Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hizzoner is not a diplomat

Hoo boy, this is going to start some fires. As if this issue wasn't contentious enough. Email today direct from Mayor Soglin himself, regarding the ongoing debate over the presence of homeless people at the City County Building downtown (and how the city treats homeless folks in general):

Last night about 5:20 when I returned to the City-County Building from the Board of Estimates meeting a heated dispute was taking place at the chairs adjacent to the entrance to the Park Division office. 
Sitting on the left was Man A. He was talking on his cell phone at the time and continued to do so during the entire incident. Sitting in the center was Woman B. Wearing a gray hat she refused to move. Sitting next to her and closest to the door to the Parks Division office was Woman C. She was yelling at Woman B and telling her to get up and leave. Standing over Woman B was Man D who was yelling in a threatening manner at Woman B ordering her to move. 
I stopped to watch the incident and when it became clear the matter was escalating, called 911. Before the officers arrived, woman B got up from the chair, staggered over to Woman C and continued to yell at her. Man D took the center seat and asserted his claim that the chair was his. Man A continued with his phone call. I could hear him saying that the background noise was because of an argument. 
Woman B, Woman C and Man D continued to argue. As the police officers arrived Woman C threw a punch at Woman B. 
We can build and spend money on more libraries, day shelters, night shelters, restroom facilities and none of these behaviors are going to change. The people of Madison deserve better. Therapy, treatment, and counseling, with constant supervision are needed for a significant number of people who hang out in this building and the surrounding area. No number of shelters or amount of money is going to address their needs unless it is focused on treatment for mental health and substance abuse matters. Frankly I see no sense in spending public money for buildings, shelter, day centers, or housing for individuals who will either refuse to use them or will be banned from them for behavior reasons. 
Someone has some explaining to do. Why is there no treatment, voluntary or compulsory? 
If the individuals in question had not been fighting and arrested they could have gone up to the third floor where the City-County Liaison Committee was meeting and joined in the testimony that a security guard was not needed in the lobby. It appears that at least one of these individuals was involved in a fight on Friday. 
Paul R. Soglin - Mayor City of Madison 
He's right that a lot more money and focus needs to go toward mental health and substance abuse treatment, I absolutely agree. But throwing shelter facilities and other resources for the homeless under the bus in the process is incredibly wrongheaded and short-sighted. Not all homeless people are mentally unwell and/or addicts. And even those that are will need resources for seeking out services and then being able to access those services on a regular, reliable basis.

It would be nice if the discussion about these issues could be had without needlessly inflammatory sniping (the Mayor is not the only guilty party here). Too many people's actual lives and well-being are on the line.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Church of Roller Derby

I was raised in the Presbyterian Church. My father was and is a minister, and my mother was heavily involved in everything from directing the children's choir to bake sales and other organizational duties.

Every Sunday morning I had to wake up early to attend services, usually grumbling about being made to sacrifice one of just two precious chances to sleep in each week. When I was very young, I remember that my mom would wisely resort to scratching my back during dad's sermons as a way to basically pacify me, keep me from squirming or causing trouble during these longer periods of inactivity and introspection.

I never hated church. There are aspects of church life and community that I really enjoyed, in fact--mostly the potlucks, the holiday pageants (or the weirdly ambitious stagings of musicals like Godspell), the bake sales, and later the youth group outings to do service work restoring homes for elderly folks or bringing gift baskets to the residents of a mental health institute.

Still, as soon as I left home for college, I stopped going. Partially this was because I moved to a new state and wasn't familiar with any of the church communities in my new city, but mostly because I had decided that I no longer felt comfortable calling myself a Christian.

I had, and have, too many serious objections to the overall bent of the Church--too focused on outmoded beliefs about women and queer people (both groups to which I belong), too guilty of misdeeds against the very people the church is supposed to exist to help: the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the minorities.

I saw too much lip service to serving God and too little actual service.

There has been much written about the worldwide decline in people who identify themselves as religious and/or who attend church on a regular basis, especially among younger generations. It is, most certainly, a time of major transition and transformation. Splits. Schisms.

I see that as a good thing. The Powers That Be need a stark wake-up call from the rest of the world--among all the religions and communities--that they've strayed too far from the path that I think the majority of us know in our hearts is the righteous one: to help those less fortunate, to strive for a better world, to be open and inclusive.

You don't need to believe in God to believe in that.

So where does roller derby enter into all of this, you might be asking at this point?

I've been a member of my local roller derby community for just over a year now. In that time, I've frequently joked that the sport and its community have become my new church. It often involves getting up for 8 a.m. practices on Sunday mornings, after all. And I do it gladly!

But I've been thinking. It's a whole lot more than that. And there's really something to the joke:

Roller derby is an amazing sport that requires an enormous amount of time, dedication, hard work, mental and physical discipline (don't believe me? watch the championship match between Gotham and Texas from this past weekend).

Roller derby is also an amazing community of people from diverse backgrounds and with differing abilities and talents, one that places a big emphasis on community outreach and charitable giving. The Mad Rollin' Dolls, my home league, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for local non-profits over the years. They've spent countless hours doing service work, too: packing Thanksgiving baskets for those in need, building homes for farm animal sanctuaries, serving up food at community events, being part of Make-A-Wish days, and a whole lot more.

They also band together when one of their own is in need. Right now, for instance, there's a massive fundraising drive for a Milwaukee skater who was shot during a mugging. I've seen derby folk from other countries jump in to help out with medical bills, housing needs, and more whenever called upon. We get each others' backs.

Roller derby is also, by and large, an incredibly inclusive community. We were founded by the outcasts and queers who wanted a sport of their own in a world that typically shunned them. We've built this thing from the ground up, mostly through the blood, sweat and tears of volunteer work. We have our troubles, our fights, like any family--but we stick together and find solutions. We take all-comers, so long as you're willing to give back in a positive way. Black, white, queer, straight, trans, religious, atheist--it's an open door policy.

This is my church. This is my home. This is the world I want to live in and want to help build for everyone. Whether or not you're interested in strapping on a pair of skates and ramming yourself into other human beings doesn't matter (I just happen to really enjoy that). The point is, we should apply this same ethic of service, inclusion, and community to all aspects of our lives.

You want butts back in seats at your house of worship but aren't willing to make real changes? I'd rather put on skates and roll into something better. But if you're serious, the examples of how to do more, to grow and evolve and bring people on board--they're right here, at the Church of Roller Derby.
The Lost Albatross