Lauren Reichelt kicked off her career as an accidental community organizer in Tokyo, assisting Rabbi Michael J. Schudrich to organize holiday and Shabbat gatherings for travelers, students, and individuals without a Japanese Sabbath home. Gradually, Rabbi Schudrich began to rely on Lauren to help resettle Jewish congregants fleeing hostile Muslim and Eastern Bloc nations. Lauren helped the rabbi to obtain visas, locate work, and acculturate those in transit to Japanese society. In the process of organizing festive meals, she learned that cooking and creating together helps to heal spiritual wounds caused by trauma. Lauren earned her MA in Tokyo in Comparative Culture from Sophia University, a Jesuit school. She taught English and American Culture in a Japanese High School.
Lauren returned the United States in 1990. She taught preschool in Northern New Mexico for two years, before reverting again to accidental organizing. When her daughter was born in Espanola, NM, she realized her community did not have a public playground. She convinced neighbors to pitch in and build. Children named the playground “Venessa's Hideaway” after a nine-year old diabetic girl who was murdered by a heroin addict ransacking her home for syringes. Venessa's mother, Annette, became the spokeswoman for the effort. In time, Lauren and Annette were joined by other parents of children lost to violence, DWI or overdose. They began organizing their community to build treatment centers, clinics, and daycares. Lauren was hired by Rio Arriba County in 1994 “to do stuff in villages.” Lauren and her colleagues developed the first county-run Health and Human Services Department in the state of New Mexico, giving Rio Arriba's indigenous populations a voice in their own health care delivery. She again discovered, in the process of organizing, that bringing people together to work with their hands helps to overcome spiritual wounds.
Today, Lauren is director of Rio Arriba's Health and Human Services Department where she oversees jail-based substance abuse treatment programs, DWI prevention and treatment, and health care planning activities, as well as intensive case management services for IV Drug Users, high-risk pregnant women, homeless people, and frequent visitors to the ER. She has worked with mothers of murdered children, substance abusers, and refugees. She uses organizing as a tool to help heal wounds resulting from historical trauma. Lauren blogs for Daily Kos and ePluribus Media as TheFatLadySings, and has coordinated a weekly health care series for both sites under the cover of her moniker since 2007.
(Photo courtesy of Mike Shriver.)
I have been trying to counter the planned negativity promoted by Fox News and corporate interests by standing up to it at every opportunity. Bullying tactics are only effective if individuals allow themselves to be bullied en masse. When specific individuals refuse to be bullied in a public manner, they lessen the effectiveness of the intimidation. The time to stand up is in the beginning, before the bullies completely delegitimize the rule of law.
This week, I stood up to the bullies in two small ways that I would like to share in the hopes that others will follow suit or (even better!) improve upon them: I told my favorite Congressman at a town hall that I disagreed with his sudden unexpected choice to address substance abuse and mental illness as a law enforcement issue; and I wrote a letter to our local newspaper defending this same Congressman from a writer who compared him to Hitler. Continue reading →
If you have followed my recent posts, you know that I believe the recent right-wing push towards extreme bigotry and hate-mongering is a sign of desperation. America’s demography is changing. it is growing younger and browner. At the same time, population is shifting from the northeast and midwest, to the so-called sunbelt: states with large Hispanic population.
The Bush regime recognized the growing importance of the Hispanic vote, and worked aggressively to reach out. Today’s Republican party has been siezed by right wing sycophants such as Beck, Gingrich, Limbaugh and Palin, and has eschewed policy entirely in favor of race-baiting.
I live in Espanola, New Mexico, a town of 9,000 people, mostly Hispanic and Native American, with a lot of churches but without a Jewish synagogue. I live in an agrarian mestizo community: most of my neighbors are of mixed Spanish and Native American descent dating from the arrival of Juan de Onate in the 16th century. Leaders in my community worry about passing their cultural heritage on to the next generation in the face of industrial encroachment. Rio Arriba County reminds me of Israel at the time of Akiva, immediately preceding the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.
Although I invited my Hispanic Rio Arriba colleagues to my son’s Bar Mitzvah, none came. Many of my more urbane Hispanic friends in Santa Fe were present. They lived in “the city.” Many had moved away for college and then returned. They were familiar with Jews. I wish I could explain the significance of the B’nai Mitzvah to my struggling agrarian friends. It has helped the Jewish people to maintain our identity in exile for thousands of years. Continue reading →
As the Progressive movement has grown, we have become increasingly proficient at influencing the passage of legislation. We’ve learned to place strategic calls and ads as bill move through committee. We’ve learned about reconciliation and other parliamentary procedures. We have pushed stimulus funding, a health care reform bill, and a financial regulatory reform bill over the legislative finish line. But alas! we are still a nascent movement. And as such, we have not learned to attend to the details of the regulatory process AFTER our bills are passed.
Immigration policy and the Hispanic vote have been a point of contention for Republicans since the beginning of the 21st century. President Bush, to his credit, attempted to pass an immigration policy that would have allowed a guest worker program (and incidentally, broadened the GOP tent), but was stymied by right wing elements in his own party. The strategy was inspired by shifting Congressional demographics and, had Bush succeeded, he might have delivered Republican control of Congress for decades.
Demagogues like Rush Limbaugh who rely on an openly racist base for ratings won the day. The party narrowed and took a sharp turn to the right. Continue reading →
Having infuriated Democrats with her astonishing loss of Ted Kennedy’s long-held Senate seat to a suburban truck-drivin’ pin-up populist, Martha Coakley is back. But this time she’s racking up a series of impressive legal victories for liberals. She has won a $102 million dollar settlement against Morgan Stanley, taken on insurance companies for paying hospitals based on political clout rather than quality, and successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Athough unchallenged by the GOP in her November race for Attorney General, Coakley is campaigning vigorously. Could she be positioning herself to recapture the MA Senate seat from Scott Brown for the Dems? Is this the real Martha Coakley? Or both?
I am beginning to wonder if perhaps Obama was right to tackle health care reform as a first initiative. It is difficult to find health care issues to write about these days…our mainstream and alternative media are rightly wrapped up in the crises of the day, the Gulf oil spill disaster, the Afghanistan War and high unemployment rates. Of these, at least two are directly tied to our inability as a nation to confront Big Oil. Frustrated with tepid Congressional efforts to stem the oil tide, I decided to take a small step to wean myself off of oil. I began cooking locally available food: weeds!
Several gems designed to strengthen communities’ ability to define local systems of care are buried deep within the bowels of HCR. These provisions encourage community coalitions composed of health care providers, patients and other stakeholders to design innovative strategies for meeting their own unique health care needs. Instead of trying to impose a boilerplate solution to what has become a chaotic patchwork of local capacities and vulnerabilities, the community health coalition approach encourages creative, bottom-up solutions to our nation’s pressing problems. And it builds communities’ political power to advocate for future reform.