FYI: Merch Removed

I closed my RedBubble account today, so merchandise is temporarily unavailable.

If you find any of Jo’s work on my merch being sold on Amazon, it’s not by me. In fact, if you find that work being sold anywhere, it’s neither me nor Jo, so please report it.

I’m currently fighting with Amazon to get it removed. Once that’s done, I think I’m deleting my Amazon account because I’m so fucking over them.

I’m searching for a local printer and (maybe) distributor for the merch now, so if you have suggestions, please let me know.

Lesson learned: Always. Go. Local.

The World Is Extra Spinny & Other Updates

I haven’t been active because I’ve been sick since last Wednesday. But I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. Which . . . speaking of swing . . .

I have a sinus or ear infection of some kind, but with it has come intense vertigo that was sometimes causing me to lose control over my eyes. As scary as fuck as that sounds, it turns out it’s common. It’s called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (or BPPV). As I’ve dealt with vertigo before and am quite a klutz anyway, I’ve done a lot of sitting and sleeping. I also got tested for COVID-19, which was negative. Thanks to BPPV, I’ve also learned how willing my doctor is to do telehealth and to suggest free resources for physical therapy (because I don’t have insurance anymore).

Getting sick in a pandemic is a whole thing, y’all.

I wanted to provide some other updates.

  • I’m cutting way back on Instagram use. Facebook/Instagram is getting increasingly greedy and evil, and I don’t wish to take part in that. I’ll keep my account, and I’ll use it, but I won’t be engaging as much. As a business owner, this hurts. I’ve depended upon IG for marketing, but this forces me to go beyond the easy methods of social media. I anticipate a serious drop in revenue (not like I had a lot to begin with) until I can adjust to the new methods.
  • The new methods are this website and Patreon.
  • I’m killing the resource of the day. I’m just gonna post like a normal person.
  • I’m actively seeking clients for social justice consulting. This includes anything to do with our identities including race and gender.
  • The Winter Solstice Drive is in full effect! Please consider donating!

There’s probably more, but I’m ready for a damn nap. More to come soon!

Social Justice Review: Hy-Vee

(The opinions expressed here are solely mine and do not reflect upon anyone I know. In other words, Hy-Vee, please don’t fire anyone I know who works at Hy-Vee. They had nothing to do with this. Also, this is a rough draft.)

For those who don’t know, Hy-Vee is a grocery store chain that opened in small town Iowa 90 years ago and has now expanded to eight states. If you’re from Iowa and older than 30, you likely grew up shopping at either Hy-Vee or Dahl’s (RIP) or both when the deals were good. Hy-Vee is part of Iowa’s identity (we know the jingle), and Iowans are fiercely loyal. This loyalty, however, can become blind, and it’s time to evaluate Hy-Vee’s role in social responsibility and equity.

Let’s start with the hopeful because who doesn’t need hope right now?

Hy-Vee puts a lot of money back into the community. They created, head, and contribute to multiple programs to hire veterans, address food insecurity, practice sustainability, provide millions of dollars in scholarships, and fight the pandemic. They provide over 80,000 jobs to the Midwest, and they are–as they like to remind us often–employee owned. Why wouldn’t they want to remind us? That’s a thing of pride. Even the current CEO is an example of the Hy-Vee success story. This company has all the trappings of a truly Iowa Nice corporation.

So, how about their role in social justice?

Well, Hy-Vee stepped up this summer to honor Juneteenth. Ultimately, Hy-Vee donated one million dollars to several Black organizations including Urban Dreams, a local social justice organization. Hy-Vee also has a long history of hiring individuals with disabilities. Personally, this is one area where I applaud Hy-Vee. On the surface at least, they appear inclusive and mindful of mobility assistance. (Am I linking you to death? Hey, I just want to prove this isn’t random ranting.) I also saw an article addressing Hy-Vee’s assistance to disabled truck drivers.

Personally, I shopped at Hy-Vee for most of my life. If I wasn’t shopping at Dahl’s, I was probably at Hy-Vee. I know a ton of people who either worked or still work for Hy-Vee. It’s important to be fair here. Hy-Vee does contribute to the community, to the Iowa economy, and to our culture. They provide important, essential services, and I’m barely scratching the surface.

You know what’s coming, right? If you’d like to remain ignorant about Hy-Vee, stop reading now.

Sure, Hy-Vee shows up, and like most corporations, they do so with flaws. Some corporations have unintentional flaws. Sometimes, those biases, ignorances, and prejudices embedded in American culture reveal themselves as Hy-Vee along with the rest of us learn to do better.

The observations I’m about to discuss aren’t criticisms of those all-too-human flaws. Instead, they are observations about intentional decisions and actions Hy-Vee has made, which harm others and the community. It is these conscious efforts that harm their attempts at social injustice.

Regarding racial inequity and injustice, Hy-Vee got itself into a lot of trouble with several members of the Black community this summer. Iowa Capital Dispatch detailed the experiences of one former employee and how her decisions to speak up, attend Black Lives Matter protests, and express her concerns about Hy-Vee’s COVID-19 response resulted in management confronting the employee. In the end, she quit her job there. The on-going protests this summer targeted the employee’s former store in what has now become a point of contention between the community, Black Lives Matter leaders, the Des Moines Police, and Hy-Vee.

Hy-Vee’s response was not to support the employee or defend her. It was to defend itself. Shortly after this incident, Hy-Vee put massive black banners on all of its stores stating how much money they’d donated to racial equality efforts. While I can only speak for myself, this move came across as defensive. In fact, Hy-Vee’s donations to racial justice organizations came on the day George Floyd was buried. Hy-Vee’s commitment to racial equity was, at best, reactionary. I have seen little from Hy-Vee in the way of support for Black Americans or any other underrepresented since the protest at their store.

To be fair, most of America’s reaction to racial injustice is reactionary, so let’s move on.

Notice I’ve not mentioned Hy-Vee’s commitment to the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans. (I’ve also not mentioned several other underrepresented groups, so I recognize the irony, and I apologize.) That’s because, based upon quick research, there isn’t any. If you Google “Hy-Vee” and “LGBT,” the results are damning. Hy-Vee has a history of allowing bigoted organizations to fundraise at storefronts and donating to homophobic political candidates. I also know Hy-Vee has been unkind to LGBT+ leaders and organizations (don’t ask).

It’s this last point that’s the biggest problem for Hy-Vee.

Per Forbes, Hy-Vee is a $10 billion a year corporation. They don’t make that kind of money without getting involved in politics because, as all businesses know, political policy affects their bottom line. Now, Hy-Vee did not directly donate to any political candidate or party. Instead, the Hy-Vee Employee’s Political Action Committee (PAC) donated. I want to make that clear because people will say, “Oh, Hy-Vee donated to Trump.” Corporations cannot directly donate to a candidate or campaign. It must go through their PAC. Moreover, Hy-Vee’s employees, corporate officers, and board donated individually to campaigns. Those distinctions are important because that allows Hy-Vee to deny that they’ve endorsed any candidate. It allows them to say things like this:

“It’s imperative that a business of our size constantly be talking about economic outcomes on a local, state and national level on a continual basis. That’s just good business. As one of the few 90-year-old companies in the Midwest, we must constantly be looking at outcomes that may impact our business model and opportunities for employment. The year doesn’t matter, but the policy does — and certain policies can have detrimental effects on the retail sector if not closely monitored and reviewed.”

Hy-Vee’s spokesperson stated this in response to what I consider the biggest problem with Hy-Vee: Their not-so-subtle support of the Trump administration. Of the money Hy-Vee Employee’s PAC donated to political candidates, an overwhelming amount has funded Republicans since 2012. In fairness, some money has gone to Democrats, but the split is drastic. Hy-Vee Employee’s PAC donated over $1.5 million since 2012, and only a few thousand has gone to Democrats. The issue isn’t that Hy-Vee Employee’s PAC or individual employees are wrong for doing so. They aren’t. It’s their right to donate. It’s that Hy-Vee isn’t trying very hard to care about social justice. Basically, their efforts are performative. I remind you that the $1 million they donated to racial justice causes occurred only after George Floyd’s murder gripped America’s headlines, and it is less than they’ve donated to political candidates and causes over eight years. And one million dollars is not even one percent of Hy-Vee’s revenue.

That quotation came from the same piece in which the Iowa Capital Dispatch shared the words of CEO Randy Edeker:

“I never endorse and I try not to ever push a certain candidate or a direction. I always try to speak about Hy-Vee. I have some of the concerns about some of the policies that are being discussed by some of the candidates. Some of the tax policies would be very impactful to Hy-Vee. And the changes in taxes were part of the way we were able to bring a lot of good things to the employees this past year. Social unrest unfortunately continues to be a problem around the community and we continue to invest in our local groups who we really think can bring unity to our towns.”

The Capital Dispatch breaks this down nicely, and I want to echo their observations. It is the use of the phrase “social unrest” that concerns me. Edeker isn’t concerned with racism. He’s not thinking about Black Iowans demanding police brutality stop. He wants the protests to stop being a “problem.”

Furthermore, he mentions how the current tax situation was favorable to Hy-Vee. As Republicans are in power at nearly every level and in nearly every state in which Hy-Vee operates, Edeker’s attempts to be subtle with his message failed.

But this is not a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to Hy-Vee’s “we don’t know her” attempts at covering their support of Trump, their favoritism toward the Trump Administration (scroll to the bottom and get a glimpse of how anti-LGBT+ is by putting the poster boy of homophobia in front of their logo and their super-gross hashtag), and their gooey relationships with Trump-loving Republicans. (How that last bit of information in the last link is legal, I do not know.)

The most disturbing part of all this is Hy-Vee’s minimal action regarding COVID-19. Health justice is social justice, and Hy-Vee seems not only unconcerned but gleeful about this pandemic. Initially, Hy-Vee did not require employees to wear masks. It took them six weeks to implement the policy. We can forgive them for that. The CDC wasn’t clear on if masks were helpful. But even then, Hy-Vee did not provide employees masks.

Hy-Vee did make a number of changes, and I do applaud them for that. However, they’ve never required customers to wear masks in store. And then this from the Capital Dispatch (Oh, just go read it):

“In an email, Hy-Vee spokesperson Tina Potthoff stated, ‘Due to COVID-19, many supermarkets have set records this year with so many consumers opting to eat at home versus eat out. Hy-Vee had more than $11 billion in sales in FY 2020 compared to slightly more than $10.6 billion in sales in FY 2019.'”

While Potthoff is merely stating a fact, there’s something disturbing about opting to state this fact this way. There’s no getting around the reality that their spokesperson credited a lethal pandemic for their increased profits. And it’s not a small profit. I’m sure a bunch of small businesses are also seeing increases in profits due to the pandemic. It’s that we’re talking in billions.

Did their spokesperson not think how this might come across?

Obviously not, because there was more:

“Hy-Vee’s Aisles Online business quadrupled due to fears of the deadly virus, Potthoff said.”

My brain cannot comprehend the callousness of stating profit in this way. A portion of Hy-Vee’s “business quadrupled” because of fear of death and suffering. I suppose nothing could be more American than that.

Truth is: I have so many issues with Hy-Vee’s Band-Aid approach to social justice that–earlier this year–my husband and I stopped shopping there. I have only two prescriptions running through their pharmacy that I’m working to get switched, but we will have walked away from Hy-Vee entirely soon. I haven’t even gotten into questions about their environmental blunders, their just-above-the-poverty-line pay, and their encouragement of diet culture.

It’s not that any grocery store in the area is perfect regarding social justice. The complaint is more that Hy-Vee’s efforts are overridden by their commitment to politics and practices that create and contribute to social injustice. Frankly, they have the money, the skilled-workforce, and the knowledge to do better. They just don’t.

Passports in a Pandemic: A Story about Trump’s America

This morning, I was tested for COVID-19. How I got to this point is Donald Trump’s fault.

For a few years, Hubster & I discussed getting passports. We wanted them pre-Trump because we want to travel internationally. We wanted them post-Trump in case we needed to flee the country. We finally got serious about it in October and scheduled our appointment on October 20th, which–as of this writing–was three days ago.

I’ve long been terrified about getting passports because I’ve always heard the process was a pain. So, being extra-cautious, we checked repeatedly to make sure we did everything right. We know we’ll need pictures, so we agreed to have them done at the post office. And, for at least a week prior, an enveloped marked “passport docs” sat on my desk; it contained required copies and applications. Per, “citizenship evidence” includes a list with these two items first: “your original evidence of U.S. citizenship” and “a photocopy of the front (and back, if there is printed information) of your original evidence of U.S. citizenship.” It does not say the original documents are required. It literally lists both options. Remember this.

I promise this says “passport docs.” Hubster asked if I drew a penis instead of a D, which is fitting.
A screenshot of the U.S. State Department’s passport requirements page. There are more requirements, but I didn’t crop out anything relevant.

We arrived on time to our appointment. Everyone was masked up, but the post office was busy, as in a steady stream of people in line to ship, mail, and so on. Someone was ahead of us, but we didn’t wait terribly long. It was maybe fifteen minutes. We were both nervous this would go poorly, but with all the prep we’d done, I felt like it would be a breeze. That should’ve been my warning sign.

I can’t remember the order of events, but two employees helped us; one was a trainee. They got our pictures done quickly, but I was unnerved that the more experienced employee had her mask down off her face while we took our pictures. But it was over quickly, and we sat down to do our paperwork, a plexiglass divider on the desk between us and the employees.

They reviewed our paperwork. They went through Hubster’s quickly, but once they got to the copy of his birth certificate, they informed us we needed the original. We (probably more I) grumbled a bit that the directions did not indicate an original was required. They insisted. From there, I was antsy to get it over with. We knew we’d have to run back home, get the originals, and get back to this busy post office.

But did I mention central Iowa got its first ever snow squall warning right before we left for our appointment? Frankly, I was not eager for us to be on the roads.

They reviewed my application, and the trainee said I was missing a page. I said it was double sided. She seemed fine with that. The more experienced employee informed us the application was not allowed to be double sided. I’m sure there’s a reason. We don’t know what it is, and I was too anxious/irritable to ask.

The employees mark down that we’ve already taken and paid for our pictures. They tell us to come back before 3:30. They write on the paperwork that we’ll be back by 3:30. In our heads, this means we can just pop in and finish the process. Again, this should’ve been another red flag to me.

We get back home safely, as the snow squall hit northern Polk County harder than where we were, and the roads remained decent. I immediately bust my butt upstairs, grab my original birth certificate, put it in the stack with the rest of our documents, then print my application again, but this time, I make sure it doesn’t print two-sided. Hubs locates his original birth certificate (which caused a bit of panic because it wasn’t where it was originally, and I’m pretty sure that was my fault). We return to the post office maybe 30 minutes later if that.

An entirely different person is working the passport desk now. The two employees we worked with are nowhere in sight. We notify the folks that we’re back, and we wait. There are two people ahead of us. While we wait, a family of four comes in. My Karen-sense detector beeps. The mother in this family has her mask below her nose. The dad is restless. I’m not sure he ever sits down at the nearby table where his wife and kids are. I sense they expect to get right in. The Karen-y mom even looks at her phone, states the time of their appointment to her husband, has the email up, and says, “We’re special.” Having been invisible and stepped in front of countless times, I can tell my polite bitch mode will be required.

Sure enough, after the two people in front of us are finished, the passport employee calls in this family. At this point, we’d been waiting for half an hour. I jump up and say, “Ma’am,” then explain our circumstances. Hubster and I explain that we were told to come back before 3:30. The employee repeatedly tells us that Karen’s family had an appointment at 2 p.m. (It’s just about 2.)

She says, “It’ll only take them fifteen minutes.”

I say, “My husband is already missing work.”

She says, “Can you wait fifteen minutes?”

I asked, “Do you have an appointment at 2:30?”

She replies, “Yes, but this will only take fifteen minutes.”

At that point, I knew it was pointless to argue, so we sat back down and waited. I also knew it was not going to take this family fifteen minutes.

At 2:35 p.m., the family finishes. There are more people in line for passports. She calls us in. There’s no acknowledgement that her fifteen minutes was really 35.

She’s kind. She’s helpful. She knows her shit, this employee. This is also why it doesn’t not take her the estimated time she thinks it will take. She’s under the impression we will also take only fifteen minutes. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

She looks at our pictures and asks, “Where did you get these taken?”

We’re both like, “Uh, here.”

She doesn’t believe us. We still have our masks around our necks in the original photos, and she says, “We’re not going to be in a pandemic forever, so you shouldn’t have those on” despite that fact that you can still see our entire faces. I provide the extra copies that have the USPS logo on them. She shakes her head and comments about how she’s taught them better. We’re required to retake our pictures.

Fifteen minutes, you say?

She takes his and has no issues. She takes mine, looks at it, and asks me to take it again. She explains the background is not “picking up the gray” in my hair. Keep in mind we have to take our masks off completely to do this. Hubster’s mask is easy. It loops around the ears. Mine ties behind my head and neck. Taking mine off more than once takes longer than I’d like especially in a scenario when I want to be quick about it. Maybe I should’ve worn an easier mask, but I wanted to wear one that felt secure in the high-traffic space of the post office. I take my mask off for the third time in a public space, and she puts an old, red sweater on my shoulders (god knows how long it has been there and who all it has touched), so my grays will show up. She takes the picture again and is finally happy.

The rest is easy. We shell out a lot of money. We’re friendly and sign some things. I apologize for being rude. She tells me she didn’t think I was rude, just that I didn’t understand the process. And that’s when I about lost it internally because we leave there at 3 p.m. And the 2:30 appointment gets in at 3.

Now, yes, that was his own fault. He was a little late to his appointment. However, it’s possible he came from Northern Polk county, where they had upwards of nine inches of snow in about two hours. Worse, she refused to make the 2 p.m. Karen family wait for us, but she made the 2:30 appointment wait for us, and WHY NOT JUST LET US GET IT DONE AT 2 P.M.? It’s not the process I don’t understand, lady; it’s your damn logic.

*screams internally* What should’ve taken fifteen minutes (apparently) took us two hours. I was exhausted, angry, and grumpy at the end of it. But it was done, and now we wait.

Except it’s possible I got myself a souvenir from this lovely post office, typical government bullshit experience. A couple days later, I notice a mildly sore throat and fatigue. Immediately, I was like, “Ah, shit.” But because I have other health issues that could’ve caused this, I tried not to panic. This morning–three days after our post office fun–I woke up stuffy with a sore throat, a headache, fatigue, and coughing. Before getting up for the day, I decide to get tested. I schedule it for a few hours later.

The experience itself is a post I’ll save for another day, but I should have my results anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. In the meantime, I’m staying home and trying to keep myself in my office even though Hubster probably has it already if I do. (Yes, I’ll share the results when I get them.)

And this is the gist of it. We got passports because we wanted to flee Donald Trump’s America, and I might’ve gotten COVID as the souvenir. That’s the kind of world we’re living in. It’s one where you try to escape a growing sentiment of hatred and end up the victim of an uncontrolled pandemic. It’s one where you’ve done your best to stay home for seven months, wear a mask in public, socially distance from family and friends, keep informed about best practices, raise awareness about elections, and vote with two hours of research to still end up feeling sick and having a swab up the nostrils.

Donald Trump’s America means choosing between a cough or a coup, death or defecting. And I’m over it.

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