An Open Letter To Governor Rick Perry
From Spike Gillespie
On August 9, I headed down to the capitol with my son, Henry. Now, I know you meet a lot of folks, but perhaps youíll remember Henry and meó five years ago, I wrote a piece for the Austin Chronicle detailing the hopes and fears he felt upon entering second grade. A mutual friend of ours (itís true, we had one) later related to me how much you enjoyed that piece. Anyway, Henry and I have spent a lot of time at the capitol this year, protesting the bogus war in Iraq, welcoming home the Killer Dís, and even missing a day of school to attend a Senate session regarding CHIP cuts.
I like to take my son to these events because I want him to believe that he can, as a citizen, let his voice be heard and, consequently, help shape the government under which he lives (I realize, increasingly, this might be me offering him false hope, but I do the best I can).
We were invited to the CHIP debate by Senator Shapleigh after members of his office read my austinmama.com column about being the mother of a CHIP recipient. To recap: as we sat for many hours waiting for a simple checkup at Carousal Pediatrics (one of the rare offices that still accepts CHIP), the thoughtful folks at the clinic handed us a pamphlet offering tips on allegedly age-appropriate information I should give my son, now twelve.
Among other didactic bits of "advice" came warnings that I must teach him either Christianity or Judaism and that a heterosexual marriage is the only path down which he should travel lest he become a societal failure doomed to an unproductive life and early death. As a single mother studying Buddhism who has received assistance in raising Henry by a dedicated gay male, I have to say... that pamphlet got my goat (and, being a Capricorn, when my goat is got, it is seriously got, believe me).
But what could we do? As a family suffering financial hardship, we canít afford the sort of insurance that allows more choice. So we deal with the limited options CHIP gives us and suffer through attempts to humiliate us via creepy office literature.
(Aside: Surely you empathize with our plight. Why I remember last spring when your wife Anita applied for a hardship license for your daughter, Sydney, citing "financial hardship" as the reason. Even though you make a hundred thousand dollars more annually than me, I want you to know empathy runs both ways, Governoróit IS expensive to live here, isnít it?)
Shapleighís folks read that column and asked us to represent CHIP families adversely affected by program cuts (I think maybe Shapleigh was hoping to illustrate that CHIP families arenít all headed by poor, teenage minorities, and that even productive, upstanding white women pushing forty sometimes need a little help.)
So anyhow, I was at the capitol on Saturday, carrying a sign that said on one side: "We Need Real Government Without DeLay!!" and on the other: "Redistricting = The Only "Wild Hair" Rick Perry Ever Had." My son and I stood near anti-protest protestersóso sophisticated, so mature, standing huddled together chain smoking, and making chicken noises. One of them noted my sign was pretty good even though he disagreed with it.
Enter the camerawoman with the cropped-to-her-pubes pants looking to interview a maker of chicken noises. I stood behind the chicken noise maker during this interview. The other Republicans disapproved. They swarmed me, trying to put their signs in front of mine. At this point, Miss Cropped-Pube Pants chided us, whining that if we didnít stop, she wasnít going to be able to do her segment. I explained to her this is not Hollywood where she can script behavior.
Suddenly I felt myself being shoved violently. Next, a furious voice in my ear hissing to get away. Didnít I realize that I was standing in "her" area and I needed to go protest in "my" area. I wouldíve stopped to chuckle at the gorgeous microcosmic irony of it allóangry Republican attempts illegal protest redistricting on capitol lawn. Except it wasnít funny. This person was hurting me.
So I spun around and found myself face-to-face with a sweaty, vitriolic, umbrella-wielding nutcase wearing a horizontally striped shirt. Not only was this a bad fashion choice given her ample size (vertical, sister, vertical), it also gave the vague impression that she was a large bumblebee, which called to mind the Killer Dís, clearly her mortal enemies. I didnít bother counseling her on this or making a citizenís arrest for her fashion crime however. Instead, I informed her that if she did not stop hitting me, I would be forced to locate a police officer.
Ah, but wait. No need to find a cop. Why? Because as I was explaining to the physically violent human bumblebee that hitting is never okay, I found myself grabbed from behind and brutally thrown aside. Again I spun around and this time found myself face-to-face with an extremely young, extremely inexperienced, adrenaline high DPS officer. I asked him what the hell he was doing and he told me he was de-escalating the situation and that I needed to stop hitting the bumblebee.
Now Governor, I ask you to take a moment here, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and picture yourself in my shoes at that moment. My son has just witnessed me being assaulted by a citizen and then a cop. A cop has accused me, falsely, of hitting a woman who, in fact, hit me. The woman attempted to slink away. So I asked for the guyís name (Maranto) and told him to fetch his supervisor (one Sargent Shipley).
At least a dozen witnesses saw the entire encounter. At least a half dozen stepped forward, whipped out their licenses, and offered Sgt. Shipley testimony that I had been assaulted twice in a row, including once by one of his officers, and that, no, I had not touched the bumblebee contrary to Officer Marantoís claims.
After taking down names and numbers and accounts, Shipley told me the information would be passed to the DPS Investigations folks. Later that day, he left me a message saying actually, I would have to file a complaint against the bumblebee myself since his officers hadnít witnessed the assault.
So, let me get this straightó your DPS guys have all the names of all the witnesses who confirmed Officer Maranto grabbed and shoved me which he said he did because he said he saw me hit the bumblebee. And now DPS is saying he didnít see the assault after all? Then why did he throw me? Hmmm.
Iíd like to say Iím surprised at the injustice of it all but you know what? Iím not. Not in the current circus of both Texas politics and national politics.
And while it shouldnít matter what sort of citizen I amóno one deserves to be beaten onólet me tell you, Iím extra affronted by all this. Because I go out of my way to represent Texas. I regularly contribute Texas arts and culture stories to The Christian Science Monitor. I have written about the state locally and nationally for countless publications from the New York Times Magazine to National Geographic Traveler to Playboy (yes, itís true, I once guided a Texas Playboy centerfold through the taxing task of filling out the questionnaire on the flip side page of her derriere for that magazine.) I speak to hundreds of Texas schoolchildren annually to build their enthusiasm for writing. I offer full scholarships to financially strapped parents who want to send their kids to writing camp. I have participated, at no charge, as an author in the Texas Books Festival to help raise money for Texas libraries (Iíll be doing the same this fall.) And when out of state and international visitors come to see me (and these are many), I give them tours of Texas with such swollen pride youíd think I built the whole dang place with my two bare hands.
But anymore Iím humiliated to call myself a Texan. And this latest incidentópeacefully protesting, exercising my First Amendment rightsóonly to be attacked twice, once by a so-called peace officer, and then to be misinformed about investigative procedure, well I donít even know what to think anymore.
Shaken but not stirred,
P.S. Oh, and in case I didnít make it clear, I thinkónay, I KNOWó this redistricting effort is an enormous load of crap.
P.P.S. Oh, and our CHIP benefits got cut. But you knew that already.
About the author:
Spike Gillespie is the author of All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy: A Memoir, and the dotnovel thebelljar.net. Her next book, a collection of essays entitled, Surrender (but don't give yourself away): Old Cars, Found Hope and Other Cheap Tricks will be out in September 2003. Gillespie is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and her work has appeared in, among other places, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, GQ, Playboy and Elle, and online at Salon, Nerve, Oxygen, Underwire and AustinMama. She is a reformed circus poodle, a retired stripper (Crazy Lady, 1978-81) and mother to three spawn-of-satan mutts and one freakin' hilarious and very tall almost-twelve-year-old ("But remember, son, I'll always be wider than you..."). She is currently working on a novel about how utterly fucked up love can be (How novel indeed...).