Fired Up, Part 2: Softening Perspective, Steeling Resolve

Apologies for the length of this post. Like many people, I’m still working through a lot of emotions and ideas following this election. It looks like it is going to take several posts to get it out of my system. See Fired Up, Part 1: Changing Where, When and How I Get Information.

Moral ambiguity is a hard line to walk. In an election where people became tribal and primitive in their powerlessness, where everyone was an us or them, it was hard to feel like an ethical, decent person. I’ve always believed how we behave under fire is truly representative of our character and of our integrity.

canstockphoto9443627It would be easy to say we all failed the test, but many people would decry being painted with the same brush. I can only say how I failed. I got angry, I fumed, I thought of other humans with a degree of contempt. It was easy to get caught up in the maelstrom of emotion on either side, but stepping back, it’s even easier to see the willful ignorance on both sides.

You see, I did not want change. My life is comfortable. I had the fortune of being born white in a country that apparently still believes that is something. I have the fortune of good health and health insurance. I’ve had the fortune of being intelligent. Not as smart as I like to believe I am, but enough to pass tests, go to school, to interview well, to find jobs.

I had the fortune of an inner eye that told me whatever happens, I’d be okay, because that’s the way I’m wired. I have a habit of rebuffing others’ complaints, because like any bootstrapper, I believe we all have the same capabilities and that turning lemons into lemonade is a cottage industry that anyone can manage. I’m wrong about that and in cultivating empathy, I have to remember that I am wrong.

As a woman and the parent of a daughter doesn’t all this misogyny bother you? Yes, yes it does bother me. But an individual’s misogyny, like President-Elect Trump has expressed, is just a reminder that some people are still that stupid. Misogyny on the ground and in my face enjoys a good ole’ screw you and just watch me ace you, moron. I don’t mind being underestimated – it’s a tactical advantage.

avoiddtrumplistThat an unappealing human should say things any civil person would find appalling and potentially criminal, is really nothing to my esteem. Until he legislates the misogyny, he’s just a gross person that I wouldn’t let near my family or friends. He’d be on my personal registry of shitty people I avoid. The fact that now he will have the power to act on his belief system, aided and abetted by his creepy religious sidekick, is a real problem.

Right now, some of his supporters are spending a lot of time doing virulent versions of nanny-nanny boo-boo by ramping up graffiti and verbal and physical assaults on people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and women. Someone just signed their permission slip. This is a real problem and humans, regardless of their vote, should be angry about this and prepared to step up as witnesses and defenders.

canstockphoto4607292It’s a funny thing how we try to disavow those in our particular demographic when they do something inexplicable. I mean 53% of voting white women voted for Trump. Clearly, I don’t understand most white women. I suppose I could fall down the rabbit hole of theory and speculation, but it will either be condescending or again, just wrong.

And I really don’t get the white power thing. You just happen to be born white. It’s not like you did anything to earn it. It’s not a product of integrity or values or virtue. If you want to be proud of your skin color for its own sake – well, shit. That’s just Hannibal Lecter weird. Maybe it’s generous to assume that we do these things out of fear and out of love, in the hopes of empowering ourselves through numbers – in the hope of saying to others who look like us, we matter. You matter. You are not alone. But the triangulation of supremacy, victimhood and violence is a threat to civil society.

Lastly, religion and politics. It’s toxic. The 1980s and Jerry Falwell happened. The Republican party mainstreamed religious belief systems as a recruitment effort. People began to feel a moral imperative to legislate exclusionary beliefs. The argument is that identity politics, a religion unto itself, has been trying to legislate their beliefs as well, but I find a stark difference between laws that oppress others in the name of religion and laws intended to protect the civil rights of all Americans, not just the ones who have fish decals on their bumpers.

I have no moral high ground here – I was willing to overlook a lot of things when I voted, because the alternative was worse. I’m scared of the people I saw at Trump rallies – their virulence, the angry mob mentality, their t-shirts which showed a shameless racist and misogynistic view towards their fellow Americans. I looked carefully at the pictures, at individuals, at their children – looking for signs of moral decency, looking for their humanity. I wanted to understand, but I don’t.

canstockphoto5824707All I hope is that my fellow Americans’ win is not a Pyrrhic victory. I must not emulate those representatives that gleefully hoped our last president would fail, because that is treacherous schadenfreude, to wish such a thing on fellow citizens. I must hope that things will not be as bad as I imagine they will be. I must not be an asshole by wishing them so.

So what now? For me, I feel the softening around my edges. My rage is not sustainable. My brain never stops at the boundaries of my beliefs. I’ve been thinking a lot about those people that I am scared of, those people I don’t understand and the road ahead.

I’ve been thinking about actionable measures, about what I do when the elected officials  begin to delete people’s health insurance and restrict the bodily integrity of women. What do I do if they persecute journalists and entertainers, intimidate and threaten protesters, enable religious fundamentalists in all their inglorious rigidity? What will I do if the nuclear threat is heightened to the 1950’s-style hysteria? What will I do as hate crimes crop up around me? Will I be paralyzed? Will I pretend that I don’t see?

canstockphoto12192237The tables are turned. To people who value civil rights, reproductive rights, the right to not be a believer, the right to be of a different religion other than Christianity, the right to love and marry who we choose, the right to be whoever we are inside, it feels as if we have been rendered powerless, noisy Tweeters and street blockers, flailing against the machine.

I think about the introspection I might have undergone, if my candidate won. It would have felt like entrenchment, spending the next 4 years defending her against the words cunt and bitch and episodes of domestic terrorism. Much like many Trump supporters have felt about their religion and lack of education and employment, digging in, constantly on the defensive as the world leaves them behind. But entrenchment and reflexive demagoguery do not create good governance.

I’m not ready to paint a happy face on this, but I am ready to say, This is where we are. What matters? What is helpful? How will I live my integrity, live my character in trying times? Who am I going to be during the next four years?

I’ve started with some ground rules for myself:

  • No stupid nicknames. The President-Elect Trump will be President Trump, no matter how many times I want to refer to him as the Pussygrabber-in-Chief. Okay, now I’m done.
  • I will continue to use qualifiers when describing any group: Some, A few of…which is to say, my brush will be as narrow as it needs to be.
  • I will pay attention to the issues and more specifically, to legislation.
  • I will use my writing skills, my phone skills and whatever money I can scrounge up to support causes I believe in and to fight against injustice.
  • I will continue to respectfully engage those people with whom I disagree.
  • I will listen more than I talk.
  • I will defend the things I hold dear: civil rights, the environment, justice and reproductive rights.
  • I will continue to seek knowledge and understanding.
  • I will honor those who fight, here or abroad, to make the world a safer place for others. This means vigilance against unnecessary wars, ensuring aftercare and respecting their service regardless of whether or not I agree with the objective.
  • I will do the best I can to uphold my personal integrity. Walk the walk. Lead by example.

Who do you want to be? What values are you willing to go to ground for? What is helpful or important?

Fired Up, Part 1: Changing Where, When and How I Get Information

I wrote an impassioned post following the results of the election. Still amped, I had another sleepless night, up at 3am. As I have for months, I logged in and went to the usual sites, CNN, BBC, The Washington Post. No need to go to 538. Polls mean nothing to me anymore.

canstockphoto15203858Quickly I scroll through click bait headlines, breeze through articles, scroll down through the comments. It’s all the same. The same pundits turning themselves into pretzels, the same commenters calling each other names and reciting questionable facts and hyperbole. It’s as if the election were still going on and people are unwilling or unable to shift gears. Yes, my candidate lost and yes, the next four years are going to be awful. Time to move on.

My sources of information failed to prepare me for the election results. I had found echo chambers of propaganda and confirmation bias. I had sought reassurance that this loathsome individual and his posse of slicked-back Breitbart winged monkeys were not, in fact, contenders. I was wrong and despite my inquiring nature and hungry mind, I was not prepared to fully participate in democracy. Most of us simply aren’t.

I don’t watch TV anymore, because online streaming is wonderful and generally free of commercials and vapid anchor chatter. I do listen to NPR, which includes a nice dollop of the BBC and the CBC. But the majority of my news comes from online. I avoid Facebook and Twitter feeds, curating those sites with a hammer.

This morning I cleared my bookmark Media folder. I am no longer interested in infotainment. I am no longer interested in being soothed. I put together a list of sources that are drier, less partisan, less flash and more substance, as well as international sources. I’ll share that list here, but won’t spend a lot of time defending my choices.

The second thing I did was create a Legislature folder. I bookmarked my city government, state and federal legislature websites. I went to each of my states US Congress people’s websites (of all parties) and signed up for the e-newsletters of upcoming and ongoing legislation.

Thirdly, how and when I retrieve this information makes a difference. I’m an early riser and while I’ve changed my morning routine to include meditation, journal-writing and offline reading, the last thing I do, before writing, is read the news. We all know how that ends up – two hours later I’m looking at cute chinchilla videos, nowhere near prepared to write. I’m limiting my news reading to lunchtime and the sources I’ll read will likely not have chinchilla links.

canstockphoto6569979Lastly, I will no longer read comments sections following news articles. Many of my revamped news sources do not have commenting as an option. As much as I am interested in what is happening and what people think about things, I think we can all agree that comment sections on news articles are Exhibit A of the Dunning-Kruger effect. None of us is as smart as we think we are. And to get smarter, we have to reach up, not down.

It’s time to reset, to arm myself with information, to learn how my government works on a micro-level. Information must precede any action and the sources must be curated. Talking points do not an informed citizen make. This is how my revolution begins…

My list of news sources:

For Legislative Sources:

If you have sources or ideas for sharing information, please share. The goal is to find less biased, less partisan sources with a focus on disseminating core information and not entertainment.

Licensed to Complain

In preparation for November 6th, I have dutifully surfed my way over to Minnesota’s Secretary of State website and printed out the sample ballot for my zip code. And the Googling begins. For many elections, I am ashamed to say, I voted a straight party ticket and went with all the incumbents for judges and unaffiliated public offices.

As a registered Independent and independent thinker, I can no longer rely on political party as a guide. After all, there are douchebags on both sides of the aisle. I’m not wasting a vote this year on a douchebag. People argue that their vote, in what has become a monied, two-party system, is wasted and I have often felt this – that my vote is useless.

As redistricting, voter registration laws and other political maneuvers screw with our system, we the people, seem to have less impact on the electoral college and its outcome. It is an outdated system, especially in an age where technological advances would make a popular vote easily managed. Although the phrase “popular vote” makes me think of a reality show – but really, what else is this? We’re just as likely to vote for a person who cries on TV because somebody broke up with them, as we would for someone who believes in education tax credits. That’s what “news-tainment” has done for us.

Regardless of my resentment of a system taken over by big money and gerrymandering, voting seems to be the very least I could do. As an American, I’m always on board with doing the least amount of civic duty possible. In an age when we’re supposed to be carpooling, recycling, buying fair trade, conserving energy, not buying from sweat shops and all the other things that would make us good citizens of our nation and of the planet, voting seems the simplest civic duty to fulfill. Show up at an old school gym, stand in line, fill in some circles, go home.

The voting experience has changed in the last few elections. Instead of chatting up our neighbors in line, we stare suspiciously, wondering whose side they’re on. Our state ballot is even more divisive this year, due to a couple of constitutional amendment questions. Yard signs are not only numerous, but every other sign, depending on your perspective, is offensive.

I despise the proposed constitutional amendments, especially since these seek to restrict the rights of others (marriage amendment and voting ID laws). The marriage amendment just baffles me. I’m heterosexual and married (we like to refer to ourselves as one man, one woman all the time) and I don’t get this initiative. There are a lot of lesbian and gay soldiers fighting and dying in our wars abroad. Preventing them from sharing the overwhelming bliss of fighting over where the spatulas in the kitchen go, is simply not a priority. Whatever your religious or moral beliefs, this is not an effective use of time, money or energy. State constitutional amendments that seek to limit, or restrict any citizen’s rights seem antithetical to the whole small government spiel.

The photo ID requirement amendment is worthy of contempt as well. Ostensibly it will require all voters to have photo ID, but the fine print on the ballot says the state is required to provide free identification to eligible voters. Um, how much is that going to COST? Estimates run anywhere from $10-25 million dollars. It makes me want to throw up a bit. This is the conundrum of being a fiscal conservative and a social liberal – both parties fail miserably on fiscal conservatism and the Democrats are barely passable on social liberalism (uh, didn’t there used to be other people besides the middle class?).

I have to cherry pick candidates from across all political borders to meet my bare minimum requirements. Then I have to talk myself into voting for the candidate, even though he or she talks about fiscal accountability in one breath, and how we’re going to improve our economy through cheap Martian labor in the next. Batshit crazy. The major political parties are just a little bit better at downplaying their Perot/Gingrich/Dean factors, but they’re there, just waiting to freak us all out when they’re elected.

The real reason I vote is a lesson from childhood and a story I’ve told before. Political discussion on the maternal side of my family was often heated and insulting. My mother and grandmother retained their British citizenship until the early 1990s, but they were very strident in their opinions about American politics. Finally, after hours of debate, my long-suffering, gentle grandfather would get frustrated and snap “well, you can’t even vote, so who cares?” The room always got very, very quiet after that. I’m owning up to the reason I’m voting. It’s my license to complain until the next election.