Peaceful Protests & Voter Registration, Please

On January 16th, 2017, America celebrated Martin Luther King Day. A day in remembrance of a Civil Rights icon who stood up in the face of everything thrown at him to resist peacfully and change the system in any way he could. A day in remembrance of the struggle Dr. King gave his life for. He believed in the future of this country. He had a dream that we could all live side-by-side with equal rights and protections as Americans. Dr. King endured opposition that today’s protestors will never know in comparison to what the Civil Rights Movement endured, and yet today’s protestors feel a need to act out in violence to change the system.

On January 20th, 2017, we watched Donald J. Trump get sworn into office and protesters turn violent in Washington DC. I agree Trump is not qualified to be the President, but the Civil Rights Movement built itself on the backs of peaceful resistance. Breaking windows of a Starbucks that isn’t the neighborhood one you visit isn’t going to solve anything. You wouldn’t do that to the Starbucks you go to down the street from your house or the bank you cash your checks at in your neighborhood. Your outrage doesn’t make it okay to destroy others’ property or harm people who think differently from you.

Hell, most of the people affected by the damage done during protests are the minimum wage workers that oppose Trump also and are just doing their jobs while you break the window panes of their workplaces in the deepest depths of winter, ushering in freezing winds and scaring innocent people. I find it incredibly distressing that this concept of nonviolent protests needs to be explained to my fellow liberals.

If you claim it is only a few individuals causing violence but you’re standing there witnessing it in person and not speaking out, you are complicit. To any liberals who are passively watching the damage unphased or reveling in joy: it is your duty as a liberal to stand up against violent protests to prevent these acts from damaging your own interests in future elections.

I believe in the future of this country and everything Dr. King stood for. That is why it upsets me that protesters these days have turned to violent means to express their opinions. I think Dr. Martin Luther King would be ashamed at how these protests have turned towards violence instead of using the example he gave us and his life for.

I also believe Dr. King would not only be voicing his opinions but trying to register as many people to vote as he possibly could that agreed with what he was protesting for. He relied heavily on organizations to help him that focused on peaceful resistance and registering voters, with one of the most important being the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee  (SNCC). The SNCC was created in 1960 by Ella Baker with an $800 grant from the Southern Christian Leadership Committee (SCLC) which Dr. King was the first President of.

Dr. King was willing to put himself in harm’s way to deliver a peaceful message to all he could deliver it to, but other groups like the SNCC were crucial to increasing voter turnout and changing the political landscape of the country. The SNCC was responsible for many protests, “Freedom Rides”, and sit-ins. Although they eventually fizzled out of existence by 1970 due to internal struggles, their work was essential to both the Civil Rights and Voting Acts in the 1960’s. They were a driving force behind the Freedom Summer of 1964 and due to organizations like them voter registration increased from below 10% among the black community to over 50% within only a few years in some areas. Naturally, this had a huge impact on elections as communities began to realize the power of their votes after they gained the right to vote.

Protesting is wonderful, but protesting without registering new voters and observing nonviolent strategies in the crucial places lost the 2016 election for Democrats. Occupy Wall Street created the beginning of the recent liberal protests, but they effectively did nothing in the long haul policy-wise. Protesting violently will also do nothing to progress liberal policies, and will only incite more rage in Conservatives and get them to turn up to vote in larger numbers in the future.

In comparison, the Tea Party movement is the root of what gave Donald Trump the ability to win. It grew out of opposition to Democrats and Obama whether it was justified or not. The voters who won the election for Trump in the swing states that went against all the pundits’ predictions are a direct result of the Tea Party movement which grew inside the Republican party. They went out and they got their neighbors to vote, they marched on Washington, they did everything right, and even though I don’t agree with them I admire the tenacity they showed in changing the Republican party from within. The Democrats need to use the Tea Party as a case study without the divisive and sometimes racist elements that came with it.

If Democrats don’t take their surplus of voters in their strongholds like the West Coast and invest serious resources in registering voters in battleground states before the 2020 election then liberals are handing another four years to the Republican party.

We need to fund voter registration drives. We need to increase voter registration in the Democratic strongholds of the midwest like Kansas City that get drowned out by the number of conservatives in their states that are registered to vote. We need to pay to relocate people from cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and New York to move to battleground states and work full time registering voters in places like Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

We need Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren doing voter registration drives in battleground states right now. We need to successfully win an election based on how the election actually works and not the popular vote. We need our Democratic members of Congress and the Senate to spend less time fundraising and more time on when, where, how, and why it is so important if we want to change this country.

We saw the amount of popularity Bernie Sanders gained in only one year of campaigning, imagine if he focused his energy right now on helping with the 2018 and 2020 elections. Only half the eligible voters in this country voted in 2016. We have tons of ground to register more liberal voters and flip swing states in 2-4 years. It isn’t that difficult if we educate people on how to vote and get larger numbers of liberal people to actually show up at the polls in the 2018 midterms and 2020 general election.

Many of the things Dr. King dreamed of are a reality today because of the way he fought for the Civil Rights of all people in this country, and people fighting for civil rights and against oppression today have lost sight of the way he accomplished his dreams even after his death. He built a message and convinced voters who were only white to support his ideas in large enough numbers to change the status quo. We need to do the same thing today in the areas that barely won Donald Trump the 2016 election. It is no secret that a vast majority of white voters voted for Trump, and we need to adapt to that reality and take our message to them so that their opinions might change even just a little.

What do we have to lose as liberals? We don’t have control of any of the branches of the government right now, and it will only get worse if we don’t do something about it sooner rather than later.

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Dealing with Canine Cancer

For most people their recollections of the year 2016 were defined by the American Presidential election, the British exit from the European Union, gun violence, terrorism, and a smattering of other issues. My year was defined by canine cancer.

On an unremarkable night in May of 2016 I came home from my second job and went to take my dogs Azzurri and Lilly outside. When I reached down to put Azzurri’s leash on, I noticed a bump on his front right leg. At first I just assumed he’d been his crazy little self and run into something or that perhaps his leg was swollen from running next to me while longboarding, but the bump persisted and did not go away.

Not knowing the area I lived in very well, I got a recommendation for a local veterinarian. The vet saw him and when she first looked at it she poked and prodded at his leg and exclaimed something to the tune of “Hmm, that’s interesting, it seems gelatinous.” Not quite the words I was hoping or expecting to hear. She took a cell sample from the area and said they would call within 2-3 days with the results. He was given some antihistamines and we left to wait for the news.

When 3 days had passed without a peep from the vet I started to get antsy and gave them a call. The results weren’t in yet. Eventually the vet called me back and said that it was a histamine related issue and that if the problem persisted I would need to bring him back in for a follow-up.

The issue persisted over a couple of weeks.

When he saw the vet again they told me that it was a mast cell tumor. They asked if I had received the letter in the mail notifying me of the news or if the veterinarian who had handled his visit before had told me of the news. I had not received anything in the mail and the vet had only told me to monitor it to see if it got worse. The vet didn’t explain that the issue was cancer before and this news came weeks after his results had come in. Had I known it was cancer, I would have been much more vigilant and urgent about his treatment. Thank you Doctor.

Azzurri had a mast cell tumor and these tumors come in three grades, with grade three being the worst. Azzurri’s tumor was grade two. While the tumor did not necessarily have a high risk to spread throughout the body, his treatment recommendation was surgery to remove the mass.

The vet recommended the Animal Specialty Group in Los Angeles for the surgery due to the location of the tumor and their expertise. The vet also mentioned they could do it in-house for cheaper, but they said it is possible he may need another surgery and after dealing with their incompetence already I didn’t want to risk going with them again.

I set up an appointment with ASG immediately and took Azzurri to see the surgeon. They recommended surgery and we proceeded with his treatment. Everything went perfect surgery-wise and Azzurri didn’t lose a single bit of his spirit. Even with stitches, a cone, a cast, and not being able to jump, go running, or basically have fun, he remained the same awesome little dog. The only downside was that not all of the mass was removed as some of the tumor had grown between his tendons where the surgeon couldn’t remove it.

At his one week follow-up after surgery Azzurri had his cast removed and saw the oncologist at ASG. She recommended radiation treatment to destroy the remaining mass in his leg. Price tag: around $7,000 to $10,000. One bit of silver lining was at least that the radiation could be delayed for a little while to take time to get the funds for the procedure.

Months went by and Azzurri’s leg seemed fine, but in late October his leg looked like it was starting to grow and shrink in the same area his tumor was removed. I called a different veterinarian and got referred to a new oncologist to get a second opinion on the radiation treatment so we could compare the prices and proceed with the next step. The veterinarian referred me to the Veterinary Cancer Group of Los Angeles.

From the moment we saw the oncologist at the Veterinary Cancer Group there was no doubt in my mind I wanted them to handle his treatment. At every step of the way they showed that they truly cared about my dog. The staff even asked if they could have Azzurri for an extra 15 minutes just to play in the back with him. When it came to billing I’m pretty sure they even threw in a discount as well. At the end of the day though, they confirmed that the best path would be radiation treatment and that the cost was going to be around $7,000 to $10,000.

Raising money was the hard part. I set up a GoFundMe account and it was successful to a degree, but the constant stress and worry about where I would be able to come up with the funding for his treatment felt like I was carrying the globe on Atlas’ back. I hate asking people for money, and knew I wouldn’t be able to raise the money on my own through the GoFundMe account, but I had to do everything I could. Thankfully Azzurri’s grandparents love him and decided they would pay for his treatment. I still tried raising money because I wanted to help out my parents as much as I could, but I knew I would never be able to raise the money for his treatment alone.

On December 1st we went to the Veterinary Cancer Group at their Woodland Hills location. He had a check-up and blood tests to see whether the cancer had spread before starting radiation. Everything came back clear with no abnormalities and we scheduled his treatments to start the next week. His treatments would be every weekday for 18 days from the 5th of December until the 28th of December. The treatments would include putting him to sleep with anesthesia every day and directing a very strong X-ray at the location of the tumor.

Everything up to this point had been pretty stressful, but the stress elevated to a whole new level when radiation treatment started. Luckily for the pups they enjoy car rides and don’t have any idea what a stupid driver or dealing with traffic is, but dealing with Los Angeles drivers and the I-405 freeway every single day is almost hell. Compound that with trying to buy Christmas gifts, preparing my apartment for my family to visit for Christmas, and trying to handle my work responsibilities, my energy was sapped for nearly all of December.

Our schedule was completely out of whack. Azzurri was supposed to fast every day for at least 8 hours before treatment. He threw up while under anesthesia during his first couple weeks and apparently that’s a really bad thing so after a week and a half he got put on a 12 hour fast. With the time added to get to and from treatment it was more like 15 hours. We also normally take a nap or two after work but that wasn’t possible because after his treatment I had to catch up on work.

What really stood out was how Azzurri remained his same happy self throughout the whole ordeal. He showed no side-effects during the treatment and would actually whine when we would arrive for his radiation therapy because he couldn’t wait to see the people inside. His spirit made it a lot easier to deal with the stress brought on by the situation.

Christmas came and Azzurri’s grandparents and auntie got to see him before he finished his treatment and spend the holidays with us. Sadly, he had to wear the cone for their trip, but he still got to enjoy their company.

On Thursday, December 28th Azzurri graduated from radiation treatment.

As much as this experience has weighed on me, I can’t even imagine how Azzurri has felt. While his tumor was present a vet described the sensation as irritating and said it would feel like little crystals inside his skin. After his surgery he wasn’t able to jump and had to wear a cone and a cast, so I moved all of the furniture so he had nothing to jump on and would sleep on the floor with him and Lilly at night. They did have a pretty sweet couch fort though

It took him a while to get used to the cone, but eventually the cast came off and then a few weeks later the cone. When his radiation treatment began however, he started wearing a cone again and it didn’t come off for an extended period of time other than his radiation treatment for five weeks.

I’m not a superstitious person, but when your baby develops a disease like cancer you start to question if it’s because of something you did. Did I use the wrong carpet cleaner? Was there a chemical I left in the house he was exposed to? Was it something I was feeding him that caused it? Was it because Azzurri was sad I adopted a new dog? The endless questions (often ridiculous) with unknowable answers brought on by the onset of cancer in a loved one are daunting.

Every bump and anomaly becomes an anxiety attack, and when you do notice something that looks a bit abnormal you wonder if you hadn’t been paying enough attention to your baby enough and could have noticed it sooner.

I imagine some of the stresses and issues that have come along with Azzurri’s cancer are the same for those who have family members or children who develop cancer. I also imagine that it is much harder to handle this when it’s a child because it would be impossible to keep a child in the dark about how serious the disease is. Even if you didn’t explain it to them, they would know something is not right. With a dog I feel as if it is a lot easier to hide the seriousness of cancer. He may have sensed my body language was different as I was stressed out or that we were going to weird places with people in lab coats more, but taking a kid to the doctor and have them hear the doctor say they have cancer seems like a much more arduous task.

Azzurri can’t understand English besides his commands, but kids are not so simple. Kids ask questions, they wonder, they tell you how they feel. I have no idea how my little boy Azzurri has felt through this ordeal and I think in many ways him not knowing what was happening helped ease his mind throughout the diagnosis and treatment.

Thursday, January 12th marked two weeks since his treatment finished and he’s shown no real side effects other than dry skin at the radiation site. We are back to going for longboard rides and he can run worry-free for the first time in almost eight months.

It feels good to be able to breathe deep and know that this ordeal is over, but I’m always going to have one thought on my mind:

Will his cancer come back?

Who knows, but Azzurri is happy, healthy, tumor-free and can run again, and that’s all that matters right now.