Unlearning the Eyeroll

I just read this piece today called “In Defense of the Gay White Male” — I don’t know whether or not that was the author’s title —by Zack Rosen and it made me pause.  Not because I think gay white dudes need defending or because I loved the essay.  Honestly, the piece read as whiney and sorta boring in many places, evident throughout was the author’s lack of understanding about the basics of power and privilege (read the comment thread for more specifics — it’s pretty great in many places).  But, there’s also a fear the author was trying to get at that’s really familiar for me.  Namely, the fear of saying things the wrong way, or being the wrong person to say anything at all, or just not knowing how to enter into a conversation without exerting my own privilege.  Sometimes this shows itself in a fear that by saying I can see the point in many centrist arguments, I may lose my ‘progressive’ political cred (if such a thing is mine to begin with).

There are times where I simply shut up rather than risk speaking in ‘the wrong way’, there are positions held by strangers and friends that I really disagree with, but am afraid to speak that disagreement because I worry about participating in my own privilege by even saying something (of course, I can’t help participating in my own privilege, but I want to be actively aware of it and intentional about how I take up space because of it).  There are times where I understand why a political thing happened (like the tax compromise) or where I appreciate a centrist moment (like the SOTU address this week), and I feel … like I should be more rad than I am.

I struggle to find a way to give myself the chance to learn by actively engaging but also recognizing that my learning should not be on the backs of other folks.  I have said some incredibly stupid things in my life, and when those stupid things were met with dismissal or derision, I didn’t learn much and often got entrenched in a position simply because I felt attacked.  When those stupid-things were met with thoughtful and considered disagreement, I often learned just how stupid the thing I’d said was at that moment, and always found things I needed to learn about before I next spoke.  I get that understanding the difference between the personal and systemic is central to understanding privilege and power.  But I also get that learning that difference is not automatic in a bootstraps-centric culture like the one I live in, particularly when you are the recipient of that systemic privilege and power.

So, Zack Rosen says:

This is not an article about the ways I am disenfranchised for being white or biologically male. I know that the gay world traditionally and invisibly revolves around people like me and am not shallow enough to begrudge others their own spaces and struggles. But it would be nice to share my own thoughts about race and gender without fear of immediate chastisement for my ignorance.

Rosen is the Editor-in-Chief for The New Gay (which I admit to never having read or even heard of before today) publishes things like this essay, Tokenized: Colonization, Gender and the Self and this piece about DADT that questions the most familiar narratives, also publishes things like this piece on racism in queer communities that utterly misses the boat, where ‘racism’ is poorly understood and white guilt & privilege are evident throughout.  Which is to say it seems like a somewhat-progressive online journal, with some familiar failings (check out the staff, do you see what I see?) and a desire to be more than a mouthpiece for the HRC but a pretty comfortable range of positions.

Part of me thinks: dude, all you have to do is read folks you don’t agree with, or pay attention to the whiteness of your contributing staff or seek out work by folks talking about anti-oppression!  And instead of doing that, you’re posting a piece bemoaning your inability to engage in a discussion where not only your sex, your gender, and your race provide you privilege, but your very job gives you incredible access that you seem to be ignoring! Another part of me thinks: there has to be a way to engage here that leaves the door open for conversation.  I get that I am responsible for my own defensiveness and that my privilege is my own to own, we all are and it always is.  But I also know that if I really want to make change in the world, I have to be able to meet people where they are and not where I want them to be.  So, if a person takes a risk to try and understand — even if that person is self-centered in that attempt — isn’t it worthwhile for me to try and respond in a way that doesn’t feel attacking?

So, the piece concludes with this:

I want to ask how I can help and how I can change without having to atone for crimes I did not commit.

Part of me just groans and rolls my eyes,  because the “I didn’t own slaves” argument is … well, boring and misses the point and too familiar for words.  But there’s another part of me, a part of me that really believes we have to be able to talk with each other and not at each other, and that part of me thinks that my rolling my eyes is a destructive move.  My dismissing someone who is honestly wanting to make the world a better place seems like the opposite of what I want to be doing.  And I think that part of what I find frustrating in many of my communities is exactly this: an eagerness to dismiss, not the Limbaughs and the Dr Laura’s (dismiss away!), but the earnest folks who haven’t quite figured out how to engage in a multi-issue, multi-identity kind of way.  Or who have invested in doing just that, but have come to a different place with it.  Or who maybe just disagree with me about this, and yet are ultimately allies in working to make the world a better place.

I’m not making an argument for protecting the feelers of white folks as a central tenet (or even ancillary tenet) of anti-oppression work.  I’m not suggesting that making white folks feel comfortable should be the priority in queer spaces.  I’m not suggesting that the centrist political viewpoint needs to be privileged.  I’m not arguing against critique of Democrats by progressives.  What I am suggesting is that, in both instances (the earnest white person trying to talk about privilege and power and a discussion about policy, politics, platforms from a progressive standpoint): I think we need to see each other as allies and not adversaries in order to make change.

And a large part of me wonders if unlearning the eye-roll is a necessary thing for those of us on the lefty side of things in order to see ourselves as part of a larger base.  That really comfortable place of superiority that allows for the eye-roll is maybe a part of the problem.  Because those on the righty side of things?  They seem to do better at seeing themselves as a part of a larger whole with which they may disagree, but a part of them nonetheless.  This is an unfinished thought (clearly, this post is all over the map).  I’m putting it out there unfinished, flawed, and probably full of things I should have thought more about because maybe that’s what we need to be willing to do too.  It’s harder to rolls my eyes at someone else when I know I am eyeroll-worthy myself.

Our Hearts Are Broken: 5 Thing Thursday

First off, President Obama’s speech in Tucson.  Worth watching (even Howard Stern says so).  If you want a dispassionate look at it, Nate Silver comes through with that.  But I urge you to just watch it first.  For me, the speech represented how a President can speak to us as a people, in all our differences and divisions, on something so heart breaking and horrible and gracefully eulogize those lost, comfort those left, and call on all of us to be better.  Really, if you didn’t get to watch it, it’s totally worth the time.

Secondly, on the opposite end of the spectrum of responses: the Sarah Palin blood feud foolishness edited to include only the parts that aren’t blithering tomfoolery:

Really, I wish we would just stop paying attention to this person and her unending quest for publicity.  She’s not someone who actually cares about the hard work of being an elected representative, she wants fame and perceived-power.  Here’s a pretty good piece on Palin’s blood feud stupidity.

Third thing, I have a mad crush on Daniel Hernandez.   I realize that there’s something odd about identity (I mean, odd in the larger sense not in the personal-community sense).  Like, being queer is not what I hope folks think is my most important attribute or the thing that makes me the most interesting.  However, I do think being queer is an important part of who I am.  Being queer, identifying that way, being out and open about that fact is a huge part of my narrative and informs — sometimes directly forms — my experience in the world.  But, given all the ways my country is anti-queer and anti-gay and anti-Latino/Chicana/Hispanic, I gotta admit to feeling a zing! seeing an openly queer, proudly Hispanic person being hailed as a hero.  And yes, I do get that hero-worship is not necessarily a good thing.  But I do think recognizing people who remind us of the best parts of being human is an important act of faith in each other.  Daniel Hernandez does that for me in so many ways.  There are many stories of people from this tragedy that are inspiring, President Obama spoke to the many acts of heroism by folks at this awful tragedy.  This is the one that speaks to me and who I want to be the most.

Fourth thing: can we please have a reasonable and rational discussion about gun control?  Please?  I’m not suggesting that people can’t or shouldn’t own guns.  I’m saying that it seems so clear from this tragedy and from the continual tragedy of gun violence in our nation every single day, that we need to talk about this and figure out how to do it better.  Can we please have an adult, calm, rational discussion that doesn’t dev0lve to “you’re trying to take away my guns and my freedom!” or “NO GUNS EVAH!”?  Because really, we need to do this.

Fifth thing: same-same for mental health resources, support and undoing the stigma.  There are so many places to read really smart people talking about this.  I think we should each find one and think about what we mean when we say “crazy” and how we think about mental health and why we tolerate so few resources for folks in this country (answer: it’s cheaper to ignore it in the short term, although homelessness and drug abuse and prison rates tell us that it’s actually far more costly for us as a whole).

Mourning and Metaphor

I don’t have a lot of wisdom on the best of days, but in speaking about something as tragic and horrifying as the shooting of 20 people and murder of six people, I feel utterly inadequate.  The shock and sadness of anyone being murdered is hard, but for me — and I recognize this as a part of my own bias — targeting public officials for assassination is somehow even worse.  Not because the violence is worse, but because it goes against the very thing that public official represents: democracy, freedom of speech, the ideals (never perfectly realized, I do know this) we build our many cultures around.  This kind of terrorism strikes me hard, hits me right in my belief system.

So I understand the impulse to look for reasons why something like this happened.  And actually, I think the work of figuring out if there are things we can do to address the root causes of this without resorting to ever-increasing security and ever-decreasing access to public officials by their constituents is important in big ways.  And I get the gut-feeling of wrongness about Sarah Palin’s target map with Representative Giffords on it, particularly now in this moment.  But I don’t think (aside from illustrating exactly why Palin is such a terrible, terrible choice for us as a country) it’s really the thing to focus on.

It seems important to me to say this, so I’m going to say it: metaphors don’t kill people.  No matter how vile or violent or personally distasteful we find a metaphor, it doesn’t kill people and hurt feelings are not the same as being shot in the head.  Equating speaking in violent metaphors to actual violence is hugely problematic on many levels.  And political rhetoric that’s intended to raise the temperature of citizens comes from all sides at all times, including metaphors that are offensive or inciting (Bush at Hitler anyone? I saw this so many times I can’t even count in my communities).  Or do a google search for “George Bush is” and look at the top results (a lizard is my favorite, but the antichrist, an idiot, a war criminal, and a racist are also in the top 10 results).  I do believe that the linguistic violence directed at our current president is of a vastly greater magnitude than what was directed at Bush, and I believe it is saturated in not only fear but also deeply embedded suckiarchy* effects in our institutions and people.  But even so, I don’t think that’s the point most important at this moment.

To be clear, I am not saying I condone, agree with or think unimportant the violence-laden language often used to criticize those of us on the Left or elected officials (or anyone).  I am also not saying I think the critique of that language is wrong at this juncture (I think it’s an important part of the whole).  What I am saying is that, even in our horror and need to say how those things feel like a part of what contributes to our violent culture, I think it’s important to be thoughtful and careful in how we assign blame and meaning.  Because if we simply say “it’s that Sarah Palin and Fox News and their violent language that caused this tragedy” then we’re saying something awfully close to “language needs to be policed in order to make the world a better place.”  And I just can’t agree to that, no matter how awful and triggering and hurtful I find things that people say in our political sphere, I just can’t get behind curtailing speech as a solution.*  We’re also missing factors that are much more concrete and real, like access to guns, violent (actual) culture, and access to mental health resources in our country.

So I guess I think our critique needs to be thoughtful.  Yes, it’s fucked up that Palin used those cross hairs.  In fact, aside from the fact that she’s an awful, awful candidate for public office of any kind and someone I have zero interest in seeing representing anyone or anything, I think Palin’s particular brand of political attack is egregious and calling it out as such matters to me.  But her cross hairs image is not why Representative Giffords was attacked by a terrorist or why six people were murdered and 20 people shot.  I believe the reasons why those things happened have to do with the unfettered availability of the means to carry out such violence (assault weapons are not something that should be so readily available), the utter lack of support for people in crisis (and I’m saying that intentionally, because I don’t know what the mental health status of Jared Lee Loughner but it’s clear he was and is a person in crisis), and the culturally-accepted norm of actual violence.  Not the metaphor of political rhetoric, but actual real-life violence.

I don’t know that I can spell out what an effective and viable gun control effort would look like in this country, but I can say that I think figuring that out is a far more important and productive outcome of this tragedy than debating other people’s political rhetoric.  I want to see THAT conversation.  I don’t have the solutions for the crisis of mental health resources in our country, but I can say that repealing the Healthcare Law, which actually provides for mental health coverage in a way never seen in our country before, is NOT the way to do it.  I want to see THAT conversation.  And I am not claiming that I can offer a solution for addressing the culture of actual violence that exists, but — although I do recognize language as one part of it — I believe that Sarah Palin using a cross hairs image is not the root cause but rather a result (because I think Palin and her ilk are opportunists at the heart of it), and making it the center of the discussion means we lose the opportunity to talk about things that might have meaningful results in making the world a better place.

I think that having a stop-drop-and-roll moment about our political discourse is a good thing.  But if changing the nature of political discourse is really one of the goals (and I’ll concede that it’s a valid one, and part of what this project right here is about), then thinking about how we approach it and what we prioritize matters.  If I had to trade greater vitriolic political discourse for meaningful gun reform right now?  I’d take it in a second. For better mental health resources and knowledge?  Yes.  For a meaningful shift in our cultural tolerance for actual violence?  Immediately.

ETA: This is an essay about language that also speaks to some of the intersectionality (it’s not just language, it’s poverty and our tolerance for violence and jobs and education).

*Kyriarchy is far more elegant, but suckiarchy is what I’m feelin’ at the moment.

**I am not saying that freedom of speech should exist without contextual limits: yelling fire in a crowded building or using slurs used against people in spaces like schools or work places are two examples that come to mind.  But our press having the freedom to be utterly, absolutely, terribly wrong is an important thing.  And, as much as I hate it, bigots having the right to express their bigotry is something I will fight to preserve.  Because if them then me too in this.

What Can We Do to Win? Talk to Each Other.

Question from my Formspring:

what can the dems/left do to ensure that 2012 looks nothing like 2010? i’m thinking they should all take rhetoric lessons by going to some southern baptist churches so they can actually LEARN HOW TO ORATE.  ex. rand paul v. manchin acceptance speeches.

Great question! Imma give it a go — this is off the cuff, so feel free to push back.  I think there are lots of things we need to do, I’m going to speak to one of them.  I don’t think it’s a matter of better oratory skills — I think we have those already (see Obama for reference).  I think it’s more basic than that.

I think what we need to do is be aware of the strategy being used against us. I believe, utterly, that the Radical Right (and I don’t mean all Republicans here, I’m being specific) is using the ol’ “Southern Strategy” to keep its power within the GOP and to win races. They’re using racial baiting, fear-mongering and outright untruth to convince people that Corporate Interests are really their own interests. And they’re not. Unless you are ruling class (i.e. very wealthy), Corporate interests are in direct contradiction to your own. But folks don’t see this, because they’re being blinded and whipped into a frenzy by propaganda masquerading as “news” (Fox, I’m looking directly at you).

I think there are moderate Republicans who, while I disagree with them on many things, represent the interests of their constituents in honest and forthright ways. I believe they, while not representing my core beliefs, are not operating from a place of malice or willing to use divisive, corrosive strategies to win. Those aren’t the people who employed the race-bait-and-switch strategy we saw this cycle. And in fact, many of those folks lost in the primaries because of well-funded extremist candidates who *were* willing to use those strategies.

So, I think we need to be ready and willing to go out and talk to people, have honest conversations about how the media spin cycle has been used to sell lies about the accomplishments of this Administration, been used to get folks to vote against their own self-interest, been used to divide us one from the other in ways that are unhealthy to democracy.

Ultimately, I believe we have to be willing to talk about why a progressive platform is one that — while individuals may disagree with parts of it, like on abortion or LGBT/Q issues — best represents all of us. Folks who are single-issue voters aren’t going to engage; a single-issue voter votes on their one issue. Most of us are not single-issue voters, we make voting decisions (as with most decisions) based on a matrix of who we think is the best possible candidate who most closely represents what we  believe in multiple ways.  Most of us are multi-identity and multi-issue beings.  I think we need to be willing to talk about intersecting issues with folks we give the room to be multi-issue beings, even when we disagree with them on an important one to us.

We need to be actively, concertedly, intentionally talking to the “most of us” who don’t necessarily agree with us on everything. We need to figure out how to support elected officials who do a good job instead of looking for someone who is perfect. We need to figure out of to critique and push without undercutting those trying to do good work.

I am not arguing against direct action and local organizing strategies and campaigns.  I believe in them — they are frequently at the center of what I do for a living.  I am saying that we need to understand that direct action and pushing for better lives for all of us *only* works large-scale if it’s accompanied by regular, invested, concerted voting. I believe the two things go hand-in-hand, and we need to commit to doing both.  And in committing to the latter (voting), we need to understand that the choices are never going to be perfect.  And that the lack of perfect cannot be why we stay home on voting days.  If it is?  If we allow ourselves to be so invested in the perfect that we are only willing to participate in what we see as ‘pure’?  Then we lose, every time.

Ask me anything

After-the-Buzzer Scores

Don’t you just hate it when you score right after the buzzer sounds?  Jobs data was just released, and all that spending (that, oh yeah, also REDUCED THE DEFICIT) on jobs seems to be paying off.  It’s not all cake and puppies, but things seem to be looking up (data graph from Steve Benan as seen on the Maddow Blog, image is also a link).  This is *private sector* jobs, so things like the Census workers don’t push the number around.  Red is Bush-era, blue is Obama-era.

Here’s all jobs (where you can see the May number skew for Census workers):

It’s not sexy, it’s not big ideals and grand gestures to talk about this stuff.  You can’t really make a catchy song or video about how job growth is better than it has been in years.  This is the kind of thing that feels dry, but seriously?  It’s the work we elect our politicians to do, so we should pay attention.  And it is

easily the most encouraging jobs report since April. The private sector, meanwhile, added 159,000 jobs, also the strongest since April, and the second best month since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007.  ~Steve Benan

Let’s see if slashing federal spending (again, for the love of Pete, spending that was done in such a way as to REDUCE THE DEFICIT … something Bush failed to do for even a single year of his presidency) helps with the whole job creation thing.

So, wonder what happened at the polls?  Here’s some interesting number crunching on voting and voters in this past cycle.   I think the piece  illustrates what we have to do to win in 2012, and if you look at the data for who was turned out to vote this cycle, it tells you that the reborn “Southern Strategy” was a success for the GOP.  So, we know what we have to do to win next time.  It’s not rocket science, no matter how much folks want to make it seem like it is with hologram projections and chiclet graphics and polls and pundocracy.

To win you have to talk to your persuadables (people who would vote for you if they can see how you’re speaking to their issues) and debunk the intentionally racist narrative that is pushing folks to vote against their own self-interest.  This has to be done in conversations that aren’t accusatory, aren’t snide or smug … because none of those things actually create a conversational plane wherein different perspectives can be heard.  Then you have to identify your voters and turn. them. out.  So, who was voting:

White voters and older voters swung big, and conservative leaners turned out in bigger numbers than usual. Add to that Northeasterners and Catholics, and you’ve accounted for most of the big swings.

But was there anyone out there who showed unusual loyalty to Democrats this cycle? Indeed there were. Here are the groups that showed the smallest swing into the Republican column:

  • Liberals (-6)
  • African-Americans (-2)
  • Mothers (+1)
  • "Other" religion (+2)
  • Age 18-29 (+5)
  • No high school (+7)
  • Union households (+8)
  • Big city voters (+8)

Lastly, Eugene Robinson — whom I just think is the bee’s knees — wrote this about Nancy Pelosi:

She’s losing her job not because she does it poorly but because she does it so well.

I think he’s right: the Fox Spin Cycle had to make her into a prime target because she was good at her job.  She was able to get major policy legislation through in the face of constant harping by the Left and nattering by the Right.  It’s important we remember how hard she fought, how much she got done, and most importantly — her AMAZING death-gaze!  To whit, the look she threw when Joe Wilson yelled “you lie” at the President.  Fierce.

Not only was she the first woman to be Speaker of the House, not only did she deliver on major issues (one of the most effective House Speakers of all time, in a very short tenure), but, as Robinson says, “Pelosi did what was right for the country, and what’s right isn’t always what’s popular.”

Also, I love that Nancy Pelosi comes out swinging and doesn’t try to frame herself as more like the Right (Beltway insiders be damned).  She is what she is, a progressive leader who gets the job done.  She’s able to compromise when it means moving forward (see Healthcare — she wanted the Public Option, people, but knew what could be done).  She’s a progressive who is able to compromise without selling out.  That’s something.  When asked about why she was targeted,  she said (quoted from E.J. Dionne’s piece as seen on my secret grrlfriend’s show tonight:

"Because I’m effective," she answers matter-of-factly. "It’s why they had to do it. They had to put a stop to me because we were effective in passing health care reform which the health insurance industry wanted to stop, Wall Street reform which Wall Street wanted to stop, (reforms of) students loans for taking the money out of the banks and giving it back to the taxpayer and to families."

Hope is Not Hope Which Cannot A Midterm Election Withstand

Shakespeare wrote:

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove

and I think it’s worth thinking about that in terms of hope, too.  If we are able to give up hope based on one, historically not-surprising or shocking or even very note-worthy election?  Then we didn’t have hope to begin with.

One of the things about our system is that it’s responsive, and a lot of people were hurting this cycle.  This election is a response to that, it’s not a mandate for either party or a repudiation of anything — no matter how much the spin machine tries to make it either thing, it’s just not.  People are frustrated and scared and out of work or underemployed all over the place.  We are just now maybe pushing our noses up above water, in large part due to the decisions made by the 111th Congress and our President.  But they inherited a financial juggernaut of awful, and the reality of that is this: people are hurting, and people who are hurting are not their best selves and do not vote their ideals, they vote their fears.  And this Midterm election shows that people are hurting, are angry, and that the Radical Right has marshaled its forces to capitalize on that anger and fear.  Particularly the state-level results that are most troubling (I’m looking at the Midwestern M’s — Minnesota and Missouri), these are results about fear.

On a side-note, I have to point out what seems so obvious: Obama is not Roosevelt so let’s stop making the comparison.  Roosevelt came from the white, ruling class so when he pushed on bankers that hard?  He was doing so from a position of privilege … Obama’s playing on a different field and we cannot forget that when we’re analyzing his strategy.

I get that the elections this past Tuesday were disappointing to folks who fought in 2008 to elect Obama.  We lost one of the two races I spent the past two months on, and to which I dedicated 18 hour days and have not had a single day off in the last three weeks.  I get the disappointment, really I do.  But I remember that in 2008 we knocked doors and showed up and called our friends and asked our neighbors to vote and elected a President that wasn’t supposed to win.  And then the maelstrom hit and we entered the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Obama and the 111th Congress inherited that mess, and they *still* got more done than any Congress in recent history.  They made choices in their priorities and policy goals, choices that — I believe — kept us from an even worse collapse, and choices that were about long-term good of the many.  And that President did not participate in the outright lying that the Radical Right used against him, I believe, because he truly gets that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.  Glenn Beck’s tools of constant spin and policy-as-soundbyte?  I don’t want that.  I don’t want a President who is focused on the PR, I want one who’s focused on the policy.  And we have that in Obama.

In spite of that, so many of us on the Leftish/Left/Center of the political spectrum — the very folks who said we wanted smart, wanted wonky, weren’t looking for sit-com president — feel disappointed because Obama was not able to do everything exactly as we wanted right this second, or didn’t spin hard enough fast enough to suit us.  We seem to forget that the only kind of government with the kind of power we ascribe to Obama is dictatorial (at least), and we forget that we *want* power to be checked because our guy is NOT always going to be in the seat.  We want a president who tries to work and play well with others.  Even though the Right was a massive bloc of no, Obama’s approach was one that reached for compromise and also got the thing done.  That’s huge.  We knew that he was a centrist in 2008 when we elected him but we had so much hope, so much excitement, that I think we forgot that part of the bargain we struck was that in order to push left, we had to show up  even when it was hard and not full of cool posters and will.i.am’s Yes We Can video.

We (and by we I mean those of us who see ourselves as Progressive, Left of Center, or Center of Center politically speaking) have spent an incredible amount of time and energy criticizing every move made by the Administration in the last 21 months.  Healthcare wasn’t good enough ‘cause it wasn’t single-payer; Wall Street reform wasn’t enough because we needed even more regulation; LGBT/Q folks weren’t getting enough with more LGBT/Q appointees than any other administration and a stated opposition to DADT and DOMA ‘cause they weren’t undone by Presidential fiat.  All these critiques are valid, and there are more I could offer.  But here’s the thing: we did not spend an equal amount of time and energy recognizing what was accomplished under this President and Congress.  And we did not effectively get out our vote.  We didn’t get out there and talk to people, face to face and one-on-one, about why voting in this election cycle mattered.

The Tea Party is scary to me.  The entire “Constitutional Conservative" mask for folks who want to undo the Civil Rights Act and Social Security, freaks me the eff out.  The willingness of Fox News to make shit up, baldly and boldfaced lie in their ‘reporting’ as a way to push a Right-wing agenda?  It hurts my heart, but mostly because I want there to be a higher standard of reporting than that which allows airtime (by elected folks!) nattering on about how Obama’s trip to India costs $200 million a day.

I am saddened by the total closed-circuit Right Wing media world (tip o’ the keyboard to Rachel Maddow), but more so because there are people who believe it because all they hear is that closed-circuit.  We have to stop talking only to folks who agree with us.  We have to figure out how to have a rational conversation with people we don’t agree with (I don’t mean people carrying Hitler signs — paint anyone as Hitler — Bush or Obama — and I’m gonna walk away).  I think we are seeing a preview of the fake-fact, race-baiting strategy that will be used in 2012.  I think we have seen that it can be effective (which saddens me), but we also know how to win facing that machine.

We have to spend time talking to people we don’t always agree with, having conversations that are based in listening, hearing people’s issues, and debunking false facts.  We have to be likely voters.  SERIOUSLY.  We must be that if we want to have a serious impact — because the strategy of turning out surge voters from 2008 in this Midterm?  It didn’t work.  So, we must be likely voters, family.

We have to turn out our vote, allow ourselves to be excited about that which is not perfect, resist the giving-up that is anathema to actual change (the thing we hope for).  We can do that, we’ve done that, we are the people to show our country how to do that in spite of incredible odds while finding joy in the absurdity — that’s the story of our people.  And we can be prepared for 2012, friends.  We can figure out how to communicate “rational and factual” information, as Rachel Maddow says, to folks who are scared and don’t share our exact political perspective.

I have to remember: I have hope.  I believe we can.  And Michelle Bachmann and her crazy, listen-to-no-facts approach?  Can’t stop me from believing that we can make this world a better place.  Yes, this election was not a good one for our people.  But we need to remember that it was also not the end of the world.  This is a list of five things that give me hope today (admitting that there are many that sap my hope, I’m choosing to focus on these today).

1.  The election results are not a mega-news, disastrous calamity, total turnaround that the 24-hour news media would have us believe. My secret-grrlfriend, Rachel Maddow, did a great piece on this last night. The results were not historic, and this is empirically, factually proveable.  The handsome Ms. Maddow lays it out in 2 minutes 30 seconds:

2.   This essay by Gail Collins, which is just snarky enough to make me smile, but gets right to the point on the importance of not extending the tax cuts that Bush enacted:

Democrats, we know you are sad. And this next battle is going to involve parliamentary maneuvering and Harry Reid and worrying about the innermost thoughts of Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Everything that made the public turn on you in the first place.

But, this time, see if you can remember to point out that you are on a noble venture. Lift up your tails and trot out there and help balance the budget by killing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The American dream is depending on you — the one without any wrestling or yachts.

You can also watch her on my secret-grrlfriend’s show on the tee-vee here.

3.  The fact that there is an upcoming exhibition of Essex Hemphill's work, including rare and unpublished stuff, in New York all this week.  You can see the Facebook event here, or search for “Take Care of Your Blessings: Essex Hemphill/Wayson Jones Collection.”   Essex Hemphill’s poems were featured in two movies that absolutely blew me away when I first saw them, and which I was lucky enough to teach several times.  If you haven’t seen them, you should check out Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston and Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied right! now! for some happy and some hope.  And for a serious self-check.

4.  The mom who took no stuff and brooked no bullshit and not only let her son dress as he wanted for Halloween, but wrote about just how much she loved him.  She’s a cop’s wife (hardly the stereotype of a raging liberal) and she makes me have hope that the thing we’re fighting for — that our kids can grow up safe enough to figure out who they are — is changing.  Because I can tell you this, I can’t imagine this mother existing when I was growing up, and I certainly can’t imagine her stance being supported and celebrated the way I’ve seen all over them durn internets today. Picture is a link, if you have been under an internet rock and haven’t seen the blog post wherein she takes the mcnasty to task and not only defends her son, but makes it clear that her love isn’t dependent on who he might theoretically have sex with someday.  Or whether he likes wearing orange wigs.

5.  The last thing is a clip of Tony Bennett singing America the Beautiful at the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear, because I wish this were our National Anthem. But also, because I think it’s important to remember that I am an American with all that entails. I have civic duties (like voting) and historical accountability (like the continuing effects of a Nation founded on slave labor) and great joys (like being a part of a large-scale democracy that is, in all its imperfections, pretty cool). Some days I think I’d rather be Canadian (like, days I want to be able to marry my sweetie or have healthcare available) … but then I remember that Canada isn’t Utopia either (see forced assimilation of First Nation Peoples, or Toronto’s new Mayor, Rob Ford).  So, I am an American — as much so as any red-white-and-blue wearing Tea Partier, I’m a part of the fabric of this Nation.  And I am glad of that, because it means my government needs to be accountable to me and mine as much as anyone else.  I am a part of the “us” no matter how much Sarah Palin wants me to be a “them”.  And I am ready to fight for that, every day for sure, but particularly in 2012.  I’m ready, people.  And I still believe we can.

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Tony Bennett - “America the Beautiful”
Rally to Restore Sainty and/or Fear The Daily Show The Colbert Report

Make a Voting Plan!

I am so very tired ‘cause this is the week before elections and we’re going all-out trying to overcome incredible amounts of corporate cash, legitimate frustration with folks in office, and a concerted Southern Strategy being played out across the Nation to divide us one from the other.  So there’s really only one thing to say: vote. Make a plan, decide what time you’re going to vote and where, and get it done.  Talk to your neighbor, your coworker, your lover, your friend and get them to make a voting plan (helping people make a voting plan can up voter turnout by over 4% and up to 9% in some cases).  Making a plan helps make intentions happen!

Don’t know where to go?  You can find your area’s voting info through this non-partisan site!  Or this one!

Even if you don’ t love any of the candidates, vote.  Even if you’re not entirely sure about every down-ballot candidate (those positions that aren’t getting multi-million-dollar media-blitzed, like judges and state offices), vote.  Even if you don’t think any of the candidates are going to do exactly what matters to you on your primary issue: vote.

Because we need to be likely voters.  We need to get out to the polls in a week, cast our ballots (or mail them in, that’s totally cool too), and vote for the better candidate.  Vote for the person not supporting Papers-Please insanity, or for the person who isn’t interested in privatizing Social Security or Veterans Affairs.  Vote for the person who will be more accountable to your issue than the other person.  Vote for the candidate who is — while perhaps not on the forefront of LGBT/Q issues — at least not condoning complete erasure of us, who isn’t comfortable with total silence on us and ENDA.  Vote for the person who thinks that folks should have the right to form organizations that give them collective power.

Take a minute, figure out who the person is whose voting record (or stated positions) indicate that they are going to be at least somewhat accountable to the things you care about, and vote.  Check out a voter guide that you trust (for example, you can google “progressive voter guide” and get one for your state).  Then make your plan, help your kinship networks make plans, and get. it. done!

[caption id=”attachment_88” align=”aligncenter” width=”236” caption=”This is a link to an iron-on template!”][/caption]

Michael Moore’s Letter to Juan Williams

Michael Moore can be … complicated for me.  And he can also be really astute.  I think this letter is both things.

The most interesting part for me was that Moore found a 1986 op ed piece Williams wrote in which he said:

Racism is a lazy man’s substitute for using good judgment… Common sense becomes racism when skin color becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me.

In light of his remarks on things Muslims wear, I think this statement — as well as the content of Williams’ career taken as a whole — lend believability to his stated intent.  But, that still doesn’t address the issue of what Williams did, which — as I said before — is the actual point for me.

I do think GOP wanking over defunding NPR (an organization whose programming and content organization I greatly  enjoy but which I think it’s important to note is a moderate news source, not a lefty or progressive one).  That whole spin-cycle of stupid just makes me even more convinced that much of the GOP has been hijacked from its own members.

Here’s where I out myself: I know many Republicans (some of whom I love deeply), and they are kind, compassionate individuals who hold different beliefs than I do (this also applies to the folks I know and often love who are Independents and Libertarians and Green Party and … you get the picture).  I believe in the things I believe in passionately and with conviction.  I also believe that if I feel that way, then I need to have room in the world for people to feel just as strongly about their systems of belief (and we can frequently find points of agreement).  They are folks with whom I most often disagree, and with whom I most enjoy discussing politics (because, people, I’m an organizer: it’s the “3” — the undecided or person open to the conversation — I think we should be talking with the most).  Although I think they’re Wrong (tm) on some things, we can disagree like adults and still care about each other.  They are not nut jobs.  But nut job seems to be the current front-position in the Conservative movement, and I don’t get it (see Limbaugh, Beck, Steele, O’Reilly, Cantor, et al for reference).

Defunding NPR over a staffing decision they made?  That’s nut job.  I don’t watch Fox.  I don’t patronize Fox.  I don’t think Fox produces news, I think they produce political propaganda.  But NPR is not the opposite of Fox (one could argue that MSNBC isthat, though I’d have some pushback there too)!  NPR is moderate, centrist, and invested in a particular framework for news production.  For example, they won’t let their reporters attend the Rally for Sanity unless they’re assigned to cover it, because they are invested in as-much-as-possible-neutrality (see the link for NPR’s explanation).  This is not an organization that should be defunded, nut jobs!  It serves the public interest to have NPR and the programming it supports (as well as the fact that it’s not advertiser-driven, same-same as the argument for the importance of public TV — the people who bring you Sesame Street).

ETA: this piece (link!) by Farai Chideya is a really, seriously important part of the conversation about NPR.  I wish we were having this conversation.

Juan Williams is a …

Yesterday I posted a little about the Juan Williams mess.  But today, when folks have done things like question Williams’ sanity, or say things like

Not only is Jaun Williams a Islamphobic dirt-bag, he is a sexist pig as well

(from a comment on this post and only one example of things being said about Williams), I want to push for why we should be more thoughtful.  Queer folks in particular, I want us to push for a more thoughtful engagement, one that looks at the entire context and talks about the actual central issues at stake.  I want us to have a discussion that keep us on point.

Because us queerbos have seen discussions about the us, about our rights and who we are, about the importance of legal protection, about the importance of institutional attention to anti-oppression work — we’ve seen them taken over by discussions of pedophilia (most often straight men are the perps) or sex with animals (not consensual, not queer, just wrong), or how we intend to force religious institutions to adhere to our agenda (can I get a copy of that agenda please?).  So, we should know that making character-assassination statements about Williams does not help point out that intent only goes so far, which is the point. And we should be talking about that, about the limits of intent, not whether Juan Williams is a dirt bag or should talk to a mental health professional.  Because those things?  Just derail the important part of the conversation.  And fellow queers and allies?  We certainly know what derailment does to a larger conversation.

So, to the point: intention is often a mystery.  Years of teaching literature convinced me that focusing on authorial intent is a way to avoid talking about the actual what-is.  You can intend be sympathetic and understanding, but unintentionally be insulting, condescending and bigoted.  The friendly co-worker who says “I don’t think of you as being gay” may not intend to be erasing or hurtful, but the statement is still those things.  The friend who says they’ll love you in spite of your having the gay (tm) may not intend to reinforce homophobia, but the end result is still exactly that.  What you intend is not always in line with what you do or say, because we are flawed and imperfect.  And if all we talk about is what Juan Williams intended or what we think he is, then we’re talking about motive and intention which is something we can never, ever know for certain in another person.

So I really, really, really don’t want our (large us) conversation to be about whether Juan Williams is anti-Muslim, or whether Juan Williams is a victim (anyone who gets a $2 million contract and a huge bump in their profile?  Is not a victim), or whether NPR is a terrible or heroic news organization.  And while the conversation about what makes a credible news analyst is interesting, and one I’d like to have, I kinda wish we weren’t talking about that so much right this second.  Because then this becomes a conversation about what Juan Williams is, or what NPR is … and then, to quote the ever-smooth Jay Smooth, we’re letting him off easy because we’re setting up a conversation that’s way too simple for Williams to derail (“NPR fired me for telling the truth,” for example) and duck out of.  The conversation we have should be about holding Juan Williams accountable for the impact of his actions.

So, to do that, we have to look at what Juan Williams actually said.  In its full context.  Here’s what he said, the entire segment (it’s only 6 minutes, you can do that):

In addition to the comment about so-called “Muslim garb” — which is a decidedly ignorant thing to say, and in response to which this awesomeness happens (link!) — Juan Williams also said:

Wait a second though, wait, hold on, because if you said Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals, very obnoxious, you don’t say first and foremost, we got a problem with Christians. That’s crazy.

And he said:

I’m saying, we don’t want in America, people to have their rights violated to be attacked on the street because they heard a rhetoric from Bill O’Reilly and they act crazy. We’ve got to say to people as Bill was saying tonight, that guy is a nut.

So, I think it’s pretty clear that Williams does, indeed, argue against the truly whack-job O’Reilly position.  Williams did argue, as he says, that

"all Americans have to be careful not to let fears lead to the violation of anyone’s constitutional rights, be it to build a mosque, carry the Koran or drive a New York cab without the fear of having your throat slashed."

But he did not — as this piece in Blue Wave points out way more elegantly than I can, which George Stephanopoulos pointed to on GMA, which others have observed quite eloquently — own his own shit.  He did not, as he stated was his intent,

reveal his fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith.

He revealed his fears, but he did not connect that back to the case he made later-on about what we have to be aware of with fears.  He did not — explicitly and directly — own them as the prejudicial fears they are (not to mention the fury-making inanity of ‘Muslim garb’ — again, Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things is a brilliant response — he made a statement about his own prejudices and then stopped.  And then later on made a case about  not letting fears rule us or give us permission to violate folks’ rights.  And in a country where people are being attacked simply for being Muslim and where major ‘news’ figures like O’Reilly can say hateful, hurtful, awful things based simply on a persons’ being Muslim?  It’s necessary to complete the thought.  Particularly if you are a person who has the stature and reputation Juan Williams has.

To be fair (because, unlike Bill O’Reilly, I’m actually interested in trying to do that as much as possible), Williams was in a conversation, which is moment-to-moment.  And that conversation involved a lot of back-and-forth with the notoriously obstreperous O’Reilly.  But he had time after his initial statement, he wasn’t interrupted at that point.  He may have lost the thread — it was live TV and it happens to the best of us — but he didn’t go back to the statement that is at the crux of all this hullabaloo.  It just sits there.  And that, the saying it and just letting it sit there, is the problem.  Because, regardless of intent, what he said was … well, f*c&ed up.

And so, I come back to Jay Smooth's piece on what to do when someone says something racist.


I wish that was the conversation we were having (and, I’m glad that there are folks having exactly that conversation).  Whether or not NPR should have fired Juan Williams is debatable (it is an opinion thing, depending on what you think NPR should do, should be, should have as its standards).  But talking about Juan Williams’ statement about ‘Muslim garb’ in a way that centers on what Juan Williams *is* … is a rhetorical Bermuda Triangle (oh, Jay Smooth, I so Mr. Smooth: I don’t care about what Juan Williams is or even necessarily what he intended (although I do think it’s good that he’s clarified, his intent was not clear in the moment and *that* is what he should be held accountable for.  I care about what he did, and how what he says means in our current context.  That’s the part I think we should be talking about.  The rest is just noise until that part is addressed.

White Fear as GOP Strategy

I don’t want to this to be simply a Maddow fangrrl tribute blog, but … well, this is really important political strategy to be aware of, regardless of your political positions or beliefs.

As a side-note, I think we are seeing a dress rehearsal for what the 2012 challenge to Obama is going to look like; I don’t think it’s accidental that this strategy is being resurrected in this Mid-term cycle … no I do not.

On the Juan Williams stuff, here are some links that are a closer examination and where Williams clarifies his intent.  For example, he says:

I revealed my fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith. I pointed out that the Atlanta Olympic bomber —  as well as Timothy McVeigh and the people who protest against gay rights at military funerals — are Christians but we journalists don’t identify them by their religion.

And to be clear, Maddow — as well as most progressive journalists — clipped him pretty heavily (and in this case, may have distorted his meaning — which I don’t think is the case in the other clips). Since I get pissed when folks take Progressive positions out of context, it’s only fair to point it out (even when my secret-grrlfriend does it).  So, I think it’s worth paying attention to the entire context of the exchange with O’Reilly before forming an opinion on NPR’s decision. Links here, here and here.