RIP Madelyn Dunham and Christine Durbin

If you haven’t heard the sad news, Barack Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham died today. In a statement, Obama and his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, said: 

It is with great sadness that we announce that our grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, has died peacefully after a battle with cancer. She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility. She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances. She was proud of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and left this world with the knowledge that her impact on all of us was meaningful and enduring. Our debt to her is beyond measure.

I’ve also been meaning to offer condolences here to my other senator, Dick Durbin, who lost his 40-year-old daughter Christine on Saturday, from complications related to a lifelong congenital heart condition. I’m a huge fan of Durbin’s, to the point of remarking a couple of times during this election season (like after last summer’s FISA vote, ahem) that the wrong senator from IL was running for president. He’s not the one who gets the glory, but he’s seriously cool. 

I cannot even imagine what a mindfuck it must be for these men to be grieving right now, when they should be celebrating (knock wood) well-deserved victories tomorrow. There’s not really much else to say, except I’m so sorry for both families.

Election Eve Not-so-Fluff: Election Protection Hotline and Other Stuff

1) If you’re going to vote tomorrow, please put the number 866-OUR-VOTE and/or 888-VE-Y-VOTA into your cell phone now, and call one of those if you see any suspicious bullshit at your polling station. They’re the English and Spanish hotlines for the Election Protection coalition, which will be ready to kick up a major fuss about any reports of voter suppression tactics or other shenanigans. According to OTM, volunteers at the hotline can “help you find your polling place, confirm your registration, educate you about the voting laws in your state, or in some cases, send mobile field units or contact election officials directly to address the problem.”

2) If you want to know what I think about Sarah Palin getting pranked by a couple of Quebecois DJs posing as the French president, it’s up at Broadsheet. (Background here, if you missed this story over the weekend.)

3) I have one of the coveted tickets for the party in Grant Park tomorrow night. Part of me feels like I must go, at least for a while, or I’ll regret it for the rest of my life — historic election, historic candidate from my city, celebrating his historic victory (knock wood) in that city, etc. On the other hand: Historic crowds. They’re thinking as many as a million, though there will “only” be 70,000ish in the ticketholders’ area. In my early twenties, I would have enthusiastically stood out there all night, without thinking twice about it. In my early thirties, absolutely no part of that scenario except for the witnessing history part appeals to me. But the witnessing history part really, really appeals. What would Shapelings do?

4) If you’re in California, don’t skip voting just because Obama’s safe there. Get out there and vote No on 8. (Thanks to Faith for reminding me of that in the other thread.)

5) Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to get my hair done, in hopes that a good head massage and fresh highlights will help keep the nervousness at bay. Other than that, I’m just going to be meditating on this image:

From the Archives: Fat Acceptance and the Acceptance of Fat

As we’re facing a bit of a blogging slow-down here at Shapely Prose, we thought we’d occasionally repost some pieces that you might have missed the first time around or that might warrant a second look. If you’ve got suggestions for posts you’d like to see again, email me!

This post was originally written by Sweet Machine and published on September 5, 2007

In light of a truly hilarious misreading of my recent post about weight loss, I thought I’d write a bit about what fat activism means to me. Because the truth is, what with the recent weight loss and everything, I’m not fat. Not really, not right now. For the last few years I’ve been more of what the fine folks at fatshionista call an “inbetweenie” — someone who is not thin but not fat, who sometimes shops at plus size stores and sometimes at straight size stores, who sometimes gets disparaged for her size but sometimes gets a free pass for it. I found fat activism through a few friends and through fatshionista, and I can truly say that it has changed my life for the better. Sometimes, though, the participation of those of us on the smaller end of the non-skinny spectrum is viewed with understandable suspicion by other people in the movement. So in case any of our lovely readers at Shapely Prose are curious about what someone like me is doing blogging with the inimitable Kate Harding, here are some of my reflections. (Fatshionista members, you might find some of this dimly familiar!)

My experience as an inbetweenie puts me in a complicated relationship to fatness. I usually wear a size 12 or 14, and an L or XL on that scale; I’m well-endowed (if you know what I mean and I think you do) and that often affects what size I wear. Sometimes I can shop in straight sized stores; sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I’m the smallest person in a room; sometimes, I’m the biggest. I’ve been thinner than I am now, and I’ve been fatter. The fatosphere has, for me, been a godsend, because it has finally convinced me, for real, that I do not have to try to get thinner. I seem to have settled into a size my body likes with exercise and good food (give or take those illness-related 20 pounds!), and at age 28, I’ve finally learned to love my body, whether or not I can fit my hips into pants at some store or not.

So what would someone on the low end of the inbetweenie scale get out of fat activism? Are people like me double agents from the thinner world, getting our jollies out of pretending to be fat?

I can’t answer that for other inbetweenies. But here are some ways that reading fatshionista, participating in the fatosphere, and changing my thinking about fat have improved my life:

There’s the fashion. I love seeing how women of many different sizes and shapes dress. The mass media rarely shows more than two kinds of women: skinny women with big racks and skinny women with small racks. There are so many different shapes and sizes of people in the world, and anyone that looks remotely like me is excluded from mainstream representation. (Remember, even ScarJo is “fat” now!) I’d rather have Crystal Renn or Kate Dillon as a fashion icon than Nicole Richie, because they’re more exciting to me.

There’s the politics. Fat activists are trying to create a world in which thinness is not assumed to be the default goal for every woman and man. That’s a world I want to live in. I believe size negativity hurts everyone, fat and thin, in the way that patriarchy hurts both women and men. Even people who benefit from privilege are forced to live in a system that demands that they justify their privilege by conforming to the oppressive system. Fighting the regulation and circumscription of women’s bodies is crucial to my identity as a feminist. That said, I am fully aware and guiltily thankful that I don’t experience some of the discrimination or the everyday logistical difficulties that many people bigger than me do (though as I said, I haven’t always been the size I am now).

And finally, there’s the everyday angle, the way fat acceptance intersects my life experiences. Even at the size I am, I’m not thin. I can’t shop at all “normal” stores. I can’t buy bras at anywhere but specialty stores. I searched high and low for a pair of knee-high boots that would zip up over my calves, and I never found any. My thighs would catch on fire from rubbing together if I didn’t take drastic chub-rub-prevention measures. Women normally only talk about these kinds of things in a disparaging light; in a fat acceptance community, these are normal experiences. (I’m willing to bet they’re normal experiences for lots of women smaller than I am, too — but I’ve never heard any of them talk about it.) I’ve been fatter than I am now, and my experiences at different weights/sizes forms a huge part of my understanding of feminism. Finally, I can talk about my body without trying to avoid the word “fat.”

In the end, I hope that one of the goals of fat acceptance is not only for fat people to gain respect, dignity, and self-esteem, but also to make people of all sizes feel good about fat — in whatever degrees it is present or absent. The more we all get to be visible without apologizing for our bodies, the more just our culture is.

FYI: Passive Electioneering in IL

I’m seeing a lot of talk about “passive electioneering” rules — i.e., the possibility that you could be turned away from voting if you show up at the polls wearing a T-shirt or button supporting a candidate. Snopes says it depends on the state and offers a handy article (pdf) that breaks down the state laws. Trouble is, upon skimming, I didn’t see anything in there about an Illinois law prohibiting voters from wearing campaign stuff, but I did see people get in trouble for it when I went to vote. 

The good news is, no one was turned away. I saw one woman asked to remove an Obama button from her purse, and I stood in line behind a man wearing his T-shirt inside out. At first I didn’t get what that was about (fashion trend I’m not up on? bad eyes?), but then I overheard this conversation between him and the volunteer who set him up to vote:

Him: They made me turn my shirt inside out.

Volunteer: I know. It’s a nice shirt, sir. It’s a very nice shirt. But we can’t let you wear it in here.

When he turned around, I saw a vague, backwards outline of Obama’s face on his chest. A very nice shirt, indeed. Heh.

The bad news (in this context) is, I live in a ridiculously Democratic-leaning neighborhood. As in, the kind where an election volunteer can blatantly say, “It’s a very nice shirt” without fear of anything but a “Fuck yeah, it is!” from anyone who overheard. So if the polling station in my neighborhood was enforcing “passive electioneering” rules, you can bet it’s also happening other places — and in those places, the response may or may not be as simple as, “Go turn your shirt inside out.” 

It might be that no one gives a rat’s ass in your neighborhood. It might be that “Turn it inside out” is the statewide policy, which will be enforced fairly and evenly. But still, if you haven’t gone to vote yet, I’d recommend not wearing anything that promotes a candidate. It’s just not worth the potential pain in the ass.

Update from JR about Virginia:

The law for Virginia has been updated and clarified since that article was written. I’m working at the polls this year, and we were explicitly told what is and is not acceptable inside the polling area.
No hats, buttons, stickers, bags, shirts, etc. that explicitly promote one candidate, party, or cause (ex. funding for schools, property tax change, etc.). The poll workers will ask you to remove these items or turn a shirt inside out. I know some polls will have baggy shirts (no idea how big) for people to wear as cover ups if they do not feel like inverting a shirt.

Please do not give pollworkers in Virginia and other states with similar laws a hard time about this. We are all putting in 15+ hour days on November 4 to make sure everyone can vote.

I know the ACLU was looking into challenging the law in Virginia, but I think they are going to wait until after the election to do anything. The law might change for the next election, but don’t do anything to prevent you from voting in this one.

Quote of the Day and Early Voting

Check out Colin Powell, in the midst of endorsing Obama for president on Meet the Press. (No transcript yet, but the link goes to a written rundown of the highlights as well as the video. Oh, and Petulant’s got more quotes.)

I’m also troubled by, not what Sen. McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said. Such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, no, he is not a Muslim. He’s a Christian, he’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, “What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” The answer is no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion: He’s a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America. 

Swoon. 

In other news, I voted yesterday. 

And yes, I voted for Obama. Given that I live not only in a solidly blue state but Obama’s home state, I could easily have stayed home, voted for McKinney or written in Clinton with a clear conscience. And there were times during and after the primary when I half-seriously considered all three as an alternative to proving Chris Matthews right about women being “low-hanging fruit.” But I didn’t vote for Obama just because I’m a registered Democrat and not the type to protest vote in the first place. As much as he’s pissed me off — and oh, has he pissed me off — ultimately, I like him, I like Biden, and it was pretty fucking exciting to cast a vote for an African-American presidential candidate who, by all accounts (knock wood), is probably going to win.

This story about 76-year-old civil rights leader and Georgia politician Andrew Young (not for nuthin’ also an early Clinton supporter) casting his vote brought home just how fucking awesome that opportunity was:

Young and his civil rights contemporaries “never thought that this would even be possible in our lifetime,” he said. “We didn’t think it was going to go this fast, that it would probably be our children’s children that had those kinds of opportunities.” …

“I often say that marching from Selma to Montgomery, if I had said to Martin Luther King that I wanted to be a congressman, mayor of Atlanta, ambassador to the U.N., he would’ve thought I was crazy,” Young smiled. “I don’t think we were ever thinking of a black president.”

Obama didn’t need my vote. But in the end, I was pretty damned happy to give it to him. Now he’d better not fuck it up.

The Candidates on Obesity

Paul covered it so I don’t have to. Yay!

Here’s the McCain quote from last night’s debate that sparked his post and this one:

The rise of obesity amongst young Americans is one of the most alarming statistics that there is. We should have physical fitness programs and nutrition programs in schools. Every parent should know what’s going on there.

As Paul notes, “the rise of obesity amongst young Americans” has already leveled off. There’s that. As for the other stuff, well, I covered what I thought of that back in July:

Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin — and really, really don’t tell me that making people thinner should be the main point of such a plan.

Also, it’s worth remembering that 90% of nine-year-olds get “a couple of hours of exercise a day,” making the panic over the millions of supposedly sedentary children glued to their computers and Wiis a mite puzzling.

Paul also calls out Obama, as well he should, for featuring THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA in his health care plan. The fact is, there is no politician on the national stage who’s clued in to Health at Every Size at this point, and I imagine it’ll be some time before there is one. That’s why I’ve long said I don’t even factor fat policy into my voting decisions, because everyone’s fucking policy is still that fatties are destroying America. Having said that, Obama’s plan offers one thing that stands to benefit us, even if the focus on “prevention” (which experience tells me to read as “weight loss” — just like “wellness program,” as Paul points out) makes me queasy: Under his plan, insurance companies won’t be able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. That could make a big difference — although it would depend on whether they’re still allowed to charge people with pre-existing conditions exorbitant prices.

Anyway, to sum up: McCain and Obama both suck on fat. McCain sucks more.

This thread is open for discussion of that and anything else that struck you about last night’s debate. I actually didn’t watch this time, so I’ve got some catching up to do.

Debate Thread

If you want to discuss last night’s VP debate among Shapelings, here’s your thread. (Not exactly Friday Fluff, huh?) I wrote about it for Broadsheet this morning and have lots more to say, but I have to go turn in another post over there.

The one thing I’ll add now is that I’m stunned by how many pundits seem to think Palin came off as confident and together (apparently because, as Joan Walsh said, “her subjects and verbs corresponded”). She wasn’t full-on deer-in-headlights, but her discomfort was glaring to me — especially relative to Biden looking like he fucking owned the place. (Turns out 30 years of political experience might actually come in handy.) My friend Jeanie even pointed out that a few times, you could literally see her sweat. 

What did y’all think, if you watched?

McCain’s health care plan: Throw fat people to the wolves

I want to preface this by saying that while we’re certainly not about to tell you how to vote here at SP, we’re not apologizing for our politics either. It’s no secret that the bloggers here are all left of center, and we believe that fighting fatphobia is intimately connected to feminism and other social justice issues. If you don’t agree with that, then perhaps this is not the blog for you — though I imagine you’ve figured that out already.

So, if you’ve been following US politics, you may have heard about the Health Affairs report that just came out detailing the impact of McCain’s health plan. If you were alarmed at his plan before, hold onto your hat. McCain wants to alter the (fundamentally flawed) current system of mostly employer-paid health insurance by creating incentive for people to move to market-based individual insurance. (What could ever go wrong with market-based economies, am I right?) The plan would tax your health care benefits and give you a tax credit to buy individual insurance instead. Ezra Klein sums up:

here’s the simple takeaway: McCain’s health care plan would increase taxes on employer based health insurance and price 20 million plus Americans out of the coverage they currently rely on. In return, he’d give them a tax credit that is not indexed to health costs, and will become worthless as the years pass. He’d push them into the individual market, where higher administrative costs and underwriting practices mean that if individuals try to purchase the exact policy offered by their employers, they will pay $2,000 more per year. In addition, the sick can be turned away, and the state regulations that ensure some minimum level of benefits will be dismantled. All this will cost us $1.3 trillion over 10 years, and set the rules so that more of the expense falls on the sick and less rests on the healthy.

In other words, his plan makes health care more expensive, less comprehensive, and less secure. It is health reform you can’t believe in, or rely upon.

Go read the rest of Ezra’s post — it’s a concise summary that will, if you are anything like me, make your jaw drop. Ezra points to this article about the difficulty some people, especially women, have had buying their own individual insurance (often being denied for the very reasons they need coverage in the first place). But what he doesn’t mention (and what the Self article mentions only in passing) is that obesity is often considered a preexisting medical condition (determined, of course, by BMI) and therefore fat people (and “fat” people) are frequently denied coverage when they attempt to purchase health insurance. Our own FJ was denied coverage simply for having a BMI over 30; have any of you had similar experiences?

Fat people already face tremendous discrimination from prejudiced health care providers — discrimination that can have tragic results. McCain’s plan will defang the regulations that prevent employers from discriminating against fat people (or people with disabilities, or people with such hideous conditions as “irregular periods”) when they provide coverage, leaving millions of fat Americans at the mercy of an industry that would like nothing more than to deny them basic medical care while bullying them into unnecessary surgery. If you are a US voter and you are or have ever been fat — hell, if you’ve ever even been sick — and aren’t a gazillionaire with your own private doctor, this will affect you. Spread the word.