Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Ferguson

I'm back home in Richboro for the holiday after being in Ferguson for three days. I don't want to debate the issue too much on Facebook because I've learned that never ends well. But as far as what I saw and experienced:

You have all seen the bad things. I have posted about the bad things on Facebook and Twitter as they were happening. And the bad things were very bad, and very scary. I felt the heat from the burning buildings on my face. I tasted tear gas three times. I heard a mother screaming for someone to help her wheezing son when a coffeehouse full of people doing nothing more extraordinary than what you'd see at any Starbucks was suddenly filled with tear gas. I have learned that gunshots and smoke bombs make disconcertingly similar sounds when they are fired 15 feet away from you. At you.

But Ferguson is not a war zone. For the most part, just a block away from any of the fires you saw on TV is a side street with houses with picket fences or big backyards where people were sitting in their living room watching the news. It is a city of 20,000 people, the overwhelming majority of whom just want to live in a community where everyone lives in peace and mutual respect.

I saw extreme acts of anger. And I saw extreme acts of baseless, reactive fear. But I also saw extreme acts of kindness, courage, and hopeful determination to commit to the long-term effort to make a better future. Because as the protests and the reactions across the country show, there is a fundamental problem that goes beyond Ferguson. Until we bridge the gap in trust between those who enforce the law and the people they are sworn to serve and protect, we cannot move forward. I realize that is not an original assertion. But that does not make it feel any less true. However, rather than being discouraged by what I saw in Ferguson, I believe that the will to make that change is stronger and more durable than any news cycle, and I am actually encouraged by my experience there that such change is possible.

Our team was in the coffeehouse that was gassed. The coffeehouse was a designated safe space for activists, protesters, or really anyone who wanted to come in at any time of the night and catch their breath both literally and figuratively from the tension in the world outside. The following evening, when we were not there, the coffeehouse was gassed again. And then the events in the clip below happened. We've seen the bad things. We have not seen enough of the good things. Because good things don't make for good TV. Or so we're led to believe. So here is a clip of one of the good things, that does, in fact, make for good viewing. Yes, the people in this clip are clearly on one side of the issue, but I was moved by their spirit of unity and optimism. Maybe you will be too. Maybe not. But I feel like it needs to be seen.

We can all do better. We can all be better. And I believe we will. Starting with swearing off Facebook-fighting about this and actually getting off our butts and doing something more positive than shouting each other down online.

Thanks for listening. Okay, here's the video for real this time:

Friday, August 8, 2014

This Is My Goodbye Email

After five years, I’m sad to say that today is my last day at the ACLU. It may sound trite to say, but my time here has been the most rewarding and challenging job of my life so far, and I am grateful to a lot of people. I am grateful for the patience shown to me as a newbie who ran headfirst into the brick wall of a learning curve that was the national security project and the human rights program until I got settled. That was nice. I am also grateful to the patience shown to me when we instituted the center structure and SURPRISE! now you work on LGBT, RFP, WRP, and religion! I am grateful to those projects for not chucking me out of the staff meetings while I mastered the various Center for Liberty dialects. That was nice, too. I’m glad we got there in the end.

I’m grateful to work with a brilliant team of passionate people who are not only speaking up for those who are oppressed but ACTUALLY GETTING THINGS DONE. I am so proud to have been a part of the Windsor case, the BRCA gene patenting case, the fight to ensure that servicewomen get the recognition and the reproductive health care they deserve, and to have stood up against those who would have prevented an Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan. And I will miss the Christmas mail. Boy howdy, will I miss the Christmas mail.

But I’m not going too far. I’ll just be uptown a bit serving as the deputy press secretary at Amnesty International USA, where I look forward to carrying on some of the good work we do here. I hope to stay in touch both through those endeavors and outside the office. After August 18, you can reach me at and at @AmnestyRobyn on Twitter. Be good to each other, keep fighting the good fight, and just accept the edits to the press release, already.


Robyn Shepherd
Media Strategist
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004
■ (o) 212.519.7829 ■ (cell) 917.302.7189

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Put On Your Booties Cause Its Cold Outside" -- A Groundhog's Day Tale by Bob Shepherd

My brother wrote this a few years ago, and it has been a Facebook favorite. It deserves to be liberated on the Internet, for the benefit of the tens of additional people who may see this. Take it away, Bob:

I've had a few people bring up this story to me today so I figured I'd share it with the rest of the world. It is definitely better told in person but here it goes...

It is 1am on February 2, 2004. The New England Patriots had just defeated the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. Instead of turning in and getting ready for class the next day, I head outside into the balmy 12 degree Pittsburgh night and meet Josh and his trusty red Tacoma pickup truck affectionately referred to as "the red dragon." I hop in and am handed a cup of coffee as our night has just begun. Despite my previous experience with a plan laid out by Josh, I have agreed to ride to Punxsutawney, PA to witness Phil make his yearly prediction. I was told to expect an all night party, and that it was an event not to be missed. I was reluctant, but as usual Josh convinced to participate.

Now Josh is a very good friend of mine and I was honored to be a groomsman at his please read the rest of this knowing that I have a lot or respect for him...however..I should also mention that previous good ideas by Josh include the following events: A sailing trip that resulted in me jumping into the lake to swim after an un-manned vessel, then a ticket issued for not having life jackets. Screaming insults at the Pitt football team's offensive line from his porch. Repelling out of his second story window. Driving onto the front lawn of a frat house in front of a cop then getting out, tying a rope from his truck around a snowman and driving off. Running down Forbes Ave with a pumpkin on his head telling everyone they knew it, and breaking into a certain prominent Pitt building under construction to steal blueprints. I have also witnessed Josh put a brilliant spin move on a cop while rushing the basketball court at a Pitt game...needless to say Josh was pretty good at college.

We hit I-70 and head north. It's not long before I happen to notice that the red dragon is approaching E which I point out to Josh. I have been in this situation several times before with Josh so I didn't worry too much when he assured me we'd be cool and he had a place in mind.

Skip ahead 45 minutes where jamming to Credence has helped pass the time and we approach the off ramp in Kittanning, PA to head east.

J: " ...Um dude"
::: sputter:::
B: "NO...don't tell me that"
J: "OK I won't"
:::Sputter:::: :::silence:::
J: "We're out of gas dude."
As we're coasting down the ramp with only our momentum carrying us, an 18 wheeler has attached itself to the bumper and a constant barrage of air horn fills the cab. He passes with a few choice words and we continue to coast down the ramp.

The truck comes to rest directly in front of an ominously dark gas station, we push it in and Josh fruitlessly tries his credit card.

Its 3am, literally 0 degrees, there is nothing in sight, and we have no AAA. Josh calls 911 and asks if someone can "bring us some gas."

It begins to sleet while the dispatcher tries to stop laughing and then tells us there's a gas station two miles up the hill to our left. We begin the trek and I share the same choice words the trucker had with Josh moments ago.

We get a can of gas and a ride from the sympathetic station attendant back to the truck...Josh asks me for gas money....I have more choice words.

This is getting pretty long so I'll skip to my assessment of Groundhog's Day in Punxsutawney.

It looks nothing like the Bill Murray movie. The actual event takes place in the woods nowhere near town at "Gobblers Knob." You are bussed in from town after the most invasive pat down of my life and arrive at what I can best describe as a wedding with no booze and no dancing, no food and it's freezing. There is a stage with a fake stump that houses the rat and they blast loud awful music at you all night...when finally at 7am, they rip the now deaf, disoriented Phil from his cage and hold him up so every flashbulb hits him directly in the eyes. He immediately pees all over the handler and most of the front row. Some dude in a top hat reads a scroll and tells you whether or not there was a shadow and everyone goes home. That's it. The end. I look at Josh and he confirms that the event is complete and its time to head back to the Burgh.

Long story short don't go to Punxsutawney...ever. I make sure to tell this story ever time Josh and I catch up usually to berate him...and to remind myself that college was way too much fun!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Snow Day Schedule"

Sometimes I make up raps on the subway. And by "sometimes," I mean just this once. Based on actual events.

6 am weather report as I lay in my bed
"Could be up to 12 inches" (but that's what she said).
Roll out with my long skivvies under my civvies
Totin' my Zac Posen because tonight's also busy
Walk a mile to the subway in janky snow boots
Because a little old snowstorm won't stop the news
Gotta file a lawsuit in the pursuit of justice
The DC office is closed? Fuck 'em. It's just us.
Gotta log my eight hours before I change out of my trousers
Traipse through the slush and the mess in a designer dress
Blizzard conditions by the time I get to the museum
Slip on heels, hide the boots, so the rich people don't see 'em
VIP soiree. Stuff my face with canapes.
And the accumulation won't keep us from our reservation
Sushi and wine; I've got a groupon to dine
Might as well order another drink 'cause baby, it's cold outside
Lookin' all fancy as we get in our taxi
So I can get home in time to watch a little Downton Abbey
And then call it a night. So your day off sounds adorbs,
but this what we call a "snow day" in New York.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Everyone Says Hi: 2013 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

It was tough trying to come up with a theme for this year's mixtape. But I think I pinned it down in the end. This post contains sarcasm.

1. Massive Nights -- The Hold Steady
2. Like Lightning -- Lucero
3. Brooklyn Girls -- Shwa Losben
4. Every Band We Ever Loved -- Henry Clay People
5. Yonder -- The Love Leighs
6. Litte Mascara -- The Replacements
7. Better Off Without a Wife -- Tom Waits
8. Moment for Life -- Nicki Minaj
9. In These Shoes -- Kirsty McColl
10. Nothing to Prove -- Jill Sobule
11. Like a Friend -- Pulp
12. Missing You -- Bryan Dunn
13. Lower East Side -- Justin Townes Earle
14. A Way to You -- Lara Ewen and the Unstrung Orchestra
15. Muume wa Mtu -- The Dataz
16. Lullaby for Bad Girls -- Kelli Rae Powell
17. Always Love -- Nada Surf
18. She's Got Something -- Greg Holden
19. Are You Listening? -- A City on a Lake

Past mixes

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dear LA

Dear LA:

This is a little awkward, seeing as we barely know each other. Usually I only write to cities after a torrid relationship that draws blood on both sides. Sometimes metaphorically. Sometimes not. But I digress.

Anyway, I've been pretty down on you this year. I know the last time we actually saw each other was 2007 for an ultimately doomed quest to win on Jeopardy, but we left on good terms. I got a framed photo of me and Alex Trebek, and a tote bag! So you may be wondering what it was you did to merit so many passive-aggressive...OKAY, aggressive...hissy fits.

It all started when one acquaintance decided they wanted to move. That was fine. There was a goodbye party. And drinks. And then there was another. And then another. And then it wasn't just acquaintances, but close friends; best friends; ENTIRE SOCIAL GROUPS (I'm not exaggerating, see below):

And before I knew it, by the middle of 2013 you had deprived me of roughly two dozen people. And, to tell the truth, I felt bad. Really bad. All the usual depressing buzzwords: left behind, excluded, forgotten, wah wah wah, etc. It didn't help that because entire clumps of people moved en masse, through the magic of Instagram I was able to see my pals all having a great time like we used to...without me. I also knew that even though good friends mean it when they say they keep in touch, life happens. I knew I was really going to lose some folks. That's a bad feeling.

So I got a little agro. But I'm writing today to say, it's not your fault. It's not anyone's fault. And I'm...I'm, uh...I'm SORRY, OKAY? I'm sorry.

I think it's fair to say you and I might not be kindred spirits. I like seasons. Palm trees are lovely, but I can't ever call a place with no seasons home. I love mass transit. I don't tan. I love living in a city that doesn't revolve around one industry. Trust. I lived in DC for seven years. DC is you for nerds. I didn't thrive there, so I suspect you and I just wouldn't work out.

But you are pretty. You have great tacos. You know how to have a good time. And yes, I got jealous when one of my expatriates told me he saw the last scene of How I Met Your Mother being filmed while hanging out on his lunch break. I just had to content myself with the Banksy outside my apartment with the sweeping riverfront views mere steps from the greatest art museum in the worCRAP THERE I GO AGAIN.

Apologies, LA. That wasn't sporting. Back on topic.

But most importantly, you're now the home of a not-insignificant number of people who mean a lot to me, and who played really important parts in helping me build a new, wonderful life for myself in a new place not so very long ago. Now they've come to you. So if I promise to lay off, will you promise to take care of them? And be nice to them like New York was to me? And maybe, just maybe, we can have a proper peace summit in person.

Maybe in February. February sucks in New York. There. You can have February. We'll keep October. Happy?

And I shall continue to hate on the Lakers. I'm afraid that's non-negotiable. But you understand.

In reconciliation,


Monday, July 8, 2013

Heavy Fog on the East River

During last week's apocalyptic rainstorm, my usual view of Queens, Roosevelt Island and the Triborough and Hells Gate Bridges was completely and spookily obscured. Here's a time lapse video of the fog lifting. WEATHER YOU GUYS!

And then, 15 minutes later, it looked like this:

New York City. Where even our weather is bipolar.