Preparing Myself


by Karen Topakian

When people ask what I do to prepare before I commit an act of nonviolent direct action, here is what I answer.

Before and during an action, I marshal my strength while controlling my mind and emotions, which requires concentration and focus. (If I meditated or practiced yoga more frequently, or ever, controlling would come more easily to me. But I don’t.)

First, I re-ask myself these questions, which I ponder before deciding to participate in the action.

  • Why does this action needed taking?
  • Will my participation matter?
  • Am I ready for the consequences?

I find my strength in these answers.

For example, I need to take this action because I must oppose the government’s plan to test and develop nuclear weapons or I need to take this action to stop funding for the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

My actions will matter to the Native American women and men in North Dakota who risk their lives to protect their water and sacred land.

My actions may give hope to universal feelings of hopelessness and anxiety.

The personal consequences I will endure pale in comparison to the violent, illegal or egregious acts proposed by this government or corporation.

Second, I focus on calming my mind by envisioning myself in beautiful places where I have found joy and happiness. Sometimes I think about the very small, quiet peaceful island on a lake in Maine where Peg and I visit annually with family and friends. We read, swim and relax.

Or I think about the blissful Finca Luna Nueva Eco-Lodge in Costa Rica – full of luscious fruits, tropical birds and indigenous critters all living in a vibrant, thriving eco-system.

These aren’t the only happy times and places I’ve visited but they instantly provide me with joy.

Once I’ve attained a calmer mind, I conjure up images and experiences to inspire me to play my small role in whatever my action entails: opposing war, protecting our planet or resisting the rise of fascism.

I may have seen inspiring images in movies, read about them or experienced them for myself. Sometimes I think about young black women and men trained in nonviolence sitting at lunch counters requesting service while police brutally beat them with night sticks or the women and men who defied the Nazi’s by risking their lives protecting and hiding Jewish people. I think about the courage it took for my two Armenian grandfathers while under the age of 20 to flee Turkey when it started to conscript Christians.

Round and round I move, between my reasons, my joyful happy places and inspiring people and events. Circling through them in a calm quiet manner controls the inevitable fear and anxiety – two feelings that never leave. And I don’t want them to go. They keep me focused, alert and engaged.

Finally, I try to banish all hatred and anger in my heart. I struggle to find ways to act with love in my heart towards everyone I encounter by upholding their humanity – including those who oppose me, arrest me and incarcerate me. This truly becomes the hardest part but serves as the guiding force behind my practice of nonviolence.



The Bully Pulpit

by Karen Topakian


When Meryl Streep accepted a lifetime achievement award last month at the Golden Globes, she turned her moment in the spotlight into a bully pulpit. By following Marlon Brando’s famous 1973 effort to shine a light on the film industry’s treatment of Native Americans, she championed a cause for which she felt strongly – our incoming president’s prejudiced policies and practices particularly towards people with disabilities and immigrants.

As an award-winning actress, she had nothing to lose. Her fans would still adore her and her political allies would support her. She wouldn’t suffer job loss or ostracism. Whether she “did the math” or not, she knew she had created a win-win situation.

Her critics however, felt the Golden Globes was neither the time nor the place for airing political statements.

In the coming weeks and months we may see other people follow Meryl’s lead. The same criticism may follow.

Many people, including you, may want to speak out and speak up but may lack the protection of international fame and achievement. Should you do it anyway? Should you grab the mic or should you remain silent and avoid risking potential ostracism and peer rebuke?

If you have the stage and want to take a stand, prepare yourself by asking these questions.

  1. Why were you invited to speak?

Were you invited to speak about some aspect of the current administration? If so, then assume carte blanche to trumpet your thoughts, ideas and concerns.

Were you invited to introduce someone else or were you invited for a totally unrelated reason, for example, to address ways to introduce Do It Yourself (DIY) projects into afterschool programs? If so, then seizing the bully pulpit may prove tangential and off-putting to your audience.

  1. Why are you making this speech or presentation? What’s your goal? What do you hope to accomplish?

If you’re speaking about climate change’s effects on coastal land development, go ahead and rip into the Trump administration’s disregard for science and plans to shred the Paris Accords. As an expert, you know what such folly will reek. Don’t hold back. Your audience wants to hear the truth about property loss and destruction from sea level rising and you’re the one to deliver.

If you’re invited to talk about the latest trends in online fundraising messaging but burn with desire to address Trump’s latest attack on immigrants, give examples of the new trends by assigning them to a fictional immigrant rights or civil liberties protection organization.

If you’re invited to speak about the arts’ impact on early childhood learning, include the role that government funding can and should play in providing access to the arts for all ages. Address the new administration’s plans to defund arts programs and its impact on children’s growth and development

Even if you’re not an expert in the administration’s policies, you have a right to speak out, as did Meryl and others at the Grammys. Mike Farrell, the actor on M*A*S*H and a champion of abolishing the death penalty, once told me he may be an actor but he’s also a citizen who has a right to speak his mind. I would urge anyone in the limelight to not shy away from speaking truth to power whenever and wherever possible.

To quote the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (wo)men to do nothing.”

  1. Who is in your audience? Will they applaud or boo?

If you’re speaking to the converted – civil rights attorneys, environmentalists, immigrant rights advocates,… – they will applaud. (It’s the rare Trump supporter that does this kind of work.) Use your time to provide new information and insights into the effect the administration has and will have on your clients and the planet.

If you don’t know your audience members’ political persuasions, you will need to decide whether you want to risk potentially alienating them, ostracizing your co-workers or limiting your professional career. You may lose clients. You may open yourself up to a world of hurt or you may gain new clients and new opportunities. Ask yourself if this is the right moment to share your beliefs even if you weren’t asked expressly to do so.

If you don’t care about alienating your audience or the people who invited you – then let her rip. Unleash it all in a cogent, intelligent, organized manner. And remember to use humor.

Also please avoid demonizing your audience or people who may agree with the current administration, for example don’t say people who think like that are assholes or bigots.

  1. Should you let the folks who invited you know that you will or may reference the incoming administration in your remarks?

You may want to inform the folks who invited about your intention to include your opinions, thoughts and facts about the incoming administration’s policies into your presentation as it relates to your topic. If they caution you against doing so, then you must decide for yourself if it’s worth raising it or not. If there’s a Q&A section to your presentation, consider prepping a colleague to inquire about the policies and use that as an entry into the topic.

Use your own judgment, professional reputation and political climate to determine your course of action. Just remember, the audience members will see you as a leader and an expert and as such, you have a responsibility to act like one.

Obviously, we do not live in Meryl Streep’s stratosphere, but we do have the right to speak our minds. Weigh the risks and benefits before you grab the mic.


D.C. Lockup

by Karen Topakian


“Why are you all dressed alike?” asked a woman seated on the floor in the Washington DC lockup. Four of us shuffled past her, hampered by our ankle chains.

She was right. We were all dressed alike – wearing dark one-piece zip up fleece body suits – onesies. We stood out amidst a sea of women wearing jeans, baggy shorts, jackets and hoodies. But we didn’t have a choice. The police had taken away our clothes after arresting us for climbing up a construction crane a few blocks behind the White House to unfurl a banner that said RESIST.

The 12 women occupying the cell eyed us with quiet curiosity as we – two white women (Zeph and Karen), one African American woman (Pearl) and one Latina (Nancy) – searched for a place to sit on the dark linoleum floor or lean against the white cinder block walls. The bright lights didn’t provide a dark corner to hide in this 12’ by 15’ cell.

At 7:30 a.m., we all focused on one thing – Superior Court arraignment at 1 p.m. We all wore a DC Police issued plastic wristband identifying us by photo, name, birth date, gender and race. When we arrived at lockup, the DC Police handed us over to the U.S. Marshals who used a black sharpie to write a number on our bracelet corresponding to the order we arrived. I was #76. And they would refer to me as such all day.

A steady conversation hum filled the room. Two women who thought they lived in the same neighborhood, tried to figure out friends in common. Others explained in expletive-ridden detail how they innocently ended up in lockup. Four women slumped over four metal stools fixed to the floor in front of dark screen window where defendants could speak to lawyers or other court officials. The rest stayed quiet or dozed. Exhausted hungry and thirsty, we kept to ourselves.

Finally, one of us responded to the query, “Did you see that RESIST banner hanging above the White House? That was us.”

In a flash, a woman wearing dreadlocks and long baggy gym shorts, #23, jumped to her feet and high-fived us. Another young woman, in torn jeans and a red hoodie, #57, strutted around the packed cell exclaiming, “I need a selfie. I’m famous. I’m in-car-cer-ated with the crane people.” A young woman sporting a turquoise and cream streaked Afro wig, long pointy fingernails and over the knee boots stopped her conversation and exclaimed with a big bright smile, “That was you. I saw that.”

She was Sunshine. And this wasn’t her first time in jail. She too had been arrested for civil disobedience. When she lived in Los Angles, she joined a march to protest a Missouri Grand Jury’s failure to indict the police officer that shot Mike Brown. In response, Sunshine had occupied Rte. 110 and shut it down.

When she lived in Texas, she rushed to the jail where Sandra Bland died to see for herself what had happened. According to the police, Sandra had hanged herself using a standard issue trash bag in her cell. Sunshine rooted through the jail’s dumpster to find an identical bag. When she tied it to a fence to see if it could hold her 125 pounds, it broke. “There’s no way that bag held her,” declared Sunshine. “They fuckin’ murdered her.”

In July, she attended the Democratic Convention because Sunshine loved her Bernie. “I don’t like many white men but I love my Bernie.”

When Trump’s name came up, she stated unequivocally how much she hated him and Hillary Clinton. But never Bernie. She felt Hillary and her people had robbed him of his opportunity to lead and could never forgive her.

Sunshine sat on the floor next to her wife, often holding her hand. They had met five years earlier at a lesbian poetry reading, which Sunshine had helped produce. Now they lived in DC with their pit bull dog. Sunshine worked as a cosmetologist doing hair and make-up while her wife cooked at a senior center.

“Let me fix it,” cooed Sunshine to her wife who squirmed as she re-braided her hair. “I’m a professional and she never lets me touch her hair.”

“I bet I could use help with my hair,” I said, tugging on a hank of grey hair matted down by the ski hat and hardhat I had worn on the crane. “And certainly make up.”

Sunshine stared at me, nodded in agreement and said, “I am all about contours and shading.”

Suddenly the door opened, a hush fell over the cell. A male US Marshal half entered and yelled, “Number 36.”

“She’s not here,” responded my cellmates in unison.

Before the marshal left, a woman seated by the door, #43, called out, “I need something to eat, I’m starving. I’m pregnant and my baby’s eating the walls of my stomach.”

“I told you we don’t have any food,” responded the marshal exasperated.

The woman dropped her head.

“What time is it?” yelled several other women.

Before closing the door, he shouted, “8:45.”

After spending the night in lockup, these women anxiously awaited Superior Court arraignments beginning in four hours. Without a clock, everyone depended on a visitor to share a simple piece of information, the time.

Number 43, thin and on edge, told us her father had entered her home, where he didn’t live, pistol whipped her and threatened her. Then called the police on her.

Sunshine jumped in. “You need a restraining order against him.”

“How the fuck do I do that?” asked #43.

“I’ll tell you how,” responded Sunshine who walked the woman through the process step by step telling her where to go and what documentation she needed. “Then when your father comes back, you call the police because he’s violating the order. They will arrest him.”

“She knows her shit,” called out one of the other women.

Sunshine’s wife smiled proudly. “She filed a restraining order against our landlord. Now he can’t come near his own property.”

Number 43 appeared happy for the help but too distracted to absorb it all.

“I need a restraining order against my husband’s fuckin’ ex-wife,” announced an older woman with short close-cropped hair, #50. “She and I got into it when she came by for money. She’s an addict. I’m clean. I won’t give her any fuckin’ money.”

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“The cops shot my brother on Christmas day and I’m the one in here,” announced #23 as she attempted to pace but couldn’t get past women sprawled out on the floor. “I didn’t even know they had a bench warrant for me.”

“My brother was wrapping up his kids Christmas presents. He wasn’t threatening no fucking cop. They said he had a fucking knife. Why’d they have to fuckin’ shoot him?” she searched our faces for an answer, then stood quietly.

No one spoke for a few minutes.

“How many tasers did you have in your car?” asked #57 to # 38, the only white woman of the 12 in lockup.

“Two. But they were both broken,” answered #38 as she ran her hand through her blonde hair.

“Then they were toys,” announced #23.

“When they asked to look in your car, you should have said no,” declared Sunshine. “Remember next time.”

Sunshine’s wife smiled in agreement.

As the morning wore on, the cell door opened again. This time a female marshal entered and called, “Number 36?”

Again the women yelled back, “She’s not here.”

Before the marshal closed the door, the pregnant woman, # 43, asked for water.

“Drink out of the sink,” instructed the marshal, pointing to the partitioned off bathroom, which included a metal toilet and sink.

“That water’s like Flint,” declared Sunshine. “Don’t drink it.”

“What time is it?” shouted another prisoner.


A collective sigh followed.

Exhausted, I lay down on the dusty floor to rest my eyes and my brain. The last 24 hours’ events bubbled up inside me, from the many hours chained and safety harnessed to the crane ladder, to conducting media interviews, to tweeting and posting on Facebook, to the arrests at 10 p.m., to a night on the DC jail cell floor and now to this lockup.

I thought back to our first ride in the police van, where we sat shoulder-to-shoulder, thigh-to-thigh on a long metal bench, our hands cuffed behind us. The men sat on one side of the van and the women in identical formation on the other side, separated by a metal partition. The officer instructed us to hold on to the blue fabric ribbon attached to the seat behind us as he lowered a big heavy metal bar across our chest to hold us into place on the ride to the police station. As our driver drove fast, cut corners and slammed the breaks, I instantly thought about Freddie Gray, the man who died in Baltimore police custody of injuries to his spinal cord after riding unsecured in a police van. A subsequent police officer confirmed my thoughts about Freddie Gray when he referred to the heavy metal bar as a “Baltimore seat belt.”

Some law enforcement members applauded our actions or even suggested we scale the Capitol building next. But one incident stood out in my mind, which had only occurred a few hours earlier. A gruff female staff person at lockup ordered me to face the wall and stand with my legs apart and my arms out stretched. As she patted down my arms, she leaned in to whisper in my left ear, “I’m only going to say this once, Congratulations.” Then she stepped back and barked aloud, “Now spread your legs.”

Despite thoughts and emotions swirling through me, sleep finally overtook me until I heard someone call out my name. “Karen, is that you? It’s Tom,” announced a voice from behind the mesh screen. There sat Tom Wetterer, Greenpeace’s General Counsel.

A woman seated on the stool in front of him moved so I could sit across from him.

He and I both put our hands up to the screen though they couldn’t touch. I fought back the tears as he asked about our well-being and shared the news about our story. The press remained interested in our plight, had filmed us leaving the jail for Superior Court and was waiting for our arraignment. Supporters and staff also waited for our release. My three fellow activists and I crowded into the space to listen to Tom describe the charges, explain the process and answer our questions.

Before he left, I asked him the most important question to which he responded, “12:50.”

Turning my head to face my fellow prisoners, I repeated the time. Whoops of joy followed. We could almost taste 1 p.m.

After Tom left, Sunshine offered her advice, “Don’t worry, they’ll let you go. I’ve never seen DC keep anyone.”

One p.m. came and went but no one came for us. Later we found out that the court arraigns the men first and on this day lockup held 80 men. Eventually, a marshal opened the door and yelled out a number of someone actually in the cell. Slowly, the cell emptied. With each departure, everyone said good luck and no one talked smack once they left.

When they called for Sunshine and her wife, the cell turned cold and gloomy.

Eventually, all who remained were #57, #23 and the four of us. With extra room in the cell, my fellow activist Nancy led us in a few yoga poses and Pearl commanded us to do three sets of 10 squats. We felt our energy return, briefly, then succumbed to lying on the floor and dozing.

The marshal opened the door to hold a headcount. We rattled off our numbers, which he checked off on a small yellow Post-it, then asked, “Number 36?”

“She’s not here,” we groaned.

After the marshals called #57 and #23 to court, female marshals returned, called us by number into the hallway and attached belly chains and handcuffs. Before she directed us back into our cell, I spotted the time on her watch 5:50.

And so we waited again for our turn to walk into Superior court for our arraignment

At 6:45, when they called us, we shuffled in wearing ankle chains, belly chain and handcuffs to proclaim our innocence. After pleading not guilty, they removed our chains and we emerged from the courthouse by 7:30 p.m.


How I Became an Activist


by Karen Topakian

Responding to the in-coming administration’s grand entrance, friends and colleagues have asked me how to become an activist, probably because I’ve been one for decades. First, as a community organizer then as a Greenpeace campaigner and as a frequent participant in nonviolent direct action. To answer, I thought back to my own humble beginnings.

Here’s my story:

In 1977, my late friend Mary Levesque, a public interest lawyer representing low-income clients, asked me to testify before the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) against a proposed electricity rate hike. Her organization, which advocated for the then radical idea of lowering residential rates during off-peak hours, needed a consumer to testify favoring their position. I fit the bill.

At the time, I lived in a communal household with several other adults and assumed responsibility for collecting the money and paying the household bills. Therefore, I knew our electricity costs first hand. Despite being college graduates, my roommates and I worked at non-professional jobs as waitresses, fishermen and in other low-wage employment. Rarely was anyone home during the day using electricity, so decreasing our costs after 6 p.m. would provide us with considerable savings. Plus the recent 1973 Oil Crisis, which quadrupled oil prices, put us all a bit on edge.

If I could convince the Commission to change their rate structure, our household costs would decrease and so would countless others who struggled financially.

Having never testified publicly, I became anxious and excited at the prospect. I didn’t know the PUC from the IRS. Mary provided me with the facts but urged me to write my own testimony using my own words and experience.

I can still recall that warm spring hearing night. Rushing home from my waitress shift, hurriedly replacing my stained clothes with a clean blouse and skirt, before heading out to testify.

The Commissioners sat behind a long table at the front of a large meeting room. I signed up to speak then quickly found an empty seat in the audience. As I quietly practiced my statement to myself, I could feel my temperature rising causing my blouse to stick to the back of my chair and my hands beginning to shake. After hearing the clerk call my name, I pulled back my shoulders, set my expression to serious and walked down the center aisle. I felt all eyes on me, as I struggled to keep my anxiety at bay. When I approached the podium, I spied Mary standing in the corner, nodding and smiling. Her reassurance calmed my nerves. Given only a few minutes to speak, I began in a clear, loud voice looking directly at the panelists who wore government-issued blank expressions. Using my nascent acting skills, I slowed down my speech and emphasized the important words. When I finished, a flurry of applause erupted from the audience.

Back down the center aisle I beamed, practically skipping with excitement like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz.” I felt an adrenaline jolt akin only to my brief acting experiences. But better. Much better. Instead of entertaining an audience, I had spoken up for my rights and for others. And I wanted to do it again.

Even though the Commission rejected our proposal, the experience whetted my appetite to use my voice again.

Feeling empowered by this experience, I sought a job as a community organizer in Providence at People Acting through Community Involvement (PACE). For two years, I organized low and working class neighborhood members, often training them to testify at public hearings about crime and public safety by using their own experiences.

And thus began my life as an activist.

Festivus for the Rest of Us


by Karen Topakian

Festivus, a secular holiday celebration that exploded after its introduction in a 1996 Seinfeld episode, includes airing grievances and performing feats of strength. For the past several years, Peg and I have celebrated this event in Belmont, MA with her lefty college friends and their teen-age and adult children. This year, some participants responded to “What’s your grievance?” by uttering only one-word while others posed a question. Here are the highlights:

Trump and the Election

Bernie or Bust people – Fuck You

110,000 people voted for Harambe, the dead gorilla, for president (PunditFact says this claim is a hoax)

Why is the voting age 18? (A college junior questioned whether his peers would know enough make the right choice.).


The Media

TV ads for pharmaceuticals (I’d rather take my chances on the disease than the medications’ side effects.)

Realistic video games. I don’t want my video games to look realistic.

Emotional tearjerker commercials. It’s just fucking shampoo.


 Parking and Traffic

Uber drivers. They drop people off where ever they want.

Boston drivers (do you really need an explanation?)

Self-driving cars

Road rage

Pedestrians surging into traffic

A lack of consistent placement of bike lanes

Belmont, MA roads. Requires the patience of a saint.

The Wilson Farm parking lot traffic pattern. It’s one way for a reason!


Tennis is boring when Serena doesn’t play

Football games are boring

The Cleveland Browns – ugh

Philadelphia sports fans: drunk, sad, angry


Why does every kitchen appliance beep whenever it completes a task? What am I supposed to do, applaud?

My dishwasher treats me like a moron

My new phone doesn’t know my swear words

Google is run by an evil genius


I HATE HAMILTON!!!!!!! (A high school junior rap fan resents the false belief that the musical invented the genre)

Private colleges are a rip-off (said by a private college student)

Pharmacies should designate a colonoscopy preparation aisle that includes Jello, clear liquids and citric acid. Like the wound and incontinence aisle.

Small pockets on women’s clothes

Lifesavers – why are they so hard to find?





An Alternative Post-Election Letter to Staff


by Karen Topakian

Though the presidential election took place only last month, it feels like a lifetime ago. As we struggle to accept the news and wrestle with the impacts of a Trump presidency, I’ve drafted some initial thoughts about how our organization will respond during these uncertain times. I want to hear your thoughts as well, because we’re all in this together.

First, it’s time to take a deep breath. Let’s think through this clearly. WTF. WTF. WTF. OMG. OMG. OMG. SOS. SOS. SOS.

Next, I reviewed our organization’s mission and values for guidance. Let’s face it, they are useless. I don’t even know why we have them.

Second, our community needs our support. We should continue serving the most vulnerable people, seeking new funding to expand and increase our services, working towards mutual support with our allies…wait, what? Trump just tweeted Putin would make the best Defense Secretary!!!

Breathe, Karen. Breathe, Karen. Ok, I’m back.

When I read the President-elect tweets bloody vile messages, I think the Communications Department should respond to the whirlwind. But why should they get all the fun while we sit on the sidelines responding to our whiny clients’ constant needs?

Third, we will keep our messaging short and pithy – as did the President-elect so successfully – but populated with facts and truthful statements without dumbing it down instead of how we’ve communicated in the past with excessive explanations.

Fourth, I suggest we work on improving our mental health in preparation for what the next four years will bring. We must stay positive. After looking at several health improvement options, i.e. exercise, diet, meditation, I decided to focus on only one – alcohol. If we work together, we can easily increase our alcohol consumption. I would like to set a goal of one bender a week per person for the next 208 weeks. To kick off the campaign, this Friday at noon we will showcase the new Margarita machine. Feel free to invite friends and colleagues to join us in a show of inebriated solidarity. Therefore, effective immediately, we will add add to our benefits menu, hangover days and TDW – “too despondent to work” days.

Finally, it’s critically important to keep our clients… Sorry gotta go, Trump just tweeted a screed against a toddler for crying at his rally!!

A Post-Election Letter to Staff

imagesby Karen Topakian

Dear Staff,

Though the presidential election took place only last month, it feels like a lifetime. As we struggle to accept the news and wrestle with the impacts of a Trump presidency, I’ve drafted some initial thoughts about how our organization will respond during these uncertain times. I want to hear yours as well, because we’re all in this together.

First, we will look to our mission and values for guidance. These principles will allow us to continue meeting the community’s needs. Needs that will increase if the President-elect fulfills his campaign promises. We will assure our clients and supporters that we will stay focused while remaining ever vigilant to the potential threats of: deportations, a registry of people of the Muslim faith, the gutting of environmental protections, among other campaign promises.

Second, staying focused on our work and our mission will require great discipline. The President-elect’s daily tweets can and will distract us. Therefore, the Communications Department will now assume responsibility for monitoring his Twitter whirlwind. If Trump tweets about rounding up immigrants, we will respond. However, if he tweets about SNL and Broadway plays, we will ignore them. If the Comms determines a tweet deserves a response, it will provide one. Otherwise, we will ignore the distraction. As usual, the Program Department will respond to policy proposals affecting our mission. Please give our colleagues some extra love for taking on this onerous task.

Third, we will need to work closely with our allies to combat the worst this administration has to offer. Therefore, we will seek mutual support in our hours of need.

Fourth, we will keep our messaging short and pithy. In the past, we’ve often over-explained our programs. The President-elect successfully connected with voters with his short, sharp messages. Though we loathe the paucity of facts and the outright lies, we should examine his form. I don’t advocate dumbing down our messages, just making them concise.

Finally, we need to stay in shape for the next four years. We need to nurture each other and ourselves. Let’s keep our minds alert and our bodies active: by holding walking meetings, working at a standing desk, resting, staying hydrated and clear minded. Let’s commit to eating lunch together weekly while talking about non-work topics.

Remember, this ain’t no 5k race or even a marathon. It’s an ultra-marathon combined with an Ironman triathlon. Let’s make sure we’re physically and mentally ready to face the struggles ahead. We can assume this will be a time of unprecedented assault on our values, therefore, we must remain vigilant to protect our rights, our planet and our democracy.



Am I Ready?

imgres    by Karen Topakian

When my partner Peg and I were hunting for a house in 2001, I announced we needed one with a secret hiding place for Jewish people, god forbid. Peg pointed out that the people who might need hiding would be us, lesbians.

At times, I have wished I had lived during those ugly, dangerous Holocaust years so I could test my commitment to nonviolence, my values and my inner strength. To see where I stood in the face of fascism. I questioned whether I would have summoned up the courage required to protect and defend Jewish people, gypsies, queer people, people of color, leftists and many others targeted by their government.

I have frequently read about the people who reached out during those harrowing times to help those scorned, harassed, targeted, rounded up and killed by their government, despite the great personal risk. Often, they didn’t hold important or powerful jobs, but they felt the moral imperative to act. I asked myself, would I have risked my life for others?

My better self answered, Yes!

I also wondered how good people could do nothing to stop the attacks? How could they stand by? How could they let it happen?

Up until November 8, these questions lived in the theoretical world. But no longer. Now I believe we stand on the cusp of that exact time. I see it on the horizon – the need to personally protect and defend people of the Muslim and Jewish faith, undocumented immigrants, people of color and other groups singled out by the President-elect. I ask myself, am I ready?

Am I ready to stand up, take on and resist the President-elect’s plans for incarcerations, deportations and roundups?

Am I ready to march, sit down, lockdown against threats, intimidation, increased bullying and intolerance toward the people vilified by the President-elect and his supporters?

The answer is Yes.

I’ve spent the last three decades protesting against war, nuclear weapons and environmental threats to the planet without incurring serious threats to my health and well-being. But the current climate may require a whole new commitment level. Because the ominous tone will increase once he’s in office.

Now I feel the urgency to commit myself to acting with greater fortitude.

I ask myself how much am I willing to risk? My livelihood. My home. My freedom. My life…

How will I know when to take those risks?

If I act too soon will I make myself an unnecessary target? If I wait too long will I miss the opportunity to stop the President-elect’s actions?

What do I need to do to protect others at risk? Do I even know how?

Am I ready to wear a headscarf in solidarity with Muslim women? Even though I loathe religious customs that control women’s appearances.

Am I ready to oppose the threatened Muslim registry, by registering as one, even though I’m an atheist?

Am I ready to chain myself to the railroad tracks or trucks or lie in the road to block deportations?

Am I ready to stand up to the face of fascism with all my might?

Will my actions be enough?

Am I ready?

I’m Not There Yet


by Karen Topakian

In the week since the US Presidential election, I received several FB messages from friends and read many blog posts urging me to reach across the aisle to understand why people voted for the President-elect. I’ve been asked to put my feelings of despair and anger aside and listen with an open heart and mind to supporters of the President-elect who proposes racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and homophobic policies. I’m not there yet.

I’m not ready to reach out to ask why they voted for a person endorsed by the Klan.

I’m not ready to sit across the table from someone who thinks discussions about sexually assaulting women are common among men and only “talk.”

I’m not ready to inquire without judgment about how someone could support a candidate who relentlessly and without foundation questioned the birthright of the president because he is Black.

I’m not ready to offer an olive branch to someone who chose a candidate who threatens unconstitutionally to ban people of a particular religion from entry into the United States.

I’m not ready to hold hands with someone who elected a candidate who wants to punish/jail women who seek abortions.

I’m not ready to break bread with someone who voted for a candidate that proposes limits on a free press.

I’m not ready to sing Kumbaya with someone who undermined our electoral process by charging that the election was rigged, until he won.

I’m not ready to listen to someone tell me that they too found these statements troubling and disturbing but voted for him anyway because he’s a good businessman or because he promised their job back or because they hate Washington.

My Christian upbringing, upon which I rarely rely, urges me to do just this – turn the other cheek as Jesus did. But I ain’t no Jesus.

The Bible also tells me not to judge or I will be judged. But I’ve already been judged as “less than” by his voters who don’t value and respect women’s lives or choices.

My deep belief in the power of nonviolence suggests I practice compassion with my adversaries. I’m not there yet. I don’t feel compassion for people who prefer a bigot. For people who chose a demagogue.

The possibility that all of his supporters don’t feel this way doesn’t trump my fear of loss that everything I work so hard to create – a just, equitable and peaceful planet – can and will be undone by a few strokes of his pen or by votes in a one party Congress or by the soon-to-be conservative Supreme Court.

I’m not looking for revenge; I don’t wish his voters and supporters ill will. I just don’t want to talk to them. And I don’t want to understand their decision. I don’t want to feel their pain. Not yet. Because mine is too deep.

Election Disaster Preparedness


by Karen Topakian

The Red Cross advises families to make a plan to prepare and respond to all types of emergencies from flood to flu to landslides. Unfortunately, they don’t tell you how to prepare for the disaster wafting our way on January 20, 2017 and ending on January 19, 2021.

So I will.

                                                                  MAKE A PLAN

Create an emergency plan so your family will know what to do in the crisis.

  1. Discuss how to prepare and respond to the types of emergencies that will most likely happen where you live, learn, work and play.
  • Identify people of color, Muslims, immigrants, women and LGBT type people in your household and in your workplace.
  • Decide on a course of action if assaulted or harassed. For example, enlist a straight male Caucasian friend, preferably Republican or from the alt-right to help you, go into hiding, lighten your skin, convert to an “acceptable” religion, a.k.a. Christian, try to act straight, hire a civil rights attorney to accompany you 24/7
  • Purchase a Presidential Disaster insurance plan, which will cover loss of access to abortion, a free press and sanity. Add-on miscarriage of justice insurance and former homeowners policies.
  1. Develop an action plan and assign tasks. Remember to work together as a team. Responsibilities may include:
  • Monitoring the news to see which way the political winds are blowing
  • Making protest signs
  • Stashing bail money
  • Disguising your home as a Trumpian refuge if under attack, i.e. display white nationalist banners
  • Updating passports
  • Keeping social media accounts on high alert
  • Filling up gas tanks
  • Hiding undocumented immigrants, people of color, Muslims, women and queer folks
  • Packing do-it-yourself surgical kits for the inevitable loss of access to health care
  • Digging a hole in the backyard big enough for your whole family
  • Resupplying your bomb shelter
  1. Stockpile basic disaster supplies.
  • Loose fitting clothing and running shoes required for long marches and fast getaways
  • Extra underwear and a toiletry kit in case of a round up
  • Involuntary-change-of-address cards
  • Blankets, sleeping bags and tents packed up to serve as an emergency home
  • A battery-powered radio tuned to the easy listening channel to avoid adding stress
  • Cash, cash, cash – US and Canadian dollars, Euros, Rubles and Pesos
  • American flags and extra matches
  • SPF 1,000 to protect against the inevitable rise in global temperature
  • Snorkels, fins and oxygen tanks, for coastal residents. Oh heck, even for folks in the Mid-West.
  • Anti-pollution masks
  • Fire extinguishers to douse cross burnings
  • Coat hangars to help women in need
  • Bullet proof vests, particularly for young men of color
  • Cases of Xanax, Valium, Zoloft and Prozac. In extreme circumstances, a do-it-yourself lobotomy kit