1619 Project: Bouie

I continue to read, reflect, and shine a spotlight on the work of the 1619 Project.

Today I read the work by Jamelle Bouie, titled “America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others.” You can read it in full at this link:
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/republicans-racism-african-americans.html

Again, I hope you will look to the title to give you a sense of what the article is about.

This article covered more recent political history than past history, which, I admit, is preaching to the choir for me since I am sharply critical of the current leadership of this country and of my home state of North Carolina (which got a well-deserved mention for shenanigans from 2016, and deserves further shame for the way the state leadership team recently used the 9/11 memorial as a way to win a vote that based on actual democratic representation they would have lost, revealing that they are both anti-democratic AND generally terrible people).

Here is the quote I choose to share from Bouie’s article, as he analyzes statements made by Republicans in recent years:

The larger implication is clear enough: A majority made up of liberals and people of color isn’t a real majority. And the solution is clear, too: to write those people out of the polity, to use every available tool to weaken their influence on American politics. (Bouie)

Reading this article is enraging because we have seen anti-democratic strategies work too often in the past and the present. Nonetheless, let us recommit to push forward in the name of what democracy should be.

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.

Silence is not golden

As a string of egregious actions make the news, including personal behavior that reveals the blindness of those in power and far too many policies that will secure that same blind power for decades to come, I am thinking today about the silence people use to avoid reckoning with their complicity. I am remembering moments in my youth, and sometimes later, when someone has made a statement, usually as a joke, sometimes with what he or she considers a keen sense of irony, that offends me whether or not it directly relates to me, yet the burden is on me to decide if I should say something, or if I should leave the conversation, or if I should rethink this friendship. This is the power of culture, especially our culture which relies on discrimination as a tool for power. It is this culture that makes me feel as if I’m being uptight or just can’t take a joke when I am gasping with shock or outrage or confusion (and this especially bothers me because I actually like to laugh, just not at the messed up things that people with too much power find amusing).

I will say this as strongly as I can—it is not the responsibility of those who are offended or directly harmed to speak up in that moment or in its aftermath. We can choose to speak when we are safe doing so, sure. But it is the responsibility of those who are making the jokes or engaging in the actions to be open to the possibility that everything they say or do is not actually fine or without consequence. Pay attention to those unexpected silences. Read the room. Stop and consider that just because you have the power in the moment to do or say whatever you want doesn’t make it right.

How to articulate democracy

I am trying to gather my courage to call my Senators tomorrow to urge them to demonstrate their commitment to voting rights, which, alas, they won’t (which is why it takes courage because it feels futile, but necessary). I thought it might help for me to write about why democracy matters, and, this will surprise you, it turns out to be a difficult topic to address without disintegrating into pablum. At least, it’s not a quick write. One would think that decrying tyranny and embracing democracy would be easy enough, but no, it will take more work on my part. Especially because I stumble into the challenge that it’s hard to focus on the desire for democracy in our political spheres without recognizing the lack of democracy in our social spheres. And if tackling the topic of why everyone deserves a fair say in our politics is tough, imagine how tough it is to address the layers of injustice in how we treat one another in our daily lives. Or even to let myself recognize them.

I will keep trying. For now, here is what I believe, or what I want to believe: everyone matters, and everyone deserves the right to vote.

Unpacking it, fully articulating it, that’s another thing altogether.

Off to the movies

I rarely like to go to a movie in the theaters since the cost is so high, and I prefer to watch at home anyway. In fact, I don’t watch movies or shows very often because it takes up time that I’d rather spend in other ways (usually reading or writing, as you may have guessed).

Still, I make exceptions for certain movies, especially when I think they will be better on the big screen, and I have therefore seen all of the Harry Potter movies in the theater, including, today, Fantastic Beasts 2 The Crimes of Grindelwald.

I loved it, of course, plus it was a chance to do something as a family—-though I confess that sitting next to people to watch a show never really strikes me as actually spending time with people, though I suppose it’s good when you don’t know what else to talk about. The kids enjoyed it, though they liked the first one better, perhaps because this one did not resolve but rather intensified central conflicts.

I left a little sad because during my workout yesterday I watched comedian John Oliver’s piece on authoritarianism on Last Week Tonight. I literally teared up after watching that segment, and I felt sad today after encountering similar echoes in the movie, though I have to say that the authoritarian figure in the Fantastic Beasts 2 seems smarter and in some ways subtler than the ones rising up around the world.

I find myself often wondering why we have to keep fighting the same fights over and over again. Heck, we are still trying to convince some people the world is not flat. But democracy is not a destination but a journey. Here’s hoping we keep moving to a better place.