Thursday, December 20, 2012

Community vs. Corporation - How a Unified Voice Works

It's not often the underdogs win when going up against a giant corporation, but that's just what happened yesterday for a downtown Phoenix community - which I'm proud to be a part of.  My hope in writing this post is to give other communities ideas/tools to use when faced with a similar situation in their own neighborhoods, as well as to drive home the point that normal, everyday citizens can indeed have a voice and be change makers in their own communities.

Remember the wise words of Margaret Mead:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Circle K wanted to abandon their current 4 gas pump store to build a mega 16 pump station on property just across the street from their current location on the NE corner of 7th St. & Roosevelt Streets in downtown Phoenix.  There is currently a Shell station across the street and a smaller Sinclair gas station half a block away.  They also applied for a use permit to sell alcohol.  More than 80 of us attended the use permit hearing at Phoenix City Hall which was granted by the City of Phoenix with stipulations.  It seemed they were on the road to having everything fall into place, even though numerous residents were opposed.

We were opposed for a multitude of reasons: increased crime (which was highlighted in this ASU report on crime & disorder in convenience stores) sustainability setbacks with regard to pedestrian and bicycle friendliness, Circle K's lack of of being a good neighbor in the past and the community feeling strongly about it being the wrong type of development for a gateway corner in downtown Phoenix in a transitioning neighborhood.

Vice Mayor Michael Johnson who serves in District 8 where all of this was taking place agreed to take part in a community meeting.  The room was full and I was happy to see Channel 5 who I had contacted covering the meeting.  You can view the coverage here.  It is my opinion that media involvement can play a crucial role with activism.  It's not difficult to blow off a room of 80 people who aren't a billion dollar corporation.  Throw an interested reporter and video camera into the mix and those 80 people suddenly have a much stronger chance of being heard.  I've experienced this time and time again.

Circle K Corp. hired a public affairs firm to run a campaign called Friends of Circle K - or FOCK.  I'm sure this acronym was muttered under the breath of many of us...  FOCK paid canvassers to collect neighbor signatures for a support petition.  These canvassers misrepresented facts and I was told by several people they were offered gift cards to sign.  Hardly neighborly...  We were told there were 300 supporters of the project.

We were informed  FOCK planned an event (free pizza, a free FOCK t-shirt and free bus ride to City Council) on the day City Council would determine if the liquor application would go to the State Liquor Board with a stamp of approval or not.

Our community kept fighting.

The effort took a lot of work, both behind the scenes and in the public eye.  Strategy meetings, finding common ground and talking points, media involvement, research and data collection, letter writing, petition creation, social media, meetings with elected officials and telephone calls.  It involved neighborhood organizations, non profits, small business owners and community activists.

When we got word yesterday that Circle K was withdrawing their liquor license application and backing away from the project, many of us could hardly believe it.

I popped down to the FOCK pizza party to see how many of their 300 supporters would be out to support what we were working hard to try to stop.  There was a young couple in their 20's with their child and a woman in a pink sweater who had brought three Pizza Hut pizzas and a couple of stacks of the t-shirts you see above.  When I asked her if she lived downtown, she answered "No I don't."  Extra lame...  There was one FOCK'er at the City Council meeting, bringing the grand total of supporters who I saw to 3.  Perhaps that 300 was a typo...

At the end of the day, Circle K did indeed withdraw their liquor license application.  Councilman Johnson had some really nice things to say about the community.  Community members had some really nice things to say about Councilman Johnson.

I had this to say to Channel 15.

Then we all went to Carly's to have a beer and toast our community victory.

“It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi


Love and laughter,

Msss. Champion

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Response to Hume: Can Phoenix rise from the car era’s ashes?

This past Monday, a man named Christopher Hume wrote an article about Phoenix which you can read HERE.  As the article didn't allow commenting, this was my response to his article.

Dear Mr. Hume,

In response to your recent article on Phoenix, I would like to say the following:

I’m sorry to admit that much of what you say about Phoenix is true.   In fact, just this morning, I witnessed two historic buildings (built in 1909 and 1929) in the warehouse district be demolished so the PHX Suns VIP’s can have a surface parking lot for valet parking.  Yep, another parking lot.  Just what we need in the bulls-eye of climate change – another parking lot to add to our ever-growing asphalt jungle that is a major contributor to our little urban heat island effect problem we have going on here.

But when you speak of “locals,” I get the sense that you never actually conversed with one, or explored the vibrant areas of our downtown community such as Roosevelt Row, or took the time to do a bit of research on the local happenings offered in our downtown community – of which there are many.

I’m guessing you didn’t witness our Critical Mass bike ride, or walk over to the pop up park that is a creative temporary use project on 2nd St. & Roosevelt or check out the always full bike rack at the Crescent Ballroom.

I have a sneaking suspicion you made some very broad assumptions and looked for only those things to back them up.

I don’t really blame you, because Phoenix is a truly unique city.  I feel I can make this statement as I’ve lived in several other major metropolitan cities in the U.S., and Phoenix is indeed an odd bird.  It’s the kind of city that doesn’t slap its cool across your face, but makes you go on a bit of a treasure hunt first.  It’s the kind of city that’s full of hidden gems and interesting people and innovation.  Believe it or not, it’s easy to be creative and innovative in this city.

I’ve had numerous coming to Jesus moments about living in Arizona for the past 14 years, but can honestly say I love this place and consider it my home.  Phoenix has grown on me.  I can tell you that we have one of the most tight-knit communities I’ve ever encountered – especially in a city of this size.  I can also tell you that we collectively are working to make improvements on a daily basis, with regard to sustainability, vibrancy, walkability, placemaking, policy improvements and community building.

It’s really a shame you didn’t talk to us – the people who live here.  Many of whom don’t own cars but bike and rely on public transport such as the light rail on a daily basis, which in my experience as a resident is heavily utilized.

As a strong community advocate and activist; I find your pessimism insulting and your lack of foresight and hope as depressing as the poor planning and greed which got us into this mess in the first place.  I would make the suggestion that in the future, when you write off a city of nearly 6 million people and banish us to the abyss of stucco and strip malls that you at least first try to connect with a real local to see things from a different perspective.

I’d be more than happy to give you a tour any time.


Ms. Champion

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Saturday, June 30, 2012

What do you need?

Being an only child, occasionally I go through some fairly serious bouts of needing loner time, even though I'm an incredibly social person.  It tends to freak out people who are close to me because I'll drop off the map momentarily.  I use this time to recharge my battery, self-reflect, daydream and ponder.

My kids were gone for 10 days - which was crazy for me.  My house was soooo quiet, and I found myself being really sad.  It spiraled into assessing everything in my life.  Many of my close girlfriends were either out of town or busy with their own lives, and my only "family" here is my surrogate community family (who are some of the most amazing people on the planet) - and of course my Z urchins.  So I cocooned and let my feelings and thoughts lead the way, knowing that whenever I come out of one of these periods it is with renewed passion, conviction and strength.  This is one of the things I really do love about getting older.  We learn how to be better roller coaster riders and recognize what we have control over - and what we do not...

My business is tied into my being.  I've let it evolve and diversify and feed my soul.  Being a true idealist, when I was a little girl, I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders.  I felt like I was part of the soul and pulse of everything around me.  The energy of what surrounded me flowed in and out of my body - good or bad.  I didn't know how to control it.  I hadn't studied the importance of attitude.  I didn't know how to recognize signs, or say no without feeling horrible, or take the time to recharge my battery.  These are things I'm still learning.  Aun aprendo.  I am a student of life.

So part of my reflection last week was the need to once again re-balance my necessity to make money with my desire to do good.  We lead a fairly simple life at this point, and I honestly prefer the treasure hunt of a thrift store versus the zombie consumerism of a mall.  I drive a messy mom Toyota Rav with 200,000+ miles and appreciate the little things.  But I still have two birds to feed...

As I said, I've learned how to tie profit and my idealistic (though logical) views of the world together pretty well at this point, and will only work with clients who have passion + purpose.  I like to help great people kick ass.  I like to fight for the "underdogs," which is apparent in my community activism.  I like to remind people that everyone's voice counts.

But being self-employed is very feast or famine, and having done it for 8+ years now, sometimes the famine periods get a wee bit stressful.  So when I got a phone call from Wayne Rainey, owner of monOrchid (one of my most favorite buildings in downtown Phoenix) this week, inviting me to set up shop in his building to get away from my home office, I took it as a sign.  It wasn't that hard of a choice really, because the moment he called I was doing a load of laundry and I realized I'd been wearing track shorts that say "Greece" across the ass and a Spam Museum t-shirt for the past two days.  And I hadn't showered either.  An easy "yes" if ever there was one...

After I got off the phone, I looked around and thought about my attitude and momentary pity party.  The "Put your big girls panties on and deal with it" sign in my office (that will move to my new office home next week) jumped out at me.  My attitude immediately shifted.  And just like that, the phone began to ring - and hasn't stopped.  So I went back to being thankful and thinking about all of the things and people I love, as well as the simple things that bring me joy.

The bank account went up slightly.  Not a ton, but enough to keep me from being momentarily stressed out about providing for the Z urchins.  So this afternoon, Zoe and I stopped at Walgreens so I could buy some deodorant.  I can't very well be smelly next week in my new office "home"!  There was a young, pretty girl outside who approached me and was trying to sell jewelry she had made.  She was soft-spoken and polite.  The jewelry was in a large ziplock baggie, and as she pulled each piece out, she told me about the stones she'd used as she gently turned them through her fingers.
"This is coral and real turquoise." 
I looked at her and asked her what she needed.  Why was she selling the jewelry?
"Honestly, I'm just trying to buy diapers and wipes for my baby.  I moved here not that long ago and still haven't been able to find a job."
I asked her what size diapers her baby wore, and bought those two items when I went in the store.  It was about $13.  When I came out and handed them to her she was extremely grateful.  As I was getting Zoe settled into her seat, I heard her say to herself "They're even the expensive brand."  It was the highlight of my week.  It was my moment to try to help shift the attitude of a fellow human.  A fellow mama.

There are always people so much worse off than even our lowest lows, and this was my gentle reminder to give when I am able to give, just because it's the right thing to do.  Just because I would want someone to do the same thing for me.  Sometimes it's important to remember to ask ourselves and others one simple question: "What do you need?"

If we don't experience the lows, we can't experience the highs.

Nobody would ever pay to ride a straight roller coaster...

Love and laughter,

Msss. Champion

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.” -Charles R. Swindoll

Monday, April 30, 2012

AZ SB1507 - The Coming to Jesus Moment

AZ bad SB1507 will be back on the House floor tomorrow.  This is it.  Here's my latest letter to the House of Representatives.  Ugh.  Oh, and here's video from the press conference I pulled together in about 10 hours on April 17th in opposition to SB1507 along with the help of Sandy Bahr, Exec. Director of the Sierra Club.

Dear State Representatives,

I write to you yet again to urge you to please use your common sense when voting on SB1507.  The League of Arizona Cities and Towns opposes this bill, the Arizona Chamber opposes this bill, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton opposes this bill, and at least 574 people who have taken the time to sign this petition oppose this bill.  SB1507 has the ability to hurt our economy, our people and our environment.  It's really that simple, and deserves a NO vote from you, regardless of your party affiliation.

This bill has now been covered by msnbc, Huffington Post, Gawker, TriplePundit (my story), the AZ Republic, AZ Capitol Times, Tucson Citizen, and various well-read political and environmental blogs.  Can you please stop making a mockery of our state to the rest of the world by inflicting your extremist conspiracy theories held by a minority, on us, your constituents - the majority.  If I were a moderate Republican within the AZ State Legislature I would like to think I'd be embarrassed by these sorts of bills...

Let common sense rule your world for a moment as you step outside your box and view things from a human being perspective.  Do you not want clean air for your families to breathe?  Clean water to drink?  Less pollution and smog?  Less poverty?  Healthier buildings for our children to learn in?  Savings on your energy bills?  Healthier food to eat?  Progress in solar technologies?  More jobs in Arizona?  A decrease in healthcare costs?

If you answered "No, I don't want any of those things for my constituents who voted for me" then by all means go ahead and vote yes for this bad bill.  If on the other hand, you agree that the items listed above are at the very core of our future and survival as humans (which they are) a yes vote on this bill will be a testament for your complete and total disregard to the health and well-being of every constituent you serve, as well as the planet you call home, and I promise you all that I will do my best to make as many people as possible aware to the way you vote on this bill.  And I'm quite tenacious.

So again, please vote NO on SB1507.


Stacey Champion

P.S. Teri Proud - Energize Phoenix is a program, not a company as you indicated in your constant contact blurb.  You also had several other facts wrong in that memo, and I would highly encourage you to fact check before flipping things out into the public in the future.  I can also promise you that the sustainability community will never force you to buy organic or ride a bike.  You have my word.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Senator Burges - Who Do You Work For? Are You a Lobbyist for the Mining Industry???

Here is another HORRIBLE anti-environmental bill by Senator Burges (who WORKED for a mining company) that is being voted on in Senate TODAY. It too was a strike everything bill. This MUST stop. Please sign the action letter for it and sign into the AZ Legislature to state your opposition to this bill immediately!

HB2199 NOW: environmental audit privilege (Burges) allows companies to do internal audits, to keep the information, including violations of law, secret, and the information in the audit cannot be used to prosecute them for violations of law. What a deal! It rewards the most irresponsible industries and gives bad actors a shield of secrecy. HB2199 is being pushed by the Arizona Mining Association and Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold.

Anti-environmental zealot Senator Burges - protecting the mining industry - not US!

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Batshit Crazy - The Beginning of SB1507 - Feb. 13, 2012

We need legislation to stop strike everything amendments from occurring. HOW is this constitutional??? Here is the ugly beginning of SB1507 taking life. Full of lies, conspiracy theories and misinformation. Feb. 13, 2012. Ick.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

SB 1507 - Caucus - Who's Asking Questions?!?

Behold the differences in discussion regarding SB 1507.  Do YOUR elected officials care about our economy? Jobs? Our air?  Our water?  Our communities?  Our children?  Our PLANET?

Watch for yourself to find out.

Republican Caucus Discussion (Ummm = NONE)
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Democratic Caucus
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Monday, March 26, 2012

Update to SB1507 - Kill Bill - Not the Movie

Today Jeff Frost and I went to the AZ State Capitol to attend the House Rules Committee meeting to see what would happen with SB1507 which had scuttled under the radar until now.  You can read my previous post on it HERE and sign the online petition I created to stop this bill HERE.

This shall serve as an educational piece to get everyone brought up to speed on what the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is, as well as to give you a list of some of the numerous reasons as to why this bill needs to be KILLED - and never brought back to life.  Because Uma Thurman isn't here to kick anyone's ass for us...

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development met in Rio de Janeiro.  Not only did they reaffirm the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment which had been adopted at Stockholm in 1972; their mission was to build upon it "with the goal of establishing a new and equitable global partnership through the creation of new levels of cooperation among States, key sectors of societies and people" - "working towards international agreements which respect the interests of all and protect the integrity of the global environmental and developmental system" - and  "recognizing the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home."

Twenty-seven principles were adopted into the Rio Declaration.  The principles have to do with everything that is good and just - to protect people, planet and profit.  Please read them for yourselves HERE.

Last year, the tea partiers started spinning propaganda about how the green/sustainable movement was just a big conspiracy for a socialist society takeover to distribute wealth to the poor, take away the "American Dream" and that the Rio Declaration (known as Agenda 21) was the evil step-mother and wicked witch rolled into one.  It started gaining some momentum and press, like THIS article.  My favorite thing to read was that -
"Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes accused his Democratic opponent of using a bike-sharing program to convert Denver into a "United Nations Community."
But we don't have an obesity problem in America, do we?  Everyone knows that only hippies and 10 year old's ride bikes, right???  All of the money that Minneapolis has spent on bike safety and walkability was probably just a waste of cash - even though they've been rated the most bike-friendly city two years in a row.  (Yep - a place that sees negative double digits is a million times more bike-friendly than us.  Sad but true.)

Forget that the majority of these extreme political zealots are usually very keen on inserting their ideology into places like my womb, but when I read the Rio Declaration it seems to answer the questions of "What would Jesus do"?  I'm so confused...  I wish the extreme right would just make up their minds already.

So what are some of the things that could happen if this bill is allowed to pass?  Well we'll get into that, but not before I remind you that because this bill was snuck in with a strike-all amendment, it has been like a slithering serpent passing through both House and Senate Committees and met with approval by some people who appear to not know any better.  There is no time for public commentary or conversations with sustainability experts.  That time has passed.  Many of the "ayes" in the group appear to be a band of sheep-like zombies, voting their party line without asking any questions, without thinking about the ramifications, and certainly without asking the question that may resonate with them the most - "What would Jesus do"?

So off the top of my head, as a person who has been passionate about this topic for a very long time, this is my list of what we stand to lose if we don't pull together and KILL this BILL:

  • Jobs - The green and sustainable job market is one of the only consistently growing markets in this State.  Speaking of which, any and all Federal funding for green job training would be history.  We also have green sects throughout our government at both City and State levels.  What would happen to those jobs?
  • Business/Industry - Nearly every large corporation and industry (and many small businesses) have  Sustainability Plans.  This is now a way of life - as well it should be because it's smart.  Sustainability Plans are meant to save companies money by using less energy, increasing productivity, lessening environmental impacts, and a myriad of other things that again, are good for People, Planet + Profit.  People from Intel have already signed my petition.  Would other companies like Intel want to set up shop in a State that was opposed to the Rio Declaration in this day and age?  The answer is an emphatic NO.
  • Health - Green building programs and policies improve the health of our people - thus saving millions of dollars in healthcare costs.  As someone who has worked as an indoor air/environmental quality consultant for 10 years, I would be happy to point anyone to hundreds of peer-reviewed and published studies with regard to the health benefits associated with green building, as well as less absenteeism and improved test scores in green-built schools.
  • Economy - Our economy is still down and many people are still un or under-employed.  Energy programs such as Energize Phoenix (which was possible through a Federal energy grant) and serves to help people lower their utility costs (which is a huge burden in our State especially during summer months) by offering extremely low out of pocket costs to upgrade HVAC systems, add insulation, make sure ducts are sealed and offer shade screens would simply go away.  Some of our State Legislators apparently think it's a horrible idea to take Federal grant money to help our citizens save money in these difficult economic times.  Go figure.
  • ASU - A core part of our urban core is ASU.  A core part of ASU is the School of Sustainability.  Need I say more?
  • Social Equality/Environmental Justice - Sustainability only works if it reaches across all socio-economic levels.  Into every neighborhood and touching every group of people in our ethnically diverse state.  Gone would be funding for TOD (transit oriented development) various HUD programs, and I can bet that Habitat for Humanity probably wouldn't get much love either.  Basically, the working poor and people living at poverty level would be the hardest group hit if this bill were to pass.  They are also the group that stands to benefit the most from these programs, the funding, and the general tenets of the Rio Declaration and everything it stands for.  I hope all of the Legislators keep in mind that they could be one major family illness/catastrophe from homelessness themselves.  And let us not forget the giant toxic plume that lives under a good part of Phoenix and is causing carcinogenic vapor intrusion issues into homes and schools.  We should probably not study that stuff anymore.  Cancer clusters aren't really a big deal, right Legislators?  
  • Common Sense - I can't help but add it to this list, because it's the one thing that seems to have completely missed the boat at our current State Legislature.  Common sense is defined by Merriam-Webster as, "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts."[1] Thus, "common sense" (in this view) equates to the knowledge and experience which most people already have, or which the person using the term believes that they do or should have. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as, "the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way".[2]  It's obviously time to help get new people elected who understand this seemingly very complicated and difficult concept.  Egads.  Seriously...  Sustainability is about taking care of people and our planet.  How can you argue with that?  How can you be pro-life and hate the environment?  She's our biggest Mother.  (That was my liberal hippie comment for you.)
Stay tuned for updates on the next reading of this bill.  Contact your State Representatives IMMEDIATELY as this bill is a quick moving serpent.  Contact them by email, by phone, through social media channels and in person.  Come down to the Capitol when it's heard.  Your presence is noticed, trust me.  Even when we can't add public comment.  Today we were able to supply the Committee with the Rio Declaration language as Jeff was smart enough to print it out and bring it with us.  It came in handy.

I would like to close with a heartfelt thank you to Chad Campbell (D) and Bob Robson (R) who both took time to ask questions, vote no, and brought up the fact that if this bill is passed, it will undermine programs to help eliminate poverty and all things connected to sustainability or green building programs - including solar and energy research at many of our institutions.  Thank you to the other nay voters as well.  We need you to clone yourselves please.

Now, let's KILL BILL (SB1507)!!!!!!

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Senator Judy Burges is Hell Bent on Killing Sustainability in Arizona with SB1507

Anti-Sustainability Senator Burges
Did you know that sustainability isn't about the environment or trying to make sure we have a livable planet for future generations???  According to Arizona Senator Burges, sustainability- and AGENDA 21- is just a covert operative to "hurt the middle class and working poor by controlling what we eat and where we live."  It's a game of world domination where the Europeans are surely poised to pounce on us at any time to start demanding we live more sustainable lifestyles.  Sustainability is BAD BAD BAD.  Maybe this anti-environmental bill from Senator Burges shouldn't come as such a big shock though, given her past employment with Cyprus Bagdad Copper Company, a significant violator of the Clean Air Act.

I wish I was joking.  I wish our extremist and crazy state legislators would stop giving daily fodder to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  But they don't...  And I live here.  And not only do I live here, I've worked as an environmental consultant for 10+ years and have been a sustainability activist for much longer than that.

Watch testimony (and votes) HERE for yourself (and cringe).
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This is a bill that has slipped through the cracks unnoticed.  Like a cockroach.  In this instance, the building is infested with them.  They are scurrying on the inside of the walls, multiplying, crapping their allergenic crap everywhere.  SB1507.

How did this bill slip through the cracks for so long unnoticed and without any input from the environmental community?  Well, it's a little thing called a "Strike All Amendment."  The original title of SB1507 was "unemployment insurance; technical correction."  Sounds fairly harmless, right?

This was then changed with the Strike All Amendment to now be: "United Nations Rio declaration; prohibition."  Not so harmless anymore. 

The following excerpt from the Arizona Republic sheds light on this phenomenon:
Sometimes called the “Hail Mary Pass” of the political process, here’s how Strike-All amendments work:
1.)  A bill fails in a House or Senate Committee or Floor Vote or is arbitrarily held by a committee chairman.
2.)  The stalled bill’s sponsor takes another unrelated bill assigned elsewhere that is still moving and, with permission of its sponsor, guts it and replaces the wording with the contents of the stalled bill.
3.)  “Stikers” can be a useful method to introduce new ideas, or to put stalled bills that might otherwise enjoy majority support to a vote.  But, they can also be used to by-pass the committee hearings where the public might testify.
Without doubt, “Strike All” amendments lead to public confusion about pending legislation.

I simply like to call this total bullshit.  This is a sneaky, awful way to pass bills without public input or concerned party testimony and should not be allowed, in my opinion.

I could list at least 1000 reasons why sustainability is good.  Good for our economy, good for our households, good for our cities, good for our State, good for our PLANET.  We are just finally starting to make some good progress, which this bill serves to instantaneously try to destroy.  Sustainability is not a party line topic.  It just makes sense.  This bill is simply about conspiracy theories and extremism and does nothing to create jobs (which the green/sustainability movement does) or serve to protect and improve our environment (which is a necessity).

Anyway, we don't have time to hear all of the reasons about why sustainability is good - because this bill will be heard in the House Committee on Rules TODAY (March 26th) at 1 p.m. and we need a small ARMY of people who care about sustainability to SIGN THIS ONLINE PETITION, CONTACT the Rules Committee Members, write to your Representatives and Senators telling them you OPPOSE SB1507, come to TESTIFY at committee, and help us stop this insulting bill.

We must stand together for change.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Arizona Senators Not Protecting Women - A Day of Testifying Before the AZ State Senate Public Safety and Human Services Committee

Last week I went to testify before the Public Safety and Human Services Senate Committee in opposition of one bill, and in favor of the un-amended version of another one.  Both of these Bills, SB1127 and SB1248 have to do with something that has slipped through the cracks in a monstrous way in our state (and nation) – domestic violence within the family law court system.

SB1127, which I opposed (but was passed by committee) will scare victims away from exposing abuse in child custody cases unless they have ample evidence such as police reports or hospital records.  Without this “evidence,” the judge can make the determination of “false allegation” and use this determination when custody is established.  So unless there are tape recordings of verbal abuse or eye witness accounts of emotional and physical abuse, expect these victims to keep their mouths shut for fear of losing their children to the abusers.  The fact of the matter, is that false allegations of abuse are extremely rare.  Some substantive evidence can be read in Barry Goldstein's talking points on Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody.

SB1248 would have for the first time added coercive control to the family law rules language which would have been instrumental to finally shedding some light on this growing problem in the family law courts, and make it a determining factor for judges to weigh when determining child custody.  The bill was amended by Senator Gray just the day before it was heard, literally gutting the bill of all mention of the term coercive control.

Even though there is ample evidence, research, statistical data and documents that point out the dire need for the courts to become educated and act upon coercive control within family law and custody disputes, most of the Senators on the Public Safety and Human Services Committee stated they were reluctant to place a Pandora's Box in front of judges.  Senator Gray even gave some examples which I found to be simply ridiculous.  

I would urge all of the Senators present, as well as any Legislators moving forward on any Bills pertaining to domestic violence, to familiarize themselves with a document called "A Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases" written by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Family Violence Department.  I would also point them to a 2003 study conducted by the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence titled "Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project:  A Human Rights Approach to Child Custody and Domestic Violence."

Men who sue for full custody (outside of situations where mom has a drug problem, mental health issue, or is abusive to children) statistically have abusive personalities with a history of domestic violence.   In the state of Arizona, these men, even when there is documented proof of physical abuse (and sometimes sexual abuse as well) are winning either sole or joint custody up to 70% (or more) of the time.   They often take the woman back to court more than once, in an effort to maintain and exert control after she has left the abusive relationship.  Many times their goal is to intimidate and bankrupt the victim, making outlandish allegations and filing motion after motion.

When most people think of domestic violence, they think of black eyes and split lips.  Many people often place blame on the victim (or survivor) questioning why *she didn’t leave sooner, or wondering what she did to instigate the aggressive behavior.  Many people act as if violence toward women isn’t a huge problem – even though one out of every three women will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime – and for many women, they will experience both.   One in three women.  This is a sad and unacceptable statistic.

What many people don’t understand, including the majority of Senators who voted on these bills last week  (and a HUGE and HEARTFELT THANK YOU to Senator Lopez for speaking UP about the importance of the coercive control language being IMPORTANT to include in this bill, though she was ultimately out-voted) is that the main component of domestic violence doesn’t necessarily stem from physically hurting someone.   It stems from the need to control another human.  Often times, when the victim finally musters the courage to leave an abusive (emotional, physical or both) relationship, the abuser will use the legal system (in this case the family law courts) to continue a cycle of abuse that can, and often does, go on and on for years and years.  This form of abuse can be just as exhausting as the abuse which occurred while in the relationship.  It can be both emotionally and financially debilitating.  

And I am certainly not proud to admit that I know this from first-hand experience, but I am tired of being bullied, and I'm tired of thinking that the courts may do something to stop it.  I'm horrified at the prospect of enduring this ongoing legal abuse and harassment for another 13 years. Which is why I was there, taking time out of my very busy day as a small business owner, single mom, and community activist to have my voice be heard by the people who are supposed to help PROTECT women just like me.

Yet most of these lawmakers don’t seem to care.  Looking at the outcome of how both bills were voted on, it doesn’t appear they even want to understand.  And it certainly doesn’t appear that they are willing to listen to the experts who deal with these cases every day, or the women who have first-hand experience of the problem for that matter.  

I was livid at the treatment the one other mom who came to testify and I received at this hearing.  Though there were eight people who were present to testify in opposition to the coercive control language (7 men and 1 woman) - the only people who were rudely cut off and limited in their testimony were me and the other mom, a woman named Joy.  At less than two minutes, Joy was blatantly interrupted by Senator Gray (though Joy stuck up for herself and finished saying what she had to say).  I was cut off at just under two and a half minutes by Senator Gray, and completely shut down at just under three and a half minutes, though two of the men after me were allowed to speak for eight minutes and twenty seven seconds and another for five minutes and twenty four seconds without being interrupted or stopped by Senator Gray.  This is simply appalling to me.  Apparently your voice will be heard if it's in line with the ideology and beliefs of the Committee Chair - in this case, Senator Gray.  Shame on her, and shame on the other Senators who didn't stand up for their constituents who came to speak out about very uncomfortable and personal situations for not only themselves, but for women everywhere.

We must pay attention.  We must vote.  We must let our voices be heard.  Our rights as women are being trampled upon on a daily basis at the State Legislature.  Whether it is our reproductive freedoms (there were also THREE anti-abortion bills being heard that same day) or bills disguised to protect men from "false" abuse allegations that will only serve to muffle the voices of women being victimized throughout the state, the truth must be told.  Where are you media?  Where are you women?  If we don't start fighting for our basic human rights, who will?  

As the recent producer of the V-Day Phoenix events, including a production of The Vagina Monologues, it is my hope that women and men will find their voices to help stop violence against women.  Women are our future.  We must be respected and protected.

I leave you with the words of Eve Ensler and her plea for change.  

*I acknowledge that men can be victims of both emotional and physical abuse, but have used “she” throughout this piece as it pertains to my experiences, observations and research.

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