Yes, And…

It’s a confusing time because it is (and has been) essential to elect as many open-minded and ethical Democrats/Independents to local, state, and national office as possible, yet it is understandable that people want to yell at anyone they can. Yelling at the main perpetrators (right-wing Republicans, Libertarians, and similar) is not as satisfying because it’s like yelling at zombies for eating brains. Destroying democracy, the environment, public health, and human rights is what they do. So I can see why some want to yell at anyone they think they can blame for not finding a way to protect all of us. I confess I personally feel similar rage towards certain Senators from AZ and WV as I do towards McConnell. As angry as I feel about how those two Democratic Senators have almost single-handedly undermined my children’s chances to live long and healthy lives, I know that McConnell and his type are much, much worse.

So complain, yes, AND vote.

Complain, yes, AND get involved somehow, preferably in ways that lead to positive change.

I worked quite a bit on local campaigns when I was younger, and I still remember feeling more frustrated with people who agreed with us than those opposed to us. (I also hated the fact that it felt as if many people only paid attention if the election was made to seem urgent with dire consequences rather than simply the pursuit of that which would be useful and helpful.) Too often, it felt as if the people who were politically moderate/liberal/progressive didn’t seem to feel any need to do anything or, worse, acted as if there was something unsavory about political engagement. Or so it felt at the time, though I think it’s improving. I’ve since realized that I don’t want to complain about the people who didn’t work their butts off to get as many good people as possible elected up and down the ballot because I tend to believe everyone’s doing what makes the most sense to them for lots of reasons and that sometimes they just aren’t there yet. It’s just hard to bite my tongue when some of those people complain that the “Democrats” didn’t do enough, like Democrats are a separate entity with magical access to power unrelated to the actions of individual voters and unaffected by the capricious mood swings of the voting population. It’s the same way I feel when people complain about The Government in a democracy. In a democracy, who is the government? The people. It’s us.

Is it hard and time-consuming? Yep. Is it frustrating and slow? Oh, yeah. Do you discover that we don’t actually all think in lockstep which makes it really hard to put into action all these plans that some activists claim would fix everything? Yep. Do you also discover that some solutions have unintended consequences, so you are never done with trying to fix anything? Oh, yeah. Do people/corporations with too much money have too much influence over our government? And are deliberate disinformation and clickbait culture undermining efforts to share important information? All too true. Does it all make you want to take a nap and/or eat some chocolate? Sure. Does it mean we should give up entirely? Hell, no.

Complain if you must—you aren’t alone, though it would be great if we could also talk about what has worked or what is working rather than only about what isn’t.

So vent, yes.

And then find ways to get engaged and to sustain some kind of engagement for the long haul. You are the government.

What I accept/What I abjure

I accept—and respect!— that people have strongly held values and religious beliefs that motivate them.

I abjure any attempt to force such beliefs upon others. I abjure it on principle… but also in practical terms, I am yet to observe that any religious person fully agrees with another religious person on all issues, even those within the same church. (Of course, this is true for all people, regardless of religious belief.)

I accept that many people love babies. I love babies. I want them to be celebrated and cared for and to go on to live long and rewarding lives. I know how hard it is to raise babies—I have some of my own, I was supported in so many ways, and it was still hard. The pregnancies were tough and sometimes scary. I was haunted by the risk of a miscarriage, not to mention the risk of dying and leaving my husband alone with a baby (or possibly with no one).

I abjure any attempt to force pregnancies upon others.

I accept, indeed insist, that you should live your life according to your values, and you can peacefully express your values in hopes of improving the lives of others. This should be an act of kindness on your part, fueled by your generosity and empathy.

I abjure the idea that your values justify attempts to punish or control others for thinking/looking/acting/being different from you. That is the exact opposite of a spiritual or moral stance. I abjure the idea that your values justify violence. I abjure the idea that your values justify tyranny.

I accept that peaceful protests are not violence (and have been a healthy function of U.S. democracy since its inception). Strategic resistance is not violence. And these both seem wholly appropriate right now, in addition to voting to protect the lives put at risk by abortion bans and seeking fresh ways such as ending the electoral college and expanding the courts to protect our democracy from zealots and the con artists who profit from them.

leaves on the ground

Words, sure, but no words

I haven’t been able to blog for awhile, working through grief, frankly, which makes me just like everyone else these days.

As I strive for some semblance of normalcy, trying yet failing to accept that I will never again spend time with two of the best people I ever had the privilege to know and love, world events continue to knock me off balance. Again, I know, this makes me just like everyone else.

I need to react to the invasion of Ukraine, to process it somehow, and I hope to do so humbly, because no words work in the face of a senseless human rights tragedy, war pursued by choice (can I really label an act of madness as a choice?)

Perhaps I will start by offering snapshots that rise to mind right now. Several years ago, my family took part in a well-organized school program in which we all read the book Prisoner B-3087 written by Alan Gratz, based on the true Holocaust story by Ruth and Jack Gruener. If you know anything about the book, you know it depicts countless levels of hell during the Holocaust. Yet what stuck with me the most was an early scene in which the narrator, a young Jewish boy, is surrounded by his family at home. In that moment, when everything was normal, they were happy, though there were reasons to worry. And he recalls that if they had known what was to come, they would have run away at that moment.

I admit, I have thought about that often when I am surrounded by family in what seems like safety, most frequently in 2016 when the 45th President rose to power by stirring up prejudice and spreading lies.

And I think about it now when I read tweets by Ukrainians (and Russians, for that matter), for whom life shifted from stable to chaos in a matter of hours. They, like too many people in too many places around the world, have to wonder if giving up everything they know and love would somehow be better than staying put.

Another image that has to come to mind is that heartbreaking visual of a student standing defiantly against a tank in Tiananmen Square.

It is almost impossible to decipher the reasons behind this invasion. The expansion of the capacity of nations to defend themselves seems like a flimsy excuse (the existence of Alaska certainly casts doubt on that line of thinking), not to mention the fact that modern technology means that proximity is less meaningful in terms of self-defense.

What I notice is this: the Ukrainian democracy worked—people protested, people voted, and they elected a president of their choice. It was a real election, unlike what happens in neighboring Russia and Belarus. If you need evidence that democracy was alive in Ukraine, look no further than the fact that they weren’t universally happy with President Zelenskyy (before the invasion started, that is). Complaining about the politicians we elect is not actually a sign of weakness in a political system—it means we understand that there will never be one person who can be trusted absolutely with the power to control our destinies. It is our job in a democracy to pay attention, second guess, complain, and consider different options. Democracy is about We the people, not “I alone.”

From the perspective of tyrants, exercising the right to vote, claiming the right to self-determination, is provocation. The Ukrainians voted, and the tyrant responded. The same impulse arose here on January 6 when would-be tyrants attacked our capital in reaction to a fair and free election.

Peaceful protests and free speech threaten tyrants. (For the record, violence, destruction, willfully spreading illness, and laying siege to a city are not the exercise of freedom but the behavior of bullies.)

I see a line, a tenuous one perhaps, connecting the students standing before tanks in Tiananmen Square, the Ukrainians seeking to halt an endless line of Russian tanks, and the Russian protesters arrested in their public squares. I would remind some Americans that there are those in this country who drive cars and trucks into peaceful protesters. In every case, democracy scares bullies and tyrants.

The history of the pursuit of democracy is full of loss and heartbreak. And democratic governance is messy; it requires us to try to get along with people with whom we will never fully agree and to craft imperfect solutions to intractable problems. Democracy will always be vulnerable to those who would lie and manipulate us for their own enrichment. Those who support democracy are, alas, not always on the winning side of history.

But everyone loses whenever and wherever democracy is betrayed, suppressed, or brutally assaulted.

What’s so funny about peace, love, and academic theories?

While I should know better than to be surprised by anything anymore, I admit to being befuddled by the attacks on critical race theory. Wait, before you explain to me about white supremacy or people who stand for nothing making things up to fight over, yes, I get that.

It’s just that from a social science perspective, critical race theory is a complex theoretical viewpoint, a lens with which to analyze a problem. The metaphor of a lens is often used for this kind of research, and it’s an apt one. If I take a photo with a wide view lens and another with a close-up lens, I will get different results even though I am aiming my camera in the same direction at what appears to be the same subject. So if I study a topic using critical race theory, I’m applying this lens because it will bring to light specific issues worthy of investigation. And, um, it doesn’t exactly seem radical to suggest that discrimination and injustice based on race are worthy of investigation.

I am not well-read in the theoretical underpinnings of critical race theory, though I suspect I would benefit greatly from it (my dissertation research question fit best with activity theory, in case you’re wondering, and I feel confident you weren’t). I could say the same about postmodern theory, and there are threads of that theory which I also find inviting, from zombies (neither dead nor alive) to unraveling tapestries (of meaning). What I most recall about these theoretical lenses is that they are complex. Which is why, though I am definitely mad about the white supremacy and power grabs that fuel these attacks, I find myself trying not to laugh when I hear legislatures want to outlaw critical race theory. It makes me think, will they outlaw postmodern theory next? I remember being a middle school teacher and what we would have thought if someone told us we were forbidden to teach postmodern theory. It would just be like, “Um, will I know if I was teaching that?” And there would be eye rolls.

In my experience, theoretical perspectives are full of subtlety and nuance. You rarely claim anything to be absolutely true, so even if you had some enterprising public school teacher determined to inculcate our youth in postmodern theory, well, actually, postmodern theory suggests that sentence could never occur, so let me try again. Theory is subtle, flexible, evolving, with ample room for dissent. To outlaw a theory is to outlaw, well, something as insubstantial as a summer breeze. There’s something there, but what is it? And it will be gone before we can even try to take hold.

I know, I know. It never makes sense. These tinpot dictators in our state legislatures don’t want to make sense, just trouble. And waste time, energy, and resources just when we need them the most.

Here’s a thought—maybe I will call my Senators to urge they pass the For the People Act (S.1) every time I see any misguided references to critical race theory.

We regret to inform you that you were not, after all, elected to Student Council.

It turns out that we have recently become aware of the potential for fraud in our past system of counting all votes and naming the winners of the most votes to our student council.

It has been explained that our previous system was part of a leftist, radical agenda that runs counter to everything we believe here at Freedom Patriot Public High. Therefore, we conducted a recount by allocating a set number of votes per hallway, regardless of how many students are actually in each hallway. As you can imagine, this made a significant difference, especially because the detention room is located in a hallway otherwise full of lockers. We can now announce that the most votes for your position went to Ima Dyck, who doesn’t appear to be enrolled here, but we aren’t sure that’s actually necessary, as long as our approach to voting doesn’t involve counting all votes equally.

We are so relieved to have nipped this problem in the bud, now that we are aware that some people were saying it was socialistic, if not satanic and cannibalistic, depending on where they were hovering in the alphabet. It is critical that our voting systems ensure that the elected are never held to account by the electorate.

We look forward to the way this new system supports more traditional values such as despair and cruelty.

Proudly yours,

Principal, Freedom Patriot Public High

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Day One: Nanowrimo

It’s November, and some of us know what that means. No, not the election, but if that’s on your mind, this is the video that is giving me a burst of hope and determination despite some desperate acts of repression this weekend. And visit votesaveamerica.com to explore how you might help.

November is *also* National Novel Writing Month, the month where writers around the world choose to set a goal of writing at least 50,000 words on a new project, usually a novel, in 30 days. Or they set whatever goal they want because it’s just a chance to say, let’s write a lot, have fun, and not worry about getting it all right or making it all make sense. That’s my favorite kind of writing–writing for the joy of writing.

As someone who likes to manage time well, at least sometimes, I love that the power strategy to succeed is to write at least 1,667 words a day. Since I wasn’t 100% confident my head was in the right space to write, I decided to aim for just 1,667 words today. And my opening scene actually ended right at 1,668.

Seems like a good sign. Find out more at www.nanowrimo.org

So other than everything, how is it going?

Even before the pandemic, I wouldn’t always treat the question, “How are you?” as an empty exercise in good manners. If the right person asks and there is something to complain about, my answer was almost never “Fine.” Still, I also sometimes answer “Great,” in a hearty voice, mostly to show how happy I am to see the person again (or at least, the box with their face in it on my computer screen). But given the state of things in the U.S. right now, that answer seems off the rails. Who can be doing great when record numbers of Americans are contracting a disease that carries a risk of permanent disability, even death? And the risk of passing that fate to others, carrying the weight of that knowledge forever? Who can be doing great when record numbers of Americans are unemployed with every option running dry and the U.S. Senate is dominated by a man only interested in legislation that will protect businesses when they carelessly expose their employees to the disease?

Meanwhile, an election year that has been a decade long inches to a close, as voters choose between someone who has the potential to conduct a FDR-like Presidency or someone who will help us find out what would have happened if Gollum didn’t bite the ring off of Frodo’s finger. (Well, maybe we’re already finding out. I read today that the current administration is trying to undermine Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Human Rights Watch. I guess I should know better now, but it still feels so disorienting to imagine the people who orchestrate these policies. What can it be like to be so deeply indifferent to human suffering?)

So much is going wrong that I feel like a character in one of those movies when the asteroid is about to hit Earth or space invaders are filling the sky, shooting laser beams at anyone who is in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Yet unlike those movies, instead of uniting to stave off the asteroid or aliens, we are supposed to find ways to go about business as usual. Ding! My phone reminds me of my next online meeting. Kaboom! Somewhere outside my window, another one bites the dust, stricken by disease or economic despair.

I don’t know what will happen on Election Day. I’m hoping for the FDR-like guy to win, of course, preferably surfing a wave of blue. No matter who wins, a long winter lies ahead. And rebuilding the Shire may take a lifetime.

Did you vote yet?

It’s voting day, and I just spent a few hours encouraging people to vote.

I already voted during early voting because nothing scares me more than missing the chance to vote. One time I drove past my voting precinct and saw what at first glance looked like campaign signs and volunteers, and I literally clutched at my chest, wondering if I had forgotten to vote. (Long story short it was not a vote but some kind of fundraiser. Phew).

I don’t care if it is a vote for second assistant insurance fire commissioner, someone I don’t know wanting to do a job I don’t understand—I plan to cast a ballot no matter what.

Another vote here signThere are no perfect candidates, but there are usually those who are willing to work hard to make sense of sometimes mindlessly boring policy issues, and sometimes a few no-win situations. I will have to accept that none of them see the world exactly as I do, and we won’t agree on everything— but it usually is easy enough to identify which candidate will do the most good for the community. Yet even the best of them will make mistakes, or run up against systemic challenges that will take generations and a few miracles to overcome. I know that the least I can do is show up to vote. And, of course, vote out anyone who violates the public trust.

No one can promise me any candidate will be perfect, nor any problem easy to solve. To me, though, there is one thing that is perfect, and that is my vote. The vote matters so much that American history is riddled with bloody battles to gain the vote in the first place, and then to expand it (too slowly) to include more and more people.CDE810FC-6952-4331-B6C2-EBA8BCA122DD.c9088e8f602e4755bd25acb43a9d6047

Even though the constitution says most of us can vote, there will always be people both foreign and domestic who attempt to interfere with our access to vote, not to mention any chance to be well-informed as voters. And fighting for the vote means engaging in an imperfect and endless battle, but it is one I believe in because I believe in the vote, both as a symbol of faith in what humans can do together and as a practical matter that says in this one small way, I can make the world a tiny bit better.

Which is just to say, did you vote yet? You should.

 

 

1619 Project: Hannah-Jones

It is my firm belief that any time Ms. Nikole Hannah-Jones has something to say, I need to listen.

Indeed, she says everything that needs to be said, with both precision and artistry, in the first article in the 1619 series in the New York Times Magazine.

So instead of describing her article at all, especially because I want everyone to read it, I will simply point to the title, which aptly signals the central premise: Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.

Every line in this article matters, which is a challenge to me since I thought it might make sense to highlight a quote or two per article as a way to pay homage to this series.

Still, this one is worth a look:

And so the inhumanity visited on black people by every generation of white America justified the inhumanity of the past. (Hannah-Jones)

(Chilling. Disturbing. Accurate. Perhaps one reason I relish this series is this hope—that if mainstream culture can acknowledge the inhumanity of the past perhaps we can reduce the inhumanity of the present.)

And…

The truth is that as much democracy as this nation has today, it has been borne on the backs of black resistance. Our founding fathers may not have actually believed in the ideals they espoused, but black people did. (Hannah-Jones)

(Amen.)

Today I also discovered that the New York Times created a podcast based on this series—the first one relates to her article:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/23/podcasts/1619-slavery-anniversary.html? 

Time traveler blues

These days I teeter, as I think many of us do, between joy in my daily life and despair over what is not being done to save our environment, —or, for that matter, our democracy.

More often than I like, I think about how a response to the history of the rise of Nazism and the atrocities that followed is to wonder, if it were possible to travel through time to warn everyone, could we stop what happened?

Brighter people than I already know the answer to this question.

Decades ago, I learned that a beloved Jewish couple in our community had lived in Britain in their twenties during World War II before immigrating to the United States. I gathered my courage to ask if they knew anything about the concentration camps before the war ended, and they said everyone heard rumors that they assumed were propaganda, too awful to be credible.

I imagine a time traveler from twenty or thirty years in the future risking everything to warn us about the need to protect our environment and to elect more democratic leadership. He or she could arrive in 2016, or perhaps even next year in 2020, and tell us of the great human suffering that even now is unfolding.

Here’s a snapshot of this week in America–basic human rights are trampled in pursuit of short-term financial gains for the few, including brutal treatment of refugees, particularly children. Devastating floods and mass shootings are on the rise. Our election systems are under constant attack by international adversaries, yet the Senate’s response is to dismantle election protections. As for the environment, just when we desperately need to make courageous and sweeping changes in hopes of sustaining life on this planet, our administration is pushing full-steam ahead with policies to make things worse, not better. Stop me if I tell you something you didn’t already know.

That’s what our time traveler will learn: We already know, though some may dismiss it as propaganda, and others as God’s will.

As I ponder the history of the past few centuries, we have often faced threats and heard warnings, and I can find a few examples in which we managed to make some advances in terms of saving the environment and expanding democratic rights.

Still, knowing we are in danger has not been enough. I wonder what our time traveler would do next, in the face of so much inertia? Perhaps the same as we must. Knock on any door that will open, push for better political solutions, bring up the topics no one wants to discuss, refuse to accept inaction, even in the face of those who embrace it as ideology.

And take time now and then to hold our loved ones close and savor perfect fall mornings, because time is slipping away.