Sunday, April 21, 2013

When Terrorists Come to Town

While Boston is celebrating the successful end to the hunt for the marathon terrorists, we can’t forget that four young people are dead, nearly 200 were injured or maimed, and we once again suffered a large-scale terrorist attack in an American city. The act of horrific cowardice at the Boston Marathon, ricin-laced letters addressed to federal officials, a massive manhunt, and the crazy ups and downs of the 24-hour news cycle are taking me back to a place I don’t want to go: 2001.

I remember opening the sunroof of my car as it crept across the 14th Street bridge that beautiful September morning and thinking about how incredibly blue the sky was.  I didn’t know it then but that trip in would be the last time I ever felt completely safe and carefree.  A few hours later I would drive back across the bridge with smoke filling the sky, creeping along to avoid the people fleeing the burning Pentagon.

We lived in a small house near the Pentagon and our street was a typical mix of D.C. families.  We were Navy, FBI on the corner, federal civilians next door, Air Force two doors up, Army across the street and Hill staffers next door to them.  We all checked in on each other that afternoon and shared what we knew.  That night the wind shifted and the smoke from the burning building wafted across our neighborhood. The metallic-plastic-toxic-smelling air had a weight and a smell I can still taste.

I woke up on September 12th bleary-eyed from too much TV and too many tears and drove to work late with my colleague who came home with me the day before.  We had a feeling—like many of us do now—that the “terrorists would win” if they changed one thing about how we lived, and the American way would disappear forever.  It was “United We Stand” back then.  Today, it’s “Boston Strong”.

Later that month, a tornado touched down on our little street, literally bouncing across the backyard, over our house, tearing down trees and cutting a swath across three streets before coming down in College Park, Maryland and killing two sisters.  It was such a freak occurrence after such a mass tragedy that I shook my head in disbelief, thinking “what next?”  Then a few weeks later, on a day I had been up on the Hill meeting with a U.S. Senator, we learned that there was anthrax found in a Senate office.  Terrorism of a new variety had come to visit.   
The weeks and months that followed are a blur.  D.C. changed overnight from a serious city with a fun side to a grim city with a sad side.  Every dinner out, every public event felt like forced fun. We had a moral obligation to fight terrorism by going out and living “normally” as we made our emergency plans and waited for the next shoe to drop.  I had friends who had their mail delivered to a bucket outside their door and others who made plans to move away. 

My husband and I had our first child and while we were absorbed in the joys of parenthood, we now had someone so precious to protect that at times it seemed overwhelming.  We “knew” something would happen, sometime, somewhere.  The new “normal” was not normal since there was always a color-coded alert to worry about or “chatter” to put us on edge.  My husband was expecting to get deployed—but didn’t—and we were mindful of his friends and colleagues heading to Iraq and Afghanistan to try and fight the “enemy” on their own territory.

The arrival of the D.C. sniper in October of 2002 seemed like the final straw.  A month of gorgeous fall days marred by the certainty of the next attack.  I learned the ins and outs of online shopping and decided that staying home and “letting the terrorists win” was okay as long as I didn’t die in the parking lot of the local Home Depot. The phrase “sheltering in place” became part of our vernacular.

As the years passed, terrorism continued to shape our lives. I started my second maternity leave a week early because my company was housed in an IMF building that was always on alert.  Chatter surfaced indicating that an attack was imminent, so it was decided that I should stay home rather than worry about becoming the enormous pregnant woman who blocks the stairwell during a mass evacuation.  By the time we moved to Rhode Island on Thanksgiving Day 2005, I was done living under the constant threat of an attack and glad to move back to a place where terrorism was unlikely to show its hideous face. 

Until Monday, New England felt like a safe harbor.  Traffic, lack of parking, a long line for a cannoli at Mike’s or a high fastball left up in the zone were the only legitimate causes of stress on a jaunt to Boston.  Those days are over, our security has been violated and a new generation of Americans will understand what it’s like to be terrorized.

As the “we got ‘em” celebrations come to a close, I wish I had something smart or particularly helpful to say about coping when terrorism comes to town and violates our sense of security.  The sad truth is that the terrorists—foreign and domestic—will always walk among us and try to take away things that are precious: the lives of other Americans, our freedoms, our trust in another.  But they will never win as long as our resolve to stop them is strong and our love for one another is true.  In a country full of first responders and heroes who run towards a disaster, they can’t win and we can’t lose.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Sharing the Political Locker Room

While I’ve always loved baseball, it has never crossed my mind to try to play competitively.  Like most young girls, I wasn’t particularly assertive and back then, girls weren’t playing Little League.  Fast forward through ten years of single-sex education, and I launched into a career in public affairs and politics, a field that was almost as male dominated as baseball.  In one of my first jobs I worked almost exclusively with men, some who called me “the blonde” until they learned my name and another, who upon meeting me, called me a “little nymph” to my colleagues, creating an awkward moment and (unfortunately) an enduring joke among some of my oldest friends in politics.

I like to think we’ve come a long way baby.  Today there are many more successful women in public office and working behind the scenes on both sides of the aisle.  Recently I was jolted back a generation and reminded that we have a long way to go.  First, President Barack Obama noted that Kamala Harris was “by far the best looking” Attorney General in the country.  He’s probably right.  Ms. Harris is lovely, but it was so completely inappropriate for the President of the United States to publicly comment – negatively or positively – on the physical appearance of an elected official that it made me see red.  The response to the backlash was instantaneous “lighten up – it was just a compliment” or “it’s okay, they’re friends.”  While this may be true, what people don’t get is that when these comments are excused, all women in the workplace take the hit -they have to be smarter and more talented than their male counterparts, just so they aren’t recognized for their looks alone.

Closer to home, one of our state’s best political reporters, Ted Nesi, noted that State Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s critics view her as the  “handmaiden of Wall Street.”  While I understand that he was trying to underscore a point, it’s a description that would never be pinned on a male State Treasurer.  In biblical times a handmaiden was a concubine for men with infertile wives so that they might have children to continue their line.  This is hardly an apt description for a Harvard-educated Rhodes Scholar who is also a wife and a mother.

Attorney General Harris accepted the President’s apology and as far as I know Treasurer Raimondo ignored the slight – for either to respond in another way would have only continued a story that wasn’t a positive for anyone involved.  I’m not the politically correct police -- but I do want to remind all the brothers, fathers and husbands that it’s 2013 and your sisters, daughters, wives and friends are part of the very same working world where Ms. Harris and Ms. Raimondo are taking their lumps.  If you want them to be treated fairly by their colleagues, make sure you keep the playing field level where you work.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Nowhere to go but up

With Easter and MLB Opening Day behind us, it’s time to turn the page and start anew – not only for Christians (and those who do their praying at Fenway) but for the Rhode Island Republican party and for the Chafee administration.  Like the Red Sox, they’ve hit rock bottom and there’s nowhere to go but up.

The 2013 Red Sox will spend the year trying to erase any stain left by the brief Bobby Valentine era and the embarrassing 69-93 record of 2012.  Their marketing team is luring fans back to Fenway with $5.00 beer and free food in the hopes of reigniting a sellout streak.  With the exception of Alfredo Aceves—who gets the award for most likely to be arrested—this should a drama-free squad and hopefully the start of a season that stretches into October.  

Back in Little Rhody, the RIGOP is going to need more than cheap booze and “Sweet Caroline” to get back in the game.  After another cycle of dismal results, it’s worth noting that the Sox’s record would make have made the RIGOP wildly successful, since their 2012 record was 11-102 in General Assembly races.  The recent chairman’s race turned into a benches-clearing brawl, splitting the State Central Committee right down the middle and creating the perception that the RIGOP literally can’t do anything well.

The botched count and recount was something that you’d expect at an elementary school student council vote, except that the children would have known that saying one thing and doing another does not instill faith among the voters.  Mark Smiley, a good guy and earnest Republican by any measure, now comes into office with all the challenges his predecessors have faced plus a perception problem that was not of his creation.  In a state where a two (or three?) party system might create some accountability and allow for more debate on critical issues, I can’t be the only one rooting for Mr. Smiley to unite the party enough to support some decent General Assembly candidates.

As for Governor Chafee, he must have skipped the day in Politics 101 when “don’t blame the media for your mistakes” was on the syllabus.  The members of Rhode Island’s mainstream political media are a tough but fair crowd and have cut Governor Chafee quite a bit of slack over the years.  There are some who have been almost too favorable, wearing their lefty hearts on their sleeves and not calling him out for alternating between waffling and incredible stubbornness across a wide array of issues from pension reform and government transparency to holiday trees and the EDC.  Whatever restraint they have demonstrated in the past is certainly going to be tested and they can all play a Mad Lib that starts out, “Chafee’s numbers are low because __________.  His most appalling gaffe was ___________.”  Note that two of the best, Ted Nesi and Ed Fitzpatrick, have already played.

The good news for all of us is that baseball is back and the long winter of 2012-13 is over.  It’s a long time until we’ll know whether the circus of the RIGOP Chairman’s race or Chafee’s blame game will have any bearing on the 2014 cycle, but just like the Red Sox, their marketing teams have a lot of work to do to get the save.