Community gardens by foot & bike

Did I tell you that I joined the board of a wonderful organization called the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust (BQLT) this past spring? I didn’t? Well, that’s probably because I spent approximately half my waking hours between then and last weekend helping to plan our 7th Annual Bike & Walking Tour!!

Happy people in bike helmets looking at plants

Happy bike tour participants inspect foliage at a BQLT garden

But I get ahead of myself. Let me first explain that BQLT owns and stewards over 30 community gardens in NYC’s two most populous boroughs. This means these public green spaces are permanently saved from development and cannot be sold. It means we apply for grants and hold fundraisers to keep them in raised beds and water systems. It means the resident gardeners who put their blood, sweat, and tears into transforming many of these plots from abandoned wastelands into lush oases for the whole neighborhood to enjoy 20, 30, and 40 years ago can confidently pass them on to the next generation. I’m so proud to be part of all this work, and so excited to learning about everything from tree identification to city council budgets with the committed and good-humored BQLT crew.

Group photo in community garden

Select BQLT board and staff members giddy with relief at the end of the tour

That’s why, after many months of planning, it was so thrilling when our big day finally came. Last Saturday, September 15th, 60 awesome people showed up to tour a handful of our beautiful community gardens in Bushwick (apparently the 7th Coolest Neighborhood in the World, according to Vogue), and eastern Bedford-Stuyvesant. We started the afternoon at Concerned Citizens of Grove Street Garden with remarks by a community affairs rep from the office of our Borough President, Eric Adams (who is himself a vegan bicyclist, didn’t ya know?), and by the garden’s founder Jaime Alvarez, who started it 37 years ago.

From there, tour t-shirts donned and branded water bottles filled, we bikers embarked on our ride to check out six more gardens, while the walking group ambled off to four. We saw bitter melon growing and chickens scratching. We heard stories of gardens’ origins as ashen lots in the bad old days of 1970s NYC. We whizzed by stoop sales and farmers markets and a motorcycle washing station with hand-lettered signage set up in someone’s garage. I learned that my husband has the same birthday as one of city council member Antonio Reynoso‘s staffers, and that La Finca Garden was established way back in 1986.

Guy in bike helmet and glasses next to guy in blazer

Birthday twinsies!

Woman in bike helmet next to man in baseball cap

They even have embroidered hats!

After a few sunny hours of pedaling, peeping, and chatting, we arrived at the truly fabulous People’s Garden for plant-based Dominican snacks by woman- and worker-owned catering cooperative Woke Foods and music by a band from Haiti Cultural Exchange. Kids pushed each other around in a wagon. People waiting for the bus outside peered in and bopped to the tunes. And apparently a reporter was there from Our Time Press, because I just saw this article! Nice. As dusk approached, I finally took off my fluoro yellow tour leader vest and headed out the gate, mad tired but wicked satisfied.

While I can’t say I’ll exactly miss the scores of hours the little BQLT events committee spent in after-work meetings at the library, the email chains about flyer printing that grew to 50 messages deep, or the mosquito-filled crepuscular trial rides I took part in over the past handful of months, they were all totally worth it. See you for the 8th!

People on bikes in urban America

Building Tamir’s Legacy

If I were a faster thinker, I would have a handful of pithy, insightful takeaways prepared to share with you following the hour-long phone conversation I had with Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, late last month. But alas, my brain is of the slow drip variety, and I’m still processing it all. (Or, as Tom Robbins so wonderfully put it, I’m still lapidating it in the old cerebral gem tumbler.)

What I can tell you now is that Samaria was remarkably open with me, a total stranger. I am always interested and honored when people I interview feel at ease enough to go off script, to keep going after our allotted time, to share with me some of the more personal details of their stories. In this case, I was bowled over by Samaria’s willingness to speak candidly about the death of her son, and about the many kinds of trials she’s endured in its wake. I will long remember her adaptability and determination.

Tamir Rice Cleveland brick building

Tamir Rice and the Cleveland building where a youth center will be opened in his name

As I continue to reflect on my talk with Samaria, I invite you to hear her in her own words in this story I wrote for ioby. Through June 25, Samaria is raising money to renovate the building that will become The Tamir Rice Afrocentric Center, a youth center she’s founding in her son’s name, as well as to host a Sweet Sixteen party for him at the Cleveland Museum of Art this very evening.

If you appreciate Samaria’s work, please consider giving to her campaign.

One weird trick to help preserve freedom of the press

Unlike the Greater Internet, I can’t recommend any remedies for tooth whitening, belly fat reduction, or “crepey” skin, but I can tell you…

THESE crepes are where it’s at!!

Vegan buckwheat crepes by Sweet Potato Soul.jpg

Delicious vegan buckwheat crepes — thanks to *Sweet Potato Soul!

Okay, I can also tell you the following, arguably more important stuff:

  • The internet is useful for a lot of things beside accessing dubious medical advice—such as reading the news!
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  • If you’ve been availing yourself of the latter capability at any point this year, you may have noticed (among approximately one billion other disturbing developments) that Trump’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman, Ajit Pai, is threatening to roll back Obama-era regulations that keep corporations from controlling who sees what on the internet. (At least one other FCC commissioner has her head screwed on right, thank god—see the righteous Mignon Clyburn‘s very sensible fact sheet on this matter.)
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  • Congress may still be able to sway the FCC away from turning the internet into one giant Comcast ad before they vote on the rollback on December 14 [fingers-crossed emoji].
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  • Even if they FCC does vote to kill net neutrality now, Congress could still pass legislation that protects Americans’ equal access to information (yay), instead of suppressing it for corporate benefit (boo).
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  • The divine Emily Ellsworth says sending paper letters to our reps’ district offices is second to phone calls in terms of effectiveness (but better than sending a paper letter to their DC address, emailing them, or pinging them on social media). I’m a writer to the core, so while I’m always trying to get amped to make a call, I usually wind up writing, printing, and shipping when I want to speak up (which is has been at least once a week this year, thanks to my babes at Shall Not Perish!).
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  • Case in point: THIS LETTER! Arthur and I drafted it last weekend while chilling at his mom’s house for Thanksgiving, and we purposefully made it general enough to send to any senator in the country.
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  • That’s where you come in! Cue up your entrance music, copy n paste our letter into your word processor of choice, edit the highlighted parts (and any other parts you want), and send it off! Here’s a list of every senator’s address, courtesy of the aforementioned Shall Not Perish.
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  • If you want to be a real free speech superstar, you can also…

    +   cc Ajit Pai, Chairman, and send the letter to:
    Federal Communications Commission
    445 12th Street SW
    Washington, DC 20554

    +   Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, ask to be connected to your Senators’ offices, and ask them to urge the FCC to vote NO on this awful plan!
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    +   Tell me you did one of these things so we can at least know we’re together in this, whatever happens :)

Thanks, fellow Americans! Let’s flood those mailboxes (and phone lines) this coming week and let ’em know we’ll stop reading about how to fix fatigue with one weird trick when we damn well please, not when AT&T says so.

(Do check out Jenné Claiborne’s *Sweet Potato Soul, too. Happiness on a plate!)

Making peace with the sponsored post

Given my historic predilection for writing about (allegedly) unsexy topics such as congestion pricing, volunteering in retirement, and participatory urban development, it’s no wonder that when Katarina “Don’t Wait for Permission to be Awesome” Hybenova, founder of Bushwick Daily, needs someone to write a sponsored post about a local credit union or end-of-life planning, she rings my bell.

Think unsexy thoughts Simpsons Barney

“Think unsexy thoughts… Think unsexy thoughts…”

I will admit that the idea of writing sponsored articles sat a little uneasily with me at first, because I’m generally angered and saddened by advertising’s incessant and ever-deepening march into every aspect our lives. That said!, if boss little publications like Bushwick Daily are to keep the lights on (and I sure hope they do), someone’s got to foot the bill. If that boils down to a choice between giving readers free access to the site in exchange for throwing some sidebar ads and commissioned stories into the mix, or making readers pay individually to fund BD‘s work, I’ll go with the former.

You know what, though? In this case, it’s not even as doom-and-gloom as that. The kinds of organizations that support BD are pretty much the best kinds of organizations: they’re grassroots neighborhood staples, self-made small businesses, international nonprofits—even startups on a mission to make clean power cheaper! So really, how could I complain?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need advertising—but heck, we wouldn’t need money, either! So until Reverend Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping become our president and congress, respectively, I hope you’ll enjoy reading about these boss organizations on one of the best little blogs in Brooklyn, and that you’ll support your own local micro-journalism outlets in whatever way best floats your boat.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

100 influential urbanists you probably don’t know about, but might-should

I don’t think I’ve heard the hyphenate “might-should” since I last hung out with my high school boyfriend’s Florida-born, Lynyrd Skynyrd-listening parents in their motor home—which was definitely a while ago! But sometimes it just fits the bill.

Case in point: last week, my beloved client-friends at ioby asked if I could help them with a project. They had recently come across Planetizen’s “100 Most Influential Urbanists” article and wanted to put together their own list of 100 more influential urbanists who also happen to be ioby Leaders (their honorific for residents who step up to make their neighborhood better in some way, and raise awareness and money on ioby to do it).

Naturally, I didn’t even need to think, “Might-should I do this?” I totally leapt at the chance to mine five-plus years’ worth of inspiriting ioby blog posts, videos, and giving reports for 100 awesome people who demonstrate the range of just who ioby Leaders are and just what they can do. Summarizing their stories into bite-sized pieces was also fun, though a taller order.

It’s so hard to have favorites when everyone is a knockout, but here are a few who stick with me:

  • Lucille White of Cleveland, crossing guard and grandmother of 19 (!), who lost two nieces to hit-and-runs. “Miss Lucille” convened a dozen middle and high school students in her neighborhood to help design and implement desperately needed traffic calming interventions where they live.

  • When the city of Highland Park, Michigan repossessed over 1,000 street lights from Jackson Koeppel‘s already underserved neighborhood, he co-founded Soulardarity: a membership-based, community-owned solar power nonprofit that’s installing its own new solar street lamps to light the way for his neighbors.

  • A poet and musician from Black Hills, South Dakota, Lyla June Johnston leads a team of 50-plus volunteers to organize the annual Black Hills Unity Concert, an event that joins native and non-native people alike in prayers for reconciliation, celebrations of unity, protests against injustice, and songs of hope.

Jeez, if I keep going, I’ll start tearing up again! Just too much greatness here for one blog post. Good thing you can check out 97 more excellent people and stories on ioby’s blog any time you want. They might-should help you remember that—despite Donald Trump’s best efforts—there’s still a lot of good going on out there these days.

The Trump presidency isn’t the only reason to start planning for your demise

You’re still gonna die someday, no matter who’s president! Dem’s da breaks, folks.

Elon Musk spacesuit

Unless…?

No one can game this system (well, maybe Elon Musk?), but we can go a long way toward making sure we shuffle off this mortal coil gracefully—at least with regard to our worldly stuff.

I recently spoke with an NYC-based estate law and probate attorney who gave me some good end-of-life planning tips that people of any age and economic status can use to help their friends and family avoid painful posthumous guesswork.

For her complete primer, and a few other attempts at making reading about wills and healthcare directives fun, you can peep my article in Bushwick Daily.

Oh, and as for that whole Trump-giving-everyone-suicidal-anxiety thing, here’s a bit of a cheerer-upper. Today is The Ides of Trump! Send a postcard and take a deep, life-affirming breath.

A good sign: The Women’s March on Washington

Of course, there were about a BAJILLION good signs there, which is the focus of this post.

But the pun is not lost on me that this event was also a good sign of broad support for women’s rights (oh man—”broad support for women’s rights”? they just keep coming!) as well as for human rights, environmental stewardship, and general common sense and decency across the board.

Those sentiments came across loud and clear in thousands of amazing handheld signs and banners. (Which is quite fortunate for me: if a sign is worth a thousand words, and I tried to convey the meanings of thousands of signs… I’d have loads and loads of words to write!) If only I’d been able to capture more. But here’s a decently representative sample:

Womens march protest sign

Mega-love to all the amazing people out there! It was a miraculous day suffused with positive vibes, politeness on all fronts, and even the responsible disposal of litter!

See you at the next.

Family at Womens March on Washington

Celebrating the first-ever National Day of Racial Healing

Seems like an apt annual holiday to instate, doesn’t it?

I collaboratively penned this article about one facet of the puzzle—the role of structural racism in our neighborhoods, and how resident-leaders are turning back its tide—with the wise and wonderful people at ioby.

ioby neighborh vacant lot project

You can get more info about the National Day of Racial Healing, an initiative of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation with support from over 130 other organizations, on its website or with the hashtag .

Looking for a practical, ongoing way to make a positive difference post-election?

I thought you might be!

Here’s one idea that checks all of the following boxes:

  • It will keep us thinking critically and articulating our thoughts about political issues in the coming year and beyond, on a regular basis
  • It will let our elected representatives know where we stand on key issues likely to be affected by the Trump administration (climate change, freedom of the press, reproductive rights, racism, immigration…)
  • It doesn’t cost anything but a couple of postage stamps and a bit of printer ink each week
  • It can be accomplished at any time of day or night, in the comfort of your home (and in your pajamas, if you so choose), in 30 minutes or less, once a week
  • It will introduce you to a grip (so far 110 and counting) of excellent people nationwide who are also committing to this peaceful act of democracy
  • Unlike complaining to our already-sympathetic friends and family in our living rooms (which I also fully intend to go on doing), this actually might help us sway decision-making at the highest levels of government

What is it??

Why, it’s a good old fashioned letter writing campaign!

Letter writing campaign

Image borrowed from DayAgainstHomophobia.org

My new friend Katie is organizing people nationwide who pledge to send one brief letter a week to our respective state’s senators (and district reps, too, if we choose) about important issues we want to weigh in on. We’ll start right after the inauguration. The group is pooling ideas for topics to write about and talking points to include, so the letter-penning task won’t turn into hours of homework for anyone. (AKA: You don’t need to be a policy wonk to make your letters meaningful! You just need to show you care.)

While of course we’d love for anyone and everyone to get in on this, we’re especially looking for people who live in “red” or mixed states or congressional districts to get on board, as well as people who live in places that experienced an unexpected swell of Trump support in the voting booths.

Here’s a document Katie drafted called The Big Idea which explains everything a little more, and one I drafted with a fun photo at the top.

If you think you might want to take part, awesome!! Just fill out this quick form, or send an email to Katie at shallnotperish2016@gmail.com with the subject “Deal Me In” and your city and state in the body. She’ll give you more details and you can decide if you want to take part.

Thanks, fellow travelers! I’m glad to have you around as we gear up for the unknown.

The thread that’s pulling us through post-election depression

On Wednesday morning last week, overcome with a mix of despair, denial, and a post-election night hangover, I sent this email to over 60 people:

Hi friends and family,

Apologies for the long recipient list, but I’m thinking of you all right now.

Been a lot of tears in our house this morning; maybe yours, too. Still doesn’t seem real.

I remember being in Williamsburg in 2008 when Obama was elected for the first time. The streets were alive. People were yelling from apartment windows, dancing on the roofs of cars. Last night, as Arthur and I walked home from Michael and Hallie’s, this place was a ghost town. We passed a couple sitting on a stoop, the woman crying and the man consoling her. When we got home, we saw the attached was spray painted across the street from our apartment (one of a few on this block); this morning, a couple laid out the pantsuit memorial. (The signs read “RIP America” and “1776 – 2016.”)

Maybe things won’t be so bad. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be a relatively uneventful four years followed by someone better. But this election does throw into relief for me the constantly-important need to live a good and decent life, and to help each other stay engaged and succeed in that. It also reminds me of how much love I have for each of you, and how grateful I am that we’re in all of this together.

Good luck to us all,

A

I attached this photo: the scene across the street from our apartment on November 9:

Hillary Clinton pantsuit memorial Donald Trump graffiti

There was no real intention behind the email; I was just feeling shocked and wanted to reach for my people.

But as they say in clickbait: “You’ll never believe what happened next!”

(Well, I suppose it’s actually pretty predictable, but it did pleasantly surprise me.)

  1. No one seemed annoyed by that long recipient list.
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  2. People began to respond—usually “reply all”—with a beautiful variety of perspectives, stories, emotions, and even some freaky art. (This eclectic group ranges in their ages from mid-20s to mid-70s, in their education levels from GED to PhD, and in their vocations from bartender to retired chemistry professor to child psychologist to sommelier to wood shop teacher to real estate agent and beyond.)
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  3. As the post-election week wore on, people began referring to the thread as a “safe space;” they said they were so glad it was there for them in this trying time; they said it had created a community.

Bittersweet moment

Color me touched, impressed, and more grateful than perhaps ever before to have this outstanding group of people to turn to, in good times and in bad.

Here are some (anonymous) excerpts from their contributions:

  • “I fear that you younger folks will have to live with a very different country ahead.”
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  • “Yes, all we have is each other and love where we can find it. When the going gets tough we’ll probably find less of it around. What I’m finding myself scared and sad about is the need to be brave for maybe years to come, to sacrifice and take risks for each other, and I just feel too tired and scared for another civil rights movement. Getting arrested made me less fierce, not more. Thanks for the missive and the community. Sorry that I don’t have a lot of light right now. Want to come over for a hang tonight? I’m back from soccer by 9.”
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  • thank god my cats have no idea that today is different from yesterday and make me laugh. (scraping week old cat puke off the floor feels appropriate.)”
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  • “As I told my Dad earlier today, this is the first time I’ve lost sleep and then had a nightmare about a political issue. And I’m not even that liberal! I think the overwhelming amount of people that care for one another and are genuinely disturbed by this result will make a big difference. We’re not dead! Either Trump will be just another crappy president, or he’ll try something really bad and the people won’t have it. We aren’t Germany after WW1, we’re a multicultural nation that can’t be tricked completely. It will be OK.”
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  • “I’m thinking that perhaps most or all of you are living ‘Up North’ (as we say here in North Carolina). It is very helpful to read your personal statements of despair and yet hope. My husband and I feel fortunate that we have so many like-minded friends and family and also a strong, progressive and outspoken church community. Otherwise I think we might feel even more depressed and overwhelmed than we do already. At 73, I am crushed to find that our country is still not ready for strong female leadership, which I had hoped would happen in my lifetime. It is hard to keep on hoping after so many dry years (the 70s were a lot more fun). But it is the hope and encouragement of people like you who keep us all going and willing to keep fighting for true change in this country of ours.”
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  • “Did you know that H.L. Mencken predicted this would happen almost 100 years ago?”
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    H.L. Mencken Trump cartoon
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  • “Feeling very much the same here in the western bastion of sanity. Finding some relief in commiserating with like minded folks. One thing I’ve found therapeutic is to create a list of three things that I can and will do to make the next 4+ years just a little less shitty. Give it a try.”
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  • “I believe my fear is rational. April and I were in Russia over the summer, and we witnessed first-hand a country where an authoritarian has taken power, then systematically weakened, dismantled, or taken control over all the institutions of democracy and media in order to cement his power. The same thing is happening in Turkey as we speak. There is a blueprint for it. Perhaps I am being alarmist (I hope), but as we learned in this election, underestimating Trump is a mistake. We can’t keep dismissing him as a buffoon. He has never played by the rules or respected the norms of civil society. We need to assume he is capable of anything, and that even his most outrageous threats are serious, possible, and anything but bluster. I think we need to ignore our democratic impulse to be gracious in defeat, or to give the new president the benefit of the doubt. He has said what he wants to do, and we need to believe him and challenge him from the start, before he gets entrenched.”
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  • “Remember Susan B’s words, ‘Failure is impossible.’ “

An Indian-American friend gave her account of getting “Shut up, you Arab bitch, you’re dead” shouted at her repeatedly on the subway. My husband’s septuagenarian aunt proposed several practical actions we could all take moving forward: hosting letter-writing potluck dinners, making phone calls to state and national level representatives, convening small groups and visiting congresspeople’s offices with a particular request or list of questions. We traded links to petitions, homemade satirical videos, comforting quotes and poetry, and possibilities for answering the question, “What do we do now?”

In one of my favorite replies, a lawyer friend wrote about his volunteer work with the Safe Passage Project and how in the past two years he’s helped three children apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and (fingers crossed) get green cards.

Outside of the births of my children, [helping one of these kids in particular] might be the proudest moment of my life and it is definitely my proudest moment as an attorney,” he wrote. “It is exactly why I became an attorney, to help people.”

He continued: “Please see the importance of connecting with others. We cannot allow kids like these to fall through the cracks. To become victims of Trump and those who support him. Elizabeth Warren said on Rachel Maddow yesterday that we need to organize and stay in touch with those around us. Do not be afraid to ask your friends, your coworkers, and even those you meet on the street what is wrong and be prepared to listen to their answers. Forge relationships with others and do not be afraid to ask for help. We are here for you and we will not let you fail. You are not alone.”

The group’s wonderful and poignant notes go on, too many to recount here. I’ll end with the one that’s probably gotten the most play in our house to date, from our computer-programmer-turned-full-time-drummer friend who encapsulates with equal parts intelligent critique and absurd humor the scary ride we’ve been on for the past week and change:

I guess we must revel in the friendships we make during the struggle and not take it for granted that we live with neighbors who understand science, diversity and the importance of inclusion for effective democracy.

From my perspective, the same people who weren’t concerned as we lost soldiers daily in Iraq, lost hundreds of contractors, killed hundreds of thousands of people defending against our illegal invasion of their nation, and destroyed thousands of emails that would have explained our intent for invading that country have spent the last several years seizing on one terrible moment where we tragically lost four contractors in Benghazi, wasting millions of dollars and all their energy attacking Hillary over less important emails and one tragic night, instead of governing.

Somehow this bad work ethic and focus on negative attacks was rewarded: and we have a president who, for example, has the endorsement of the fraternal order of police because he doesn’t hold them accountable, exemplified by his stupendous belief that the Central Park 5 should still be in prison or executed in spite of DNA evidence exonerating them and fingering the actual perpetrator who has a record of sexual assault (who also confessed and described his attack). And who similarly chooses ignorance on science of climate change, racism, freedom of religion, women’s rights, marriage equality, health care, etc…

Into the time machine we go: goodbye health care, goodbye freedom of choice, goodbye marriage equality, goodbye holding authorities accountable for false confessions and planted evidence, goodbye freedom from religion, goodbye leading the world on how democracy can work by being inclusive and positive. Hello darkness my old friend.

Just kidding: We need to stay positive, affect ignorance with love and positive guidance and finding common threads that bind us rather than alienation, as hard as that seems. And on the positive side: comedians will be in heaven with this guy in office.

This is all going to backfire as I have decided to run for city council, work my way up to senator as I get my law degree, all the while I will be groping white men like [friend’s name] full-on with no remorse and without permission. My ultimate plan is to be the first gay President. After the third debate, as me and my GOP opponent (picture a Mitt clone) reach to shake hands, I will grab that motherfucker by his balls and as he squirms I will look at the cameras, looking America right in the eye, and say “This is for Trump, you no good son of a bitch!”