America

He is my President, but I don’t have to like it

Number one rule; respect the office, not the man. I believe in our government. I trust our constitution and the checks and balances it ensures. I believe that we must, if we want to preserve our republic, honor the greatest achievement of that republic by continuing the tradition of a peaceful  transfer of power.

At the same time, it is not an over reaction to be terrified that the man might do the things he expressly said he was going to do. It is not melodramatic to be heartbroken that someone who brags about sexual assault, is lauded by the KKK, and advocates violence against his critics is the man I have to now have as president. A man I wouldn’t even want to be on the same bus with is my president. It is not an overreaction to mourn for this planet and the irreparable damage that will be done to the climate by the man who denies the consensus of science and the majority of world leaders. And it is not irrational to fear for the future as our president will surely, willfully, gleefully even, neglect to address the greatest human rights crisis of our generation and leave the victims of extremism to whatever perils on the baseless, heartless fear of their religion.

I think about all the people who visited Susan B. Anthony’s grave on Tuesday, ecstatically hopeful that by the day’s end a woman would finally break that last glass ceiling. It’s easy to feel defeated by this. This feels like a serious blow to progressivism. It is a serious blow, but we are down, not out.  Remember, Susan B. Anthony never voted. Think of all the civil rights defenders who died before they saw their dreams come to fruition. Think of those who were fighting in times when popular opinion was so much against them that they were lightning rods for constant unabashed hate and vitriol. And yet they kept on fighting. They were standing up when they were the minority, we are the majority, we are the popular vote. Maybe we have grown lazy, maybe 8 years of a progressive icon, a wise and honorable man at the head of our country has made us complacent in our causes. Maybe that’s why not enough of us got up and voted on Tuesday.

We need to tend our wounds and regroup, we need to assure each other that we are all still here and still believe. That is what I hope these demonstrations are about, expressing to ourselves as well as to the rest of the world that progressivism is still here in America because we need to feel that hope right now.  But I hope these demonstrations are not a futile exercise in wishing things were different, in wishing for our druthers, and begging for a do-over.  The election was not stolen from us, we lost. Now we have to find a way to recover, move forward, and keep fighting. We also have to find a way to heal.

The good that might come from this is the bursting of the progressive bubble, the one that protected us from recognizing that those in opposition to us are not the stupid or the evil. They are wrong, not evil. And we don’t persuade them from their wrongness by vilifying them. This nation is too polarized to continue to function. We have to rethink our rhetoric recalibrate our message and truely become the politics of understanding and acceptance that we have always pretended but rarely suceeded to be. The unexamined vilification of the opposition is what has taken us to this point. Let’s be active, let’s be motivated, but let’s also be civil. We can no longer play the game of emotional politics in this country, if we want to do good and do good together we have to start to reason with each other and make reason above all else the greatest political virtue.

We are now the opposition. We are probably experiencing some of the same emotions that were felt by others when Obama became president, those emotions which looked irrational to us then. We should recognize now that to wallow in them will do us very little good. The republican party has made hay off of the myth of its own oppression (despite controlling congress), the ‘war on Christianity’, the ‘loss of American values’. Don’t let progressive values become empty those buzzwords, continue to believe in them because they are right, not merely because they are opposite. Don’t let MSNBC become the new FOX as we all bemoan the strawmen who oppose us, we must continue to present reasonable arguments for the progressive cause.

There will be so much more to say about this is the next four years. And I’m sure I will often be angry and emotional and not follow my own advice. I know that I will not remain silent while the marginalized suffer I will use my privilege and whatever other powers I have to push for progressive aims. I don’t know what else to say, there still remains so much to be seen. Just keep believing, we’re stronger together.

Here are a few speeches from progressive champions who faced greater opposition than this, to encourage you throughout the coming weeks.

Harvey Milk

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Robert Kennedy

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Make the impossible possible.

Love,

Jo

Fight No More Forever

Wednesday was the anniversary of the surrender of the Nez Perce at Bear Paw which brought an end to the Nez Perce War. I didn’t want to let the day pass too far by me without remembering what Chief Joseph said on that day 139 years ago;

“Tell General Howard I know his Heart. What He told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting, Looking Glass is dead. too-Hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are–perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

This speech is both haunting and incredibly beautiful, but I’ll try not to focus too hard on the beauty. Often in American culture, when we do acknowledge indigenous people, it is with a kind of orientalism. New agey myths surround the “wisdom” of the first Americans as if they only existed as shaman proffering a fun spirituality that we can pick-up in our twenties and decorate our facebooks with, then just as easily toss aside for the next culture we want to fetishize. In remembering Chief Joseph’s words, I want to remember that this was a human man who suffered great loss.

But I do think it’s important to remember these words because they, like all beautiful things, reach a place in ourselves that would otherwise be unreachable. They are a visceral reminder that this nation was built on a genocide. (And if you now want to stop reading this now because you don’t like that last statement you’re actually exactly who I want to talk to (hopefully not lecture, but talk to)). I don’t think we love our country any better by pretending history never happened. I don’t think blindness is good patriotism.

We pick and chose and borrow and steal from those parts of this nation’s history that are beautiful, affirming, and encourage us to think of ourselves as the hero of history. We get very, very angry at anyone pointing out that firebombs killed civilians in WWII, internment camps imprisoned law abiding US citizens and stole their property, slavery was an evil that made America rich (North and South), the wounds of Jim Crow have NOT healed. We get very, very, very angry when a man uses his very public stage to say that justice is not available to everyone in this country.

The outcry is “How dare you not love this country!” But if that’s how you love your country, I don’t think you and your country have a very healthy relationship. Total and unquestioning acceptance is not love. It is not loving to sit in silence while your loved one hurts herself. It is not patriotism to make standing for a song, repeating a pledge, and never ever criticizing, the hallmarks of good citizenry. Especially in a democracy where it is our duty to be vigilant protectors of this fragile experiment.

Love for America is not contingent on the belief that America is without sin. Rather, the ability for democracy to grow, and learn, and change, depends on people challenging the complacency of believing we’re perfect. That is what we should take pride in, protestors are patriots. I believe that we are strong enough to challenge ourselves and overcome, to acknowledge the sins of our past and from them learn to do better and be better. That is how I love my country. So from time to time, I remind myself of the worst parts of history so that I can find ways to make us better.