State of the nation

Monica Hesse, a columnist for the Washington Post, published an insightful piece about racism and sexism today, “The Point We’re Missing about BBQ Becky and Her Sisters.” Click on the link to read.

She makes two fundamental points:

  • using hashtags to jeer at, and make fun of, white women who call 911 to report alleged suspicious behavior by black men is a denial of the serious racism involved,
  • and it also signals sexist behavior in that the practice of creating “cute” nicknames when referring to the women–because white men who do similar things are rarely, if ever, labeled this way.
Monica Hesse

Monica Hesse

I urge you to read her post about these points–especially her iteration of the role of white women, especially in the South, in creating the “black sexual predator” who destroys white female purity (this system was of course created by white men to keep black men in line while many of the white men sexually abused black women).

But I also encourage you to reflect on her interaction with the young black teen on the D.C. Metro. His instinctive, self-protective action in the face of transit police boarding the train is very revealing, and all too common and necessary for the survival of young, and old, black men.

The “isms” are often, probably always, tangled up together. Part of our task is to untangle and name them, and change our attitudes and behaviors. Hesse helps us here.

 

 

 

My husband Jonathan has a friend who had some buttons printed up in response to the MAGA (Make America Great Again) campaign. His version of our national need is Make America Kind Again. He gave Jonathan several and I wear one on my coat every day.

However, from the first I have wished it read, Make America Kinder Again–because, frankly, I am hard-pressed to say that I think America has ever been truly kind. Our history is rife with the bodies of Native Americans, African slaves, and African-American men and women, as well as Japanese-American citizens imprisoned and LatinX people victimized by law and society–as well as gay and lesbian people denied civil rights (and not the only ones by far, at least we could vote!) and transgender people under assault every day. Then, there is the lack of universal health care for millions and a tax and economic system that clearly favors those who already have vastly more than enough to meet their needs. The rich are getting richer and the rest of us are forced to make it possible.

At the same time, of course, our national history is also a story of righting wrongs, of freeing people once considered less than human. That story is far from done–Native American claims to dignity have yet to be addressed in ways that would be concretely just and healing, and the same is true for African Americans. And now, the President feeds prejudice against peoples from other less-than-fully-white lands. But still we have tried, and in some ways succeeded, in ameliorating some of the worst behavior that marks our national story.

So we may not be kind as a nation, but we do seek to be kinder. At least, that is how it seemed to me until recently.

Our focus has shifted from living the American Dream–liberty and justice for all (and not just in the United States)–to grabbing what we can, while we can, everywhere we can, so no one can get more than we have.

In the process, we are becoming not only less kind to the rest of the world, but also to each other.

An article from the Atlantic Monthly, “Trump and Russia Both Seek to Exacerbate the Same Political Divisions,” makes the interesting, if not worrisome, point that creating and ratcheting up divisions with the American electorate serves the political aims of both the President and the Russians. Much of the article is grounded in some studies of social media sites and their reverberation through the body politic–including sites and drivers clearly linked to Russia intelligence agents.

The author, Conor Friedersdorf, takes pains to note that he thinks the motives of each are different–the President is not seeking to destroy our political system, e.g.–but that the electoral fortunes of the President and the GOP and the success of the Russian intent to disrupt our republic are both tied directly to heightened levels of social division.  The more we distrust one another, the better each of these forces will do.

Friederrsdorf argues that it is vital for internet users–on all the social media platforms–to “show more charity to competing political tribes and exhibit less pessimism about U.S. politics.” He admits there certainly is “homegrown ugliness” (how could this not be so in a nation so drenched in the blood of white supremacy, among other things?), but he says all need to be aware that some of the off-putting behavior and attitudes is “fakery” dreamed up by agents of a foreign and unfriendly power.

In short, we can be kinder, even if we find the opinions of others outrageous–or if not kinder, then at least less vituperative and angry than we may initially feel is justified.

I admit that this is not an easy prescription for me at times. I can become very angry, outraged, at some of what I can only see as ugly and stupid opinions and claims of fact. I want to strike back with a righteous fury.

But I recognize that such reactions give only momentary satisfaction–“so there!” I am saying, in a juvenile vent–and ultimately work against the very causes in which I am so invested.

Ursula K. Le Guin

In her loving tribute to the recently deceased Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood quotes Le Guin writing about anger.

“Anger is a useful, perhaps indispensable tool in motivating resistance to injustice. But I think it is a weapon — a tool useful only in combat and self-defense. . . . Anger points powerfully to the denial of rights, but the exercise of rights can’t live and thrive on anger. It lives and thrives on the dogged pursuit of justice. . . . Valued as an end in itself, it loses its goal. It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness.”

As a queer theologian, seeking not to be automatically and constantly bound by any of the ordinary strictures and straitjackets of religion and society, I certainly understand the necessity for anger. As Le Guin writes, anger drives resistance to injustice. As Fenton Johnson wrote in this month’s Harper’s (THE FUTURE OF QUEER: how gay marriage damaged gay culture), the work of LGBT liberation movement especially in its earlier manifestations, and most assuredly the massive queer community response to HIV/AIDS, were each driven by anger.

Johnson is, in my view, too harsh in his criticism of the movement for marriage equality. I think he has a rather one-dimensional view of gay, or queer, culture. At the same time, he is right to insist that being queer requires significant vulnerability, that indeed, love requires the same thing. And he is right to say, that “what defines queer, finally, is not what one does in bed but one’s stance toward the ancien régime, the status quo, the way things have always been done, the dominant mode, capitalism.”

James Baldwin

With such a perspective, I seek here to suggest that resistance to injustice, to social straitjackets and oppression, requires not only righteous indignation but also love of the very deepest kind. Fenton quotes my hero, James Baldwin,

“Love has never been a popular movement. . . . The world is held together—really it is held together—by the love and passion of a few people.”

I agree with Fenton that the number of people who evidence love and passion is greater than Baldwin implies. But I know that we always need more of those people. And I know, I do know, that their number will only grow to the extent we are actually willing and able to be vulnerable enough to love even those who hate, or seem to hate, us. That love may well be driven by anger–as my teacher, Beverly Wildung Harrison, wrote long ago, the power of anger drives love–but it is the love that creates change that lasts.

Kindness is the method, the action, of such love, not so much romantic or erotic love (although eros is never absent in our lives) as love for the survival and thriving of every creature, human and not, on earth, indeed love for the survival, renewal, and thriving of the planet.

Let us be kinder.

 

 

 

 

 

I am flying flags upside down,
those Forever ones,
American standard unfurled with pride,
speeding my letters and bills on their way.

The law of the sea—
if you are distressed, and I am, my country, too—
is fly your national flag upside down
so others will see your appeal.

Neighboring crafts are required to help,
but here I am unsure of the result–
will others will understand and accept
my statement and my need?

If I send a letter to the President
with such a flag, will he tweet to ask
how he can help, or will he crow
that my ship, not his, is sinking?

I know my protest is small,
but if others do the same,
perhaps millions of upside down banners in the mail,
maybe things will change.

Until then or other relief,
I will use these simple signals,
trusting the postal service
not to judge or question just deliver.

No one better to trust than my local carriers,
where neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night,
nor national trouble, keeps them from their appointed rounds.
Already I feel better.
©Robin Gorsline 2017

Reflections from the Women’s March, Washington, D.C., January 21, 2017

 

Pussy grabs back,
I was raised by a nasty woman and now I’m one, too,
Black lives matter,
We the People,
we bodies of the people,
are greater than fear,
keep your filthy paws off my sticky drawers,
this is what democracy looks like,
I stand with Standing Rock,
no disrespect, no going back,
we will not go quietly back to the 1950s,
my body, my choice, her body, her choice,
no to racism, homophobia, misogyny,
climate change is real, save the planet,
this man grateful to be raised by a nasty woman,
immigrants welcome, hatred not,
if I wanted government in my vagina I would have slept with a senator,
no human is illegal,
hands (or dick) too small to build a wall,
and on and on,
homemade signs and improvised chants everywhere,
notes of this land is your land, we shall overcome, on many lips,
sassiness, joy on many hips,
and arms, hands, smiles, laughter.

We came from everywhere
hundreds of thousands,
bodies gathering one by one, two by two,
young and smooth, old and wrinkled,
women yes the most but men, too,
children, parents, grandparents, college students,
tots in strollers, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, cis, straight,
Black and Brown, Christians, Muslims, Jews, immigrants
Dreamers, sex workers, clergy, lawyers, singers, accountants,
clerks, dock workers, athletes, unemployed, underemployed,
doctors, social workers, retirees, and all the rest.
So much joy, so many smiles, laughter and song,
dancing even when packed like sardines between monumental
buildings made small by roars of voices joined together
to stand, to rise—Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise resounding in every heart—
Angela Davis with hair out to here
reminding us of all the connections from
Ferguson to Orlando to Planned Parenthood,
from Standing Rock to Palestine.
We marched and when we could not move,
still we marched,
our hearts beating with the pulse of liberty
and justice for all. We were, we are, the People
whose claim on this nation does not cease
because voices of yesteryear now hold official power,
seeking to recapture some imagined golden era
when men were white and ran things,
while women, Blacks, queers, natives, Latinx, Muslims,
Jews, trans and physically challenged folk, and elderly,
all the rest of God’s people,
kept to themselves, not getting in the way
of those who keep anointing themselves
the powers-that-always-are and shall be.

Power to the people the long ago cry
of those marching, blocking roadways, and sitting in
to protest elites sending our beautiful boys
into senseless, ill-fated war—
now expropriated by billionaires and millionaires
to convince people with much less, so much less,
that they are all on the same side,
while cutting taxes for the richest
and insurance for the rest,
claiming science is a hoax
and Islam work of the devil—
a topsy turvy world,
growing more Orwellian by the day,
in which, for which, we must march,
more we must organize and write and speak
and sit down where we are not welcome,
learning from Dr. King and Malcolm and suffragettes
and so many more that there is nowhere
the arc of justice will not bend
and create the change we need
when we link our arms and hands and hearts
and minds and souls, becoming the angelic troublemakers
of which Rustin spoke and Baldwin wrote,
remembering as sister outsider Audre Lorde wrote, too,
our silence will not protect us,
only we claiming our power can do that.

We the people: This is our time, again.  

 

If you cannot see the entire image at the top, and wish to see this moving public art, please click here

I have been carrying a troubling in my soul for some time. It’s about the presidential election.

businessinsider.com

businessinsider.com

Ted Cruz 1

Specifically, my trouble has been that I am not excited by any of the candidates. Well, that is not entirely accurate. I am excited, in a negative way, about some (you can probably guess their names, but if not their last names begin with T, C, and K, this last one at least seems sane).

Governor John Kasich businessinsider.com

Governor John Kasich
businessinsider.com

No, the trouble is a lack of enthusiasm for either of the other two, Clinton and Sanders.

Bernie Sanders slate com

As I read, and ponder the choices, and the pluses and minuses of each, I just kept wobbling.

Recently, I stopped wobbling and came to a conclusion: I want President Obama again.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes part in a Center for American Progress roundtable discussion on "Expanding Opportunities in America's Urban Areas" in Washington.

I know, I know, third terms are prohibited (I used to tell Republican friends that if they had not been so eager to stop another FDR, they could have most likely had a third Eisenhower term and no Kennedy/Johnson administrations which really changed things in ways they didn’t like).

Here are some of the reasons I want Obama again.

  • He’s thoughtful and careful about invading all over the place (a big worry about Hillary Clinton), and he likes building alliances and even getting former enemies to work with us.
  • He’s committed to getting things done, even if means significant compromises with the other side (I just can’t see Sanders doing this), and I think he has the best shot of building on his own domestic legacy (Sanders, I fear, will end up undermining it). In that light, I admire his choice of Judge Merrick B. Garland for the Supreme Court; it shows that he wants to work within the situation as it exists, namely a hostile Senate, so that the Court can continue to function (interesting that some observers say Garland could just as easily have been nominated by George W. Bush in similar circumstances–which means he is hardly the rabid liberal some are claiming).
  • I admire his dignity when Prime Minister Netanyahu acts like a bully (all too often).
  • He and Michelle bring a lot of style to the White House–despite being treated shamefully by many.
  • Oh yes, there’s one more reason: I want us to have more Black Presidents. (and between you and me, I want to stick it to all those Republicans who have disrespected him so much, and all the racists who have been stockpiling guns because they are afraid of every Black man, even one wearing a suit and sitting at a desk in the White House).

I certainly don’t agree with everything President Obama has done, or even will do. He is not perfect. But it has been a long time since I could say I was really proud of a President. I am saying that today, and expect to keep on saying it, because in seven-plus years he has not caused me to feel let down or disrespected by him, not once (even when I have disagreed with him); the man has class and intellect and character.

absoluterights.com

absoluterights.com

Character counts. And I think Barack Obama has a lot of character, great integrity, going deep. When I think about how much of the country has treated him, and how he has maintained his dignity through it all, I am in awe. And this shows, I think, in the latest public opinion polls that show his approval rating at more than 50% (for an interesting article about Obama and Trump, and a diagnosis of our national mood, see “The Great Trump Distortion” by E. J. Dionne, Jr. in the Washington Post–may have a different name online).

Yes, I wish he were more personable, more easy-going, and more willing to be social with people who seem to despise him (Sen. McConnell, e.g., and Speaker Boehner/Ryan — have you noticed much difference, except that Ryan doesn’t cry and he is better looking than Boehner?). And I wish he used the bully pulpit of the presidency more, and that he talked more about white privilege (not talking about did not stop people from saying he did–because of course for many his very presence in the headlines reminded them of how angry they are that he, a Black man, was elected, twice).

And I will be up front. I really do want a woman president (see “Genitalia, Breast Size, Facial Hair Don’t Count ). For that reason, I may vote for Hillary Clinton in the Maryland primary on April 26. And I know she is up to the job. But the emails bother me (seems like entitled behavior). Or I may vote for Bernie Sanders who is progressive, and more nuanced on Israel/Palestine and other foreign matters, too. The trouble for me with him is that I keep hearing about his temper and I think he is very unrealistic about what can be done.

better a third termer than a third rater ebay ie

ebay.ie

So I am back to President Obama–at least until the law won’t let me vote for him (can you use a write-in in a presidential primary?).

History records that in 1940, when FDR was seeking an unprecedented third term against the Republican Wendell Willkie (a renegade like Trump in many ways, but actually sane and responsible, unlike Trump), the Democrats had a slogan: Better a Third Termer than a Third Rater.

That’s where I am right now.

 

Today, Iowans vote in the caucuses. Praise God that this round will soon be over!

Before the outcome is announced, I want to offer a couple of thoughts about one of the candidates–or more accurately some thoughts about the way I perceive many of us responding to one of the candidates.

I can hear some readers already saying, “Oh no, he’s going to write more about Donald Trump.” But not today (and I hope most earnestly I never have to say another word about him, even as I know I will).

Hillary Clinton speaks in Washington

tvguide.com

No, today, I want to talk about Hillary Clinton. Or, as I said above, about us and Hillary Clinton.

I am not endorsing her today, and do not yet know for sure who will get my vote in the Maryland presidential primary on April 26 (but it will not be Cruz or Trump or Rubio or Bush or Kasich or Christie or Fiorina or the doctor–I know . . . big surprise).

However, I do begin to feel very tired of all the people I encounter, in person and through the media, who say some variation of, “I just don’t know about her . . . not sure I trust her . . . seems too rehearsed . . . not genuine . . . says whatever she thinks she needs to say to get ahead . . . be nice to have a woman president, but . . .

It is that last one that really gets me. Be “nice” to have a woman president? Nice? Is that all?

shirley chisholm-1972

btchflicks.com

I cannot imagine why we do not hang our heads in shame that Hillary Clinton is the first truly serious woman candidate for President of the United States of America. Sure, others have run–my favorite was one of the first, Shirley Chisholm (and back much earlier, Margaret Chase Smith)–but none of them was really a viable candidate.

Nor am I sure there will be another one for a long time, because we are still trying to get ourselves ready to elect a woman. Of course, there are women Senators and Governors who could run, who may even run–Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobushar and Governor Nikki Haley come to mind–but given how we nitpick Hillary Clinton I wonder why they would even try.

Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren twitter.com

I do not mean that I agree with Clinton’s every position, any more than I agree with all any of the other candidates say (some obviously more than others!). What I mean is that all the reservations, while real, are also true about the men. But we reserve so much of this language for her, and her alone. I believe we are holding her to a higher standard than any man who has a serious chance of becoming President.

Do we not think that the men are calculating, too? Even Trump, seemingly shooting from the hip, tests everything he says, and if it is not working he stops saying it. We complain that she takes so long to admit a mistake, but when was the last time you heard one of these men apologize for a mistake, including for making outrageous, demonstrably false, statements.

We are still a racist country, and a sexist one, too.

Nikki Haley

Governor Nikki Haley christianitytoday.com

Of course, electing Barack Obama did not end racism, nor will electing Hillary Clinton end sexism. In some ways, the two Obama terms have resulted in racial tensions–white privilege and supremacy–becoming more obvious. That will, I hope, help us to continue the work of truly overcoming our ugly racialized heritage.

May it also be so whenever we do elect our first woman President. But first we are going to have to get over enough of our sexism to treat the woman (or women in the future) the same way we already treat the men . . . as politicians, flawed, incomplete, human beings, not saviors but ambitious folks who want to lead (and who have a host of mixed motives and drives).

We are not electing a dad or a mom, or a favorite brother or sister, or even aunt or uncle, and surely not our best friend or favorite neighbor. We are electing a President, a mortal human who will not meet all our needs or ever be perfect.

In that sense, they are each qualified, no more or less than any other, even allowing for differences in genitalia, breast size, and facial hair.

So, here we are in 2016.

What kind of year it will be depends on us.

ballot-box-graphic

aft243.org

Presidential candidates and other would-be leaders think it depends on them, or at least on their being chosen. Indeed, our choice of a new president and vice-president (yes, don’t forget we need both), as well as Congress will determine much.

But not nearly as much as these leaders might think. Just ask President Obama, or either Bush or Clinton or Carter, etc. They each did a lot, but much they wanted to do never happened (and much they did not want to happen did so anyway).

Of course, our choice will say much about who we are at the moment of the election. It will say much about how we see the state of the nation, what we see as the good points and the not-so-good points.

What is the state of the nation today?

state of the union

blogs.rj.org

At home, some things seem to be going pretty well: an improving economy, falling unemployment, tumbling gas prices, low inflation, rising housing prices. Unfortunately, health care and college costs remain obscenely high. And the income gap grows as wages are too stagnant, and gun violence seems on the rise. At the same time, civil rights gains continue, even as the nation’s underlying white racist social structure continues to operate in many sectors. So, things are mixed at best.

Abroad, things look more dicey. ISIS continues to frighten the world, and now Iran and Saudi Arabia are at each other’s throats in another round of internecine Islamic religious warfare. Violence continues in parts of African and Latin America, too, and the ugliness in Israel/Palestine remains unchecked. There is a sense among many that the United States is no longer the leading nation of the world.

President Obama 2

absoluterights.com

And yet, President Obama remains popular outside the country, other leaders look to him for leadership, and he wins some treaty victories (although not in the U.S. Senate). He is not the bragging, pushy leader many in our nation seem to want, but much of the rest of the world appears grateful.

It was only a few months ago that national polls showed just more than half of the country thought things were going pretty well. Then, came more gun violence, and particularly the Paris and San Bernardino massacres. Now, the numbers have gone below 50%.

Perhaps the most important factor in the decline is the presidential campaign. Republicans paint a dire picture–America is about to expire, if you listen to Donald Trump, but others don’t see things too much better–while Democrats are reluctant to be too positive for fear they will appear uncaring about our problems.

I reject the extreme dire view. It is bombast at best, and carries a not-so faint whiff of fascism.

We have many problems, to be sure. But the United States is still able to deal with them–we are dealing with many, despite frequent (but not universal) deadlock between the President and Congress.

So, right now, I am thinking the Republicans could do worse than re-nominate Ronald Reagan. He pointed with alarm at times, but most of the time, he just claimed that while things were okay, he could do better.

Ronald Reagan

en.wikipedia.org

I did not vote for him–indeed, his nomination in 1980 was what finally drove me out of the Republican Party into which I was born. And his silence in the face of HIV/AIDS smelled just plain ugly.

You may think it then strange that I am waxing nostalgic about Reagan, especially because he is dead.

But despite his silence in the face of much that was evil, he was not a hater and he knew how to compromise with Congress. And he wanted peace, really wanted it, I think. Okay, he may not have been the brightest boy in the class, but who says the President needs to be brilliant (some say that is Obama’s greatest problem).

What the nation needs now, I believe, is someone who really believes in our possiblity as a nation–a nation where everyone is thriving and a nation that is the best leader for just and lasting global harmony.

state-of-the-nation-is-good

phil.harris.com

If not Reagan, then I think FDR (see left).

As far as I can see, our best years are ahead. But we have to make the choices that will make it so.

One set of choices is at the ballot box–and there I am less sanguine about our future. But other choices lay elsewhere. About these I will write more in the days ahead.

We can do better than our leaders. We have done it before, and we can do it again.