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Category Archives: politics

The Least We Can Do

We’ve all heard, by now, of the rash of racist or sexist or Islamophobic incidents that broke out across the country the day after the election. To my dismay, I learned that there were two that happened where I went to college; someone wrote “TRUMP!’ in huge letters on the door to the prayer room at the engineering college, and later that day, a student taunted three high-school-age girls in an elevator by repeatedly using the n-word and saying “I can say whatever I want now because Trump won”.

I heard about it through a friend’s Facebook post, and initially shook my head. Then had the urge to write a letter.  Then realized – I know a lot of other alums through Facebook. And they know other alums.  What if we all signed that letter?  I announced my intent on Facebook, tagged all the alums I knew, and urged them to tell me if they wanted to sign it too.  And sure enough, a bunch of them “liked” my post, and one even tagged a whole bunch of other people right away.

But…that was it, for most of them. I only got eight other people to join me, out of about twenty who learned about it.  And I’m grateful to those who joined me, but…it’s still not what I was hoping.

We have all gotten used to an automated way to participate in community now. We’re on Facebook instead of catching up over coffee or on the phone. We “share this picture of the Vietnam Memorial” to support veterans rather than actually pitching in at the VFW. We sign online petitions rather than paper ones.

There are those who would say that the Internet makes it easy to participate in the civic discussion – but that’s the thing, it’s made it too easy. Or rather, too easy to feel like we did something.  It’s too easy to change your avatar to a picture of a cartoon character or the Eiffel Tower, or to say “Je Suis Charlie”, or share the photo meme that scolds you that “I bet only 2% of the people who see this will share this photo of a German Shepard because no one cares!” And so most of us click share and maybe type something, and then go on with our day – without expending even the few extra seconds of second thought to realize that sharing a photo of a German Shepard on the internet has absolutely no currency in the real world.

And right now, that kind of slacktivism isn’t going to cut it. Real world impact is going to take real world action. Especially now.

The good news, though – it won’t necessarily require that much impact. Most of us opt for this kind of Facebook activism because the problems seem so big and outside the reach of an individual person. But according to a former Congressional staffer, who went online with advice on Twitter a few days ago, all it takes is phone calls.  And you don’t even have to pay long distance to call Washington – the district office is not only just fine, it may be even better.  And really, this is what you sent them to office to do – represent you. And the way they figure out how to represent you is if you tell them.

While I was still waiting for incoming signatures, I got into a text exchange with a friend (I’ll spare her name). We briefly talked about going to the Womens’ March on Washington the day after Election Day, but a couple of bad experiences at marches had me a little uneasy, and she confessed she was only thinking of it out of a need to do something.  It was early in the morning, and we both had work to get to, so we left it at that.

Then a couple hours later she texted me again. She announced she was about to make a phone call to her state legislature about an issue that was affecting her business.  Then five minutes later, another text – they’d told her it was a federal issue.  So she was going to make more calls.  She called her representative, both her Senators, and a couple other places.  And then most likely hyperventilated and had some wine because she hates using the phone, almost as much as she hates drawing attention to herself (I was in her wedding party, and before the processional I was trying to get her to sing “Chantilly Lace” with me to stave off a panic attack).

This was an enormous act of courage, and I told her so. It was also a constituent exercising her right with the most effective means possible and demanding her right to be represented by the people in power. But – it was also just three phone calls.  That was all.

It is time to raise the bar on “the least we can do” and get back to real activism.

 

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Presisedivacantism

People tend to have the idea that Catholics are a monolithic, and largely conservative, entity.  And they are totally not – there are all sorts of little groups mixed in there, like the religious orders you’ve heard of (Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits like Pope Francis) and lots of other little zany fringe groups, ranging from the super-liberal group that made Sinead O’Connor a priest to super-conservative groups with conspiracy theories that would make Dan Brown say “….dude. Y’all gotta calm down.”

One group – which is actually pretty big – is the Sedevacantists.  Sedevacantism was founded in the wake of Vatican II, the series of papal-sponsored conferences meant to modernize the Catholic church a little.  A lot of the old Catholic traditions – fast days, meatless Fridays, speaking the Mass in Latin – were relaxed, or wholly done away with.

It is human nature, though, that whenever any group of people makes a huge change, there are people who preferred things the way they were before. “Traditionalist Catholics” reserved the right to keep the old customs; and as far as the Vatican was concerned, no problem.  If there’s a parish somewhere where there’s enough call for a Latin Mass at noon on Sundays, after the English one in the morning, and the priest knows Latin, then great.  Traditionalist Catholics still aren’t crazy about the changes to the church, but they’re sort of grumbling to themselves about them.

The Sedevacantists, meanwhile, go beyond simply grumbling. The term comes from the Latin sede vacante, or “empty seat” – and refers to the Sedevacantist position that Pope John XXIII’s even calling for the Second Vatican Council made him a heretic, and therefore none of the popes that have come after him since 1963 have counted.  As far as they’re concerned, the Papacy has just been empty all this time. A couple of small parishes have gone a step further and elected their own popes; there’s one guy in Oklahoma City, Pope Michael, who was canonized by his parents in 1990.  (I am not making this up.)

…I say all of this to describe the strange sort of shrugging disregard I find that I’m giving to the election now.  Not that I am shrugging about the whole thing – I’m writing a couple of activism letters, I’m looking into volunteering at a writing program here in the city, and my friend Sue is talking me into going to the women’s March on Washington in January.  But the reason I’m doing all of that is…because I’ve just decided to disregard the existence of the President altogether. I have to step up and take action to protect people because the Oval Office will be an empy office for four years.

Now What

It feels like my country broke up with me.

I don’t mean that in any glib way, either.  Everything has that unreal, everything-is-different-now feeling you get after a major breakup, when you’re going about your day, brushing your teeth or drinking fruit punch or cream-cheesing up your bagel or lobbing paper clips in the trash can at work, and suddenly reality shifts as it hits you that “I’m never going to eat bagels or drink fruit punch with them again”.   The very air feels different right now.

My friend C from Ireland emailed me after the election, and I nearly burst into tears at work when I saw the first line of her email – “this is the first time I’ve wanted to cry at the results of an election.”  My friend Sue made me laugh, though; she texted me at about 1 in the morning, when it was likely Trump was going to win, to say – and this is a direct quote – “WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF FUCKING MCFUCKITY FUCKING FUCKING FUCK GOD DAMNIT FUCKING FUCK”.  A bit later she described the situation as “motherfucking asswhistling shitfest”. (I have to admit I really haven’t been able to come up with any better words myself.)  Sue and I spoke more today, and she says her daughter told her that her entire fifth grade class is talking about collectively moving to Canada.

I’ve been…withdrawn. I’ve developed the bad habit over the years of going turtle when I’ve had a bad shock, sort of withdrawing into my house and not talking to people and hiding. It’s a protective thing, but it’s also sort of iced over my soul some.  I joked to someone recently – ironically – that maybe I needed a breakup of some kind, because in my case I may need my heart to be broken back open.

And well, I got that, alright. I’ve been walking around for the past two days with that same constant soul-ache, a stab coming afresh whenever I saw someone sniffling at work, or when I saw the faces of Obama’s staff watching his meeting with Trump, or whenever I saw the words “President-elect Trump”.  Or especially when I read any of the huge surge of reports of anti-Muslim or anti-Mexican or anti-immigrant or anti-Jew or anti-Asian or anti-gay or anti-basically-anything-other-than-white violence today.

I work for an organization that, as part of its mission, resettles refugees in the United States.  And we all were wrecked that first morning, walking around numb, occasionally stepping out to cry.  Our CEO called us all together for a group staff meeting that afternoon to rally the troops a bit, but I took greater comfort in something he said first – that if we were feeling upset or angry or betrayed or devastated right now, it was important to honor that reaction – because that meant that we had high ideals and moral standards for this country, and we cared deeply about them. If we didn’t care, this wouldn’t hurt so much.

And the good news, he added, is that we can still live by those ideals even if others don’t share them.  The Constitution is still the rule of law in this country, and things like murder and obstruction of speech are still against the law.  They may not be fairly applied in all cases, but those tools at least exist.  You still have a law to turn to that says that “actually yeah, it’s okay for this person to speak their mind.”

And even if you aren’t brave enough to speak to a wider platform, or take national action…you also have the ability to reach out to your smaller community and improve things there. Smile at the woman with the hijab behind the checkout counter who’s making your coffee.  Crack a joke about the local baseball team with the guy in the wheelchair that’s next to you on the subway. Step in when you see a bunch of kids taunting another kid by calling him a “fag”, or when you see a guy down the bar hovering over an uneasy-looking woman.

And we shouldn’t forget about joy either. Tonight, I boxed up a bunch of autumn leaves to send to a friend who was born in New England, but now lives in San Francisco, and recently said he missed autumn. And next I’m wrapping my father’s birthday gift to send through to him, and I’ve even started planning a Christmas party.

And we need to take care of ourselves as well.  Eat when you need to, sleep when you need to, step outside into nature or watch cat videos or play Civilization for nine straight hours (just ONE! MORE! TURN!) or read poetry if you need a break. Yesterday, on one of the two occasions I had to step into one of my boss’ offices for a freakout, I told him the story about how my cat’s persistent demands for food were what helped pull me out of my post-9/11 funk; it reminded me that he was alive and depended on me to take care of him, and that also meant I had to be well enough to care for him.  “My cat reminded me to be sure I ate today,” I remarked to my boss, shaking the bag of potato chips I was snacking on as we spoke.

And that is still true. We are all each still alive. And our government will not be able to take care of us as well now, so it is time for each of us to take care of each other now, however we can. We need to start with ourselves, first, making sure we each are doing okay, and then we need to check in on each other – helping each other with finances, advice, or even just hugs and beer. Send each other joy. Defend each other. Advocate for each other. Laugh with each other.  Cry with each other. Speak truth to each other.  Listen to each other’s truth.  Remember what each other said.

We won’t always get it right, and we won’t always be able to do grand gestures. But if we are always thinking of caring for each other, that’s the important part. That is how we will gradually knit together first our families, then our communities, and then knit that into a true society that can be the country that we really were meant to be.

America, God-Damn

I am ashamed to be an American today.

I have nothing more to say right now.

Machiavelli Laughed

I have been pretty quiet about the election lately.  Part of that is because I just plain ran out of coping power and had to turn away from this election for a while to share my sanity.  But part of my silence is the reason why I had to stop looking – because  the things this election has uncovered about this country disgust me.

I should be celebrating tonight.  I should be feeling genuine joy if, as I suspect, Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman to become president.  And I’ll have things to say about that in time. I celebrated wildly when Obama was elected the first time – I was crowded in a bar with strangers watching the results, and was first in the place to learn that the press had just called the race for him. The place when silent for a moment when I shrieked “THEY CALLED IT!” and then erupted in screams and cheers and shouts. Five strangers hugged me. The bartender put disco music on the stereo, and a gang of us ran out onto the street where the party was going on outside too.  My favorite sight was seeing two women who had each brought out huge American flags and were doing a spontaneous majorette routine in the middle of Myrtle Avenue while I was inside dancing to Earth, Wind and Fire at 12:30 am.

And there will be celebrating tonight too, as well there should be.  But I will not be out on the street – at least, not without an ear cocked just in case. Because this election has uncovered, nurtured, and encouraged the ugliness in the hearts of the people who weren’t celebrating that night.

The thing that gave me the most hope about Obama’s acceptance speech that night was his commitment to working with his opponent’s supporters.  “…to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.” And instead of listening, a lot of people went against him every single blessed step of the way.

And so when Trump offered himself as an option for president, they flocked to him – he validated their particular brand of crazy. And with that validation came courage and a total lack of shame. And threats. And violence at campaign events. And threatening t-shirts and booby-traps and anti-Semitism.

The Trump campaign and the Clinton campaign are both having their election night events here in New York City. If Trump loses, these are not people I expect to go quietly. If Trump wins, even, these are not people I expect to celebrate calmly.  I am well and truly worried about what is going to happen in this city once the results are called.

Which is keeping me from celebrating Hillary tonight. She could be president, but some of the citizens are hell-bent against that – and they’re going to make sure we all know it.

Political Penance

While chatting with my friend Colin today, we both bemoaned the fact that we’re getting sick of the election.  But – we’re also both caught up in the mess. “I’m addicted,” Colin joked, wryly.  And I’d have to say the same – I watched all three debates, I’m trolling Facebook, and I’m exclusively reading the election content on other sites.

Enough.

From here on out, I am going to deliberately look at something else when I catch myself reading too much about the election – instead, I am going to write about Hamilton. Either something about Alexander Hamilton himself, or about Lin-Manuel Miranda, or the whole “Hamilton” phenomena.  Because frankly, it’s a vision of America I like much better – inclusive, multicultural, and helmed by someone who unabashedly loves everything and everyone and is humble and grateful, and excited about what other people are doing, and is also a little goofy.

And to start- because I just got into a couple of Facebook run-ins – I have this moment from the Hamilton stage door.  It’s one of the “Ham for Ham” shows, the quick-and-dirty things that Lin-Manuel used to do to entertain the audience members lining up for a spot in the last-minute ticket lottery.  On May 4th, he invited J.J. Abrams to join him, so they could tell the story about how Lin-Manuel composed the music for the cantina scene in The Force Awakens. And…then they both sang it.

Questions I Wish We’d Heard

Admit it.  We watched the debates for the trainwreck factor.  Maybe we went into them hoping we’d learn something about each candidate’s plans, hoping that someone, sometime, would ask about serious policy issues.  But only minutes into each debate, it became clear that we weren’t going to get that, and we all instead were watching to see our respective chosen candidates score hits on each other.  It’s too late now for us to hear any of the candidates challenged in their respective positions.  Granted, in the minds of many there is a clear winner; but there are still some questions we could and should have heard asked.

So here’s the questions I wish had been asked, and would have asked if the debates worked properly.  And I have questions for all the candidates, too – not just Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, because I also believe that the third-party candidates should have a seat at the table and a platform to speak as well.  And – everyone is gonna get challenged.

I will confine myself to four questions per candidate.

FOR JILL STEIN – CANDIDATE, GREEN PARTY

  • In your platform, you call for a democratization of the Federal Reserve as a check on the Banking system. How would such a plan guard against overly-frequent change to the Federal Reserve system, borne of the shifting perspectives of those doing the voting?
  • Can you also explain how your plan would guard against similar changes to public utilities, since you also all for democratically-run public banks and utilities?
  • Your platform also calls for a conversion to 100% Green Energy by 2030. How does your plan expedite that specific time frame, and does it include job retraining for the Americans who are currently in the fossil fuel industry?
  • Finally, you call for a “reject[ion] of gentrification as a model of economic development”. Can you clarify how much of gentrification you believe is intentional, as opposed to simple happenstance? Can such a policy truly be legislated?

 

FOR GARY JOHNSON – CANDIDATE, LIBERTARIAN PARTY

  • You have stated that the “free market” is capable of providing solutions to environmental issues. Can you clarify what has prevented the free market from enacting those solutions thus far, and what specific changes need to be brought to the free market in order to encourage such solutions?
  • At one point you are on record for calling for an end to the Federal Reserve altogether, but your platform does not mention such action. Can you expound upon your current position towards the Federal Reserve, and how your opinion seems to have changed so greatly?
  • You have stated that a “market-based approach” is best for regulating the health care industry. What measures would you use to ensure that those with pre-existing conditions, chronic health problems, or other serious health conditions would still be able to obtain affordable health care in a free market? What measures would you use to ensure that health care providers do not refuse service to someone on the basis of cost?
  • You have proposed introducing means testing into the Social Security system. What measures do you have in place to ensure the solvency of those who fail such a means test?

 

FOR HILLARY CLINTON – CANDIDATE, DEMOCRATIC PARTY

  • You are on record as having supported not only the War in Iraq, but also the war in Afghanistan, and the USA Patriot Act. Yet in 2007, you opposed the Iraq War Surge, and have gone on record that your initial decision on the war in Iraq was “a mistake”. Can you clarify whether you also feel your position on Afghanistan was a mistake, and why?  Can you also explain how you might avoid such mistakes in the future, preferably before the country has invested financial and personal cost?
  • Can you explain your disagreement with the Glass-Steagal Act, which levied restrictions on the banking industry? Do you find that the banking industry is in need of regulation, and if so, which regulations would you enact?
  • Your energy policy does not rule out fracking altogether, but instead leaves such a choice in the hands of each locality. Under your administration, what protections would there be for those people on the “losing side” of a local decision to permit fracking, who are then negatively impacted by fracking activity in their town?
  • You defended your categorization of Edward Snowden as a lawbreaker by saying that he could have availed himself of protections afforded to whistleblowers instead. Can you expound upon what protections are in place in Snowden’s case, since many of the existing whistleblower protections do not seem to apply in his case?

 

FOR DONALD TRUMP – CANDIDATE, REPUBLICAN PARTY

  • One of the solutions you have offered for alleviating the national debt would be to “refinance” it, by buying back existing bonds at a discount. What exactly would you offer bondholders in exchange for a lower return on their investment?
  • When challenged on your use of Chinese steel, you responded that you were simply practicing “good business” and that if your opponent felt you should not have done so, that she should have stopped you. Does this therefore mean that you support government regulations on private businesses, and if so, what regulations would you enact?
  • You have offered a number of different statements on your position on the minimum wage. Can you clarify whether you support or oppose raising the minimum wage, and if so, to what figure?
  • You have stated that all refugees to the United States be subjected to “extreme vetting” to assess their entry qualification. Can you list the specific steps that you would take above and beyond the existing vetting that takes place as it is?

 

….And four questions for all candidates, just to see who can answer them –

  • What, in detail, is the function of the office of the President?
  • What powers does the Senate actually have?
  • What is the process by which a bill becomes a law, in detail?
  • Do you trust the current democratic process in this country, in and of itself? Do you see any areas in which we may improve the overall procedure?

Thank you, candidates, for your time.