How Did We Get Here?

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Advice for liberal coastal elites in coming to terms with Trump’s election has been abundant, mostly to get out of our bubbles and work to understand Trump voters. The articles are everywhere, in newspapers and online news sites with links all over social media. We’re advised to consider who are these sister and fellow country men and what do they cherish, what do they fear, what are their lives like? How did they feel so marginalized that electing a blatantly sexist and racist man was okay?

Then there are the counter opinion pieces, by those of us horrified by Trump, that suggest rural, economically stretched and dissatisfied people try to understand us. After all, we did out vote them by now over 2.5 million.

I’m taking another path and I recommend it. Everyone in this country who lives with white privilege (e.g. you’re white so you can get away with a whole lot more shit than people who aren’t) should try to understand those who don’t. What is life like for black and brown people in this country? What do they cherish, what do they fear, how has being marginalized affected them?

Early this fall, as I watched way too many Americans run with Trump’s permission to be overtly racist, I began to be very afraid for people of color. I wanted to understand better how racism affects politics in our country, how it’s stayed glued to the every institution in our society, and what that feels like for people of color. I know the white liberal view of what’s going on. What’s the view of black and brown people?

So I made a commitment to get as much of my cultural input as possible from black and brown people through books, podcasts, movies, performances, periodicals and newspapers.

I’ve learned a lot, been challenged and dismayed and gob-smacked by brilliance hearing and reading about the everyday experiences of racism in your face as a black or brown person, the constant pressure of not being white, which makes you not right to too many people in some fundamental way. Like some white guy in the priority seating A section of a Southwest boarding line who asks a black woman, and no one else, if she’s in the right line. Or a man who spits in the face of a Latina teenager and tells her to get the hell home as she marches peacefully in NYC in the week after the election. Or white teenagers who chant “Build the wall” at the brown students in their school.

There are also stories of celebration and fierce resistance to diminishment, black and brown women and men who keep speaking truth to power, who don’t let up in pushing up against the bullshit barriers, as scary as it is to walk around in our country with skin that isn’t white.

And it really is scary. Listen to the stories, read the books. Start with Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and then Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Listen to the podcasts Show About Race, Another Round, and Code Switch. To me, it’s a privilege to get to listen to black and brown people talk so openly and frankly about their experiences and frustrations and victories. You can laugh along with two very funny black women, Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, as they riff off each other on Two Dope Queens.

Go see the movie Moonlight, “a vital portrait of contemporary African American life and an intensely personal and poetic meditation on identity, family, friendship, and love.” Watch the TV series Atlanta, creation of writer and musician Donald Glover.

Then when you’re wondering how white people can hang on to such openly racist attitudes, people who really do want to limit voting rights for black Americans, people who proudly declare their belief that white people are superior, people who quietly let subtle acts of racism swirl around them every day, read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

The novel opens on a cotton plantation in Georgia, and the unflinching depictions of slavery are both barely believable and completely make sense. Acknowledging how the wealth of this country was built by and on the bodies of black people being inhumanely brutalized by white people is a first step in understanding how we got to where we are today. We have a long and horrible history of racism and obviously still have a lot of work to do to undo centuries of harm.

Forget about understanding the people who voted for Trump. Understand the people who’ll be hurt by those votes and what underlies the forces that will hurt them. Starting to fully acknowledge the deep legacy of racism in the U.S. will help you understand how someone who wants change in Washington DC but doesn’t consciously hate black people could vote for Trump.

Let yourself feel the injustice of that legacy and think about how you’ve benefitted from it. Think about how you can help untangle the knot of racism that permeates and poisons our culture.

Education is a first step. Click on some of the links above and see where you end up.

 

Posted in Justice | 2 Comments

Resistance: Making Room for Making Art

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Because I’m dutiful and generally complete what I begin, I just finished a collage I started before the election. I’d wanted to weave paper, prints of paintings, and had already cut slits in Paul Klee’s Twittering Machine. Next was to cut strips from Cézanne’s Fruit Bowl, Glass and Apples. The prints came from a stash of fine art books I kept from the many dozens David recently gave away to declutter his studio. The piles now in my study are a rich resource I feel okay about cutting up because making art with art makes sense to me.

But does making art still make sense? Since the election the sliced Twittering Machine and the Cézanne print had sat untouched on my art desk. What difference did it make to a world that suddenly felt so out of tilt to make this collage? What difference does it make to work through another revision of my memoir? Does any writing other than poems and essays and blog posts that push back against the current rise of intolerance and tyranny make sense?

Because a hard wave attempt at tyranny is what’s happening. This isn’t abstract. White men without compassion or empathy for others, white men who believe they should be in charge of everything because that’s the way it’s been for much of human history in the Western world and they like it that way, will soon be leading our government.

Is going on with my life, satisfying my need to create, normalizing what’s happened? There’s a strong push to not normalize this election and I’m totally on board with that. Trump is setting up a government of men (maybe he’ll throw a woman or two in there) who want to take away civil rights, reproductive rights, the separation of church and state, and the right to vote if you’re from a constituency they don’t want to have an equal say in how our country is run. Which is everyone who doesn’t fit in their particular narrow definition of who matters and who gets to have a voice.

So where does creativity for the sake of creativity fit in a stance of firm resistance to demagoguery? Is there room for the beauty of art?

I’m glad I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic before the election. Her embrace of creativity and permission to make things just because it makes you happy and makes beauty is a message of hope. If we let go of our impulse to create, whether it’s a collage or a lyrical poem or a loaf of bread or tool bench or a blog post protesting the rise of white supremacy, then the world really does get dark.

We need to make room for creativity and the beauty that brings because that’s part of our voice, and isn’t that what we’re fighting for? For everyone to have a voice, to be able to be who they are in the world as long as they’re not hurting others?

Yes, I know this could be criticized as an highly privileged, elite, coastal, liberal point of view. What about people who work three jobs and have no time to be creative? What about people who have no voice? What about people living in the shadow of a controlling partner who doesn’t give them a single free moment to breathe?

I felt despair as I wove the strips of paper for my collage, but that despair made me really think about all these questions, and recall Gilbert’s book, and remember that even in the midst of the worst times we need to get up in the morning and make breakfast and do the laundry and make pies for Thanksgiving. And make art.

Making art is part of my resistance. Creating is asserting voice. The collage I made isn’t going to do anything to stop the white fuckboys from trying to control our lives.

But it made me happy to make it. They can’t control that.

Posted in Art, Justice, Writing | 5 Comments

My Twitter Addiction

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My name is Grace and I’m addicted to Twitter.

In the weeks leading up to the election Twitter became a constant source of both anxiety amplification and reduction. I checked my feed obsessively, looking for good news about a new poll, or another misstep by Trump, or news, like Comey’s letter to Congress, that I knew would be bad for Clinton. Every time I had a quiet moment, my phone was in my hand and I was hitting the little blue bird.

I’m not alone. Yesterday’s NY  Times has an article “Breaking Up With Twitter” that describes almost exactly what I’ve experienced.

If I stayed in my own feed in Twitter I was okay, but I kept clicking in to hashtags I thought were going to reflect my own view of the campaign, only to find them full of hateful vitriol. Getting in to bed at night to read, instead of picking up a book, I picked up my phone and clicked links and read about rallies and campaign strategies and what Nate Silver’s latest forecast map looked like.

Finally, I decided I was going to limit myself to checking the 538 website and the NY Times. But then I’d be back on Twitter and ended up subscribing to the Washington Post digital edition, in addition to the Times, because I couldn’t get enough news fast enough and I had to be sure I was always on top of what was next, what was breaking, what the progressive journalists I admire were saying and what trolls were saying back.

Between the hateful tweets swamping any election related hashtag and the nasty comments in the Times and Post, I started to wonder if there was any place left in the world to have respectful disagreements. At one point I tried to take solace in Facebook, but that became as bad, people yelling at each other through comments and trying to have political discourse through cross posting of links to stories out of their own echo chambers.

Election night I did manage to get off Twitter fairly early and go to sleep. I was exhausted by weeks of anxiety and hoped to wake up to good news. When I did wake up at 4:00 a.m. and checked the NY Times I was horrified to see “Trump Triumphs!”

Sitting at my computer, stunned and feeling sick, I clicked in to Twitter. There was the best tweet I’ve read in months, from the writer Gary Shteyngart. “Want to change this country? Write a book. Read a book to your children. Tell your friends about a great book. Get off twitter. Now.”

Last night I read two books to Emilio, one of which sent him into giggling fits and I giggled along with him. I talk about books with my friends and family all the time and am hosting my book club this week (The News From Spain, an excellent collection of short stories by Joan Wickersham).

Writing a book? Not so much lately, as my pre-election anxiety took me so far outside myself and any kind of productive focus that I haven’t worked on my memoir for a couple of weeks.

I’m not going to normalize what has happened with the election. I’ve already been to one protest and plan to go to more. I’m upping my activism in anti-racism work and I’m always active in ending violence against women. That’s not going to change.

But I’m not going to let the divisive discourse on social media absorb my energy anymore. Good-bye nasty Twitter hashtags and disparaging comments on news articles and comment-thread-fights on Facebook. I’m quitting. For real.

I have a book to write.

But you know what’s most interesting in all in this? When I just searched Twitter to find Shteyngart’s tweet to be sure I had it right, I didn’t. It starts with “Read a book,” not “Write a book.” But I guess what I needed to see was “write.”

Posted in Justice, Writing | 2 Comments

Defeat the White Fuckboys – Vote on Tuesday!

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Thanks to Samantha Bee for so perfectly labeling the part of America that doesn’t want to lose all the privilege their whiteness gives them, that doesn’t want black and brown people to do as well as them, that doesn’t want women to have any authority over their own lives, and particularly, their own wombs.

There’s a lot of ground to be covered here, but I’ll concentrate on the white boys’ intent to gain more control back over women and their bodies. I’m working to learn more about how white privilege and racism and classism and gender stereotypes all intersect to oppress people, but men’s control of women is something I know a lot about

Ever since our ancestors figured out, early in the history of the human race, that men inseminate women, that the miracle of creation is not women’s alone, men have been hell bent on controlling women so they can be sure any babies produced by the women they’re controlling are theirs.

So stupid. Controlling a woman and telling her what to do might be a way to make sure any babies are yours, but it requires vigilance and abuse and denigration and it’s certainly not the best way. Respecting women, celebrating women’s strength, holding abusers accountable when they harm women — that attracts women, that keeps a woman at your side, that motivates a woman to keep you at her side to help raise those babies.

So what about all the women who support white fuckboys and their views? I won’t describe someone else’s life and experience, but I do know from working to end violence against women for almost 40 years that feeling trapped by current circumstances, violence, intimidation or expectations from their childhood entangles many women with partners who are disrespectful and controlling.

A week ago Friday when I first saw the news about Comey reintroducing Hillary’s emails into the election (and let’s remember, everyone, the George W. Bush White House “lost” 22 million emails), I understood again how hard it is to win as a woman if the white boys really don’t want you to. But actually, it isn’t white boys that are the problem. It’s white fuckboys, the ones who can’t stand the idea that a black President will be followed by a woman President, the ones who really think being white is better and should give them more control. How did they lose so much control?

Well they’re poised to lose even more which is why they’re so desperate. Looking at demographics, soon there won’t be enough of those white boys in this country to hold on to any control they have left unless everyone else agrees they should have it.

But already we’re at a tipping point, before white people in the United States are outnumbered by minorities. There are enough straight white women and men who are fine with sharing citizenship and power over their own lives with black and brown people, gender fluid people, LGBTQI people and women. Not only do they think it’s perfectly fine to have a Black President followed by a President who is a woman, they think it’s about time.

So white men who are losing their control over women, over the number of black and brown people in the country, over the ability to deny freedom and autonomy and power to all those “others,” are grabbing as much final control as they can, like taking ground in a war. If they can pull us all back to a place where women don’t have access to reproductive choice, where hatred and violent acts against black and brown people, Muslims and Jews, is okay, where groping and denigrating women is fine, where voting is difficult for black and brown people, where income disparity keeps increasing, then it will take that much longer to get back to where we are today.

Except we don’t have to go back at all. We can, and hopefully will, go forward. Vote for justice, decency, community, tolerance and diversity on Tuesday.

Vote for Hillary, then keep voting Democratic all the way down the ticket.

Give those white fuckboys the defeat they deserve.

Posted in Justice | 4 Comments

Still #NOTokay

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People across the United States are celebrating last night’s World Series victory of the Cubs and choosing a new President. How are these events related? Both offer an opportunity to push back against the culture that condones abuse of women.

The Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman in a trade with the Yankees this summer, knowingly taking on a man who abused his girlfriend. Although he denies having hurt her, he doesn’t deny having shot a gun into a wall multiple times during a fight with her last year and didn’t dispute his 30 game suspension. Did it bother the Cubs that Chapman is an abuser? Or was it more important to win a World Series?

Cubs president Theo Epstein claims he talked with Chapman prior to the trade and that Chapman was “heartfelt” in his answers. What does Chapman say about that conversation? He doesn’t recall the details and was “sleepy” while they talked.

Now the Cubs have a World Series win and an abuser to thank in part for that.

Here’s the connection with the election. I’ve had to accept over the past several months that I share this country with many people who are not only comfortable with Donald Trump’s racist, misogynist, and xenophobic views but welcome the opportunity to share their own such views.

But I also think there are many people supporting Trump because they are anti-choice and their religious convictions are driving them to accept the hateful aspects of Trump because he may be able to deliver a Supreme Court that will over turn Roe v. Wade. Still others will vote for Trump because they view themselves as Republicans no matter what and will swallow what they don’t like about Trump to vote with their party.

What both supporting the Cubs and Trump leads to, however, is condoning a culture of violence and abuse of women. Any time we support anyone who has been abusive to women, whether it’s firing a gun to frighten your girlfriend (and most likely strangling her, as she originally told police) or groping women and bragging about it, we tell ourselves, our children, everyone, that it’s okay. Nope, #NOTokay.

As Adrienne wrote on Facebook today, about the Cubs victory last night, “You don’t knowingly employ someone who not only broke a law but abused someone. You know what it does to young boys and girls when a team puts him on the big stage? It sends a message that it’s OK. It sends a message that if you’re talented enough you can do anything you want with no repercussions. That’s not fucking ok. That perpetuates a culture of abuse of women.” In Trump’s case, it would be that you’re rich enough that you can do anything you want. 

The Cub’s shouldn’t have acquired Chapman and Americans shouldn’t hire Trump to be President. It doesn’t matter what piece of good you think you can pull out of the mistake of elevating an abuser to an exalted status — that he can pitch the shit out of other teams, that he could make abortion illegal again, that he can help win the World Series, that he can implement a fiscally and socially conservative agenda — it’s still a mistake.

Abuse of women is #NOTOkay now and forever. Remember that when you make choices.

 

Posted in Justice | 3 Comments

Unwanted Sexual Touch is #NOTokay

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From Huffington Post: A Call to Continue the Conversation by contributor Callie Allie

Mike and I worked together at a natural foods bakery. The year was 1976 and baking breads and cookies with whole wheat flour and honey as the sweetener felt revolutionary. My job was to scrub out the loaf pans, Mike made cookies. We both lived in Montague Center, a small town north of Amherst, Massachusetts where we both attended UMass. We often talked at work and sometimes saw each other around town — out for a walk, at a party, sitting on the porch of the large farmhouse where I lived with a changing cast of housemates.

Eric was waiting tables at that point in our lives so he was rarely home for dinner, but there were almost always a few other housemates around. One night I invited Mike for dinner. I don’t remember who else was there, but I know Eric wasn’t.

After we finished eating I started clearing the table and stood at the sink rinsing dishes. Mike came up behind me in the kitchen, reached his arms around me and cupped a breast in each hand. WTF? (Though that wasn’t a thing then like it is now.)

I turned around, asked Mike what the hell he was doing, and never invited him over again. I avoided him at work. Soon I moved away and didn’t have to worry about running in to him in the neighborhood.

What’s your story? As women, we all have them and now many women who’ve never told their stories of groping and grabbing and flashing are telling those stories thanks to Donald Trump. In the aftermath of his braggadocious video about assaulting women and subsequent dismissal of the women who’ve been assaulted by him, there has been an outpouring of stories.

Who would have thought we’d have Donald Trump to thank for anything? But his arrogance and denial have prompted a national conversation on sexual assault unlike anything I’ve seen in more than three decades working in the movement to end violence against women. There was a lot of media attention to sexual assault on campus  last year (which I wrote about here), but this has gone far beyond that. This time women who were assaulted long ago or yesterday, women who did or didn’t go to college, women who never told anyone about being molested, are talking. They’re telling their stories about being fondled and violated and subject to unwanted sexual touch.

#NOTokay is a Twitter feed started by writer Kelly Oxford asking women to share their first sexual assault that got more than 30 million replies in five days. 30 million! The New York Times called the result “a kind of collective, nationwide purge of painful, often long-buried memories.” There have been almost 93,000 Facebook posts tagged with #notokay.

As I’ve written before, over the last 30 years I’ve asked women I meet if they’ve ever experienced unwanted sexual touch. Only one woman has said no. One. My conclusion? Unwanted sexual touch is a universal female experience, but until recently no one ever talked about it. Now women are talking. If you’re a woman, I hope you’re safe enough to be able to tell your story. If you’re a man, listen.

Finally, perhaps, we’re having the national conversation about sexual assault I’ve been waiting so many years to hear.

Posted in Justice | 4 Comments

Glory and Splendor

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My backyard is riotously colorful. Catching glimpses of the trees along the brook through the windows as I walk around the house makes me happy. I can’t quite believe how glorious it is.

How is something that happens ever year able to be astonishing, again and again?

Some years there are predictions of a dull foliage season — this year the drought, other years too much rain — but it never seems to happen, a season that disappoints. Every year, over and over, I’m surprised again at how wild and vivid fall foliage is in New Hampshire.

And I’m not alone. My friends and neighbors are all agog too. Hillsides go from green to orange and individual red maples are unlike anything else in nature. You see zinnias and geraniums that shade of crimson wine, but not a whole tree, a tree that reaches 70 feet into dead blue sky.

So here I am again, interrupting conversations in the car, or out walking, to exclaim at another patch of color. On Saturday John and I talked about a specific tree on Rte. 4 headed in to Concord that we notice, now look for, every year. I know which swampy spot to watch for the first sign of color, the progression from red to orange to yellow across my neighbor. Familiar yet magnificent. Such a grand trick.

I take a lot of photos so I can remind myself of this beauty. And what a relief during this season of bitter divisiveness — trees of glory and splendor.

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