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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Dear 2016, Suck It

hangoverDear 2016,

Well, here we are. December 31st. If you’ve got any more surprises up your sleeve–say Harrison Ford dropping dead or Simon le Bon suddenly suffocating, the sudden annexation of Poland by Russian troops-you’ve got less than 24 hours to do your dirty work.

The (not so) funny thing is that you, 2016, you weren’t even close to my worst year. I’ll save that accolade for the Annus Horriblus of 2004-2005, 13 months in which I lost my uncle, my grandfather, and my father in quick succession. Oh, and my oldest son was born with Meningitis. Nothing says suck-ass year like learning your father has terminal cancer followed by wondering if your child is going to live through the night. But well, you were a doozy, 2016. Not only did you steal my favorite actor, you made me question my time left on this Earth by allowing the icons of my youth to shuffle-ball-change off this mortal coil one after the other.

Oh, and then there was all the political stuff.

In June my British husband and I picked our jaws up off the floor as the UK voted to leave the European Union, mere months after we’d finally secured our kids dual citizenship in the misguided expectation all of Europe would be held in those passport pages. In July I watched, with great, gulping sobs, the first American woman receive a major party nomination for president. In November….

Well, we all know how I felt in November.…and December. And possibly how I’ll still feel in January.

Then, a brighter side. In quick succession in November, a duo of writing successes: a big contest win and even bigger accomplishment, securing an agent for my novel. In December, news of a Pushcart Prize nomination. The champagne I’d been saving for a certain occasion (see November), sitting forlorn in the fridge, was put to different use.

**************

When I wake on Sunday morning a new year will have dawned, bright and beautiful. Yet, Alan Rickman will still be dead. Donald Trump will be even closer to being sworn in as he 45th president of the United States of America, LLC, and Teresa May will still be wetting herself trying to figure out how to extricate the UK from Europe. Putin will still be laughing into his vodka, Paul Ryan will still be looking as throat-punchable as ever, women’s reproductive rights will still be under attack.

hangovers

On Sunday, a child will accidentally shoot themselves and die. A woman will be violently raped. Another will be beaten black and blue. A son will overdose on heroin, a daughter will come out as gay and be disowned by her family. A teenage boy will transition to life as a teenage girl and wobble forward on Bambi legs.

On Sunday, life will go on, the step from one year to the next no more than a countdown on the television, the ticking over of the second-hand on the clock. Bombs will still fall. Lovers will swoon. A heart will be broken, an engagement announced. A child will be born, a grandmother will die, couples will say “I do.”

Sunday will be no different from Saturday. January 1st no different from December 31st. It is both humbling and horrifying, the expectation held in that split second–as powerful as the Big Bang, as mundane as  8:43 ticking over to 8:44 on a random Tuesday in March.

I’ve always been a fan of New Year’s Day, the potential bottled up in a fresh new notebook page of a day. The feeling is muted this year. But, I won’t let you steal it from me completely, you son-of-a-bitch of a year.

You won’t be the last mostly shitty year, 2016. I imagine there will be years that seem tame by comparison and others that make this one look like a cake walk. I imagine I will look back at 2016 the same way I look back at pictures of myself in my 30s, laughing at how old I thought I was.

Thanks for the lessons, 2016. I learned a great deal: Don’t apologize for things that don’t need apologizing. Stop justifying. Stop asking politely, because while kid tested and mother approved, it doesn’t work when it comes to things like equality. Oh, and the most suck-ass-iest lesson of all? You can play by all the rules and life is still going to kick you in the teeth like a blue-balled donkey.

END OF THE NEW YEAR S EVE PARTYPerhaps it’s for the best. 2016 added a few layers of midlife fat to my midlife midriff, but it stripped away a few layers as well. Assumptions were shed like so many of Salome’s veils. Naive expectations crashed like so many tumbling bricks. You were the year, if not without a Santa Claus, than in which I felt like the foundation on which I stood crumbled away underneath me. But you were also the year I learned that I can regain my balance on the smallest of precipice, the tiniest bit of standing rock. Hell, there were days I felt like I could grab a broomstick and fly above the fire of my rage if I needed to.

I won’t lie. I’m not sorry to see the ass-end of you. But I’m ending it stronger than I’ve felt in a long time. Fatter, grayer, more short-tempered, but stronger for sure. If I’ve ever doubted my commitments before, my abilities, my intelligence, my voice than you, 2016–you shit-storm of a year, have taught me that I’m louder than I ever thought possible.

Love,
Me