Heather L. Barmore
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    Change In Action at Babble Voices


    When Women Count


    In the discussion surrounding privilege I often forget to take stock in my own. That I was born and raised in a family that took education seriously. To have parents who, when I lament on whether or not marriage and/or children will ever happen for me, they remind me that progeny are not the be all, end all of my future. A wedding does not constitute success for them and that happiness and passions are paramount. I forget that I have been remarkably fortunate to have the things I have and a life that will be take me to Europe in a few short days simply for the joy of travel and a thirst for adventure. I was the person who attended her first choice, high priced private university and was sent away with glee by my parents simply because I wanted for nothing more. These are the things I forget when I complain about shortcomings and the ebbs and flows of life.

    While attending the Social Good Summit this past weekend in New York City someone asked why I was there. It was my second time at the summit and my fourth year of enjoying United Nations Week. A time when people from around the world come together to discuss making this planet of ours even better. During previous events I have become so wrapped up in all that the week and summit covers from climate change to poverty to clean water and available electricity. So much so that I find myself overwhelmed instead of able to realize my part in the shape of things to come. So when I was asked why I attended this year I knew, for once, just the reason: women and girls.

    As a black woman living in America there are no shortage of tales to tell about the ignorance of others and micro-aggressions towards me. That said, to sit in the front rows of an auditorium listening to women emphasize the need to rethink how we engage with communities around the globe in order to count women? Well, let’s just say I was quick to check my own privilege.

    I went through and looked at notes I had scribbled down in handwriting that proved that I wanted to make sure I remembered everything hence rampant use of shorthand. A few notes:

    - “A girl has the same value as a boy”
    - We need to rethink how we engage with countries and how we engage with communities to achieve sustainability that directly impacts young girls
    - “Marriage is seen as protecting a child (a girl) but it turns into oppression by forcing children into marriage. These institutions have to change”
    - Ignoring and discounting girls as more than just mothers is rooted in tradition. “Traditions are man made so how do we dismantle this man made device”
    - By 2030 we need to make measurable progress on raising the value of girls and women
    - Tell the stories of women and girls. In storytelling a girl does not exist in a vacuum. If we tell stories of ordinary girls overcoming obstacles this will make others fee the need to work towards action

    It was one of those moments of listening where I remembered my blissful ignorance. Of course I am all for advocating for women and girls but what is needed far more than advocacy is ensuring that they are counted. Social Good Summit tends to focus on how how technology and social media are used to make an impact in developing countries and with the Millennium Development Goals. In reality many of the technological analytics and the proof of impact from the NGO world isn’t available for girls or there needs to be an improvement in that arena. Quite simply around the world girls are forgotten and simply used for procreation or as currency. Meanwhile I scroll through Facebook and jump on the “why aren’t there more women on the stage at X tech conference?” bandwagon. While America isn’t perfect when it comes to gender equality we still have the luxury of taking to Twitter or even the ballot box - often without question - to express our displeasure. The women of America are counted.

    I wish I could end this on some fabulous suggestion of how to impact the future of women and girls. As a person who craves good narrative and believes that telling the stories of ourselves and others leads to commonality, well, I now have a renewed focus on my own part to play which is quite simply to tell the tales of the women I meet. I return to this space more thoughtful which isn’t very helpful to the masses but, for me, it’s a start and exactly what I needed from the weekend. I simply want to help.

    P.S. Check out this post on what Buzzfeed writer, Morgan Shanahan, got out of the Social Good Summit.

    P.P.S. If you missed Emma Watson's speech on HeForShe check that out as well. We need more allies in this world (via Vox)


    This is Why We Vote


    On Monday night I attended a screening of Freedom Summer. The film chronicles the organizing of 700 mostly white student volunteers who assisted in registering African American voters in Mississippi during the summer of 1964. The film follows as organizers are intimidated, threatened and killed by white Mississippians who saw enfranchised blacks as a threat to their way of life. For those of you who have seen this film or know the story, it was well before the introduction of Fannie Lou Hamer, a woman whose mere presence on the screen drew applause from the audience. She would appear and the venue became church with shouts of “TELL IT!”. Anyway, it was sometime before she approached the dais of the 1964 Democratic National Convention, I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarities between August of 1964 and August 2014.

    Since the death and ensuing protests of 18 year old Michael Brown, the largely black population of Ferguson, Missouri has learned that the way for their collective voices to be heard is to protest with their feet to the pavement. For the people of Ferguson to move up they must be on the ground. I spoke with a friend recently about how powerful it has been to see these citizens take matters into their own hands after being beaten down (figuratively, literally) by police. The current events in Ferguson are a prime example of what happens when your voice is stifled for far too long.

    Among accounts of abuse by police and the eradication of the first amendment by arresting journalists, was the report that voter registration drives have begun somewhere around the W. Florissaint area near where the protests are occurring. Apparently, Missouri Republicans have taken offense to the people of Ferguson - I must reiterate, the BLACK people of Ferguson - becoming registered voters. The protests will end and the only way for those who live in this small city just north of St. Louis to be heard is to vote. It really is that simple and yet, much like the people of Mississippi in 1964, allowing this particular bloc of voters to participate in the democratic process is seen as a threat. In Mississippi it was because the voters were black and there was a fear that by allowing for them - us, really - to vote would mean an overwhelming number of black elected officials. As for Ferguson, I can only assume that the reason Republicans have been outspoken against voter registration drives is because African Americans favor one party over the other. Though, I must add that what is currently happening shouldn’t be about Democrats or Republicans and that we should all be outraged by a blatant disregard for the Constitution. The disregard I have mentioned before but it bears repeating.

    During Freedom Summer three young men were killed by the Klu Klux Klan. A woman had a noose wrapped around her neck and is threatened with dragging. People were beaten. All of this in the name of voting and here we are, fifty years later with people who want to register to vote still being denied that opportunity. The job of those who represent Ferguson, Missouri is to speak for constituents. The beauty of America is that we live in a place where democracy should be paramount. The onus isn’t solely on those who are denying the right to register but also those who have been denied. The city of Ferguson has notoriously low voter turnout which has left the city with a disproportionate number of white representatives in local government even though the population is largely black. Why? Because of low voter turnout. It isn’t solely a matter of signing up on a piece of paper but showing up on Election Day is when it truly counts. People died for the right to vote, so it is our responsibility to take that baton and push forward.

    Voting isn’t exciting but it is necessary. I hate being the person who implores people to go out and make themselves heard but I will because if you do not, no one can do anything for you. Sometimes the only way to see the first sign of change is to go to the ballot box. We vote not just because we can but because in times like these, we have to.


    The Intersection of Race and Politics 


    Over the last six years I have never once held the president to some unattainable standard of a perfect politician. I was not one of those who thought that the election of one man, Barack Obama, would magically fix all of the ills from eight years of a Bush in the White House. I knew that there would not be and could not be a snap of his fingers to make Washington perfect. I always knew better. Which is why when I found myself genuinely disappointed in the actions - or lack thereof - of the President over the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, I was actually taken aback by my briefly held frustrations.  

    To me disappointment is a reason to change course and has always forced me to become better far more quickly than anger. Disappointment means not only am I upset but I cannot even stand to look at you right now. Right now disappointment with a hefty dose of anger is what I am feeling towards those who have been tasked to protect and to serve and those who govern this country. On Wednesday night, while Missouri looked like Fallujah circa 2003. The president was in Martha’s Vineyard at a birthday party, Governor Nixon was MIA and Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, the US Senators from Missouri? I dunno. *SHRUG*. By yesterday - Thursday - they all came out of the woodwork to express their displeasure with north St. Louis County being turned into a police state but by then it was too late. The damage had been done, tear gas and bullets had been fired and people across America looked at one another wondering who, exactly, was in charge.

    In a moment of naiveté I expected more from the president yesterday when he spoke on the situation in Ferguson. Instead I was left completely underwhelmed and saying, THAT? That is all you have to say? And I was not the only one:

    As a human being who enjoys talking about the difficult things I can understand that discussions on racism, inequality and injustice can get messy. Of course they can be legislated against but the stroke of a pen doesn’t erase prejudice. It is never easy and neither is the intersection of law and issues of racial profiling. No matter the number of examples of brown and black people being treated as less than human by the police, to address this requires wading through some murky water. I totally get it. There are people who bristle at the mere mention of race as the underlying factor in what happened in Ferguson because we ALL should be and are outraged over the presence of over zealous and overly militarized police. While I appreciate the solidarity that doesn’t negate the event that got us to this point which is that a black boy was shot while walking down the street. As a black woman who has watched the black men in her life - my three brothers, my father - endure what can only be described as bullshit at the hands of the police, I find myself in need of more than platitudes and talking points. When are politicians going to acknowledge that racism is a pervasive problem? By dancing around the issue does a disservice to the memory of those men whose stories need to be told.

    As a person who has worked in politics; I also get it. The president isn’t going to stand up and tell his own stories of driving while black or the words and disrespect hurled at him since becoming the most powerful person in the world. Hell, people are still angry about his, “if I had a son he would look like Trayvon” remark, so I am very aware of his difficult position. Those who govern represent everyone. Partying while people in Missouri are being attacked during a peaceful protest or announcing that racism is still alive and well in 2014: the optics are terrible either way. So, instead the president calls for calm while other politicians simply scratch the surface by admitting how out of control things had become. And that is, unfortunately, all we are going to get.

    Anger and disappointment don’t matter. Right now the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri are back on the streets and and allowed to gather once again without fear of harm. After the statements, press conferences and social media activity is gone, they will still be there putting their lives and their community back together. Michael Brown’s mother will remain shattered and ache for her son. Some will continue to fight the powers of be and promote for the oppressed to rise up. Others will go back to their lives. Another miscarriage of justice or moment of blatant racism will occur and my hope is that we all remember this moment; what happened and what didn’t happen and be moved to fight once again.

    More on Ferguson:

    Should Obama Do More on Ferguson and Other Racial Issues?

    Why You Can't Just Tell Black Boys to Be Good and Stay Out of Trouble


    "We Are Supposed to be Better Than That": Politicans React to Police Brutality in Ferguson

    My Privelege is Showing. I Think it's Probably Better That Way.