Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bye November, Hope for December

November was a month that included a panic-inducing election, a near-relationship-thing that (predictably, it seems) turned to heartbreak, and an almost-total Thanksgiving fail in my part. I hope I can get unlost in December, I'll do my best.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Against White Fragility and Entitlement (Especially My Own)

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me more than four decades to learn the above sentiment, and probably I’m still in the long hard process of learning it. In my twenties, I remember refusing to join the Gay Straight Alliance at Syracuse because I thought they were too hard on straight people. When my feed erupted with grief about Ferguson and Charleston and all the other white atrocities of the past few years and my friends all called out for white people to wake up, I’m ashamed to admit that it hurt my feelings. I’d been doing my best to fight racism and I wanted credit for that, like some kind of get-out-of-racism-free card.

That’s white fragility—we’re so used to not having to think about our racial identity that it feels upsetting when someone asks us to examine our role in things. My entitlement was in thinking that for acknowledging the existence of racism, I should somehow get a pass, should get some kind of gratitude. The poets asking white people to wake up weren’t necessarily even talking about me, but I felt indignant anyway, entitled to credit and rewards for caring about justice, which is really the bare minimum of what every human being should do.

Those at the top of the privilege pile (Here I’m talking about white people, but this also applies to male, straight, cis, Christian, and all of the other American entitlements) we feel hurt when we’re questioned because we (unconsciously, I hope) think that our status entitles us to be the ones doing the questioning, the shaping, the defining of even the most deeply personal parts of other people’s lives.

The thing that makes me the angriest about entitlement is the way that we colonize other people’s identities. We superimpose our idea of what people should be and refuse to let them define themselves. That is an evil coercion that threatens and warps the basic, unique, loving perfection that each individual is born with. I would love to see what we’d all be like without the personal colonizations of the power structure.

One of the most sickening examples of white entitlement is the idea I keep hearing from white people that if people of color “showed more respect” to the police, they would not be hurt. This is an abuser’s mindset, and there is absolutely no way for abused people to win it. As someone who grew up with abusive parents, I can understand a tiny fragment of what this might feel like. You bend and twist and hide and equivocate to try and please your oppressor and create some kind of safety for yourself. You learn the moods and whims and warning signs and you shrink yourself down as far as you can go, but you always, always still get hit, hurt, punished. Or in the case of so many people of color, murdered by police.
            The insidious idea beneath all of this is the same one that fuels rape culture: the assumption that if something bad happens to you, you must deserve it. My mother        broke my heart when she suggested that Trayvon Martin must’ve done something we didn’t know about.

            People embrace this false reasoning to protect themselves from the sadness all around them, and I can feel compassionate about that, but it isn’t okay the way it allows us to turn a blind, callous eye toward the people who need us most. Blaming the victim is what allows all cycles of abuse to continue, what makes the fight for fairness feel so impossible.

            But I’m mostly writing this to expose my own very regrettable blind spots. Last spring, in a fight about something only vaguely related, a former friend said that I’d failed as a teacher because of my entitlement and cowardice. Mean, but not entirely wrong. There were a million things that made me a bad fit for the classroom, but there was also this:

            In retrospect, I think I felt entitled to a level of respect from the children that was not directly proportional to my basic person-ness. As a white person with primarily black students, I think that on some level I expected the kids to treat me better because some creepy, awful part of me thought I was better. In times of stress, ugly things came out of my mouth that I will never forgive myself for. At my last school, I got livid when parents would rather talk to my African American grade partner, despite the fact that she had four decades of experience on me, vastly more insight into the children’s lives, and was generally all-around awesome. (She tried so hard to convince me that I was a good teacher, to prop me up as I collapsed under anxiety, and I should probably write her a letter of thanks.) I went into education to fight the achievement gap and be a resource for African American children, and I am deeply ashamed of how much gratitude I thought I deserved for that.

            White entitlement is only a tiny piece of the sociopolitical tangle of life in those classrooms, but it was a thread. I’m not telling you all this to ask for absolution, but to share some important missteps on my road to imperfect but steadfast allyship. I’m so ashamed, I’m so sorry, and thank you for sticking with me in spite of my failures.

            To change things, we all have to be able to check our assumptions and examine our underlying motivations, our ugly inherited selfishness about our place in the world. Today, I try to be always ready to say I’m sorry, always ready to listen. I feel so grateful to everyone who has been a bridge for me, who has let me cross over into other circles and cultures and make stupid mistakes so I can get better. It’s a very lucky life, and I’m going to keep trying hard to honor it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Script and Call List for Standing Rock--You Can Help!

I got this script and call list from  the wonderful poet/activist Tatyana S. Brown and I'm planning to do the calls this morning--join me if you can!

"The situation is urgent at Standing Rock. Please show up by making phone calls. I've written a script for anyone who needs it (at the bottom) and am reposting this call for action from last evening:

They're shooting our unarmed people again at Standing Rock with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons, in 24-degree bitter weather. Cops are breaking the law! Call 202-761-7690. Please share! Asap. I just did and left a message without yelling or swearing it wasn't easy.
Act now! Demand they stop this!! Contact Army Corp of Engineers 202-761-8700, National Guard 701-333-2000, White House 202-456-1414, ND Governor 701-328-2200, Amnesty International 212-807-8400
Call now. - This shouldn't be happening. #NoDAPL.
If you need a script to feel comfortable calling, use this:
My name is _________ and I am a US Citizen calling to demand that your institution enforce humane treatment of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and actually stop all further construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Morton County Police and DAPL officials are putting lives at risk by aiming water cannons at peaceful protectors in below freezing conditions. The Water Protectors are simply trying to ensure clean drinking water for over 18 million Americans and further protection for our planet. Stand with them over big oil."

Monday, November 21, 2016

Motivation Monday: Make Calls Against White Supremacists!

These weeks after Election Day have been so sad, but there is a silver lining--I've seen people reaching out with love so much to each other, and I've seen my local community pull together even more than before. Last Friday night I was lucky enough to attend a phone bank at Big Blue Marble Bookstore (Just a few doors down from my apartment because I'm the luckiest!) to make calls against Trump's plan to appoint white supremacist leader Steve Bannon as one of his top advisers. The call list only takes about a half hour and you can do it any time you want. If you're shy, call after five and leave voicemails--those are counted too.

We can't give up now. We have to do everything we can to preserve America's heart and soul and to protect our friends and neighbors from the swell of hate we're only just beginning to understand. The Bid Blue Marble is planning calls every Friday night, and I'll share the phone lists and scripts whenever I get them. Thanks for continuing to be awesome! <3 p="">

Sunday, October 23, 2016

For All the Triggered Ladies (And the Men Who Love Us)

Though Hillary’s debate triumph last Wednesday filled me with bratty, exuberant defiance, the fact still remains that we all sat through ninety minutes of misogyny, gaslighting, and rape culture. It was a night of calling Secretary Clinton (and by extension us) stupid, incompetent, a liar. Trump actually came out and said that if she didn’t want him to do bad things, she should have stopped him. We’ve been through the “debunking,” dismissing, and discrediting of rape victims by both parties. Though it was a wild relief to hear Hillary speak up so unequivocally for our right to physical autonomy, it feels unfair that we should still have to be fighting so hard for it. A lot has been written about how this is a different election for women than for men, about the way Trump’s debasement of women has gotten into our bodies. I hate the way it separates women from the men in our lives and bonds us in a state of Get the fuck off us, already.

Going into work after the “grab them by the pussy” weekend (which, by the way, made the Internet what I’ve always wanted it to be, a barrage of incensed women vowing snarlingly to reclaim our space.) I sat down next to a female coworker I don’t know that well and told her that I was feeling jangled. She knew exactly what I meant and expressed her own wish for a blanket fort until the election is over. We had trouble settling in, we were vigilant, both hyperpresent and not there at all. That’s what Trump’s abuse and violation of women reminds us of: The times our bodies were not our own, the vague threat that if we’re okay right now, it’s only because they’re letting us be.

When I went to my tutoring job the same day, the dad had the news on and Trump was dismissing his most recent accusers. Though I shuddered at the situation and the sound of Trump’s voice, I tried to be jokey about it while making it clear that I wanted the news to go away so I could work.

Nice Tutoring Dad said this:

“I don’t know why they’re talking about this. It doesn’t even have to do with policy.”

I was done being jokey. My expression darkened and my voice dropped all the way down.

“Yes. It. Does.”

(I didn’t say: Trump’s WHOLE policy is rape, dehumanization, coercion, entitlement. Instead of “Make America Great Again,” his slogan should be “Let Straight White Men Define, Harm, and Exploit Everything and Everyone.” From stop and frisk to forced pregnancy to anti-gay conversion camps to fetishizing the Second Amendment, Trump’s campaign is aimed at using force to shore up the power of a majority that will soon no longer exist, using fear to fuel oppression of people who are no longer willing to be oppressed.)

Nice Tutoring Dad did turn off the news and I got my work done without a panic attack, but as I was leaving, he put the news back on and when Trump inevitably appeared on the screen, he said “There’s your friend.” Haha yes, my friend, the pussy grabber, the stop-and-frisker, the child-rapist. His jokey comment took me out of any sense of equality and put me solidly on guard, that awful closed-up feeling of suspecting my safety is provisional. I didn’t know how I would go back to work at that house.

I needed to find a way to bridge the distance between my experience of the election and his and so, emboldened by the thousands of women around the world who were stepping up to tell their stories, I just came out and told him. I texted and told him that I’m an “assault survivor” (both “rape” and “sexual” seemed like words I didn’t want to text to an employer, even an informal one) and that the news made me panicky and made it hard to concentrate on my student. He took it very well and there has been no news on and no more insensitive comments. Sending that text was a powerful moment for me, a genuine flawed human connection in the midst of a professional relationship, one of those magically humane moments that always manage to sneak in. But at the same time, why did I have to tell him that I had been raped in order for him to be respectful about it—why isn’t it enough that ANYONE had been?

This week I took to heart the fact that while I have the courage/privilege/years of therapy to stand up for myself, to come out and tell my story, there are so many women who don’t have the words. For every generous soul who shares her story at #notokay, there are countless others who blame themselves instead, who turn themselves inside out to excuse and identify with their attackers, who lose the power of speech entirely just when they need it most. I want to recommit to speaking up for and with them.

In large ways and small, the times our bodies are not our own changes us, changes our course like creepy rocks in an otherwise lovely stream. For me, it’s the constant battle between liberation and safety, between my openhearted adult self and my inner teenager who is livid and snarling because she couldn’t fight off her attackers. No matter how full my life is of flowers, cake, and kid-art, the past is still in me: The drugged, helpless feeling, the favorite shirt covered with blood, the parts left out of the deposition, the loss of connection, the struggle for hope.
With so much grace and work, I’ve transformed my past traumas into superpowers. My pesky vigilance gives me a knack for creating an atmosphere of acceptance and safety. My sensitivity to persecution gives me a chance to be a voice for anyone who might need an advocate. Knowing the true meaning of helplessness gives me the drive to always believe I can make things better, to hang in there for the little changes that add up to big ones.

Still, I’d love to go back in time and lead my childhood self briskly and decisively away from every abuser, every “you’re too sensitive,” every questionable babysitter, every non-consensual bruise. I’d love to intercept myself on the way to one particular party, wrap up my teenage self in blankets, and tell her she is so, so loved. And I can, I do.

Every uncomfortable text, every campaign call, every door-knock, every march and rally has been for that little self, to show her she’s not trapped, to show her the love she deserves and make the world a little safer for other little girls, for everyone.

I hate the things that divide us, especially the disconnect I’ve always felt from men. The times that I manage to bridge the gap are too precious and lovely to contain. In the last few weeks, sprouting like a morning glory on a trellis of triggers, I’ve felt something else: A reconnection to the part of myself that’s open, yielding, willing to let my imagination run away with me in the best ways. In the safety and strength of a sea of riled-up women (and a few adorably ally-ish men) I’ve felt something strangely and miraculously like health, the knowledge that our bodies are have infinitely more love and magic than oppression could ever really take away, that the angry cries of Trump supporters are those of a dying way of life. They’re trolling us because they are at the end of their relevance, because their time is up. Part of me, most of me, is glowing pink for whatever life comes next.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Day I Met John Lewis!!!

Over the summer, I felt like Congressman John Lewis was one of the people taking care of me. Reading parts one and two of March gave me a deeper perspective on the Civil Rights Movement and a wider lens on what’s at stake in the current election. During the time of pain, fear, and frustration that followed Orlando, the sit-in on the congress floor gave me reassurance that someone cared, that someone was fighting for both LGBT safety and gun control improvements. John Lewis was at the center, giving me a sense of purpose and forward motion in what could easily feel like a brutal and broken world.
So when I heard that he would be stopping by our local Philly for Hillary office, I very nearly swooned. I was grateful that I happened to be in the office for a canvass when they found out, or I might have missed it—one of the synchronicities that always keep me just a little bit mystical about things. I couldn’t believe I would have a chance to thank him, and thank him, and thank him again for how much he’d done for all of us all of his work and pain and sacrifice to try and help our nation live up to the democratic, egalitarian place it is supposed to be.
Amy found me a copy of March Book Three to get signed. I wore my favorite blue-flowered Democrat dress and left the bookstore early so I could get in a little phonebanking before the big event. We were out on the back patio calling because it was too loud and crowded inside. It was a hazy, warm morning and everything was a little damp. Lots of the people I was calling were getting their second call of the day because of multiple event invitations, I guess, and they didn’t even mind, that’s how hardcore our local Democrats are. One woman told me that she was setting up a voter registration table outside of her house. Another asked me how she could work the polls on Election Day. Even though I was being a pain and calling people while they were a work, they often very kindly gave me a time to call back later. I love Democrats, that’s one thing I know for sure.
I got through a LOT of call sheets while we were waiting for the congressman to arrive. The phonebankers were antsy that we might miss out, but our organizers assured us they’d bring him to us first. I was on a call when he came through the back door, and I had to hastily say “I have to let you go now, John Lewis just got here!” to the nice voter on the phone.
I was shaking as I took March out of my purse for him to sign. I was afraid to monopolize him and didn’t know how to approach him even though he was right there, on the back patio of the what used to be the coffee shop where I hosted poetry reading way back when. Luckily for my hero-struck self, my new favorite organizer said “Let me introduce you to your biggest fan!” and brought him right to me.
So far this year, I’ve shaken the hand of a former president, our god-help-us-if-she’s-not-the-next president, and the president of Planned Parenthood, but shaking John Lewis’s hand was by far the warmest, deepest, and most meaningful. People snapped pictures as he signed my book, and I blithered on and on, saying many, many, thank yous and trying not to fall down. I got to tell him that his books inspire me every day. The local paper took a picture of us with the book and I would really, really like to have that photo.
One of the most humbling and awe-filled moments of this fraught year came when he thanked me for my work—the man who fought and suffered and worked harder for good than almost anyone was thanking me for a few cozy calls, a few sunny days of knocking on doors. I felt tiny and universal all at once.
After he was done thanking phone-bankers, he went inside the packed headquarters and gave a rousing speech about how he cried when Barack Obama won Pennsylvania, and then again when he was inaugurated, and how he plans to cry when we inaugurate our first woman president. He led the headquarters in a chant of “Yes we can!” before he was quickly spirited out the back door and on his way.
I turned to the woman next to me, who was looking as awed and joyed as I was, and said “That was a big moment.” and she said “Yes it was.” And we were together in it then, in the strength of unity and progress. I could feel the project of justice moving forward, even though it is almost always maddeningly slow.

Sometimes it feels crazy to believe in progress. The systems and blindnesses that oppress and brutalize America are so massive and entrenched, sometimes it feels stupid and hopeless to fight. Though sometimes I’ve felt lonely and lost, meeting John Lewis reminded me that if we keep going, we can be a little piece of progress every day. It galvanized my heart to keep working for racial justice, for gender equality, and for LGBT rights because there is such a powerful wave of good history and work behind us, pushing us forward like a wave. The warmth of his hand let me let go of my failures and really touch the little bits of good I can accomplish in this life. I will never, never stop saying thank you.

Monday, September 19, 2016

“She’s Not Doing Enough” and Other Things to Not Say to Me

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I work three jobs. All three of them are superpleasant and I even enjoy my commute, but by the eleventh hour of the day, I’m tired. During that time, there’s this man. He’s on our side and has been friendly and supportive all throughout the election season, until recently. Now, as I head out the door, he always makes the same assertion: that Hillary didn’t do enough over the summer, that she was “Just chilling and letting Trump do his thing.”

We’ve had a great time chitchatting about the election, so much so that I even brought him a poster from the convention and thanked him for all of his support, but I can see how a summer of the misogynist, Trump-drunk news has skewed his view of the proceedings. He keeps saying she never talks about her platform, though many of us can recite it by heart by now. She’s been telling you, I keep wanting to say, but you’re not listening.

As far as I know, this friendly critic isn’t putting in any volunteer hours for the campaign, he’s just sitting back and second-guessing a woman who LITERALLY worked herself sick. I get through these moments with as much grace as possible, but I drive home FUMING over both the personal and political implications. I’m deeply frightened by the way that the news turned him against his own candidate, and VASTLY irritated that I have to hear this feedback in the midst of a long workday.

What makes me the maddest is that he and so many others have been so utterly poisoned by gender restrictions that they can’t see or hear her, no matter how hard she works, no matter what she says or does. Part of our disagreement might be media-choice based, because I get my information from social media, from the campaigns themselves, and from direct experience and he only gets it from the news, but there’s a deeper problem here—it feels like they can’t see or hear her/us no matter what we do because for millennia we’ve been taken for granted, our work has been invisible.

My sister, a full-time mother of five and one of the hardest working people I know, told me this story—she was at a kids’ birthday party and something got spilled, prompting a friend of hers to remark, “Oh, I heard you’re really good at laundry.” Kate was justifiably annoyed—she would probably rather be known for her photography skills or for her Harry Potter Trivia prowess, but it really gave me a chance to appreciate the undervalued work that has been going on behind the scenes throughout all of human civilization. Where would any of us be without people who are good at laundry?

In the public sphere, women run the risk of being just as overlooked. Recently we all learned that the women of President Obama’s administration had to invent a special strategy in order to be heard:

Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.” –“Obama’s Female Staffers Came Up With a Genius Strategy to Make Sure Their Voices Were Heard”  By Claire Landsbaum

Which is cool that they banded together and shine-theoried it up, but WHY ON EARTH should they have had to come up with a scheme to get our arguably-first-feminist-president to call on them? Men, why can’t you just hear us? (The most recent episode of Call Your Girlfriend makes this point so much better:

One of the things that the “she doesn’t do enough” man in my workday doesn’t see is campaign headquarters, where the volunteers are almost exclusively women. We work our multiple jobs, some of us take care of families, and then we head back out to do the political laundry in hopes of getting rid of the smelliest sweatsock of them all, Trump. We’re not paid to do it, and though phone banking and canvassing is sometimes fun, it is work, and we’re doing it for free, to keep things afloat the way women always have. So don’t ever tell me that Hillary isn’t doing enough, or that any woman isn’t. There are only fifty days left until the election and it’s past time for men to get up off their asses and help us with the chores.