The Aftermath

OK y’all. These are rough times.  Everyone’s mad. Trump’s got us all freewheeling on the end of his unyielding yo-yo string.  Executive orders are flying and the worst of our fears are coming true.  But we can’t live like this.  We just can’t.  It’s not sustainable.  We are all going to have early heart attacks or drinking problems or politics-induced panic disorder or some newly-minted diagnosis that will spring up as a result of these twisted-ass times.

Today I had to take a deep breathe and remember that we are dealing with a crazy person. A literal crazy person who happens to have been elected president or our United States.  We cannot be surprised by any action he takes from this point forward.  He has a mental illness and he will continue to take action on any unwieldy, unreasonable, emotionally-charged whim that crosses his mind and is within—albeit questionably—his democratic power.  So there’s that.  No more surprises.  This is just who he is.  And maybe who a lot of America is since we voted for him en masse.

Here are some thoughts and paths forward I’ve been thinking on:

  • As a person of many privileges, my life will probably not be that directly impacted or damaged no matter who is in office.
  • Having said that, many people’s lives will and already have been torn at the seams and it’s my place to protect and defend those lives.
  • I am done with protesting—for now, at least. And in thinking about where to pick up the torch and go to battle I’ve landed on doing more of what I’m already doing with what’s before me.
    • Writing: I want to do more of this in a way that’s useful for folks on both sides of the aisle. I want to do this to articulate how strongly I think and feel about our shared humanity and pointing to ways in which we do not protect that and how we can do better.
    • Dialogue: I want to create spaces for dialogue. Because I believe that is the only thing that will truly get us out of this polarized mess we’re in. These spaces will be in casual conversations with friends, on social media, through art and through finding people on both sides who are willing to at least engage—not agree, just engage.
    • Work: As a person in a place of leadership at my workplace, I have a responsibility to create an environment and culture that challenges the status quo and flips oppression on it’s head. I want to find new avenues to recruit employees that have been typically left out of the mainstream—those with criminal convictions or disabilities or a lack of formal education. I want to pave the way for people of color to take on leadership positions and advocate for higher salaries of all non-profit workers. I want to make sure we are not only providing services to people, but are offering them ways to connect with and use their own power—through voting or community organizing or knowing their rights.
    • Criminal Justice: While Trump is shutting out refugees, we have millions of men and women in our country’s prisons who feel and are treated like foreigners in their own homeland. In fact, many who have come home refer to themselves as “returning citizens”. We are incarcerating men and women because we have been taught to fear their skin color and have recruited a police force who embrace that fear in the line of duty. Because we have underfunded their neighborhoods and their schools and left them with no other options. And when these men and women have completed their sentences we continue to punish them with supervised parole and withholding their voting rights and finding every excuse not to hire them based on their past convictions. And God knows what this presidency has in store for them. So I will continue to fight their fight until we have a justice system that is, in fact, just.

 

 

Ties that Break

This last trip to Texas was a real doozy and I’m not sure where to begin but here is where I try to make some sense of things. A few realizations I had while I was back in my home state the past week (and I’m sure more on the horizon):

I’ve turned out really different from a lot of the people I grew up with—this may seem obvious but I’ve always held onto a reality that no matter how different the paths life takes my family and I, there will still be that common anchor. That sturdy, wrought iron core of a shared value or belief or whatever that thing is we are proud to boast as “ours” and ours alone. And lately that has felt tested as some of the things I hold core to who I am and how I am in the world are not only different, but in direct opposition to those of my closest kin.

Religion can be a source of great manipulation or great freedom and I think I’ve found the latter in spite of the former. There is a vein of Christianity I grew up around that says “no” to everything in its path. It generates fear of the other and is in the business of creating new “others” on the regular. And there are clearly understood lines drawn to dictate who is in and who is out. Who is good and who is bad. Whose eternity is secured and whose is not. Which words are acceptable and which are not. Whose lifestyle is celebrated and whose is not. Which questions are allowed and which are not. And I have since breathed cleaner air and cannot go back to that suffocating place.

Being a woman in my family comes with limits. Now this is certainly not something that is advertised or articulated in explicit ways (as sexism often isn’t). It is the ever-subtle yet ever-present sense that others hold a limited set of expectations for who you are and what you will be. It comes in the childish retorts from adults’ mouths when you question them on a belief, a position, a life choice because who are you, as a female, to understand such complexities? Who are you, as a female, to know what the right thing is?

It is often communicated through absences—the absence of substantial conversations about politics or finance or career or economics directed at the female members of my family. The absence of women’s voices in mixed company and the absence of male listeners when women do speak up. The absence of confidence I feel in the presence of brothers and uncles and cousins who are male.

And it is sometimes spoken in the ways things play out. Like how the men have managed to plan and attend their annual golf tournament for ten years strong while the women have barely gotten their reunion off the ground in the past couple of years. Like how every one of my female cousins is a teacher, nurse or stay at home mom. Like the fact that my brother owns two houses in two different states. And how the more questions I ask and the more ambitious my dreams get, the more I am looked at like a traitor, a dissenter, a “liberal”, one in need of “prayer.”

And, believe it or not, I am thankful. I am sad but thankful. Because with each look and with each subtle snub I am pushed to be more, to do more, to fight harder for those who feel like this times a billion. To continue to speak truth to power—right now, a particular power who is about to become our president (and all of those that voted for him). I am thankful I live in a city of other fighters and work in a profession where every day I see strong, female, black and brown leaders in action.   I am sad but thankful. Because this anger ignites me. And this anger builds empathy. And empathy builds love. And love is unstoppable.

And, then…

I am going to keep writing about this stupid election until there is nothing more to say, which is looking like may be a while.  Since I don’t have many Trump supporters in my direct circles and the ones I do have I swore off talking politics with several years ago I have had to google why people voted for this asshole.  Here are some things I found followed by some things I have to say about the things I found:

Illegal immigrants: First of all, I’m pretty sure the people who are citing this as a reason for voting for Trump have probably never met an undocumented person in their life and are completely unaware of the fact that if every undocumented immigrant left the country right now, our service industry, farming and so many other vital parts of our economy would completely tank.  So, you know what…if you are upset about having to pay taxes so that undocumented people can receive medical care or whatever else it is you cry about all the time, just think about the sticker shock you’ll have when you get the bill at your favorite restaurant or grocery store or retailer once all of the undocumented folks leave town.  Then you’ll be begging to foot their health insurance bill.  See this and this.

OK, well that’s apparently all the energy I have for this post.  The show must go on tomorrow….peace (good Lord do we need a lot of that right now).

The End and Beginning of the World in Post-its (aka What just happened?) (aka Election catharsis)

This is my first attempt to write or say much of anything about the election results.  Mainly because I’m not exactly sure how I feel and because I’ve had a hell of a hard time putting words to  much of anything lately.

Last night my friend told me about a “subway therapist” at the 14th street station whose been providing post-it’s as cathartic relief:

I liked that idea because my thoughts are not coherent right now.  They are coming out in spits and bursts and colorful post-it sized questions and ruminations.  Having said that, here’s what’s on my internal subway wall these days:

I can’t believe that racist, sexist, low life fucker won the highest office in this nation.  Shame on you, America.

We clearly have zero sense of morality if that’s the kind of leader we chose.  And the degree to which his disgusting, hurtful, ignorant actions have been justified is beyond anything I ever imagined.

The one reason I am glad this happened is that the Christian Right can no longer say this is about Family Values or “Christian” Values or Prayer in Schools or whatever other kind of bullshit they espouse in the name of upholding white male patriarchy.  Their agenda is about upholding the status quo, keeping women out of the workforce and shaming women who fall outside of their neatly-defined moral boxes.  Their agenda was never about Christianity and, though I can’t believe someone as extreme as Donald Trump had to be the one to expose them for what they’re really about, I’m glad it happened.

And for those who hung on to the abortion argument until the bitter end, shame on you too.  If you were truly “pro life” you would care just as much about the countless individuals and groups of people that Trump made fun of, demeaned and threatened during the course of his campaign.  Where is your vote in protection of these people?  And, when I think about your fierce anti-abortion stance I really have to wonder what that’s really all about.  Because I know women who’ve had abortions and some of them are black and poor and some of them are white and unmarried.  And those happen to be two groups of people I have seen you repeatedly be unkind to and judgmental of and I really don’t picture that changing if they decide to follow your moral directives and go through with their pregnancies.  So please, for the love of God, please stop pretending you are pro life and let’s have a conversation about this is really about.

As an individual, I  have been doing some soul searching…wondering how I personally may have contributed to this mess we are in by my actions or lack thereof.  I’ve always cared about racism and sexism and combatting hate and I think at some point long ago got tired and discouraged and generally flustered in talking to other white folks about these things that matter to me so much to me.  So I (subconciously, perhaps) decided to just put my head down and do the work addressing all of these “isms”.  Work that fulfills me and allows me to tackle structural inequalities without having to get into shouting matches with people.  Work in which I am often the racial minority and provides me an opportunity to support and uplift and (hopefully) provide better and more just spaces for people of color.  Or, at the very least, let them know there are white folks who get it and who care, however imperfectly that is communicated on a day to day basis.

And this election has showed me that is simply not enough.  I often don’t know how to love white folks who are so unlike me.  I don’t necessarily know how to be an ally through challenging my white friends and family members and challenging the dynamics of white spaces and not just disowning whole groups of white people whom I don’t perceive to be “woke.”  So, this is my challenge.  And it is scary to think that taking up the task of interrupting white racism may create tense moments in friendships or re-opening cans of worms with family members or make me feel like a blubbering idiot when my emotions get the best of me.

Since the election results came in, I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about how this was poor and working class white America’s cry for help, their remedy to their own voicelessness in this country.  And I believe that’s true and that we need to really look at what’s going on there.  But there are other groups who’ve felt voiceless and helpless and in dicey economic circumstances for far longer.  And when they blame their struggles on poor policy and “the establishment” they are often told to try harder, have more work ethic and be good parents.  So, as much as I feel for poor white America’s plight, it is also their privilege to be able to address it and be heard through our established form of democracy.

To be fair, some of these ramblings probably took up a whole wall of post-it’s unto themselves.  I hope I eventually have a whole country full of them.

Who We Look at When We Say Things

I had an epiphany the other week. It came in the form of an email—a Donald Trump article circulated amongst family members. An article about his appeal to white working class men. About the state of white working class men and how the institutions of labor and marriage are no longer working in their favor. About how the policies formed as a result of the civil rights and women’s movements “failed” us all in our quest to maintain that fundamental value that makes this country so great—freedom. Because, apparently, those policies forced us to start treating people as groups rather than individuals and that sent America on a slippery slope away from our roots of liberty, freedom and self-determination.

What the article forgot to mention is the Men’s Movement—particularly, the White Men’s Movement that is so pervasive it needs no name. It just always was. Movements are often difficult for white men to understand because when you were born in a state of having (the right to vote, the benefit of the doubt from law enforcement, the right to own land, the ability to make your own income…), you don’t need a movement and special policies to protect you. You came out of the womb with those things.

I wanted badly to “reply all” stating all of the above. I imagined how my bold and pointed statements would create new spaces of enlightenment in people’s brains. I imagined how this would be the moment when everyone on this e-mail would be silenced once and for all by my brilliance. Never mind that I’ve replied all plenty of times before, only to be met with nonsensical comebacks, guised insults or silence. THIS would be the time it all turned around.

And then a friend (who I’d let read the e-mail chain) casually remarked, “You know you shouldn’t reply to this, right?” I looked at him like he had two heads. And then, an odd feeling washed over me…

Relief.

In all of my worst dreams I am desperately trying for something—to say a thing or get to a destination or warn an onlooker. But in these dreams I have no voice or my legs refuse to move or my phone won’t work or the person doesn’t see me; I’m blocked at every turn. I am tormented and frustrated and often wake up sweating and crying.

In my non-dream life I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to have reasonable conversations with unreasonable people. I always thought if I yelled loud enough or got enough diplomas or knew enough facts or read enough books or collected enough experiences or earned enough letters after my name then maybe—just maybe—the people I was yelling at would finally understand.

“You know you shouldn’t to reply to this, right?”

Well…no, actually. I never did imagine doing nothing as a completely acceptable or available option in this scenario. That would mean defeat. That would mean the other side won. That would mean all of the people and perspectives and lifestyles that have ever been misrepresented or shit on or lied about would go undefended on my watch. That would mean I’m not ultimately responsible for other people’s beliefs. That would mean that my voice is just as strong and just as true and just as meaningful and just as essential apart from said people’s attention and approval.

The more we recognize and live in our own power the more aware we become of the tactics used to undermine this power. Sometimes those come in the form of e-mails disguised as platforms for healthy discussion and debate but intended to assert dominance over others’ thoughts, beliefs and perspective. Sometimes the tactics are less subtle.

We don’t have to live our lives responding to untruths. There are plenty of people ready and, dare I say, excited to listen to my words, my ponderings, my questions, my theories. There are people who live their lives in states of malleability, willing to be challenged and humbled and chiseled. Unfortunately, those were not the people on this e-mail.

“You know you shouldn’t reply to this, right?”

Turns out, my most powerful resource was right there the whole time—the ability to choose my audience.

Today we remember Leonard Strickland and Bradley Ceasar

A few days ago The New York Times published this special report about an inmate’s 2010 death at the Clinton Correctional Facility.  Leonard Strickland, an inmate who suffered from Schizophrenia, had been serving four and a half years for possession of a weapon.  Strickland got into an argument with the prison guards and ended up dead, suffering multiple cuts, bruises and internal bleeding by the time the ambulance arrived.  We’ve heard this story before.

We’ve heard this story before and we haven’t heard this story before.  Or maybe it’s that we haven’t heard it enough.  Another inmate (Bradley Ceasar) died a couple years before Strickland at this same facility under similar circumstances.  According to the article, several prisoners have filed officer brutality cases at Clinton and I’m sure with the right amount of research, one wouldn’t be hard pressed to find similar occurrences at jails and prisons around the country–deaths waived off as medical emergencies or necessary for keeping the peace.  Witnesses never allowed to testify or even sought after.

In the last part of this piece we see a glimpse of how our system of incarceration reverberates to families and communities.  Strickland’s 70 year old mother would take a six hour bus trip once a month to visit her son because, in New York State (and many other states), prisoners are kept as far from their neighborhoods and loved ones as possible.  Mrs. Strickland did not have the financial resources to provide a funeral for her son and he was buried at the Clinton Correctional Cemetery a mile from the prison–an ending no mother envisions for her child.

I wonder if Mrs. Strickland grieved the dreams she had for her son Leonard or if she grieved a system that allowed for things to end this way.  Or if she had long ago stopped dreaming.