Friday, November 11, 2016

Embodiment and Election

I moved to Massachusetts to feel more at home. But part of my heart is from the Midwest. Cornfields stretch to the horizon and time moves differently. Distances are farther but you can get there in a straight line. Between the towns, the clouds look higher.

I learned a lot about humility from people living in the middle of nowhere. But it was also exhausting. It felt uncomfortable, surrounded by so many whose perspective veered into bigotry. I felt implicated in prejudice when other white people said, "I won't Jew you down," and "I think we have enough black people in our neighborhood," and "Glad to meet you, especially since you never know -- your next door neighbor could be a terrorist."

I'm moving through stages of grief about this election. Today I am depressed and wondering if it's a good thing to live so comfortably. I moved to a "more enlightened" community -- but now I see the full depth of our ignorance. I've sought willful ignorance of what it's like to live in the rest of my own country.

Hate raged through this election, and rages on through communities, battering LGBT people, ripping headscarves off of women, scrawling swastikas on bathroom stalls. Hate is unruly and powerful, but those who commit acts of hate are in the far minority. Hate is a just a distillation -- the purest form of our lowest daily instincts: fear, self-protection, the hunger for power.

Hate's favorite target is the bodies of women. There were so many women's bodies in this election. Melania Trump's naked body, spread across a fur coat. Bleeding bodies, tampons for Trump, the carnage of lost abortion access in Western and Southern states. Battered women's bodies, fat women's bodies, the bodies of grandmothers groaning with pain as they walked a mile to vote for a woman President. Hillary Clinton's body, and what she wore on it. Her clothes, her health, her smile, her brave shimmy. Our knowledge that her body had borne a child, and her daughter's body brought her two grandchildren. So many bodies. Not enough votes.

Listening to women of color in my neighborhood and online, the outcome of this election was no surprise. This is how the world is - it's just how it is. They're pissed at us white women, and I don't blame them. We've all given up on the white men, they're just not on our side. Sure, some of them stood with us, but far more of them did not. They voted for Trump or third party, and then told us what it is that we just don't understand. It was for our own good.

But I don't blame the election on men. Blame is a search for absolution -- and we're all part of this sin. This country is racist. Our culture hates women. Poverty and hard work coexist, and unfairness and pain can be soothed by a good scapegoat. Our country wages wars and murders children with drones. War comes home to our country through terrorism, and we hand it a gun. It's every man for himself, and we bask in denial as our planet grows hot. Crocuses bloomed this November. Even our flowers are confused and burn themselves out.

Here's what I know about mothers. We know how to clean up. We will solve the crisis and patch up the wounds. We're not afraid of blood. We're not afraid of tears.

Everybody, stop speaking! Listen to the mothers.

Mothers: what is your pain? What are you afraid of? What fear brought you to a man who promises to separate mothers from their children? What terror persuades you that another woman's body should not be her own? What hurts in your marriage, that you think the love of two men or two women could possibly threaten it? What do you need? What can be done?

Never mind about the men. Let them do their thing. But if mama's not happy, nobody's happy. What world would we live in if mothers knew only hope?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Things to love about bats

The bodies of bats are soft, their bellies round and full. They can squeeze down small or stretch their umbrella-wings out, impossibly wide. They are mammals that can fly!

Bats live in boxes and caverns, attics and underpasses, forests and barns. Most bats live in colonies and rely on one another for warmth, so snuggling is a way of life.  Solitary-living bats gather in groups during migration. Baby bats nurse from their mothers while in flight.

You can see a bat's perfect bones through its translucent wings. The skin stretching between a bat's fingers is as thin as my eyelid. A bat's bones are not hollow, like a bird's. Their bones are small, but solid.

The furry faces of bats are perfectly evolved to be sensitive. Some use their ears to navigate, others use their nose. Bats can see as well as any other animal can see in the dark, but they can hear things that other animals can't. They listen constantly. Darkness is not a problem for bats.

Bats have sharp teeth that they use to eat bugs (which is helpful) or fruit (which is delicious). Even bats that eat blood only bother grazing cattle, which have plenty. Although it sounds scary, all carnivores eat blood -- the vampire bat just dispenses with the wrapping.

The way bats work doesn't make a lot of sense. If you tried to make bats act like another kind of animal, they wouldn't be able to do it. Their feet are for hanging, not walking; their arms are for flying, not feeding. Some use their nose to hear, others use their ears to see.

Bats just do their thing. You can hate a bat and she'll just go back to her nap. If it's night-time, she might pause to consider, and then she'll let go. As she falls, with a few pulls of her arms she will lift herself neatly up between earth and sky. Above the trees, a bat doesn't care what you think. A bat is at home with the moon and the stars.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mothers Like Me and Hillary Clinton

I’ve spent too much time making the case that Hillary Clinton is a Progressive. 

Or that I am, for that matter. I have the credentials. I've been a Democratic Socialist and worked for Fair Trade and against US Drug Policy. I've protested for criminal justice system reform and against the second Iraq war. I gave my time and money to these causes, and yet never felt I quite belonged. There was always some man -- a younger or older white man -- ready tell me what more I needed to understand. Like, when I asked if a vote for Nader might put my reproductive freedom at risk by increasing the chances of a Republican winning the election? I was told this is just a tactic of the Democratic establishment to scare naive people like me to vote for moderates. When Gore (arguably) lost, I was told not to worry, he would have been just as bad as George W. Bush.

For a long time I've felt like maybe the problem was me--that I just couldn't compete. I could never devote myself to reading the right books and subscribing to all the Leftwing publications. And anyway, there was the business of raising a family to attend to. You know, the stuff that women sometimes do, which takes us away from The Important Work of activism and organizing. 

So I had my family and worked for non-profits that you'd say are in the human welfare field. A domestic violence and sexual assault agency, and an agency helping children with serious emotional and behavioral problems. I stayed involved in LGBT activism for awhile, but as the freedom to marry became more mainstream, I started to focus on politics closer to home --- specifically to educational equity issues in my children's school district.

The work I do today is still focused on social change. But I'm not sure it would qualify as "Progressive." Like, I'm not sure the work I do to educate and empower families fits within the priorities of today's Progressive Left. There's this idea that some problems are universal--bigger than the problems I choose to focus on. And, if those universal economic justice issues are addressed, then women's lives will be improved, because we are disproportionately victimized by our unjust economic system.

Here's what I think that leaves out -- a few examples you don't hear about in Progressive agenda as it's currently defined:
  • Rape.
  • Gender- and race-based pay gap.
  • Educational access and equity
  • Police brutality against young men of color.
  • Lack of access to safe and affordable contraception, preventative healthcare, and abortion , particularly among the rural poor.
  • Poverty in women-headed households.
  • Lack of access to quality affordable preschool.
  • Lack of access to mental healthcare and quality substance abuse treatment programs.
  • Job insecurity when a relative or child gets sick.  
  • Exploitation of undocumented immigrants.
  • Sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Some of these issues will be improved by changing healthcare policy and better regulating the financial sector. But most will not. Many of these issues don't require radical change--they just require our leaders to focus on them.

I've become the kind of person who believes in transforming our culture while living solidly within it. Call it leading from within, say "it takes a village." This is the politics I recognize in Hillary Clinton and other mothers like me -- mothers who learn to get things done from within systems because we don't have a choice. Mothers like me have kids who depend on us to keep them safe and clothed, fed, housed, and educated. Mothers like me:
  • Refuse to stop demanding that someone fix the poisonous water in Flint, MI.
    • Demand adequate resources to fund our children's urban schools.
    • Open our homes and build whole shelters to take in the beaten and raped women of our communities.
    • Show up time and again at IEP meetings and Civil Rights hearings, demanding equal access to education for our children with disabilities.
    • Demand that the murdered bodies of our children be seen by the world, in protest to a world where Black Lives are treated as if they don't matter.
    • Show up with our wives and children at the County Clerk office to request a marriage license that will protect our families.
    The Progressive movement hasn't really taken mothers like me seriously, and so I guess I'm going to stop worrying about whether we are Progressive. Our politics are coming from a different axis than the one our leftist brothers are operating on. Our politics take place along the depths of experience--at our parents' bedsides and at the graduations of our children. Mothers like me will continue to hold communities together and to shore up the programs and policies that families depend on.

    Whatever it’s called, I wonder if the men of the Left will notice, and notice soon, that mothers like me are onto you. When you say you include us: you don’t. When you say our issues are yours: they’re not. I'm not going to keep trying to convince you that Hillary is one of you, because you know what? She’s not. 

    My Progressive brothers, I'm done trying to impress you. There’s too much work to be done.