m over it…but I’m not,” she said of the assault that occurred over a year ago.

Hoover, or Lady May as she’s known at the poetry clubs, has performed the piece over the past year at many different venues. She attended CSUN’s Take Back the Night rally for the first time this year and decided to share the poem during the open-mic session at the Chicano/a house. The young woman stepped up onto the little stage, and with a strong, clear voice, shared her story with the unique audience of survivors and their supporters.

“I’ve never performed the piece in front of an audience like that,” she said. “I was a little nervous.”

There are as many ways to overcome the trauma of violence against women as there are victims. For those who survive, the path to healing is often long and may lead to surprising destinations.

In the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys, the Valley Trauma Center is where many victims begin to heal. According to CSUN educational psychology and counseling professor Charles Hanson, every month the center sees between 60 and 80 cases for child abuse, rape, or sexual assault. Over half of those are children under 14.

Hoover is never quite sure how the piece will be received from one audience to the next. Sometimes she can tell they don’t know handle it. Often, she will disappear to the back of the room after a performance and wait to see how the audience has received her public, spoken-word reaction to a very personal assault.

The oldest child of Nicaraguan and Syrian parents, she has a 14-year-old sister she is very protective of. “I feel like the mama bear sometimes,” she said. “She’s going to my old high school now, so everyone’s like, oh, you’re Madeline's sister.”

She recently performed the piece for some of her High School students in a new poetry workshop she is leading. She said it was important to let them know it happened to her and it can be talked about.
As Hoover completes her third year at CSUN and plans to continue to help other women through her poetry and her degree, Jae Farkiss is hard at work at Valley Trauma Center, speaking out to try and prevent the violence.

Farkiss, herself a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault in the early 80s, has worked at the Valley Trauma Center in Van Nuys for almost eight years as a Prevention Education Specialist. She speaks at schools on a regular basis, at health fairs in low-income communities, at Take Back the Night rallies and with small children at elementary schools about “good touch/bad touch.”

“I’m a very optimistic person and this job makes me feel empowered every day,” she said. “If even one person behaves differently, I’ve done my job.”

After Farkiss’ own experience with violence in a relationship, she used her skills as a writer and a journalist to run support groups and journal-writing sessions for other survivors. That work turned into a compilation book called Finding Our Voices - Speaking Out Against The Violence in 1991.

After returning to school and earning a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, Farkiss returned to the shelter that helped saved her life, Haven House, and worked for 13 years as a counselor. She felt the work was vitally important to the individuals and to the community, but it could also be difficult.

“You have to have good boundaries,” she said. “But, I really believe in the tenacity of the human spirit.”

Farkiss also spoke at CSUN’s Take Back the Night rally and shared some of her experiences working with young people. She often asks a room full of teenagers about cat-calling young women on the street. While the boys usually say it is just a joke, the girls often express feeling of intimidation according to Farkiss.

“How many of you have ever curtailed your activities, or changed what you were going to wear, or didn’t go somewhere at night because you were worried about getting raped?” she asks. “Not a male child in any of those classrooms will raise a hand. Virtually 100 percent of the girls in every presentation I do will raise their hand

Hoover and Farkiss have both taken one of the most profound, personal violations someone can go through and redirected the pain into creative works of healing.

“I just automatically had to write about it,” said Hoover. “I didn’t know how to talk about it yet, so I wrote it down.”