An olive branch
I grew up poor, abused, and preyed upon.
Before my single mom of four divorced my abusive dad, she’d already lost her family over her departure from the Mormon church.
My godmother was her truest support. Most her other friends were friends of convenience: people low enough on the social totem pole to lose nothing by hanging out with her.
One particular example illuminates who my mom kept near to have any human contact. Rita’s husband had raped her daughter, but she got back together with him, saying, “It’s just easier to stay afloat this way, you know?”
As my mom, my sister, and I prepared to testify against a pedophile who’d molested my sister and tried to molest me, my mom agonized about the fact that the defense’s position was that she was simply a terrible mom and money-grubber. She explained this to Rita, who replied, “I’d testify that you’re a bad mom. It’s true.”
I learned from Rita that it was better to have no company than bad company.
My siblings and I have done well for ourselves.
We’ve done so, in part, because our mother was usually able to stay at home with us. She read to us, played with us, encouraged us, and nurtured us as she was able through her burgeoning mental illness.
I had no idea how uncommon it was to experience these connections as a poor child. I had no idea how many poor mothers were being forced into the workforce for pennies, barely–or not–earning enough to survive while simultaneously being forced to starve their children of developmentally nourishing connection.
I earned a JD from UCLA. I spent about a decade negotiating and managing software contracts before recently moving into a different, much less stressful role.
My just-younger sister earned a master’s degree from Cambridge. She was on a Ph.D. track, but stepped away once she realized how much debt she’d have to assume to be virtually unemployable. She’s currently working hard to support her family while her husband wades through med school.
My brother graduated with his own master’s just last December. He’s just starting to see the fruits of his labor.
My youngest sister is a work-at-home mom of four. Like our mom, she’s able to stretch pennies–and herself–further than I can fathom. I’m half suspicious she’s using magic.
To see us now, it’s hard to tell from the outside just how much we endured … but the shrapnel’s buried deep, and its entry sites ache anew when we encounter certain hurts today.
Something strange happened a few months back.
I’d been a registered Democrat since I could register to vote, and I’d voted Democrat since.
This election cycle, though, I saw signs of democracy being subverted by elite Democrats and wavered in belief that they represented or could possibly represent me. When I tried to discuss this with friends, each shut me down and swiftly began reciting the Good Facts with which it was imperative I acquaint myself. I usually couldn’t get a full sentence out before the record had been “corrected” and conversation shoved onward.
These good-hearted friends were inadvertently using some of the same domination tactics my dad once did. The people I’d chosen to let into my life were emulating my dad, leaving me feeling as if I’d been launched back in time to when my daily life was a combination of physical abuse and gaslighting.
The same friends posted about how anyone voting other than them was privileged, incapable of critical thinking, low information, and/or sociopathic. Before my eyes, they’d transformed from unique, loving people with distinct personalities into pod people seemingly hell-bent on forcing into compliance anyone and everyone not already conforming with the approved Democratic mold.
At first, I felt heartsick and physically sick to be reliving past horrors thanks to people I’d imagined were my friends.
Eventually, though, I got pissed off. “You won’t even listen to me and you want me to join you? Go fuck yourselves.”
I’d learned from Rita that it was better to have no company than bad company.
My anger bled through here, and I was fine with that.
If my just-younger sister, brother, and brother-in-law were all facing the same heinous overload of violence disguised by respectable language as me, that meant other people were, too.
Liberals and Democrats became my enemies. “Fuck those fucking fuckers,” I fumed as I read more about the enormous amount of damage elite Democrats have wrought while pretending to still represent the people in more than word. “How the fuck are they supposed to represent people they won’t even try hearing?!”
Since they’d shown themselves unreachable, I absolved myself of any further efforts to reach them.
I’d try reaching out to others who shared my doubt, instead, and let them know I heard.
My mom used to tell me liberals were cruel.
“No, I mean it, honey. Jane Roe became a Republican because Democrats said good things, but Republicans actually did them.”
“Did you read that in The Enquirer?” I’d ask, rolling my eyes.
I, too, knew the Good Facts, and was quite smug about it.
The last few days, my anger has fizzled.
“What the hell am I accomplishing with this?” I wondered. “If my real goal is to ensure there’s a habitable world left for my kids, am I really helping achieve that by retreating into my own bubble instead of trying to keep reaching into theirs? Am I improving my kids’ chances by responding to others’ violence with my own?”
Curled up with my husband a few hours ago, I started crying. “I can’t reach them. There’s nothing I can do to reach them. And I’m so scared, and sad, and guilty, that I’ve brought my children into this world in which they’ll probably never get to know half the joys I did. Will they get to have kids? Will they get to have homes? Or will they live short lives filled with inequality and environmental catastrophes we left for them because oil moguls and their wealthy puppets favored their profits over our kids’ futures?”
“You can only do what you can, sweetie,” he murmured, patting the hand I’d draped over his belly. “That’s it.”
My husband keeps telling his friends I want to burn it all down to rebuild everything.
That’s not true. I don’t want to burn. I want to build.
This kind of building takes a big damn team.
For our kids, there’s not enough time to be smug. There’s not enough time to be angry.
We can sit around pointing fingers, talking about hurt feelings, and trying to force others to express their fears and regrets in “correct” language, or we can figure out what the fuck we’re going to do to fix things starting now.
Unbridled imperial capitalism is destroying the planet and its people, with every bit of human and natural resource being extracted for the benefit of a very, very small number of people.
Human rights don’t matter much to such people. They haven’t mattered for a long time, though the facade’s been retained to keep people just happy enough not to demand better.
In this light, it’s clear you’re not my enemy. You never were. I’m sorry I acted as if you were, though I’m far from sorry about the rage itself. Rage itself is a fuel that can be used for positive transformation.
While you can be sure I won’t always use polite language to discuss brutal, destructive inequalities, I’ll try to be clearer that I’m fighting those inequalities, not you.
No one here is Rita, and I miss y’all’s company.
Today’s daily post on my Learning to Speak Politics blog begins to answer the question, “What next?”
My list starts:
- Buy local. Support growers and makers in your community as often as possible, thereby showing global companies that cheap goods produced by brutalization of the earth and impoverished people worldwide don’t interest you.
- Boycott companies who use prison labor, starving them of cheap labor that (1) deprives not-incarcerated workers of living wages and (2) creates demand for lots of inmates who might not otherwise serve any time.
Please read the rest and share your own ideas here.
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