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.

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Stop Telling Women to Chill Out

angry-womanDudes.

I keep reading and hearing about women whose husbands or brothers or male family members or bosses or strangers are telling them to chill out.

Sometimes this is thinly veiled code for “Oh My God, I am never going to have sex again.” Most of it is male cluelessness. Sometimes that cluelessness (I’m done mincing words) comes from a place of benign unawareness. Sometimes it’s more than that.

Before I delve into what promises to be the mother of all profane and rage filled rants, I need to clarify a few important things. My husband is a white male. He is categorically not one of these men. That is one of the many reasons he IS my husband. For the most part, the husbands of my friends are not these men either. There are always one or two, and for them, I have zero fucks left. Many of the men I interact with on a daily basis are not either. Some are. I see them, nodding along, inwardly hoping I shut the hell up.

Yeah…nope.

I will not chill out and if you are a woman, neither should you. Nor should you chill out if you are a minority or an immigrant of a Muslim or LGBTQ. And please, if you are a man who is ready to put his money where his mouth is, you should not chill out either.

Other things you should not do: Apologize for being angry. Explain. Justify. Rationalize.

The US just elected, by a margin that’s so disgustingly small it pains me to think about it, a man who normalized sexual assault. To the point where it is apparently now a thing to grab a woman’s body and shout “We can do this now!” or to demand she open her legs to allow easier access (culled from first person accounts). It elected a man accused of sexual harassment by over ten different women. A man who, on 60 Minutes, said he has all intentions of nominating SCOTUS judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade. A man who has suggested that women who seek abortions be punished. A man who has surrounded himself with, surprise surprise, a cadre of old, white conservative men who care about three things: money, their dicks, and apparently, making the lives of women as miserable as possible.

You may say, “Oh, but he won’t do that!” To you I say, “Why the hell should anyone trust that he won’t do exactly that?”

So no, thank you very much, I will not simply chill out.

When someone starts creating nonsense legislation targeting penises, then come and talk to me. When someone starts slicing and dicing at health care plans and organizations which protect the health and well-being of penises, then you can tell me it’s not that bad. When someone starts normalizing women giving the old ‘twist, pull, twist’ on random male testicles, because “They can do this now!” then come and tell me we should just wait and see. When only men are held responsible for the upkeep of children, maybe then you can tell me to chill out. When, law after unconstitutional law is created which outlines and legislates penis upkeep and usage, then fine, we’ll talk.

Until then, uh-uh.

I am so weary of managing the emotions of angry, white men. Because let me tell you something. All those post-mortems and studies which show that the white, working class is angry about being left behind? Those are white, working class men. Do you know how I know?

Because women and minorities and immigrants have been working shit jobs for decades and getting left behind. And….wait for it…they’ve continually had their civil rights under threat as well! I imagine they’re pretty angry too. But I’m also fairly certain the white working class women who have been busting their asses in dead end jobs will continue busting their asses in dead end jobs. Because all those magical jobs which are going to fall out of the sky like so many manufacturing unicorns? They’re not going to be for women. Women will get left behind again. Including whatever margin of white, working class women opted to vote for ‘change’.

And they’ll still get told to chill out.

So now the rest of us have to stop what we are doing to manage the emotions of the white, working class male who is having an identity crisis as his role of sole provider is changing in a global economy.

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Goddamn. And they call liberals cry-babies.

What do you think women who have been abandoned by their husbands, left alone to raise kids, forced to have kids by restrictive abortion laws, have had to do for the last fifty years? Women who have gaps in their work experience from staying home and supporting their husband’s law career? Women who never had work experience in the first place because they were told they’d be provided for…until they weren’t? What do you think ALL THOSE WOMEN have been doing? They take a crap job cleaning toilets or working at McDonald’s or in some office, where they then have to deal with some asshole groping them. They do it to feed their kids. They put their heads down and get on with it while they figure it out. And let me tell you, administration after administration left those women behind. And so they chilled out. And got left behind again. I imagine they’re pretty pissed off too. Substitute minority or immigrant in there for women and the same holds true.

One article I read suggested the white working class male felt hard done by. They felt they were being laughed at by younger professionals. Their pride was hurt.

Holy shit.

Now the rest of us have to hold the line while white male identity figures out how to rebrand itself? We are here, on the cusp of having to fight another goddamn war over reproductive rights because men felt like they were being laughed at?

This is what privilege is. Privilege is bringing a country to the brink of cultural revolution because a white man feels like he is being laughed at. Fuck me gently with a chain saw.

Sure. You got left behind. Yes, the government should have done more. And yes, you should hold the government accountable. Hell, you should be angry. But you are not the only ones who get left behind. Yet you are the only ones who went and flipped the whole table over because if YOU can’t sit at the table, then by God, NO ONE is going to sit at the table.

So no, women do not need to chill out. What women really need to do is allow themselves the anger that they’ve been denying and supressing for years.

My mother told me about a show that studied the biological desire in males to conquer. How there is speculation that because there is so little left to conquer and explore, all that pent up energy has nowhere to go.

May I suggest the outer reaches of Russia? I think there’s a lot of space up there. You can roam around and shoot things. Or each other. Plant a few flags and deal with all the feels of manliness. If your pride gets hurt you can punch someone in the face.

Then if you’d like, come back where the rest of us have been carrying on doing what we need to do. Where we’ve been dealing with being laughed at, harassed, assaulted, groped, denied, oppressed, all the while still managing not to flip the fucking table over.

unknownSo don’t give me the spiel about how this is all about the white working class male regaining his pride. If the white working class male’s only way of regaining pride is by stepping on the necks and rights of others, than hell yes, I’m going to be angry.

And so should every other man, woman, immigrant, minority, Muslim and LGBTQ American that feels the same.

So no. You chill out. I hear Russia’s really nice.