Dear Judge Kavanaugh, about my abortion

Dear Judge Kavanaugh,

Like you, I am a parent of two. I saw your wife and daughters at your confirmation hearing, and I thought about my husband and sons.

Sixteen years ago, when our boys were young, I chose to have an abortion, I’m going public about what had been a private family decision because of you.

I’m driven by a sober sense of urgency, fearing that your impending confirmation will tip the Supreme Court and lead to restrictions or a ban on abortion. I worry some states will severely curtail abortion. I’m writing you because I believe every woman, regardless of what state she lives in or how much money she has, should be able to decide whether to continue or end her pregnancy.

Too often, we who choose abortion keep our decision quiet. I want you to hear stories of ordinary women like me who have had abortions. My story isn’t dramatic. I wasn’t at risk of death. I hadn’t been raped. I chose abortion because I didn’t want to have another child.

When I got pregnant at age 41, I knew immediately I would abort. I’d had two miscarriages before our sons were born. I understood pregnancy and parenthood.

For years, I had wanted a bigger family, a daughter. Now, I — the third of five children– didn’t want a third child. I told my husband I wanted an abortion.

He paused. “Are you sure?”

“I’ll support whatever you want to do, and I know it’s your choice, but are you sure?”  he asked.

Even now, sixteen years later, I remember the conversation, the two of us, a stable middle-class, white married couple, getting ready for bed, talking. Our sons asleep in the bedroom next door.

“Yes,” I said, “I’m certain.”

I did not want this fifth pregnancy. My mind flashed through scenes of diapers, high chairs, potty-training, playgrounds, preschool, all the stages we’d walk with another child. I would be 47 years old with a kindergartner; 59 years old at high school graduation. It wasn’t the family I wanted. I knew what being a mother means, and knew I didn’t want to do the work of parenting a third child.

The next day, we booked an appointment at Planned Parenthood.

At our local Saint Paul clinic, by the library we frequented with our sons, my husband and I sat quietly in a modest waiting room. I went through the initial check-up and tests. We scheduled the abortion before we left.

The same month, we went back to the clinic. Men aren’t allowed in the medical rooms, so my husband stayed in the waiting room. I don’t remember the actual abortion. The clinic visit went quickly, smoothly. Afterwards, we spent a peaceful afternoon playing and reading with our sons when they came home from school. I remember looking at our boys, thankful for our family. Two parents, two kids.

Over the years, my husband and I embraced the family we have. We are complete. I began volunteering for Planned Parenthood, outside the clinic where I had my abortion. With fellow volunteers, I greeted and escorted patients, buffering them from protesters, just as others had done for me.

This year, once again I stood outside Planned Parenthood, a more modern facility that replaced the small clinic that helped me. On a brisk winter Saturday, I marched amid hundreds of other pro-choice women, men, and their children, many clad in pink, a cheery and vocal counter to a much smaller, muted anti-abortion protest.

Amid the multitude of pinks, I spotted my 25-year-old niece, smiling and bright-eyed, walking with her boyfriend and other friends. I thought about her, wondering if in a few years, she and other women will still have the right to choose when and whether to have a family.

I don’t know if any of my nieces would ever need or want an abortion. Who knows if someday, someone you know, perhaps even one of your daughters, would need or want an abortion. Will a future Supreme Court prevent women from getting what is now a safe and legal procedure?

Your nomination compels me to speak. I can’t stay silent, just hoping that other women will still be free to choose what happens with their bodies. By going public, I’m exposing myself to potential criticism, and perhaps, worse. At 41, I trusted myself to make the right choice. At 57, I trust myself to share this story, hoping it might help others– my nieces, maybe women my sons will love– to have the choice I had.

Becoming a parent is an immense responsibility, too significant to leave to chance. Parenthood should be an intentional decision. I had a choice. Every woman should have that choice. Abortion is not a political football, it’s a personal decision that women need to be able to make for themselves.

The next time you consider a case involving abortion, perhaps you will think of me, a married mother who loves her children, and chose not to have another.

Sincerely,

Kate Havelin

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The saddest nine words

Losing Earth is more than a magazine story. It’s our story, the story of what’s happening to our home. We can’t ignore it.

The cover was black, with a barely visible dark gray masthead. All that stood out were nine simple words.

“Thirty years ago, we could have saved the planet.”

That sentence sums up the cover story– the only story– in the August 1st issue of The New York Times Magazine.

I didn’t read Nathaniel Rich’s Losing Earth when it was first published. I thought I knew about climate change.

Weeks later, on a westbound flight to LA, I started reading. There’s no one shocking revelation; instead, like a thorough detective, Rich spent 18 months doing more than 100 interviews, documenting a worldwide tragedy.

Losing Earth focuses on a decisive decade, 1979 to 1989, when people could have controlled global warming. It’s a riveting whodunnit, only it’s a who didn’t do it. Who didn’t act to prevent our world from getting too hot. It’s not an expose of one party or one politician. There’s enough blame for all of us.

Presidents as far back as LBJ knew about climate change. Exxon knew. Even four decades ago, the key facts of global warming were out there. We knew that the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer our planet becomes.

Rich’s narrative reads like a horror story. If it was a movie, we in the audience would shout warnings, “Run, get out of the house, save yourself.”

Scientist James Hansen, one of the people Rich profiles, tried to warn us what climate change could do. He testified to Congress, used simple props to make his case to the public, and advised top government officials about the looming danger. Hansen told us that even a two degree Celsius rise in global temperatures would be a long-term disaster.

Most of us didn’t listen. We didn’t demand our leaders act. The epilogue notes that economics, “prices the future at a discount: the farther out you project, the cheaper the consequences.” Climate change always seemed to be down the road, not right in front of us.

And so it seems like humanity flunked the marshmallow test, the experiment where little kids got to pick whether they wanted one treat right away, or two treats if they could wait, say fifteen minutes. That famous Stanford experiment found that kids who could delay gratification, who could wait 15 minutes for two marshmallows rather than getting one marshmallow right away, tended to had better lives, higher SATs, and education levels, etc.

When it comes to climate change, we humans couldn’t look ahead. We held tight to the one marshmallow we had– our comfortable way of life, filling our cars with gas, heating our homes with coal, instead of being patient and working toward a future with better outcomes– two marshmallows of a livable world in the future.

“Thirty years ago, we could have saved the planet.”

We didn’t act. Now, we are seeing the damage. We’re seeing more extreme weather, more floods, more droughts, more wildfires. George Steinmetz’s Losing Earth photos are disaster panoramas. They could be Exhibit A, documenting the crime scenes of climate change.

A new draft U.N. report suggests that Earth’s temperatures will almost certainly exceed 1.5 Celsius by the 2040s.

It’s hard to ignore the evidence that climate change is here. We can’t escape what’s happening in front of us. Losing Earth is the biography of our home. It’s our story.

Ain’t Gonna Whistle Dixie Anymore

People Get Ready, We Shall Not Be Moved, A Change is Gonna Come

Think of America’s greatest civil rights anthems and chances are, those songs by The Impressions, Mavis Staples and Sam Cooke spring to mind, along with others, like Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam and Minnesota’s Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a Changin’.

Now, you can hear a fresh protest anthem, from another Iron Range native, singer-songwriter Paul Metsa, who’s spent decades standing up and singing about civil rights.

After last August’s deadly White Nationalist march in Charlottesville, Metsa wrote Ain’t Gonna Whistle Dixie Anymore as a tribute to Heather Heyer, who was killed when a white nationalist drove into her and other counter-protesters. The new song also features legendary soul singer Wee Willie Walker and three-time Grammy Award winners The Sounds of Blackness.  

This Monday, August 20th, 7- 9:00 PM, all are welcome at the East Side Freedom Library to hear Metsa’s new anthem and other songs. The half-hour performance is a part of Metsa’s IndieGoGo fundraiser campaign to release two new songs and a remastered 25th anniversary edition of his Whistling Past the Graveyard LP,.

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 10.53.09 AMThe musical activist has earned eight Minnesota Music awards, and a dozen original recording projects.  He considers his songs, including the classics Slow Justice and Jack Ruby, “bullets in the machine gun of peace.”

During this first anniversary of the Charlottesville tragedy, it’s fitting to hear and remember Metsa’s lyrics:

“Four wheels of hate down 4th Street raced

Heather Heyer died

Now her Blue Ridge Mountain angel voice

forever magnified.”

In time, Ain’t Gonna Whistle Dixie Anymore may join The Nation’s Top 10 Civil Rights anthems.

MONDAY, Aug 20, 7:00 – 9:00 PM  

Hear Paul Metsa perform a short set of songs, including his powerful new protest song, as he raises funds for his IndieGoGo project to release and publicize Ain’t Gonna Whistle Dixie Anymore, featuring legendary soul singer Wee Willie Walker and three-time Grammy Award Winners the Sounds of Blackness. Read more about Metsa here!

East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul, 55106. Free and open to all. info@eastsidefreedomlibrary.org 651-230-3294   

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Standing with Muslims against hate

Last year at this time, I was standing on a Bloomington football field with 800 other Minnesotans, after our state’s largest mosque, Dar Al Farooq Community Center, had been firebombed. Minnesotans showed up en masse, sending a clear message that we stand with our Muslim neighbors and won’t tolerate violence against them.

Last week, another mosque was hit. Vandals spray-painted the Islamic Institute of Minnesota’s Al-Salam mosque with hateful graffiti. As far as I know, no crowds rallied outside the Maplewood mosque. I didn’t show up.

Muslims — in Minnesota and around the U.S.– need to know we stand with them. So what can we do? We can help CAIR-MN, the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Continue reading “Standing with Muslims against hate”

Angel Island’s wooden house of paper sons

We still don’t know how many immigrant families this administration has ripped apart, or if they’ll ever be reunited. It’s not the first time our government has wielded policy against people based on their ethnicity and home countries. A century ago, instead of barring Mexicans and other Latinos, America was determined to exclude Chinese people.

Their story starts in San Francisco Bay, not far from Alcatraz, America’s most notorious prison, now a popular tourist destination.  Tucked around the bay, stands a less celebrated place of history, Angel Island.

Named by a Spanish explorer, this idyllic spot became an American immigration detention center designed to discriminate against Asians. An Immigration Service brochure notes plainly, “Dubbed the ‘Guardian of the Western Gate,’ by its staff, this facility was built to help keep Chinese and eventually other Asian immigrants out of the country.

Today, Angel Island welcomes all visitors. On a pleasant May morning, I mush aboard a ferry from San Francisco with a raucous bunch of high schoolers. Twenty minutes later, I’m first ashore, ready to speed hike up to the immigrant station, before the shuttle arrives with the teenage thrum. I climb 140 steep wooden steps then stride a mile along a paved road. To my left, far below, the bay’s turquoise waters sparkle. Tall grasses, willowy trees and reddish tan cliffs rise to my right.

Walking the curving uphill road, I pass postcard views of sailboats at play, then come to a wood and wire fence by three worn buildings on a sloping hillside. A small marker on the ground confirms that this is Angel Island Immigration Station.   

From 1910 to 1940, more than 300,000 immigrants, mostly Chinese, were detained here. Many were held two weeks, some for six months, and at least one immigrant was kept here for over two years.  To them, Angel Island was a prison.

Where barbed wire fences and gun towers once stood, today, the remains of a rickety wooden tower slump near a rutted driveway. I walk hesitantly down the drive, unsure if this is the public entrance. A sign notes that when the Army took over the island in 1941, it built two new guard towers around the detention barracks, which were used to house WWII German and Japanese prisoners of war.

At a bell tower overlooking the bay, Sam Louie, a cheerful native Californian, welcomes the high school and elementary students and the few adults for the daily tour.  He tells us that his father, mother, and siblings all came through Angel Island. He casually points to an immigrant’s quote on a stone tablet: “It was a tough trip. I was only twelve and I was living with the rest of people, hundreds of them in the freight hole. The beds were stacked up two high…”  “That’s my brother,” Sam says, eyeing John F. Louie’s name. 

Sam says his parents never talked about Angel Island. Now, the retired educator does his part to share the story of this somber place, a chapter of history many Americans never learned or choose to ignore.

 

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Sam’s weathered face crinkles as he tells the school kids on the tour he’s recruited a substitute tour guide — his father, Louie Share Kim. Turning his back, Sam dons a black Chinese jacket, and in a flash, becomes his father. We learn that Share Kim was 14 years old when his father told him to leave their poor rice farm in Guangdong Province, China and travel to “Gam Saan,” Gold Mountain, what Chinese people called America.  

When Share Kim arrived in 1916, thousands of Chinese immigrants were already here, many working in mines or building railroads. As the economy soured, America’s anti-Chinese sentiments exploded.  Chinese immigrants and new citizens faced racism and violence, ranging from special taxes aimed at Chinese miners to numerous towns that forced out hundreds of Chinese residents. Dozens of Chinese were lynched.

In 1882, Congress had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to bar Chinese immigrant laborers. Senators, including John. F. Miller of California, the bill’s sponsor, called Chinese a “degraded and inferior race.” Other senators voiced fears that Chinese immigrants’ “muscles of iron” would overwhelm American workers.

IMAG2498 (1)It was the first time America used race to keep out one immigrant group. One senator, George Frisbee Hoar of Massachusetts, lamented  “old race prejudice,” and called the Exclusion Act “a crime committed against the Declaration of Independence.” The Exclusion Act did allow some Chinese into America — including scholars, diplomats, merchants and children of U.S. citizens. That last category became a loophole for many immigrants.

Sam explains that after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed government records, many Chinese immigrants arrived, claiming to be the children of Chinese already living here. They were paper sons, not blood relatives of Chinese already here.  

Sam tells us his dad was a paper son. Share Kim, like countless other desperate immigrants, lied to get into America. “I knew as a child growing up that I was never to reveal to others that my father was a paper son for fear that we might all get deported,” he said. For decades, Sam kept his family’s secret.

IMAG2540 (1)One scholar estimates that during the half century the Exclusion Act was law, some ninety to ninety-five percent of all Chinese who came to America with false papers. “The first to be restricted, Chinese became the first ‘illegal immigrants,’” writes University of Minnesota Professor Erika Lee, director of the Immigration History Research Center. Another estimate notes that now, one in three Chinese Americans are themselves paper sons or daughters are or their descendants.

Sam herds our group up to the detention barracks, where his father and other immigrants stayed. Sam explains that officials here interrogated immigrants to weed out the paper sons and daughters. The interrogations often lasted two or three days, with hundreds or sometime a thousand questions. “What was the distance between your house in China and your neighbors?” “To which clan did your next-door neighbor belong?”

Sam’s father passed his interrogation and was admitted to the U.S, as the son of a native. Share Kim got a job at a San Francisco noodle factory, then periodically returned home to China, where he married and had children. When he tried to bring his family here in 1936, he and his wife gave different answers about what the flooring in their bedroom was. The family was only admitted only after Share Kim convinced immigration officials that his wife tiled the dirt-floored room while he was in America.

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This cramped detention barracks at Angel Island housed 300 immigrant men at a time.

The questioning was nerve-wracking. Then came the waiting. Sam gestures around the men’s restored barracks, sparsely furnished with exhibit displays and replica cots, asking us to imagine spending weeks or months or years here. In this big, drafty room, some 300 men crammed in skinny triple-level bunk beds. Women and children stayed in a nearby barracks.

Gesturing to the wooden slat walls, Sam tells us that Chinese people called this place “mook ook”– wooden house. In China, he explains, only animals, like chickens and pigs, lived in wooden structures. “They thought they were being treated like animals,” Sam says. A multitude of trees still shape the island’s landscape; when explorers first visited, they named it “Wood Island” for its ready supply of trees.

IMAG2606I look out the barracks window and see two palms trees, through a geometric grid of chain link and barbed wire fences. Between the trees, an American flag flaps in the wind, neatly framed within a diamond of the fences.  How many immigrants stood by this window, looking out to freedom?

“The sad person sits alone, leaning by a window.”

Sam reads those words, the last lines of one of the many poems inscribed on these wood walls. Scholars have uncovered more than two hundred poems, many hidden under decades of paint. Sam translates a few lines from varied poems.

“I used to admire the land of the Flowery Flag as a country of abundance…”

“I thoroughly hate the barbarians because they do not respect justice…”

“I am anxious and depressed and cannot fall asleep…”

“Even if it is built of jade, it has turned into a cage.”

 

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Those poems saved this wooden barracks. Back in the 1970s, a state park ranger spotted calligraphy inside the decaying building. That discovery stopped the planned demolition and spurred historic renovations. Today, this old immigration station is part of a California state park.  Angel Island attracts visitors who come to camp, hike, bike, Segway, picnic, and explore the island’s forts, as well as the immigration station.

Less than 20,000 people tour Angel Island each year, a fraction of the million who tour nearby Alcatraz or the three million people who visit America’s most famous immigration station, Ellis Island. Still, the stories, poems and grief embedded in these walls reverberate today.

Angel Island was part of what one scholar called “The Great Wall Against China,” an echo the White House conjures with its fantasy wall against Mexico. Our country’s fear of Chinese immigrants, who accounted for less than five percent of all our newcomers, plays out again with this administration’s racism against Mexicans, Syrians, Muslims, and other immigrants.

We are doomed to repeat the history we ignore. We need to see and understand what happened in this wooden house of paper sons, a secluded lockup just around the bay from America’s most celebrated prison.

 

 

After Philando: Have protests changed?

Two years after a police officer fatally shot Philando Castile, the protests, pain, anger and backlash continue to reverberate.

A quick recap:

IMAG4725Within hours of Castile’s killing, Gov. Mark Dayton told a crowd outside the Governor’s Mansion he didn’t think Castile would have been shot at a traffic stop if he had been white. Police union officials and some Republican lawmakers assailed Dayton for what they called his rush to judgement.

Within days, protesters blocked Interstate 94; more than a hundred were arrested; dozens charged with misdemeanor riot. Later in July, another 70 protesters were arrested for continuing to occupy space outside the Governor’s Mansion.

The Science Museum posted a small sign honoring Philando Castile by its “RACE: Are We So Different” exhibit, and critics slammed the museum for “taking sides.” The museum promptly removed the sign.

For the past two years, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed bills increasing penalties on protesters with fines of up to $1,000 and a year in jail. Governor Dayton vetoed those bills, which the ACLU-MN testified would have chilled Minnesotans’ rights to protest.

Now, the ACLU-MN is appealing one protester’s misdemeanor public nuisance conviction. Some protesters arrested outside the Governor’s Mansion are still awaiting trial.

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Minneapolis Institute of Art Philando exhibit

In the two years since Diamond Reynolds live-streamed Philando’s last moments, many community members have worked to learn and heal. This month, the Minneapolis Institute of Art is showcasing an exhibit, “Art and Healing: In the Moment,” featuring posters, paintings, sculpture, video and a mural focused on Philando Castile and how his killing has touched people.

While the community works to heal, protests about racial injustice and many other issues have swelled — as have the angry reactions to those protesting. From the controversy over crowd size at the anti-inaugural protests to this month’s Families Belong Together, each demonstration seems to trigger a counter-protest, a continuing volley of action and then re-action.

Recently, after Rep. Maxine Waters encouraged protesters to challenge Cabinet officials anytime they show up at restaurants, shops or other public places, Waters faced a torrent of opposition. The president insulted her; conservatives alleged she was inciting mob violence. Leaders of her own party refused to back her up, and op-eds and calls for ‘civility’ have mushroomed.

What does civility mean in an era of repeated attacks on civil rights, and our country’s Constitution? Since Philando’s killing and this divisive president, have people become more or less tolerant of protest? More or lessing willing to take to the street in protest?

East Side Freedom Library will host a discussion with civil rights activists on how Philando’s killing has influenced protesters, police, courts, and Minnesota. All welcome to hear and talk with ACLU-MN’s Legal Director Teresa Nelson and Saint Paul and Saint Paul’s Community-First Public Safety Initiatives Director Jason Sole.

After Philando: Have Protests Changed?

​Tuesday, July 10, 2018, 7:00 – 8:30 PM

East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul 55106

In defense of dirt: Keep river bottom trails unpaved

Perched by a megamall, light rail station and airport, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge lives up to its name, a refuge from the made world of cars, trains, planes and buildings.

On a slow Sunday afternoon, I meandered for hours on natural trails along the refuge’s river bottomlands. Gravel crunched underfoot. My sneakers landed softly on the padding of dirt and mud. Beyond expanses of wetlands and tall grass, I spied gleaming high rises and heard planes thrumming overhead. On the dirt trails, I felt at home in the world of nature.

For now, at least.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans to add paved trails, constructing a 10-foot-wide swath of concrete that will eventually snake from the refuge visitor center to the Bloomington Ferry Bridge. Other parts of the refuge, from Shakopee to Chaska, are already paved.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YNot every place in the world should be paved. Take, for example, river bottoms. They’re naturally absorbent, soaking up excess water from high rivers and heavy rains. Paving river bottom trails is akin to paving a sponge. It’s June, and the DNR website notes that several sections of the trail –paved and unpaved– are still closed due to spring flooding. The unpaved sections can dry out, naturally. The paved sections, after repeated flooding, will need repaving.

I went to the river bottoms to walk in nature, on natural trail. The wide dirt and gravel trail accommodated walkers, bikers and runners. I passed signs for a disabled hunter area. Just ahead of me, I saw a young boy, jumping across the trail in muddy boots. On this sunny day, he didn’t need those boots back home on paved sidewalks. Here in the refuge, those boots outfitted him for adventure.

In seven-plus miles of walking, my sneakers barely got muddy. Instead of jumping in puddles, I enjoyed the puddles while staying dry, appreciating their mirror-like sheen, and the splash of a robin, taking a dip mid-trail.  

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YAs I walked, I noticed animal tracks on the trail — deer, frog, turkey and, hmm, are those raccoon prints? Along unpaved trail, it’s easy to see signs of nature. A hoof print caught my eye, and only then did I notice that a few inches away, a frog hunched, camouflaged, in a shallow divot in the dirt. The brown and gray of the trail blended with the frog, just as the dirt trail complemented the murky Minnesota River flowing alongside. Wildlife, trail and river fit together, naturally.

Walking on, I spotted a deer in the glade just north of the trail, eying me, just as I had observed the frog. The deer and I stood and watched one another, then I meandered on, moving easily, stepping on dirt, pebbles, twigs and leaves. I felt nature underfoot. Every step I took connected me to nature; my sneaker landing on and pushing off of dirt.

This refuge in Bloomington offers a retreat from the developed world. While some Minnesotans head north, fleeing the city for cabins, many others, including me, find respite from sidewalks and the paved world at this refuge. We seek out natural places because they are natural, not paved. The dirt underfoot is as essential as air, as necessary as rain.

We need a place to walk and run, bike and play, away from the paved world. The river is a refuge. Natural trails are a refuge.

Please, please, don’t pave this refuge.

The DNR is hosting two open houses for the public to hear and talk about the paved trail plans on:

Thursday, June 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bloomington Public Works Building , 1700 W. 98th St., Bloomington;

Wednesday, July 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bloomington Civic Plaza , City Council Chambers, 1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington.