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Knowledge is a quest

When I began striving to speak Politics late last year, I had the notion that “politics” was a separate subject distinct from all others. The first few months, then, it was very easy to practice; everything I read was new to me and fairly easily summarized, and so I wrote almost daily.

After a few months, I started feeling like politics wasn’t really separate or distinct from anything else. Rather, it was a part of everything, and everything was a part of it. The “politics” books on my bookshelf weren’t on separate, discrete topics, but on different aspects of an interconnected everything I could only barely fathom and definitely could not articulate. The books’ covers only created an illusion of disconnectedness between the books themselves, as well as everything they attempted to represent.

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The beginning

I found it much harder to write about politics once I discerned politics wasn’t an isolated body of knowledge. Before, I’d thought politics was one thread running through a quilt. After I saw that politics was made of many subjects, moments, feelings, and experiences, I despaired of distinguishing what was related and what wasn’t, because each thread within the quilt contained elements of different subjects.

Where would I start, and where would I leave off? I had no idea, but that didn’t seem like a good reason to stop. If I persevered, I might get better at seeing which threads ran closest together, and someday expressing those connections with any clarity.

Several times recently, I’ve written about former NYU professor Neil Postman. Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death was required reading for three of my husband’s American Studies courses at Yale. As I began my quest for understanding, Anthony told me I’d really appreciate the book. Read more…

The New Jim Crow & the Nightmare River

When I started reading The New Jim Crow a couple of years ago, I felt my world rippling. I don’t mean this allegorically. I felt the smoothness disturbed by something else clawing to be let in.

Before I picked up the book, I’d been floating along on the smooth, clear water of U.S. life. I assumed all was (mostly) good and well straight down to the river’s bottom.

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow‘s author, invited me to stop floating and actually dip a finger into the water. Beneath the thin veneer of calm, her recounting of recent American history informed me, I’d find turbulence and boiling water that was scalding people alive.

I dipped in one finger and discovered she was right. Horrified, I returned my hands to the surface. I set Alexander’s book aside and enjoyed my onward drift.

Over the summer, little burning bubbles began emerging from the water around me. They were uncommon and only a little painful, so I ignored them at first. Why would I go seek out more pain?

But then I saw bigger bubbles roiling below the surface and understood: the U.S. is a world in which only a few are allowed to float at the surface. Others are forced down, trapped in the murky, hot water beneath and struggling to reach the surface for even a moment’s gasping breath.

I understood: they suffer so that I might stay comfortably afloat. “Oh, shit!” I started shouting to those floating near enough to hear me. “People are drowning below us! We have to see the whole river beneath us, not just the sparkles up top, or they’re going to keep on drowning!”

Alone, I saw, I could pull very, very few people up to the surface. If I could enlist other surface-floaters to reach down, though, I knew we could together evacuate this nightmare river and seek out one with cleaner, genuinely smooth waters where all were equally able to experience the river in its fullness.

“Shhh, you’re disturbing our ride,” fellow floaters admonished in return.  Read more…

The Privilege of Surprise

Jane and I are old friends. When we talked on the phone yesterday, she described a post she was writing for Facebook. I loved what she was saying, and asked if she’d like to share the post here. I’m grateful she said “yes.”

The Privilege of Surprise

I paint my toenails every week. It’s a routine I got into when I was burning out of a classroom teaching job and I needed some ritual, some regular application of gentleness to myself, to keep me from collapse. The crisis is over, but the ritual has stuck.

I use cheap drugstore polish. It doesn’t have to last long. I have neons and deeps and darks and brights and glitters and pastels. Most weeks I just pick a color I’m feeling. In the last few months, though, I’ve increasingly been choosing colors that mean something. There is a pale blue that makes me feel the ocean. I wear that one when I need comfort. There is a bright orange-y pink that reminds me of my sister.

On Election Night, I wore red, white, and blue. I called them hopeful toes.

After Election Night, I wore black.

I have not felt like wearing bright since Donald Trump was elected. It’s been two months now, and I am just starting to realize that I lost big, deep things on that day and I may not get them back. I lost faith in my government. I lost trust that the police will keep me safe. I lost my sense that we are fundamentally okay here, that nothing that bad will happen.

I am a straight white cis woman who has never been poor. What I lost? Many people in this country have never had those things. I am only now starting to realize what a privilege it was ever to have them, and how little sense of what the world is really like for people of color, trans people, Muslims, immigrants, I have ever had.

I should have known this all along. Black people have been telling me. Queer people have been telling me. The people around me have been telling me, this is not okay, we are not safe, this country is killing us, and I have given it lip service, but I have had the luxury my entire life of looking the other way.

And I still can, if I choose to. Many of my fellow privileged Dems are ready to throw identity politics out with the bathwater. It doesn’t work, we’re saying. It’s too divisive. We can’t win elections and talk about bathrooms at the same time.

Y’all, listen. Bathrooms are not a fringe issue. Black Lives Matter is not a fringe issue. Fringes are on the outside of things, and so are margins; if the issues that most directly affect groups of people are relegated to the fringes, then we have marginalized those groups ourselves. We are reproducing the power structures that are killing our brothers and sisters and siblings right here in our own party.

Identity politics are politics. They are my politics. I care about the Affordable Healthcare Act and I care about public education and I care about the mass incarceration of Black Americans, and these are all connected. They all belong in the center.

As I noticed my surprise that I haven’t regained the things I lost—I still feel, two months later, like I was punched in the stomach by the Electoral College—I realized that even being surprised is a privilege. I have never before experienced disillusionment that doesn’t go away.

I’m ashamed to admit what a revelation this has been.

Today I painted my toenails bright. I don’t feel like bright yet. I don’t know when I will feel like bright again. But I no longer believe we have time to wait until we feel like it before we make the phone calls, paint the signs, and have the terrible conversations with the people we love who are saying broken things.

We do not have time to wait until we feel like it. We have to act.

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I care about Americans

“Why do you care so much what happens to some people in Yemen?” several people have asked me. “Don’t you care about Americans?!”

“All injustice is interrelated,” I’ve fumbled in reply. “The injustice Yemeni people experience is symptomatic of the same illness many Americans endure. To care about one is to care about all.”

I haven’t satisfied a single person–myself included–with this vague answer, so I’ve kept searching for a better one. As a former negotiator, I know I won’t receive any concession I can’t describe.

I sought and found a story, something that might breathe real life into the abstraction that “all injustice is interrelated.”

Imagine the earth is a single enormous iceberg, and all who live upon it are penguins. Some penguins live nearer the center, and others nearer its edges.

Penguins in the center are doing very, very well. In fact, 1% of the penguin population has managed to hoard for itself almost half of the iceberg.

[ please click here to continue reading ]

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Once you’ve lived near the edge, you know it’s never very far

Reject a Syrian No-Fly Zone! Please call these senators pronto.

On November 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the inaptly named Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2016 “with forty minutes of debate.” If passed by the Senate and subsequently signed into law, this will establish a no-fly zone over Syria. Establishing a no-fly zone is an act of war, which would (1) kill many Syrian civilians and (2) dramatically escalate probability of U.S. war with Syria’s ally, Russia.

If you’re interested in actual peace, such as is obtained not by bombs but by legitimate diplomacy, please call the members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and demand they reject this bill.

Protest expanded executive power, not Trump

November 15, 2016 Comments off

I recently called President Obama a magician. He’s quite a skilled one, too; he consistently has you believing he’s doing one thing while doing quite another. I’ve listed several specific examples today.

President Obama has dramatically, scarily expanded executive power just in time to hand the U.S. presidency to Donald Trump.

Rather than protesting Trump individually, we ought instead protest this expansion, and unify to demand return to a truly representative government with appropriate checks and balances reinstated.

We must not cede to any individual president any power that might terrify us in another person’s hands.

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