Archive for Politics

Politics to Pastry: What Writers Share When They Blog

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

A novelist I greatly admire wrote her last blogpost in September. Catriona McPherson, formerly of the Femmes Fatales, declared that that with the election ahead, so much work needed to be done that she felt it useless to write about “cats and courgettes”—nor did she want to turn her blogposts into a political soapbox.

Catriona (pronounced Catrina) comes from Scotland and is one of the funniest mystery authors on the planet. She was writing with a wink, but the truth is, writers are constantly self-censoring. It occurs when we write novels—editing out lots to make them better—and when we offer up essays to the internet or print publications. We become known for one thing—and people expect us to be amusing. Typically, we keep dark, pressing worries and political opinions to ourselves.

During the months after Catriona quit blogging, her activism was substantial. She penned 240 personal handwritten letters and mailed them to voters all over the country in the Vote Forward movement, something I also participated in (with just 40 letters written). Currently, Catriona’s working on letters to voters in Georgia. All the while she did this, she launched a new novel, The Turning Tide, featuring her clever and charming Mitfordesque heroine, Dandy Gilver, who lives in 1930s Scotland.

I’m glad Catriona put her priorities the way she needed this fall. And we’ve got to credit today’s readers for their choices. Since the pandemic, reader choices are trending toward social activist and apocalyptic books. Although there’s nothing wrong with the historical novels we write, either!

You might be reading this particular blogpost because you follow Murder is Everywhere, a blog built by ten writers whose crime fiction set outside of the US. Or you’ve found my blogposts cross-posted to my website and Goodreads and my Amazon page. Some information you are learning about me—the protests I participate in for Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, post office service and voting inclusion—is probably not the reason you Googled me. Yet I am someone who writes about a female lawyer in 1920s India whose concerns are national emancipation and civil rights for women. What I care about is probably not a shock.

Writing about politics is most definitely allowed in Murder is Everywhere, and I learn a lot listening to the accounts of my fellow bloggers, especially when they draw cultural parallels with the past or in other countries. You must sample the words of my co-conspirators Annamaria Alfieri, Cara Black, Kwei Quartey, Caro Ramsey, Zoe Sharp, Jeff Sigler, Michael Stanley, and Susan Spann to get a taste of politics and pastry around the world.

I’m pleased that there are enough of us writing that I only need contribute every other week. Fourteen days are a lot of time for events to break and then recede and for my mood to change from outraged to mellow. I can almost guarantee I’ll be writing about holiday cooking within the next few weeks and post pictures of adorable dogs on the hunt for crumbs.

The cozy and the distressing, all part of the world we live in, and I thank you for being here.

What a Wednesday

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

In the early hours of Wednesday November 4, I am running on fumes and bittersweet chocolate.

I stayed awake much of Tuesday night, watching and waiting as the votes roll in for the 2020 presidential election. Where was the easy win for Biden that I expected?

I voted about a month ago, as an absentee, which in Maryland meant that I filled out a ballot the Board of Elections mailed to my home. I then carried it to a locked ballot box placed outside one of my favorite places, the Baltimore Museum of Art. Two days later, I got an email saying my ballot was received, and a few weeks after that I was notified that my vote had been counted.

My situation was pretty ideal, and I appreciate Maryland’s decision to start counting absentee ballots as they arrive, rather than waiting to open the envelopes on election night, as is happening in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania and other swing states, the mail has been markedly slow, and many people didn’t get absentee ballots in time, and don’t have an assurance that their board of elections has their ballot to count.

The waiting game is not new for me. As a writer, I must have patience with myself to make it through the process of writing a book… and then seeing the publisher bring it to the bookshelf. As a mother who adopted two children internationally, I had long waits that were filled with longing and worry for the babies who could not join me right away.

Currently, I am waiting for a vaccination against the coronavirus that might be on the market by springtime… or some other time.

56 years of waiting have revealed that obsessing about the worst, while waiting, doesn’t change the outcome—or the way I feel, once destiny is revealed.

What I did today, to get through the wait for election results, I spent my day going through a copy edited manuscript, doing some light cooking. Almost all day I live-streamed rousing alternative rock and funk from my favorite radio station, the Current, based in Minneapolis. I don’t usually fill my day with live radio, but this time I welcomed the distracting beat.

I kept walking my dogs. After lunch, I drove over to the polling station at Barclay Elementary School and smiled to see a line of people almost as long as the block. Someone was playing music on their phone, and there was a festive sound to people’s conversations. I drove to another larger polling place, where there was no line, making me think the staffing and organization was efficient, or more voters in that area had filed absentee ballots.

When you work as a campaign volunteer—as I have in the prior three presidential elections—you get a small, personal snapshot of what’s going on. It usually feels very optimistic, and I am good at talking myself into thinking the rest of the country is like the people I’m talking to.

But at the moment, my spirit is stressed. I suspect I’ll be at a “Count Every Vote” demonstration on the street later today. I voted for Biden-Harris, for many reasons, including Trump’s reckless endangerment of people’s lives by not mounting a serious pandemic response. I thought that the rising death toll in red states would have meant something to the people living there.

Still, nothing is set. Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania will take days to count votes. And it would be good if all votes from overseas citizens arrive by mail to be counted… and our mail is running slow.

I have to remind myself that a few extra days, or even a week, is nothing compared to the distress of the last four years, when environmental regulation collapsed, and jobs and lives were lost for no good reason.

And this is why waiting does not mean giving up.

Truth Tellers of Two Eras: Maddow and Murrow

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Even though my fiction is set in the past, what makes it tick for me is whether the issues are relevant. Sadly, gender discrimination, political unrest, religious violence and oppressive government are not a problem anyone’s solved yet.

These days, I have been watching The Rachel Maddow Show quite a bit. I feel it gives me a suspenseful, truthful analysis of the day’s political news. In my opinion, Rachel Maddow has become the bravest voice in television. The veteran MSNBC journalist doesn’t hesitate to call out corruption or talk about the deaths in the immigrant detainment camps established by the Trump administration. Rachel Maddow reports all of this without bombast or name calling, although she is not afraid to show her indignation and grief, and at times, uses black humor . Watching her, I often have the bizarre feeling she has focused her attention so it really feels she’s speaking directly through the screen. It is a rare gift and makes my connection with her different than when I watch other news programs.

This Stanford public policy graduate and Oxford PH.D. in politics is also a powerful writer. Her current nonfiction book, Blowout, was written over the course of four years and paints a chilling long-term picture of the fight to control oil with an emphasis on Russia’s role as a rogue state. The book is carefully researched and was written over the last four years, so It is an astonishing coincidence that its publication around occurred shortly after a whistleblower reported on Trump’s phone call with the President of Ukraine requesting that he investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who Trump fears could beat him in the 2020 election.

The Rachel Maddow Show (TRMS) has become the most popular news program in the country, although CNN’s News and Fox’s Sean Hannity news talk show are also close behind. During early October, as the impeachment inquiry began, TRMS viewership rose from 2.2 million average to 3.3 million per night.

No matter what side of the political spectrum one favors, it is generally agreed that Americans (and people around the world) have had had a very hard time since the 2016 election. The family divides that began at the Thanksgiving tables that year have morphed into people simply not eating together or speaking anymore. One of the things I really appreciate about Maddow is that she doesn’t mock or demonize Trump supporters. And she presents the news with a mini-recap of things came to be, which makes it accessible to someone who might not have absorbed honest information about the government until that moment.

And she also offers hope. “When this is over,” Rachel says after she’s concluded talking about something that seems impossibly bad. When this is over. Please.

Maddow’s success as a truth-teller reminds me of the another important radio and TV personality: Edward R. Murrow. Their surnames are eerily similar, for a start. Both journalists  are both tall, dark and good-looking and partial to tailored dark suits. They are known for their furrowed brows. Loads of people became fixated on them, making them the most-watched newscasters of certain intense political eras.

These are big claims, but if you also were were not alive when Murrow was a star, I’ll share a little about what I’ve learned. This longtime CBS news host became famous in the 1930s, when he was in charge of CBS’s European Bureau and reported on Hitler’s annexation of Austria. Murrow stayed vigilant in Europe, bringing America reports of Hitler’s danger at a time that most lawmakers were urging non-involvement in Europe’s troubles. Murrow warned he could not be ignored, and his reports were instrumental in changing America’s emotional opinion of the faraway crisis.

Edward Murrow stayed in Europe through the war, never entering a bomb shelter once to protect himself, and doing such things as flying on bombing raids and interviewing everyday people rather than the elite. He hired a small group of intrepid reporters nicknamed “Murrow’s Boys” who went all over Europe to bring the human cost of Hitler’s aggression home to America.

Murrow had a television show on CBS called See It Now during a time that the country faced a similarly dark time. Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy hated Communists, and with the race to build deadly nuclear weapons in the 1950s, people lost sleep fearing attack from the USSR. McCarthy took advantage of this paranoia by speaking constantly of a Communist menace. He conducted hearings designed to expose secret Communists, charging many people who had no relation whatsoever with the political party.

Murrow was friends with CBS head Bill Paley, who admired the newsman so much he allowed him to report on any topic he wished. Murrow wanted to address Sen. McCarthy from the beginning of his reign of terror, but he knew if he jumped the gun, he would not have enough material to make the show succeed, nor would the public be receptive to it. If McCarthy successfully fought him, Murrow might even find himself and his colleagues at the network blacklisted. In the end, Morrow went to Michigan and interviewed a young air force officer fired because his father and sister had been accused of reading a book considered suspicious. Many viewers were horrified by what happened to this family and wrote to CBS in support of Murrow’s reporting. A second See It Now program used clips of the senator’s own speeches and testimony to paint a picture of his real motivations. The national outrage stirred up against McCarthy by that program may have been an important factor in leading the senate to formally censure him,  which brought the destructive hearings to an end. Yet because of the controversial show, a major advertiser left CBS, and See It Now was shifted to another time slot to avoid further damage to corporate coffers.

When Murrow signed off at night, he always said, “Good night, and good luck.”

Rachel Maddow doesn’t have a stock phrase like that. Instead, she greets Chris Hayes, the host of MSNBC’s following news program. MSNBC’s wish must be that readers will not recognize a clear ending to her show and will continue watching the network for many more hours.

But at ten o’clock, I am usually off to bed, sometimes extremely charged up, and other times a bit more reassured as I dream of, when this is over. 

How Can a Woman Win?

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

I’m posting on the eve of the day that Democratic House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has called for an impeachment inquiry. The Democrats’ concern—which is shared by me and many Americans—is whether the Republican president, Donald Trump, coerced a foreign government to investigate his own political rival. I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop on this guy since before he was elected, and there’s nothing I can do to affect the outcome of this political process. I don’t even know that the House will vote for impeachment and that the Republican-controlled Senate will agree that Trump violated the Constitution. But I keep thinking, why can’t a reasonable woman serve as our next president?

It’s about time.

Americans have never had a woman president, or even vice-president, although sixty other countries have had a female premier.

When I did some research on female leadership, I was not surprised that the first female national leader was from South Asia. However, I made a big mistake about her identity. In my mind, I always had it that the world’s first female premier was Indira Gandhi, who won election for prime minister in India in 1966.

Sirimavo and Indira were close in age and became friends

Actually, the honor goes to Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1960. And hearing her name, I began wanting to know more about her.

Sirima Ratwatte was born in 1916 in Ceylon’s highlands, near the town of Kandy. The day Sirima was born, a herd of elephants reportedly invaded an enclosure on her family’s estate. This was said to be an auspicious sign. Her wealthy Sinhalese parents also had an astrologer come to analyze time of birth and location data. Based on all of his calculations, the astrologer found Sirima’s destiny was to be a queen. (Probably a sign of the times. A modern-day astrologer predicted my daughter would probably be a doctor!)

The idea of Baby Sirima becoming a queen seemed impossible, with King George V in power over Ceylon and the rest of the empire. However, Sirima had noble Sinhalese blood on both sides of her family, and her father, Barnes Ratwatte Dissawe, was a senator in the British-controlled colony.

Sirima was the eldest of the family’s six children. She attended a variety of small schools including a Roman Catholic convent school in Colombo, but her parents did not send their future queen for higher education. Therefore, after finishing high school, she devoted herself to volunteer work throughout the island, encouraging agricultural development and women’s health and education in rural areas. All the while, Sirima lived with her parents on their beautiful estate, while they fretted over finding the right husband for their socially committed daughter.

Solomon and Sirima Bandaranaike at their wedding

After several disappointing candidates, a matchmaker approached them suggesting a promising lawyer who was a junior administrator in the State Council of Ceylon. Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike (say that fast three times), had graduated from Oxford and came from a low country Sinhalese family who’d become rich during generations of administrative service to Ceylon’s colonial rulers. The Ratwattes considered this background beneath them; but an astrologer insisted the young people’s horoscopes matched in a particularly powerful pattern. The marriage was a go.

Solomon, 41, and Sirima, 24, had one of Ceylon’s grandest Raj-era weddings in 1940. As Solomon (better known as SWRD) rose in government, Sirima gave birth to three children and continued social work relating to agriculture, women’s health and education, eventually becoming president of the Mahila Samiti women’s organization.

Sirima with her children

As India gained independence, it became apparent Ceylon could achieve self-rule. SWRD Bandaranaike joined the nationalist movement and ran for house of representatives. Later he became minister of health. Behind the scenes, Sirima encouraged him to join Ceylon’s nationalist movement and run for the house of representatives. He did that and won; Sirima, with her finger on the national pulse, persuaded him to resign from the dominant party and establish a new one that would attract rural people who had been ignored. She campaigned for SWRD with the new Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and he eventually was elected to parliament and became prime minister of Ceylon in 1956.

SWRD and Sirima Bandaranaike

SWRD leaned toward socialism as a way to assist the poor, and he wanted non-English speaking people to feel strong in the country that was no longer under British rule. One of the most polarizing suggestions from SWRD’s party was to make Sinhalese the national language, because there was also a significant Tamil minority with a different language and religion. He also wanted to take businesses controlled by wealthy individuals who were often Christian into government hands. SWRD became embattled on many fronts and was assassinated in 1959 by a Buddhist monk who was angry over the government’s seeming dismissal of traditional medicine.

After her husband’s death, Sirima’s life was upended. With almost 20 years of marriage behind her and mature children, what would her role in life be? She had campaigned for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party before—and now its members implored her to hit the campaign trail to speak about her husband’s death and unfinished business. They voted her in as leader of their party, which held a minority number of seats in government. The SLFP theorized that the pleas of a grieving widow could move more people to vote for the party.

A rally for Sirima

As Sirima campaigned, she appeared always in a widow’s white sari. Instead of lecturing about abstract ideas, she spoke frankly about the death of her husband and cried openly, which often moved her audience to cry as well. Simira’s opponents called her the Weeping Widow and arranged to have a random widow from their own party run for prime minister in order to beat her.

The gambit didn’t work.

Largely because of the rural Sinhalese voters’ support, the SLFP had a huge victory in the 1960 election, and Sirima was sworn in as prime minister, as well as minister of defense and external affairs. This was a lot to ponder  for a woman who had no education in economic, military and international affairs. Her late husband had come to government with the benefit of a law degree and an Oxford education. She had high school, and her years of volunteer experience.

The Prime Minister

Meeting with Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosyin

Ceylon’s population was ready for her, though. They no longer referred to her as Sirima; she was now named Sirimavo, a term of greater respect.

Prime Minister Sirimavo’s first steps were to follow her late husband’s agenda toward strengthening the power of Buddhist Sinhalese and nationalizing many areas that had been privately held in the past. Banking, foreign trade, petroleum and insurance were taken over by her government in the hopes of spurring business development among non-elite citizens. She made the bold move of cutting off state aid to Catholic schools and replaced the national language, English, with Sinhalese.

Most of Sirimavo’s actions were welcomed by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, but discontent was rising among Christians and Tamil Hindus. The situation in Ceylon reminds me of what happens with any leader who appears to cater to a particular religious or ethnic group in a country that is diverse.

Sirimavo was re-elected to a second term in the 1970s, during which time Ceylon transformed into the Republic of Sri Lanka. Yet concerns about Sirimavo abusing power led to being banned from political life from 1980 to 1986. After the ban was lifted, Sirimavo ran for the office of president in 1988, losing narrowly. By this time, two of her children were in politics. Her son Anura defected to his father’s original party, the United National Party, and her daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was elected Sri Lanka’s president. Chandrika duly appointed her mother to a third term as prime minister, which had become a largely honorary position. Sirimavo served from late 1994 until 2000, when she resigned at the age of 84 due to failing health—or perhaps the party’s wish for a younger, more hardline politician to campaign in upcoming primary elections.

With age comes experience and confidence

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was a civilian in a wheelchair when she went to vote in the polls in October 2000, the same day as her 60thwedding anniversary. Within hours of casting her ballot, her heart gave out, and she passed away. Shops and schools were closed for national days of mourning, and oil lamps were lit in homes, and white flags fluttered in remembrance.

As I think about Sirimavo’s ascent, I realize that she succeeded with much less preparation and government experience than the women senators running for U.S. president today. I think the volunteer work she’d done with the poor over many years made it possible for her to talk simply and powerfully to her constituents. She enchanted people who had never voted before and led them to the ballot box. Her people followed her from victory to scandal and back without flinching.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s strength was her ability to win hearts and minds of those who lived far from the city and thought nobody knew about them. As I look toward the presidential primaries beginning in February 2020, I hope an American woman leader can do the same.

The Race is Done!

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Two years ago, it was my rotation for blog duty the day after the US presidential election. I planned to write something about it that night—because nothing else seemed relevant. I spent the day buzzing around, feeling anxious yet certain the stress would soon end, and I’d be celebrating my first woman president.

I turned out to be wrong. And as the shock at Donald Trump’s surprise victory turned into a dull pain, wore off, people like me began thinking, how can we come back from this? The hope was for midterm elections in 2018. Many people who would not have considered a career in politics before decided to run for office, and there are record numbers of women and immigrant Americans on the ballot.

Typically, the voting turnout for midterms is quite low—but the early voting for the 2018 midterms is significantly fired up, on both sides of the divide.

I live in Maryland, a state where the most apparently important choices for me were whether to re-elect our incumbent Republican Governor Larry Hogan, our Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh, and our U.S. Senator, Democrat Ben Cardin. I’m telling you, although a lot of people feel strongly about keeping their voting private. That’s why there are curtains around the tables-for-one where we fill out the ballot. I’m glad that where I am, it’s still done with a pen.

This midterm election has hung in my psyche like a suspense novel for two years. And today, I woke up to pounding rain and no sunshine. My mind went first to young voters, and whether they would think it was worth leaving their cozy nests to vote. Even though Uber and Lyft are offering free and reduced fares for people going to polls.

But is weather worth the worry? On November 8, 2016’s election day, it was warm and beautifully sunny. I left Maryland to help with voter turnout in Pennsylvania. The people I met were lovely, the volunteers were stoked. It seemed like the very best kind of day to enhance voter participation—but in Pennsylvania, the state voted red for Trump.

I feel like I have a type of PTSD from being so disappointed in the last election. Perhaps that’s why I’ve given money to senator candidates in various states, but I did not abandon my own work to drive out of state to volunteer in different states, as I’ve done in the last two national elections. I am a shadow of myself.

Today I worked on writing in the morning and went to the grocery store and water aerobics. It was raining, and I didn’t want to be drenched on my way to the neighborhood’s elementary-middle school that is also my polling place. The rain was just a faint sprinkle when I walked over at 1:30 with my husband. The school fence had a few political advertisements on them meant to remind voters of the obvious, but I saw no workers. I did see a friend from the neighborhood who joked he had just voted, and his vote would cancel mine. Is my choice written on my forehead—or was his assumption based on the fact that I’m an Asian woman? A joke between friends took on a curious subtext. That has what has happened, since the last election.

Inside the cafeteria where I once opened yogurt for kindergarteners, I greeted a few more neighbors. There were a few people waiting, and it took about ten minutes to check in—much easier than the hour-and-a-half line of my early voting friends told me she’d experienced. As I carried my ballot to an available curtained voting station, a five-year-old boy playfully ran out from underneath it, bringing back a sweet memory of voting here with a toddler daughter hanging onto my leg.

I thought it was important that my daughter, followed by my son, visit the poll with me. I wanted the children to think of voting as something to look forward to, and today I saw the voting officials give “I Voted” stickers to children, perhaps hoping for the same thing.

The first time I voted I was in my thirties. I had finally gotten naturalized, exchanging British citizenship for US citizenship. While I was naturalized in 1998, 2000 was the first year I voted in a US election. I voted for Al Gore, who lost to George W. Bush. But then—I had eight years of Barack Obama.

At ten o’clock tonight, I turned on the television to see what was happening with the election. I saw evidence of a much anticipated senate contest in Texas go to the incumbent, Republican senator Ted Cruz. I had been fixated on his challenger, Beto O’Rourke.

Yet Jacky Rosen, a strong woman Democrat running for Senate in Nevada, won. And many more women appear to be winning House seats, perhaps as continued fallout from the behavior of senators during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I am intensely grateful for this and looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Two different sides seem to present us the chance for a balance of power.

The race is done, and I’m ready for a glass of water.

The Monday Women Marched in Black

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

“Wear all black,” the woman said over the phone.

Come at eight-thirty, and don’t carry too much.

Be prepared to go from the Supreme Court of the United States to the offices of senators.

Last Sunday, I learned the Women’s March organizers were a series of actions this week in Washington D.C. I wanted in. Over the last two years, I have been increasingly agitated by the attempts by male lawmakers to erase established civil rights, especially those of women and minorities. It feels like the final straw that the President’s nominee for an open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court is Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative judge alleged to have sexually assaulted a young woman during his high school days. Despite the fact that more claims have come about the judge’s sexually aggressive behavior, the President and most Republican senators don’t want an F.B.I. investigation or to postpone voting for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

President Trump and his supporters insist Chrstine’s report must be false, or else it would have been told to the police years ago. But I know that many women who do report rapes have their stories ignored or suffer repercussions for telling.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is a psychologist now living in California. She says that when she was fifteen, a teenaged Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, forced her into a bedroom at a party. She claims Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth so nobody could hear her cry out for help. The men fell off her, and Christine did escape being raped, but she suffered post traumatic stress disorder. Christine moved 3000 miles away to get away from her painful memories, which she had discussed with others over the years, but that became increasingly hard to ignore when Kavanaugh came onto the national stage. Some months ago, Christine wrote a letter about her experiences to her Senator, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Christine asked Feinstein to keep her identity confidential but to share Kavanaugh’s past actions with the F.B.I. However, information was made public, and now Christine has received death threats and left her home.

I am grateful to live close enough to Washington D.C. to reach it in an hour’s train ride. I wanted to make a physical declaration that I believe women don’t make up stories about rape. I followed the instructions the woman had given me to assemble in front of the US Supreme Court on a gray Monday morning. Rape survivors among the marchers spoke about who hurt them and how the trauma still affects them. Some of their voices were very low, because the emotion was strong, and it was the first they had told these painful histories. After each story, our voices swelled in answer. “We believe you.”

The rally started out with a few hundred people, but as we marched to the Hart Senate Office Building, the numbers swelled. Long lines of cars had to stop to let us cross the intersection, and by the time we reached Hart, it seemed like close to one thousand were marching. There were so many marchers, we had to divide up to make it into the building through two different sides. Because we had no bullhorns, messages passed through the crowd by repetition. When people in the line began holding up a hand, it meant it was time to fall silent and listen for directions.

In the Hart and Dirksen Senate Office Buildings, the police were already waiting and had stiff plastic wrist bands, the modern version of handcuffs. While it is legal for people to enter a building to visit a senator, the police told us that it is against the law to protest inside government buildings.

In the atrium, some people prayed and many others got to know each other. I met many students from Yale Law School, the alma mater of Kavanaugh, and women and men from all over America. The organizers divided us into smaller groups that lined the halls outside the offices of Republican Senators Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, as well as some others who might be swayed to vote against Kavanaugh.

I was unable to get inside any of the senators’ offices, but the people who did spoke to the senator’s staff about how the experience of rape impacted them. I did not know that during the same time, other rallies were being held around the country, that many women were wearing black as a sign of protest, and at 1 PM that Monday, many women would walk out of work for an hour to show they believed Christine.

At the Senate Buildings, 128 people were arrested in Dirksen and the Rotunda. The rest of us made it out.

As I walked through Capitol Hill, I caught sight of a protest sign about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh on a food truck, making me realize that people are creatively speaking their voices.

It was still raining when I reached Union Station, and my thoughts went back to my own social history. Christine and I came of age at the same time, and there are several uncomfortable experiences with men I’ve pushed very far back into my memory. Three decades ago, I believed that if I got away from someone without being hurt, I should consider myself lucky. Why should there be a consequence for the perpetrator?

In my Perveen Mistry series, I write about a woman solicitor battling for social justice for females constrained by the legal system in British colonial India. A century later, it is shocking that so much is still the same.

The Faces of Protest

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

I regret to interrupt my regularly scheduled post—which was going to be food-related, alas!—because my life keeps getting interrupted.

Just like my nation’s standard operating procedure.

These days, my writing schedule seems divided between fiction and emails to senators, congressmen, and activist friends. And I’ve been on Facebook more in the last week than in the last six months.

My new, highly distracted life began with the election of Donald Trump and the day after, my participation in the Women’s March on Washington. It was a large march with more than 500,000 participants. I imagine this might have been the largest group gathering I’ll ever attend.

Statisticians specializing in crowd counts put the talley of marchers participating in 500 simultaneous marches throughout the US on Jan. 21 at between 3.3-4.6 million.  Marches around the globe added thousands. As if to answer us, the day after the Women’s March, President Trump defunded Planned Parenthood and made other sweeping actions against women, including closing down the federal office that assists domestic violence prevention organizations. He also halted US aid for women’s health clinics overseas, if the clinics had anything to do with abortion.

I knew we were getting close to the march when I saw from the bus window a lot of women wearing pink hats. One week before, word spread via Internet to wear “pink pussy hats.” Some women confided they had learned to knit just to make a hat for the occasion, following a simple pattern for a cap with pussy-cat ears, a reference to the president’s vulgar reference to female genitals. The problem with throwing around a nasty word is that it can come back in a way that makes your eyes hurt.

Washington DC March photo: Helen Dellheim

The red-haired woman and the other one with a camera were reporting for Time magazine.

With me are fellow Quaker friends Kathy (right) and Nancy and Emilia (behind).

For me, the best thing about the Women’s March on Washington was the patience and kindness people showed to each other. It was a textbook example of peaceful protesting. I saw no pushing, lots of smiles and encouragement, and plenty of admiration for the witty signs and costumes. Women of all ages—from young children to grandmothers—came together for a shared purpose. The rally was multiracial and diverse, and included perhaps ten percent male participation. These men, who almost surely believed that “women’s issues are everyone’s issues” (thank you, California Senator Kamala Harris), were treated like equals.

A porta-potty line at the DC March is far longer than my camera could show.

The march’s map showed plans to proceed together on on one street toward the White House, but the crowd was so vast that it spilled onto the mall itself. There were plenty of police around, but they were non-threatening and in some cases, even jovial. They realized the impossibility of keeping marchers off the mall grounds. Can you believe a march of more than a half-million people without a single arrest?

Riding the bus home from the protest, we sang songs including “We Shall Overcome.” I felt so much stronger and happier.

But—wouldn’t you know?—disturbing executive orders kept coming from the White House. The most shocking, at week’s end, was that that refugees and green card-holders born in seven predominantly Muslim countries were being denied entry into the U.S.  Because we have laws barring immigration discrimination on religion and national origin, I was stunned. Freedom of religious expression is precisely what drove pilgrims from England and Europe to set up a colony that later became a nation.

On Saturday, I participated in a forum entitled “Emotional Survival During Difficult Times” at the Stony Run Friends Meeting in Baltimore. I sat with many of the same people who’d traveled to Washington together on the bus. The strategies for survival were helpful. One of the points a Friend made was that people who engaged in activism were happier and less stressed than those who stayed home. Therefore, when another person at Meeting mentioned there would be an airport protest that evening, I decided to change my plans and participate.

The airport protests of Jan. 28-29 were spontaneous and had no central planning committee. It was very different from the two months of planning that preceded the Women’s March. That Sunday, a Facebook event page appeared with links to information about protests being held at dozens of airports around the U.S.  The biggest protests were in New York, Los Angeles and Dulles International outside of Washington D.C.

I headed out to Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) with a friend and her college student son. As we entered the airport, it was very quiet. We decided the protest was likely near the customs exit, so we headed in that direction. We walked along and soon enough were flanked by dozens of people carrying signs with statements like “We Welcome Everyone.” These protesters seemed to be mostly age 40 and younger. Because the presidential order targeted prospective immigrants, the draw to this protest included many people who were either immigrants themselves, or the children or grandchildren of people who came to this country.

Young crowd at BWI/Abhinav Khushalani

Compared with Women’s March, this protest felt very different.

It started with the sound. The airport’s high ceiling filled up with many call-and-response chants led by men with powerful voices. I chanted and took photos and shared a hug with a woman wearing a stars-and-stripes hijab, similar to the image on the Shepard Fairey “We are the People” poster we both carried.

Another difference was the presence of spectators—dozens of US military service members on an upper floor, pushing carts with luggage. The sight of us protesting would be their last image of the United States, as they headed off to the Middle East.

The airport protest was confined to two floors in the international arrivals and departures area. It was easier to move around than at the Women’s March. I wandered and came to chat with a large group of lawyers sitting at a table. They’d come as volunteers to assist families who might have someone arriving from the seven banned countries was being held. No such travelers were coming in during my time at BWI. Still, resounding cheers broke out anytime non-American travelers emerged from customs. I can imagine how surprised and pleased they were by this rousing welcome.

Jewish protesters shared their family experience with discrimination

Although there was no formal program of speakers, several lawmakers who came to BWI included former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who ran for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, and Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, who thanked me for being part of the protest.

High school photographer Abhinav Khushalani, far right of his mother and younger brother

Another highlight was running into friends from book club, the children’s schools, the Quaker Meeting, and neighborhood. I sensed that I could have sat down and enjoyed a cup of coffee and good talk with almost anyone in the estimated crowd of 2,000.

Many Muslims represented /Abhinav Khushalani

He looks like a Scot but said he was a mutt!

Our new president might see himself as a populist leader. However, his actions have surprised all of us with the creation of a new people’s movement that is filling airports, city streets, and points still unknown.

Nonviolence is Everywhere

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Last weekend I stood with forty women and a few good men in a training maneuver called a “Hassle Line.” We’d just enough time to share our names before we began playing our roles. My partner in the opposing line, a social work student named Faye, played a Donald Trump supporter. I  was an activist the Women’s March on Washington, just trying to get along the Mall, with Faye harassing me.

We The People poster by Shepard Fairey

We The People poster by Shepard Fairey

We were practicing how to defuse confrontation, because it’s likely that some of the estimated 100,000 peaceful demonstrators will be heckled by sideliners or people wishing to cause destruction.

Faye and I tried to mix it up, but the fact was, we were too polite by nature. Although one of the best comebacks to hurled abuse proved to be: “Hi. And how are you today?”

With so many passionate conversations going across the Hassle Line, our Peacekeeper Training made quite a racket. That much much noise was unusual for our location, the Stony Run Friends Meeting House in North Baltimore. Members of the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, worship in silence. I’m a longtime member of Stony Run, which grew out of Baltimore’s original Friends Meeting established in 1785.

Gary Gillespie, our training leader, was introducing us to Strategic Nonviolent Conflict, which is different than nonviolence, which has a reputation for passivity. SNC is a philosophy that regards nonviolence as a strategy because its thought to be more likely to work than violence could.

Gary is a Quaker member of Homewood Friends Meeting who serves as the executive director of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, a group of Baltimore Christian organizations working for social, economic and environmental justice. He’s been protesting since the Viet Nam war and has a very calm approach. He reminded us that when engaging in activism, it’s important to still have fun with each other.

By then, we had started to smile. The group that came had a wide variety of backgrounds, but it seemed to me that we were all concerned about the future of the environment and people in our country. Many women said the January 21 March would be the start of more political activity.

I signed up for the Women’s March because I want to make a public statement about my commitment to fighting for human rights. I didn’t think the march could do more than grab headlines for a day. But at the Peacekeeper Training, I began thinking our March has longer legs.

A regular Friday vigil held outside Homewood Friends Meeting in Baltimore

A regular Friday vigil held outside Homewood Friends Meeting in Baltimore

Chenoweth graph showing efficacy of nonviolent community action

Chenoweth graph showing efficacy of nonviolent community action

Erika Chenoweth, a Denver University professor of international studies, entered her field skeptical that nonviolent movements could succeed against big guns. When she collected data on hundreds of uprisings from 1900 through the present, she was stunned to see that that nonviolent protests and diversionary civil disobedience succeeded twice as often as violent uprisings. Nonviolent civil disobedience often includes women and children and thus was more representative of the whole society and was accepted by more people. Her research proved the tipping point for success in a people-led movement involves just 3.5% active involvement. In the U.S., that translates to 11 million people.

At the training, we watched Erika’s Ted X Talk in which she spoke about the value of large demonstrations. Apparently, large events provide an entry point for risk-averse people to become engaged in a movement. People naturally feel safer in numbers. When many citizens are drawn to a march, it almost guarantees key players will join the movement: educators, security forces, civilian bureaucrats, and the business elites. And as far as the other side goes, the officers serving in a bad government regime all have family members. Some of these may become protestors—and that makes the ruling party less likely to shoot.

A couple of the best-known recent successes in nonviolent protest are the Filipinos who deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and the Serbians who ended the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. And not every nonviolent protest succeeds. Consider the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, and the current bloodshed in Syria. However, Erika Chenoweth thinks the Syrian opposition movement didn’t have enough time to plan their campaign; it didn’t turn into Strategic Nonviolent Conflict.

Shepard Fairey's prints to commemorate the 2017 Inaugural

Shepard Fairey’s prints to commemorate the 2017 Inaugural

At the Women’s March, I’m sure there will wonderful signs and political protest posters, including the beautiful ones above by Shepard Fairey. You may recognize his style because he drew the iconic Barack Obama poster. Shepard Fairey and his fellow artists Jessica Sabogai and Ernesta Yerena have raised over a million dollars on their Kickstarter campaign for a public art project called We The People. They will disrupt the inauguration with a flood of art. I don’t know how it’s all going to come down, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

High on “The Man in the High Castle”

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

One of my holiday traditions is to indulge in a television binge watch—ideally, a series that gives me that delightful, reckless feeling of wasting time. To enhance the celebration, I watch on my laptop in bed. With tea.

In 2014, the holiday binge was Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a light-weight crime series set in 1920s Australia. In 2015, I escaped with Underwear, a series about life at a lingerie design house in contemporary Tokyo.

This year, I found a speculative/suspense series on Amazon Video set in 1962 America: The Man in The High Castle. And my indulgence in comfort TV has turned discomforting.

Vintage paperback edition of the book

An early edition of the novel

The Man in The High Castle was inspired by a Hugo-Award winning novel of the same name published in 1963 by the late Philip Dick. This talented author’s science fiction has formed the inspiration for other films including Blade Runner, Total Recall, and The Minority Report. Dick was a tortured genius, with mental health issues and a deep interest in philosophy. He believed that different worlds can exist because of people’s mind-states. The possibility of multiple realities flows through his works, including this series.

The Man in The High Castle hurtles us into a world where the Axis prevailed in World War II. In 1962, the former United States are dived into Pacific States (the west), the Greater Nazi Reich (the East Coast, South and Midwest). The Rocky Mountain states lie in the Neutral Zone, but it is far from a safe haven. In Japanese-occupied San Francisco, a degenerate artist named Frank and an aikido teacher named Juliana (they were married in Dick’s novel) live together in a dank San Francisco basement. They are thrown into danger when Juliana’s half-sister Trudy flings a film reel at her just before she is executed by the Japanese police.

Juliana Crane, played by Alexa Davalos, lives in Japanese-governed San Francisco

Juliana’s efforts to deliver the film to the person Trudy intended brings her into contact with the resistance, and throws Frank and his relatives, who have a fraction of Jewish blood, into danger. The situation is complicated when Juliana is aided by an attractive young man, Joe Blake, working for the Nazis. Not going to say any more on the plot, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

While the TV series is action-packed and suspenseful, the creepiest moments show the subtle ways  the foreign powers reshaped the lives of the Americans following the atomic bombing of Washington DC. In the Pacific States, many bus and street signs are in Japanese, and people routinely eat with chopsticks and fall into deep bows when faced by their rulers. In New York suburbs, families look “Father Knows Best” perfect, but the kids wear Hitler Youth uniforms to school, the textbooks are all about allegiance to the Führer, muesli is on the breakfast table and people use fork and knife in the German fashion. Costumes and sets and the cinematography are top-notch.

Backyard baseball on Long Island, played by Nazi-American characters

Before viewing the first episode, I wondered if Germans and Japanese would feel disheartened by seeing their worst moments in history glorified.  I was relieved to discover humane characters among all the communities portrayed.  A pair of German and Japanese government men, Rudolf Wegener and Nobosuke Tagomi, scheme together to keep power balanced between the two sides to avoid a war. And the Americans subject to rule—the “pawns” who work for the occupying forces, and those in the resistance—have to weigh whether their fight for freedom will bring death to innocents around them.

Japanese Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

This series was shot in 2014 and premiered in 2015 with season 1 (you must watch Season 1 in order to understand Season 2). The US presidential race hadn’t yet begun, which meant that white supremacists were lurkers, rather than a much-publicized, blatant force. The Man in The High Castle feels like the canary in the coal mine: the harbinger of disaster.

Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith of the American Reich

In the first month after the  presidential election, we have witnessed almost more than 1000 hate incidents. The president-elect said nothing against these acts until he was coaxed to make a statement by a journalist, at which time he looked into a TV camera and said, “Stop it.”

But they won’t stop.  The KKK marched through North Carolina to celebrate Donald Trump’s victory. Trump appointed Steve Bannon, his election strategist and a founder of the racist Breitbart News website, as White House chief of staff. Richard Spencer, a young man who heads a white nationalist group called The National Policy Institute, held a conference of followers in Washington DC where Sieg Heil saluting was widespread in the audience.

Spencer is married to a pro-Putin Russian propagandist Nina Kouprianova. Trump does business with Russia and praises Putin. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is an ExxonMobil CEO who has been awarded a medal from Putin’s administration. New York looks to be the center of Trump’s government, just as it is for the Nazis in the series.

Well worth watching!

Sounds like a paranoid conspiracy—but people are dead serious about it, and many Republicans now view Putin’s actions favorably. Having grown up in the Cold War, this seems to me like a revised version of The Manchurian Candidate—or at the very least a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

What could happen nextafter the ten episodes of Season 2 of The Man in The High Castle are finished? There may be a Season 3, although it’s not official yet.

In the meantime, another program is in the works. The A&E Network plans a documentary series called “Generation KKK” that will follow young Americans choosing racism. This kind of programmingwhich is bound to attract fans who will connect to the real-life charactersseems like it could be another goose-step in normalizing racist behaviors. But I’ll wait to see.

No Matter What Happens, I Tried

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.


As I work on this post, election returns are coming in from all over the United States. It might not surprise readers of this blog that I’m a supporter of Hillary Clinton. My home state, Maryland, has voted Democratic for many years, so I traveled to a state which is less secure (Pennsylvania) to see how I could help.

On Monday evening this past week I drove 3 hours from Maryland to Pennsylvania, a state where rural areas are bullish on Trump. However, the city of Philadelphia and its suburbs tend to support Democratic voters, and also has a racially diverse population. I intended to do all I could to encourage Philadelphia’s voters to get to the polls.


It was a morning rush hour when I drove into North Philadelphia. A big transportation strike that mercifully ended, but its occurrence made a lot of people fearful voters couldn’t get to polls. Lyft and Uber and the popular band Roots built networks of drivers who’d take people needing rides to polling stations. However, most polling stations are located every five blocks. This very old city has a great infrastructure of schools, the primary polling places.

Philadelphia schools and community centers are called into service on election day, and Spanish is widely used.

Philadelphia schools and community centers are called into service on election day, and Spanish is widely used.

There weren’t enough volunteers who could speak Spanish, but we had to connect with these voters if Hillary would carry Philadelphia. I was sent out not speaking a word of Spanish along with my partner, Barbara, who was fortunately studying the language. But we were certainly anxious about how communication would, or wouldn’t, work.


The Democrats set up volunteer stations all over Pennsylvania. I worked out of one on W. Girard Ave. in North Philadelphia. Volunteers got assignments to canvass several blocks, house by house, at a time, to make sure people remembered to vote. Other people stayed back and made texts and phone calls to people who planned to vote Democratic.



We canvassed streets in Fairhall, a neighborhood with a high Latino voter base. The houses were old, but the people living within were full of energy and enthusiasm. People who’d voted told us the polls were busier than they’d ever seen. We began to feel optimistic.


Barbara was such a great person to volunteer with. She was friendly to everyone but really hammered in the importance of having a plan to get to the polling station.

We met this pair, who work for a PAC, on the streets doing similar work to ours.

We met this pair, who work for a PAC, on the streets doing similar work to ours.


People living in these narrow streets found ways to bring beauty and pride of place to share with others. Residents built in a delightful fishpond right in front of an ordinary row house. We saw flower-filled gardens behind chain-link fences, and cute Halloween decorations on doors.


We also were delighted by some of the him owners who sold foods from their windows. A coconut water ice was the best thing I ate (drank?) all day.

I’d never believed I could successfully canvass in a neighborhood where I didn’t share the language with the people I met. However, my nerves were eased by my confident partner and all the Philadelphians were so gracious toward us. I appreciated the way they cared for their homes and kids, and how many socialized with each other on the streets. It made me feel more certain than ever that this country benefits from immigration.

This is a very tough election. At this point in the night, things don’t look good for my candidate. However I feel optimistic about the situation in Philadelphia. No matter what happens, we tried.