Because … Democracy?
I am no longer a Democrat.
It’s a matter of safety.
I was born unsafe.
My father abused my mom while she was pregnant with me, her eldest child.
By the time I was in first grade, my mom had become physically abusive. She thought by being hard herself she could shield herself from the pain of the hardnesses she suffered, a fact for which she apologized profusely to me in my teens and twenties. She’d been so, so wrong.
My siblings and I walked on eggshells inside our home, trying to interpret every glance and tone for indications violence was forthcoming, and to do our best to avert it upon noticing telltale shifts.
My siblings and I knew no fewer than nine predators in my childhood.
We were not only unsafe within our home, but outside it as well. Even family friends–excepting my godmother–were villains, so that we understood early “good guys” were works of fiction. We read at home, at school, at church, while walking. We read ourselves into different worlds so much freer and more hopeful than our own.
In fiction and fiction alone could we be totally safe, though we found glimmers of light within our godmother, a local librarian, and, in my case, our mother’s divorce attorney.
It wasn’t much, but it was what we had. For us to make it, it had to be enough.
Safety was fiction.
My younger sister Rachael met her future husband, Nick, in high school. He ate things barely foodlike, said terrible things all the time, and was absolutely and unequivocally safe.
I’d had no idea what “safe” felt like until the day the pedophile against whom I’d testified cornered Rachael at the store where she and Nick were working. Driving me to a party that evening, he shared every little bit of what he thought about that damned, damnable human substitute. His pride in my sister’s strength shone through so bright that I began sobbing.
boy man whose friends all thought him the crassest of the crass pulled over his car and held me while I sobbed.
I was not alone. I was as close to safe
as I had ever been.
The safety I felt then was a tiny spark that grew.
Among Nick’s friends were others who were disgusting to each other, but by choice, and who were loving and protective of my sister and me.
That tiny spark of safety grew into a little flame.
In martial arts, I met a lady named Sarah.
We became fast friends, and her family welcomed me among them.
Among them, I understood what it meant to be safe at home. With enough time, I came to understand they wouldn’t cut me out for saying the wrong word. They wouldn’t scream at me, belittle me, or hurt me.
My little flame of safety grew into a campfire.
I began law school in another city both alone and unalone.
The little fire of safety I’d built kept me warm though those who’d helped build it were physically far away.
I’d grown up knowing unsafe, but by now, I could also recognize safe. The friends I made in law school were safe.
The man I met just after graduating law school, the one who would later become my husband, was safe.
I understood that my safety depended on using all the
knowledge and all the skills I’d amassed
to date to hold close those who would
protect my fire from the wind, and
keep away those whose actions
showed they’d blow it down
if it suited them.
There are people my husband holds dear, and wishes I’d hold dearer.
Our many conversations on the subject were gradually exhausting and dispiriting me.
“Honey,” I finally told him, “I need you to stop trying to force me. When you do that, when you tell me repeatedly you would be so happy if I would just do this or that and override the signs that heeding has kept me safe within my family of love until now, you tell me–whether or not that’s what you think you’re doing–that my safety as I experience it is not a primary concern for you.
“They don’t become safer by their pushing harder. You don’t become safer by pushing harder for them. You become dangerous to me, by failing to understand and reflect understanding that safety grows not by force but by making space for growing into something without pressure.”
Pressure–and force, no matter how overtly gentle–are the opposite of safety.
Sometimes their indicators are clear,
others much harder to see
A couple of years ago, I read essays by many feminists.
Many feminists of color said, “These are my experiences. These are the ways in which White feminism fails me.”
The White feminists I read said, “You are fracturing feminism by your failure to unite with us!” The unity they envisioned was a unity in which their vision ruled, with dissenting voices ceasing dissent and accepting this one correct vision.
They failed to see that the feminism they described failed feminists of color, and thus could never be a unifying feminism. Unity, I saw, would come not by force, but by making of safe spaces: by listening, reflecting, and working together to create a vision of feminism that better reflected the varied realities and needs of the many … not simply those most vocal.
My childhood was marked and marred by sex predators.
They obtained or tried to obtain what they wanted by force. Their attaining power and dominance was far more important to them than my or my sisters’ well being. (Indeed, according to this small but disturbing study, one-third of a small sample of college men said they’d “force a woman to sexual intercourse” if they could get away with it consequence free. Apparently many failed to recognize this as rape; roughly one-sixth persisted when the word “rape” itself was used. A United Nations study cited found that “men who had perpetrated rape simply believed they had the right to take control of women’s bodies.” )
No one I dated tried to coerce me, but friends and acquaintances told me their tales of non-consent and I shuddered at the prevalence of these horrors. Time and time again, I heard variations of, “I only wanted to kiss, but that didn’t matter to him … and he was stronger.
“And then, when all was said and done, I was the instigator, because I’d consented … to kissing.”
When the Associated Press announced a few days ago that Clinton had conquered the U.S. Democratic primaries by anonymous superdelegates officially weighing in end of next month, Clinton supporters far and wide begin talking about how Sanders supporters would–if not such sissy, sore losers–unify the Democratic party by getting in line. By accepting the majority vision of what it means to be a Democrat.
“Sounds familiar,” I thought, thinking of White feminism and wishing I had a way to show party members how their mandate that Sanders supporters like me depart our naive idealism and fall in line didn’t do a whole lot to assuage us of the gentle, non-militarism of their vision of the true Democrat.
I support Sanders for many reasons. Those reasons didn’t vanish because someone else with some similar ideas got more votes than has the candidate I support.
“Your reasons are unimportant!” I hear in messages to fall in line and unify.
“To you,” I reply. “You don’t get to define what’s important to me. And the thing is, when you tell me it’s unimportant to you and should thus be unimportant to me, what you’re actually telling me is my merit to you is in my supporting you unequivocally. I am what you want, or I am nothing.”
“But Trump! We can’t have Trump, so you’d better!”
Hey. So here’s the thing: pointing out that this other guy is unsafe doesn’t make you safe.
Pointing this out doesn’t mean you hear. If you did, you’d hear I’d rather stand for something than against another. That I acknowledge a significant portion of the U.S. populace thinks we’ll fare better with Trump than any other candidate, and believe that true unity will come from finding the root cause behind that and addressing it rather than calling his supporters imbeciles and making hope of outnumbering them our sad pseudo-solution.
Pointing this out doesn’t mean you care about me. It doesn’t mean I’m suddenly compelled to discard things incredibly important to me because it’d be more convenient to one party’s majority if I did.
It doesn’t mean you understand that force is not the same thing as persuasive commentary; in fact, quite the opposite.
There’s even a certain peace in being among Trump supporters, who don’t pretend to represent me.
In at least a dozen articles now, I’ve read how Sanders just has to step out of the way to clear his supporters’ path to Clinton.
I’ve read and wanted to move to Antarctica, away from all these people who think it’s as just as easy as that, that the inevitable onslaught of pressure to just fall in will soon enough work.
Away from these people who remind me that “home” isn’t always a safe place to be, and that sometimes you have to move away from home to find peace among people who accept you as you are and find common ground by listening, not commanding.
I moved out of the Democratic party to be clear its leaders do not speak for me. That they do not have my consent to speak for me.
Democratic Party: That we have–or had?–much in common does not mean I’m yours for the taking. You don’t have the right to take control of me, no matter how wide the margin of your majority.
I’m a human being, not a commodity. You don’t “win” me as part of the spoils of war, because … Democracy?