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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…

Show Up Today

I drove to LAX last night.

Once there, I joined a crowd of a couple hundred people. They–we–demanded release of Muslims from certain countries detained based on a Trump (read: Bannon) executive order issued yesterday.

A California congressperson informed us one Iranian student had already been deported. She and others were at the airport demanding access to the detainees.

As I stood chanting, hoping that so many people show up for Sunday solidarity at airports, I regretted deeply how I contributed to this outcome.

As I drove home, I thought of a post I wrote in October. In “The could-have-been soul-kin of Anne Frank,” I wrote:

anne frank.png

I thought about the quiet inaction of those who watched as Nazis committed genocide. They likely hoped they’d earn safety for themselves and their own if they remained silent.

I understood that the U.S. coming-for actually began at least fifteen years ago.

I thought of three kids who’d stood chanting opposite me at LAX.

They don’t deserve less than my or your non-Muslim kids. In fact, what we do to protect them will profoundly impact the safety of all our kids … forever.

So if you’re wondering what you, just one person, can do? You can donate to the ACLU, busy fighting this heinous executive order. It was the ACLU that earned yesterday’s stay that, unfortunately, wasn’t acted on quickly enough at some airports.

You can call Congress, multiple times every day. You can show up at city council meetings, and other local political meetings. You can call your friends and bring them with  you.

And today? Today you can drive to your nearest airport, and join others in saying, “Not on my watch!”

You don’t need to know what you’re doing tomorrow. Just … please, please, show up today.

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.

jane toes.png

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 ]

kids outside 792

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.

No way we could let it happen

This is a picture of Yemeni children sleeping with their hands over their ears.

hands over ears.png

They’re trying to drown out the sounds of airstrikes, while simultaneously hoping they live through the night.

To many of my “I’m-no-foreign-policy-expert” friends in the U.S., it’s kinda sad and regrettable these kids must sleep with their hands over their ears.

For me, it’s a little different.

I grew up dirt poor.

I would have been one of those kids, covering my ears because I had no other choice.

Last week, I wrote:

‘Cause, let me be clear: If I’d been born in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or Libya, my mom, my siblings, and I would have been among those bombed or starved to death thanks to Clinton. We’d have had no resources to escape, and no hope … save the tiniest sliver of hope that Americans might, before me and mine died, learn to see and join together to speak up in a way that reflected their acknowledgment that

our
lives
mattered.

The U.S.A. is currently bombing seven predominantly Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East. (I called it genocide before I read about United Nations representatives already using the word more than fifteen years ago.)

Affable, eloquent President Obama has expanded the campaign of terror built by George W. Bush. He’s done it with the consent of the people he leads, who–so far–have not bothered calling on him for change.

Like the predators who once preyed upon me and my siblings, those around me go, “He can’t be a bad guy! He’s so nice!

Nice is tactical, y’all. Nice is meant to win you.

It’s the magician making you look into his eyes while his hands do crafty things.

It’s thanks to President Obama and relatively affluent U.S. citizens that hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children are starving to death right now.

‘Cause, see, there’s lots of oil in the region. And Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally, which means we must help them at all costs–yes, even when that cost is in hundreds of thousands of human lives, and even when they routinely target civilians.

The Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, took lots and lots of Saudi money into her family foundation while she was U.S. Secretary of State. She approved record arms sales to them, enabling them to obliterate the poorest of the poor in their quest for dominance. (“Oh, you stop that!” scolds the Obama administration without any real efforts to change anything. “That’s not very nice!”)

The elder Clintons needed lots of money to pay for their daughter’s wedding with Foundation funds, see.

Hillary Clinton was the most prominent “Democratic” advocate of the Iraq War. She advocated for it without having read the 90-page document that might have swayed her against it.

90 pages. Hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed, all so she could show her American stripes.

Then, a few years ago, she said it was time to start thinking of Iraq as a “business opportunity.”

Kill more people, get more oil.

Neat.

Screen Shot 2016-11-07 at 6.56.37 PM.pngSo I’m trying to find the bright side. I’m trying to prepare myself to find people who’ll go, “Oh, shit, we’ve been endorsing that in Yemen?!” after election day.

But, holy shit. In the meantime, I’m stuck with people celebrating their votes for Hillary. Their votes for identity politics: “I’m voting for a woman, which means I must be doing the right thing, yeah!!!!!”

They celebrate their alleged vote for human rights with no concept whatsoever how the Clintons have devastated people at home and abroad for decades.

They’d just have to do two hours of research. Maybe three hours.

I look at that all and I feel hopeless.

Because I would be dead, if I were born in Yemen and my survival were left to such people.

I would be dead because they said, “Lady president! Yeah!” and didn’t bother digging one centimeter deeper.

And so comfortable 38-year-old me faces the uncomfortable dissonance of being relatively okay now, surrounded by people who are relatively okay now, and yet remembering what it was like to not be remotely okay before.

Knowing that hundreds of thousands of people are not-okay right now …

… because we Americans don’t, in the end, really see them as people.

If we did, there’s no way we could let it happen.

No way.

silence is a war crime.png

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