Sunday, May 14, 2023

What we NEED on #MothersDay: Safety From Gun Violence

This year, I did not write a “Mother’s Day Gift Idea” blog. Because my friends and I at Moms Demand Action don’t need more flowers. We NEED our kids & friends safe from weapons of war while they are just trying to live their lives.

This advocacy fight for safety from gun violence has always been personal. From the moment my kids started practicing hiding in classrooms from armed intruders, it hit home. But 8 days ago, it finally happened. Someone I love became a victim of gun violence. A friend of mine was hit in a public shooting. 

Like so many American gun victims, Victoria Luz was out living her life doing normal things and when her life was disrupted by violence. She was at a 75th birthday party in a restaurant, travelling in New Orleans for a fun Jazz Fest weekend. She was surrounded by friends when a shooter came hunting a server (fatally shot). My friend ended up with a bullet in her back.

This is what Birthday Girl, Terri Hemmert, said about that day on Facebook:

"What I did on my spring vacation. I went to New Orleans. I did not go to the Jazz and Heritage Festival. I did not eat Crawfish Monica. I did start my big birthday party. It was interrupted by a hail of bullets. 28 of my precious friends were hitting the floor. I looked to my right. Two very special women were on the floor by my feet. There was blood. And a bullet hole in the wall. Two inches from me. And a bullet in my friend’s back. It was surreal. But it was real. Only too real."

Image: Cindy wearing a Moms Demand t-shirt

After processing the fear and relief of hearing about it and that she was in stable condition, I thought, "Sh-t, there it is." After years of advocating and wearing my now-worn-to-softness Moms Demand Action t-shirt to avoid a day like that...gun violence finally arrived for one of my Special People.

I’m very grateful she is alive, well cared for, and got to celebrate Mother's Day and her own birthday days later! Let me share a tiny bit about this wonderful woman who could never be encapsulated in a blog post.

She’s a mid-west, suburban mom who fiercely loves her two kids. She likes Chuck Taylor shoes, geeky comic-y stuff, Broadway musicals, costumes, and books and libraries. She is weird in all the best possible ways. She cheers on her friends in their life goals. She makes reading glasses look so good, that when it was my turn to need them, I thought “I get to be like her!” instead of being upset about needing readers. I'll also add that she's been acting against gun violence WAY before I started. She began volunteering for the national Coalition Against Handgun Violence when she was 13! She has always been a survivor, and now she is also a gun violence survivor.

People who know me might recognize that several things on that list describe me, too. Yeah, those are things we have in common and first drew us together. They’re also a reminder - as if I needed any more reminders - that this violent act can easily happen to me or any of us. This is not just a school problem or a concert security problem or a race problem or a “bad neighborhood” problem. It’s a nationwide problem that gets more and more ridiculous with every passing week when Americans are gunned down doing normal, ordinary things, like going to movies, ringing the wrong doorbell, pulling into a wrong driveway, or accidentally getting into the wrong car.

Over 650 faith leaders urged Congress to declare Mother’s Day to be declared a national day of prayer, mourning, repentance, contemplation, and action “so that we are able to overcome our country’s idolatrous worship of guns.” As far as I know, despite the too-common assurances that we have their “thoughts and prayers,” Congress didn't make any such proclamation declaration. But Mother’s Day 2023 is a Day of Action for Moms Demand Action volunteers.

Please honor this day by taking one or more of these three actions against gun violence:

  • Join in this Moms Demand online action or write a letter to Congress with the sample text below to suport common-sense gun legislation and re-instate the assault weapons ban.

I am writing to you as a constituent filled with grief, fear, and anger. I am fed up. As countless acts of preventable gun violence continue to threaten the safety of communities across the country day after day, I am urging you to oppose the extreme attempts to attack the ATF, including efforts to repeal the ATF’s arm brace rule, and, instead, support action on gun safety. I ask you to support common-sense legislation that would expand background checks to all gun sales, create a federal Extreme Risk Protection Order law, and reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban. This common-sense legislation can help prevent tragic mass shootings, as well as the 120 gun deaths that happen every day.

Please, I’m urging you to prioritize public safety. Take action and save lives.

  • Write a social media post asking for others to take action by giving your version of "For #MothersDay I don't NEED flowers, I NEED my kids and friends safe from weapons of war while they are just trying to live their lives. I'm calling on Congress to reinstate the bipartisan assault weapons ban. Join me & text FED UP to 644-33"

Image: My facebook post for a Mother's Day social media action


Now, as I hit "submit" on this blog post, I'm headed to church wearing that broken-in, red Moms Demand shirt. Because Victoria deserves all my thoughts and prayer AND actions.

Image: Book cover

Buy an autographed copy of "From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started" at my website or order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or any independent bookstore!

Friday, March 24, 2023

Tuberculosis is still The Phantom Plague on #WorldTBDay 2023

Another World Tuberculosis Day has come around today. This time, I’m out and about on college visits with my youngest kid, so I’m not lobbying about TB as I have for past World TB Days. But I am still thinking about it a lot because my local RESULTS group is working hard to rally U.S. support, as Congress is now facing funding decisions for global health programs and other budgeting plans.

The fight against tuberculosis is at a precarious point in 2023. TB cases and deaths have been on the rise ever since COVID-19 caused resources to be diverted for that new pandemic.

Tuberculosis is an ancient disease that has left its fingerprints all over world history. This World TB Day, I highly recommend reading a newly published book by Vidya Krishnan called The Phantom Plague: How Tuberculosis Shaped History. Krishnan is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting on medical science for the last twenty years. She traces the history of tuberculosis from the slums of 19th-century New York to modern Mumbai. In a narrative spanning century, Krishnan shows how superstition and folk-remedies, made way for scientific understanding of TB, so it could be controlled in the West. 

Image: Cynthia & Yara holding copies of 
The Phantom Plague

One of my kids, Yara Changyit-Levin, is now a college freshman enrolled in the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Being global health advocates, we each have our own copies of The Phantom Plague. It shouldn't have surprised us when we both arrived at our spring break destination still reading and annotating our books. We both look forward to getting to the parts where real people we actually know, like Dr. Madhukar Pai at McGill University, played a significant part in the history of tuberculosis. It will help us see our own part in defeating this disease even though we still have an awful long way to go!

Want to learn more about what you personally can do to advocate in support of global TB programs? Visit this blog from RESULTS for an overview and actions.

To give you an example of what this advocacy can look like, here is my letter to the editor published last week in my local St. Louis Post-Dispatch Newspaper that thanks our area U.S. representatives for their actions to fight against TB:

Image: Clipping of my letter to the editor
Photo credit: Greg Campbell

“I applaud Congresswoman Ann Wagner for using her leadership to fight a deadly pandemic on the rise. Not COVID-19, but tuberculosis. Tuberculosis (TB) – an airborne disease – was the pandemic we were fighting long before coronavirus made news. It kills more people each year than HIV and malaria combined and has alternated with COVID-19 as the leading infectious disease killer over the past three years.

COVID-19 diverted global resources meant to fight TB. As a result, TB cases and deaths increased with 11 million sickened and 1.6 million killed worldwide in 2021. Representative Wagner recently co-authored a bi-partisan letter with Representative Ami Bera to the House appropriations committee recommending $1 billion for USAID bilateral tuberculosis funding in the FY24 spending bill to properly identify, treat, and prevent all forms of TB and develop new, more effective tools to fight it.

Happily, Congresswoman Cori Bush signed onto this letter, too. I’m grateful both of our St. Louis area U.S. representatives are engaged in this effort to support global health systems.”

I invite everyone to join in the fight against tuberculosis. Whether you make a couple of simple phone calls in honor of World TB Day, tweet about it, join a RESULTS group for a lobby meeting, or write a letter to the editor of your own, you can help us write the next chapter of world history and global health.

Image: Book cover

Buy an autographed copy of "From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started" at my website or order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or any independent bookstore!

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Racial #Oppression: Unravel the Whole Damn Cloth

Image: Hand pulling at a string, unravelling the fringe on a cloth.
Image Credit: Cynthia Levin

As I learn more about systemic oppression and racism, I’m rocked again and again by how deep our problems go in America. Here are just four injustices that are top of mind for me:

1. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women

2. Black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police during their lifetime

3. Black homeownership is declining more dramatically than for any other racial or ethnic group in the United States

4. Black history is being minimized or erased in school curriculum

There are many more, but those pop up for me because of my activism in the areas of maternal/child health, housing, gun violence, as well as my mentorship of high school advocates.

Now that I’m in the college application phase of parenthood, standardized testing is on my mind. When I spoke with a friend in academia about how standardized ACT/SAT tests for college essentially prevent students of color from admission to prestigious schools without being accurate predictors of college success, I kind of threw up my hands saying “I don’t even know what to do about that.” She said, “It’s one more thing you can throw on your list of things you advocate about.” Ack. It’s so frustrating how many THINGS there are. I know there is a danger for me and others for the frustration to get overwhelming to the point of inaction.

I’m urging you NOT to succumb to inaction. Don’t become so frustrated about how you can’t solve everything, that you fail to do something. In the words of a tweet by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca a.k.a. @LadyOfSardines, a teacher and organizer in Portland, OR:

"It can be overwhelming to witness/experience/take in all the injustices of the moment; the good news is that *they're all connected.* So if your little corner of work involves pulling at one of the threads, you're helping to unravel the whole damn cloth."

Image: Tweet by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca

These words are incredibly helpful to me.

Print out that tweet and paste it to your bathroom mirror. Use it as a reminder that you’re with me, I’m with you, and together we’ll make things better if we KEEP GOING.