A Word to Progressives

There’s a story I’ve been telling recently I think bears repeating.

A year or two before my son started school, there was a buzz. Word on the playground was that a momentum was building. A group of neighborhood parents, priced out of NYC private schools and frustrated at the lackluster performance of the local public schools, were starting to mobilize. Fantastic, right? These parents started getting involved, going to town halls and attending district and zone meetings. They organized and advocated. They had binders full great ideas that would benefit not only their own kids, but everyone’s kids. Win/win.

In their passion to improve what was already there they neglected one important thing: the people who already called that school home. And those folks were understandably wary and resentful of a group of newcomers rushing in demanding change while liberally pointing out fault and failure.

I’m watching the same thing happen now with the progressive movement in the US. A fired-up grass-roots movement which wants to overhaul the Democratic Party for the betterment of all. Fantastic, right? But as I’m watching, I’m shaking my head. Because many are making the same mistake those neighborhood parents made: they’re not taking into account the people who actually make up the Democratic party.

The Democrats lost the last election. Bigly. They’ve lost countless seats and governorships in the last few election years. We can autopsy the whys until we’re covered in the gore of yesterday. We can place blame from here until Tuesday. None of that changes the fact that when you march into someone else’s school–or house, or political party–expecting to radically change the structure, you must take into account the needs, wants, and desires of the people who actually live there. Or, as the case may be, vote there.

Even if your ideas are great. Even if your ideas will help the people already there.

No one likes to be told they’re doing things wrong. No one likes to be told if only. Never mind if you’re right or not. Everyone’s well-versed in hindsight and its eagle-eyed vision. Would you march into someone else’s house and start shouting “You chose the wrong carpet! Your decor sucks! What were you thinking? Oh by the way, can I come stay with you for a while until I get my own place?”

If you expect them to say “Well sure, here are the keys!”, I want some of what you’re smoking.

What are they likely to do? The same thing any human being does when told they’re wrong, or stupid, or not good enough. They bristle. They resent the hell out of you. And they probably try to block every single attempt to change because hey, maybe the school/house/party is failing, but damn if it’s not our school and who are you to tell us how to do things? 

It makes my heart swell to see millions striving to make the world a more equitable place. But….you need to remember that there are millions of Democrats who’ve been living in their blue house for decades. Maybe it is falling down around them (and that point is arguable in and of itself). But remember, even if it is, it’s their damn house and they’ve been paying the mortgage on it for years. And despite what you may think, they’ve had a lot of good times in that house. There are some good memories there. They’re not going to let someone they don’t know come in and start tearing up the linoleum to see if there’s hardwood underneath, all the while berating them for every decorating choice they’ve made since 1960.

Most people don’t like change. It’s uncomfortable. Even when that change is going to benefit them. The reasons why so many old school Democrats are committed now to a resistance movement is that the change is threatening to go too far in one direction. But remember, for millions of Democrats–the people who have been living in that house, the ones who have been showing up and voting–change too far in the other direction is just as frightening. And they’ll fight it just as much.

Right now, Progressives need to rent some room in the Democrat’s house. Sure, you could declare it condemned. You could burn it and build something new. You could find another house on another street. But that all takes time, and by the time all is said and done, it could be too late.

Or…you could work with the people already living there. And, chances are, when you start looking around, you’re going to find a pretty decent bone structure to work with. In fact, the place may not be in as much disarray as you thought it was when you dragged your sleeping bag in looking for a place to squat.

Smart Progressives will approach coalition building with courtesy, caution, and yes, compromise. Maybe you reach an agreement to live together until your own house is ready. Great! After all, help with the bills is always welcomed. Until it’s ready it would be wise to remember that if you need a place to stay, it’s probably not the smartest move to go around  knocking holes in the walls and incessantly bringing up that time in 1992 when they let the pipes freeze. Or else you may just find your ass on the street. Noble intentions, passion, and good ideas go a long way, but when there’s a hurricane bearing down upon you, and there’s a big old blue house on the corner inviting you in, it would be dumb not to take shelter. Even if the roof is leaky and it stinks like mothballs. 

Eventually the new parents in my Brooklyn hood worked with the long-time neighborhood residents, wisely realizing that even if the school wasn’t winning any awards, it wasn’t really their school to criticize. The need for underlying change and improvement hadn’t gone away, but any forward motion had to take the old into account as well as the new.

Resistance is necessary. But the last thing a resistance movement needs is resistance within itself.

Dear Mr. President

mr-presidentDear Mr. President,

You won! Congratulations. Now that you’ve installed yourself in the Oval Office and surrounded yourself with a cabinet that appears to be mined from the nightmares of the liberal left, a few things, if I may.

Please don’t speak of the MAJORITY. The fact is, the majority of Americans voted against you. Sure, you won the election, and there is plenty of back and forth over the system that allowed that victory, but at the end of the day, the MAJORITY of Americans don’t want you there. In fact, I’d say the MAJORITY of Americans loathe you, both personally and the policies you stand for. Of course, I have no proof of that, but if I had to guess, I’d say at least 1 to 1.5 million more Americans actively loathe you than don’t. I’ll get the National Parks Department on it right away for proof.

So, in between overuse of exclamation points (God help me survive four years of that), 140 character assignation attempts, and generally scaring the bejesus out of the modern world, you need to remember that when you say you speak for Americans, you really don’t. Not all of us. And not the majority of us.

The orders you are signing with the stroke of a pen? Those orders don’t respect the wishes of the majority of Americans either. They pander to a fear-fueled base of people who need something to project their fears onto–because facing inward and realizing that the life of a coal miner is never going to be the life of a Kardashian is too depressing to face. Oh, and those frothing at the mouth to turn a neighbor in for wearing a headscarf or not speaking English or cooking something that smells ‘gross’. And the ones that are all rah-rah-sis-boom-bah about blowing shit up. You are governing to a minority who feels that exceptionalism takes the form of Fuck you world, we’re America! Here, hold my beer.

That is not what American Exceptionalism is, or ever was supposed to be. American Exceptionalism is the idea of creating a bastion of freedom and democracy to use as a model, not chest thumping and grunting and posturing to see who has the biggest missile in their pants…I mean arsenal.

You have, in two short weeks, reduced my country to satire. In fact, no one can tell what is satire and what isn’t anymore. McSweeny’s, known for it’s cutting wit, just published one of your ‘speeches’ in lieu of a satirical piece. I use the term “speeches” lightly because really they are just a mash-up of words. Incoherent and full of braggadocio–or was it braggadocios?– ego stroking, full of falsehoods, well…shit to be honest. My seven year-old did a research project last year which was better thought out than your speeches. And his vocabulary was bigger too. And he knows what a thesaurus is. Granted, he’s pretty smart. But still…You know that theory that if you gave a group of monkeys long enough they would replicate Shakespeare? You didn’t have enough monkeys. And you didn’t give them long enough.

groucho-marx

You may be playing to your base, but the eyes of the world are on you, Mr. President. And right now, those eyes are rolling heavenward with a mixture of “Are you kidding me? and “What the fuck is actually going on?” If, as my favorite author Margaret Atwood wrote, the greatest fear of men is being laughed at, well then, you should be shaking in your boots, because the majority of Americans and the world are laughing. Granted, we’re laughing while shitting our pants in terror, but we’re laughing none the less.

Your posturing is ridiculous. Your obsession with ratings and popularity. Your bullying. Your need for sycophantic (look it up) behavior and blind loyalty, your form of governance, which essentially amounts to I’m not going to share my shovel with anyone in the sandbox, your bizarre fixation with adoration, everything really. Everything about you is ridiculous.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We, the MAJORITY, we will never love you. No matter what you do. No matter if you give free health care to all and reverse the Hyde Amendment. You did too much damage to our relationships, our psyches, our ideals and our vision of what America is and could be. Personally, I will never get over the pussy grabbing comment. Ever. No, we will never love you. You will never speak for us.

But you can go a long way toward easing the loathing.

You can start by listening to those around you when they tell you to wait, to study, to look before you leap. You can actually listen to what the MAJORITY of Americans want. You can do all you can to avoid getting into another war, instead of rushing headlong into one or two just to see who can piss higher up the wall. You can at least try to meet us–if not half way, then perhaps a quarter. An eighth even.

majorityI’m not going to lie. There is still a part of me that wants to see you fuck up spectacularly–simply because I think you deserve the loathing of the minority as well as the majority. But I’m willing to shelve my increasingly dark fantasies if it means no actual Americans will be harmed during this reality show administration.

You want me to give you a chance? You’ll have to actually give the majority of Americans a chance first.

Respectfully,
A Majority Member

American Elegy

black-boxThis is not an elegy for America, the beautiful; America land of the free. It’s not an elegy for  geography, latitude and longitude, tectonic ’tis of thee.

The land, blooded and let, bartered for pretty trinkets, stolen for a woolen blanket and a few bottles of booze–she will remain. Purple mountains majesty, fruited plains. Red clay, cityscape, amber waves of grain, corn-fed, big sky. The land, she will survive. She always has.

This is not an elegy for a nation. A nation steeped in blood, built upon the yoke of broken promises and broken backs. Founded in revolution, fed by division, fueled by that trickle of hope left in Pandora’s box. The ghosts of America Past keep that nation alive. They rise, clanking their rusted chains, shimmering like so much heat above those ribbons of highway.

This is not an elegy for a president. His name will stay marked, bold and black, in the history books. No legislation, no course of action can erase his existence from the march of time. It is not an elegy for a leader, an office, or even a string of promises amplified by a Greek chorus of millions.

 

In America that rich, red clay has soaked up oceans of spilled blood–on battlefields and city streets, on living room floors and dirty make-shift beds. In America, when a child plays under a chestnut tree, above her head there are ghosts swinging from nooses tied round its limbs. In America, the skeletons of all those left behind dance along side the movers and the shakers, the farmers and the cowboys. In America, history is sodden with trails of tears.

That spilled blood runs through the veins of all of us, no matter what our vision is or was. You can’t escape history, cannot twist away from the truth no matter which way you caress it in the text of your history books. No matter how many untruths you heap upon it, no matter which new phrases you coin–it won’t take the scorpion sting out of the truth. You can’t turn your eyes away from the bloated face of a black man swinging from a tree, the bled out body of a woman in a dark back alley, the ravaged body of a teenage boy tied to a paddock fence, or the bullet holes in a seven year-old girl on a classroom floor–you can’t turn away from that simply because the alternative seems too insurmountable or unpalatable or difficult or it’s not your problem. You may think you can. But not for long. Not before it rises up to haunt you like so many clanking ghosts.

This is my American elegy–not for a country or a people or a nation, but for the gauzy future of a country I held close to my heart, even when I was not there. In that future, we acknowledged those ghosts, paid homage to the land we’ve ravaged and raped, paid tribute to the broken backs upon which we’ve all walked to get right here. In that vision, the skeletons of the past rose up to dance, leading us forward in that arc toward justice.

Today though, the skeletons are still, heads bowed. One step forward and four steps back; not so much a dance as a stumble.

Today, I wail and keen through words, in an elegy for an idea which seemed close to bursting forth through the earth and into the light. Today I recognize that idea was further away than I thought. Today I apologize to all of those who understood that before I did.

Today that much vaunted arc seems pretty damn far away.

 

 

 

 

Thank You, Donald

trump-6If you’d told me back in September that I would see, hear, say, or write the word pussy as many times as I have in the last week, I’d have spit-laughed my coffee in your face. But the times, they are a strange-in’.

Here’s something else I didn’t think I would ever say:

Thanks, Donald.

We’re still a month out from the election, when, whatever the outcome, the nightmare nonstop media coverage will at the very least, switch focus. Regardless of who wins however, I still need to thank Donald Trump.

Like I said, strange days indeed. Most peculiar, mamas.

You see, for twenty-some odd years I’ve been studying women’s rights, sexism, feminism, women’s studies. Theoretical, linguistic, cultural, sociological. But even more, for forty-some odd years, I’ve been living it. My Steinem senses have had long periods of dormancy in the decades which have passed, but they started tingling in full flare up as soon as Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for President of the United States.

And let me tell you, there have been times in the last eighteen months when I have legitimately doubted my sanity. When I wondered if what was so clear to me yet so unclear to others meant that I had finally managed to permanently fry my brain cells with too much wine and too many unnaturally colored cheese doodles.

But then a funny think happened on the way to November: PussyGate.

To be fair, it started about a month before the now infamous tape when I started to notice more articles which delved into the underlying sexism of this election cycle. When I started noticing people finally expressing support for Hillary Clinton the candidate and not Hillary Clinton Who Is Not Donald Trump. When I started to see articles not only about her legitimate flaws, but about her legitimate strengths.

But this is not about Hillary Clinton. This is about women. And Hillary Clinton is only one.

This election was always going to be about women. First woman atop a major ticket was always going to be a big–nay, massive–part of it. Women make up a majority of the American electorate, they were always going to be a major voting block. The fact that one party courted them mercilessly while the other took them for granted should not be overlooked.

2016 is the year that women aren’t simply relegated to the electoral chorus. We’re headlining.

Throw in a former Miss Universe, Bill Clinton’s mistresses, his accusers¹, and now with PussyGate, there’s been a collective female awakening.²

So Donald, thanks for getting it out there on the national stage. Granted, I like to grab ’em by the pussy is a pretty extreme ice-breaker, but it certainly got the job done.

Thanks too for vindicating what I and other women have been shouting about for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand years.

The stories of abuse and assault, of degradation that have been coming out since the leak of Donald’s tape have been staggering, not in their numbers, but because people are finally paying attention.

The party of family values, the one nostalgic for dated gender roles, one which built its recent foundation on the idea of white man as protector and earner. Who exactly are you protecting us from if not the guy you just nominated for president?

So thank you, Donald for exposing the hypocrisy of the current Republican party.

Thanks too, Donald for shoring up a sisterhood. We don’t need, or want your protection. Today’s women don’t want a white knight on a trusty steed. They want someone who’s going to help fold the laundry and take the kids to school. They want someone who is their equal, not their protector. Today’s women want social change and laws that protect them, not fathers or husbands who feign offense at the words that come out of their candidate’s mouth. Hell, half the time those fathers and husbands are the ones beating the shit out of us.

So thank you, Donald for firing up the political base that folks have ignored for so long: Women.

You were right, telling it like it is has its advantages. Thanks for making plain the undercurrent of power-hungry, degradation we’ve been talking about. No, you’re no Boy Scout, but by standing by your banter you’ve actually succeeded in opening up a national dialogue.

And this time, I hope American women aren’t going to stand for being interrupted or mansplained.

Thanks, Donald for validating what millions of women have been saying.

And thank you, for making me realize my sanity was never in question, not really.

trump-5I hope that on November 9th, I’ll be thanking you for helping to pave the way for the very first Madame President, but even if it doesn’t turn out that way, I’m woman enough to see that the Pandora’s box has been opened and there’s no forcing all this stuff back in.

Women aren’t going to be cowed back into submission. If you try to keep us down, we will rise, just like we have been doing for millennia.

Thank you for rallying the sisterhood.

I couldn’t have done it better myself.

 

  1. For clarification, if Bill Clinton were currently running for president, I would take just as much issue with the allegations leveled against him and his treatment of women.
  2. Thank you to the wonderful, late Mrs. Kilburn for introducing me to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in AP English class. Obviously it made an impression.