Stuff We Don’t Need: Yet Another “Progressive” Vanity Organization

progressive-groupsSo, there’s this guy Van Jones who has been saying a lot of good things, for a while, and this week he announced the start of a new campaign called the #LoveArmy, a new initiative of his Dream Corps organization.

Sadly though, for quite some time, I have been VERY suspicious of how much ego is behind seemingly well-intentioned people like Mr. Jones.

I see it play out something like this, time and time and again:

Super smart, charismatic, articulate progressive takes a firm stance on something and gets regional and/or nationwide attention; said person gathers a team of collaborators and followers and starts their own new organization, with a spiffy new logo and website, like Van Jones’ Dream Corps; meanwhile there are already dozens, hundreds, even thousands of existing progressive organizations all over the country, many doing similar work, many of which overlap and compete with each another for donations or attention or nitpicky differences in their platform or approach.

The left/progressive wing in this country is utterly fractured, totally susceptible to and thwarted by the divide-and-conquer tactics from the masterfully manipulative right wing, but all I see is this parade of emerging leaders starting up their own vanity projects rather than building a movement that unites the existing progressive organizations.

One could argue that many if not most politicians running for office resemble this formula. Once they are in office, they are quickly assimilated into business-as-usual, without the time and/or will to build on the movement that got them elected, to make it bigger and stronger and capable of supporting an unwavering agenda of real change.

Now, to be fair, every once in a while I see a glimmer of the right idea, and here are three examples.

1. Bernie Sanders certainly met the “super smart, charismatic, articulate progressive” criteria I mention above, but in VERY different ways.

Smart as hell, for sure, but his unlikely charisma resided in his unpolished, scruffy, gesticulating appearance and demeanor, and his articulateness was not about flowery oratory or wonky policyspeak, but rather, it was his dogged consistency of message, a message of a need for a political revolution that united millions and millions of Americans around common causes, an articulation that powerfully wielded a “we” rather than “me” orientation.

The Bernie Sanders-inspired Our Revolution group says they are about continuing Bernie’s work of building this national grassroots movement, and I’m eager to see if they will reach out to all of the progressive organizations already out there, to unite them and coordinate efforts.

2. Back in June, shortly after the mainstream media declared that Hillary Clinton had clinched the Democratic Party nomination, 3,000 activists attended The People’s Summit in Chicago, a hastily thrown-together event, also aimed at taking up Bernie’s torch. Notable was the extensive list of “partners” posted on the event’s website, seen here in this post as a collection of logos that both highlights what I said above about how progressives love to start new organizations, but also seems to represent at least an attempt to bring these groups together.

3. Just today I read of a brand new effort to fight the Trump-elect proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Protect Our Care Coalition pulls together representatives from 20 different existing organizations to “pool resources and work together to ensure people in America understand the damage of repealing the ACA.”

Now THAT is stuff we need!

Cars Have Feelings Too…Now.

Trump Tweets: Look In The Mirror, America!

twitter-logoSo, I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump WAY more than I ever desired, more than my heart and soul can bear, and for that reason alone his victory is a dreadful, dreadful thing, a kind of assault, a violation.

And yet, there’s something that rubs me the wrong way about the coverage of Trump’s behavior on Twitter.

As has been widely reported, he is an avid Twitter user. But, unlike President Obama, who has a professional on staff who tweets on his behalf, Trump tweets on his own, in all his buffoonish, goonish ugliness.

Saturday Night Live has thankfully been relentless in their lampooning of Trump, thanks largely to Alec Baldwin‘s genius impersonation, but their latest stab, a skit specifically about Trump’s use of Twitter, didn’t make me laugh.

Why?

Because I found it WAY more disturbing than funny.

As much as I feel justified in demonizing Trump as the demon that he is, it must also be pointed out that Donald Trump is the product of American culture, not its creator. Notice how the SNL skit is about Trump retweeting the nutjob tweets of others. Not that Trump doesn’t post enough of his own nutjob tweets, but he’s engaged in a wider culture.

It’s one thing, trying to get one’s head around the fact that this one dangerous man-child will be ascending to the most powerful position on the planet, and another thing entirely to consider the bigger picture, the Petri dish from which he emerged, a dish festering with materialism, celebrity worship, and reality TV.

How many more Trumps-in-the-making are out there, and who is talking about the paradigm shift needed in America in order to stop the production of them?

The former question is too scary to spend a lot of time thinking about.

The latter, well, as the 12-step programs say, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

America, we clearly have a problem.

Thanks, giving

givingWelcome to the Thanksgiving Infinite Feedback Loop!

Try googling “thanks, giving,” and you’ll find that Google doesn’t know what to do with it:

Showing results for thanksgiving
Search instead for thanks, giving

Click on “Search instead for thanks, giving” and Google asks:

Did you mean: thanksgiving

Um, no, I didn’t mean “thanksgiving,” and the 353,000,000 results you provided — on the history of the holiday, recipes, crafting ideas, NFL football game schedule, etc. — based on my “thanks, giving” query were not what I was looking for.

Switch over to Google Images with the same query and a similar thing happens. Google can’t conceive of any reason why those two words, separated by a comma, shouldn’t be answered by anything other than turkeys, live turkeys, dead and roasted turkeys, cartoon turkeys both alive and dead, turkeys wearing pilgrim clothing, pumpkins, fall foliage, and an infinite number of greeting card-esque platitudes.

But, I did find a way out of the Thanksgiving Infinite Feedback Loop.

Type in “put the giving in thanksgiving” — because, you know, humans love humorous puns, like “he put the fun in dysfunctional” — and with it Google finds all kinds of well-intentioned content on the interwebs titled Put the Giving in Thanksgiving.

There’s been volumes and volumes written on the virtues of gratitude, and there is a LOT of merit and a time and place for the practice of thankfulness.

But, on this Thanksgiving Eve I feel compelled by some awful stuff happening in the world to focus on the second word in the compound word that is Thanksgiving.

Just a few examples:

  • I’ve donated some money to my Native American brothers and sisters to aid in their fight for their rights and our planet at Standing Rock, and I plan to donate more.
  • My band, Sleepy Alligators, will be playing at the local #GivingTuesday event, raising money for the food bank and two youth summer camps.
  • Rather than stressing over all the work involved in hosting and cooking a Thanksgiving meal for our 12 guests, I have reframed it as an act of giving.

It feels good!

If you can, please consider giving as well.

It might be cliché, but it is true: every little bit helps.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Safety Pin Movement Point-Counterpoint: Painfully (Pun Intended) Complicated

safetypinOk, I admit it. I’m a straight, white male and I’ve been wearing a safety pin, not just on my shirt, but I have another one on my coat, so that when I have my coat on, which covers up the safety pin on my shirt, a safety pin can still be seen by women, people of color, people with disabilities, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, and my fellow Jews, namely all who have been threatened by Trumpism, a signal to my brothers and sisters and transters that I am on their side, that I am safe.

If you are unfamiliar with the safety pin movement, read this.

Ironically, my wearing of pins angers some of the very people to whom I’m pledging my support, and I TOTALLY understand their justifiable anger, distrust, skepticism, and the demand for more than just fucking safety pins.

For now, I’m keeping my safety pins on, but let’s take a look at some of the voices for and against.

Here’s Ijeoma Oluo, writing at The Establishment:

I took a little bit of hope in the thought that maybe now more people were paying attention to the racist, sexist, Islamophobic, ableist society that we live in. Maybe we could mobilize this grief, anger, and fear into action.

But what I got were safety pins. Suddenly everywhere I looked, (mostly) white people were talking about safety pins. What a great idea! Something we can all do! I couldn’t tell people on social media apart anymore as their pictures were all replaced with pins. All that energy that I had hoped would go toward real-life action in support of marginalized populations who have been fighting this system alone for far too long was diverted to a symbol that most people wouldn’t even notice.

Fair points indeed, and it was disturbing reading, further in her post, how she was attacked by readers who disagreed with her about the safety pins:

Within hours, hundreds of white people had flooded my Facebook page and Twitter feed in defense of their safety pins. I was told that I was part of the problem. I was told that I was being divisive. I was told that my skepticism was making people sad. None of the commenters seemed to be aware that telling a black woman that she was wrong to question white people is kind of the opposite of racial solidarity in a country where the majority of white voters just elected Trump.

Then, I was called racist. A few times. I was called an asshole. I was called an idiot. I was told I had no brain. Multiple people vomited all their “social justice credentials” on my page and demanded that I acknowledge that they were good white people. Some accused me of censoring them with my critique. Others accused me of shaming them. One white woman demanded an apology and then told me that she deserved respect because her ancestors fought for the North in the civil war.

Then, a white woman emailed a radio show that I frequently appear on, demanding that they cancel my appearances. I know this, because she then wrote a post bragging that she had done this. This woman was trying to take away a source of my income. All because I questioned her safety pins.

My friend Syreeta also questioned the effectiveness of the pins and a white woman demanded that she prove she’s actually a citizen who could vote.

That’s textbook white privilege and microaggression, right there, people!

at Vox, in a post titled The backlash over safety pins and allies, explained, included this nugget:

Wearing a safety pin began as a gesture of kindness. But some people also see it as a performative, bullshit type of “slacktivism,” arguing that it allows people to pat themselves on the back without actually trying to fix the problems they say are important…

“We don’t get to make ourselves feel better by putting on safety pins and self-designating ourselves as allies,” Christopher Keelty wrote for the Huffington Post. “And make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for. Making White people feel better.”

The claims of “slacktivism” resonate with me, because it only took one day on Facebook after the election to convince me that, while social media and the internet can be tools for raising awareness, opposing Trumpism and building a grassroots movement to rescue the country from the madness that accompanies the Trump presidency will take WAY more than posting and sharing things online. It will take boots on the ground.

And yet, where did I get my first safety pin?

It was handed to me while I was participating in boots-on-the-ground action, by a fellow protester at a demonstration that I wrote about on Monday. Present were members of a number of groups threatened by Trumpism, there were two menacing Trump supporters weaving through the crowd, waving a giant Trump: Make America Great Again flag in a provocative manner, and I was totally committed and ready to help protect someone if need be.

While it might seem like semantic nitpicking, I guess I respectfully disagree with Ijeoma Oluo that wearing a safety pin isn’t “real-life action in support of marginalized populations”, but I say this with a MAJOR qualification.

The best expression I’ve read of that qualification comes courtesy of Isobel DeBrujah, author of the blog What a Witch, in a post titled So You Want To Wear a Safety Pin, and here are some highlights:

Know What The Pin Means

It is a sign that you are a safe person. A marginalized person who is being harassed will look to you to help keep them safe. By wearing the safety pin you make a public pledge to be a walking, talking safe space for the marginalized. All of the marginalized. You don’t get to pick and choose. You can’t protect GSM people but ignore the Muslim woman who needs help. You can’t stand for Black people who are dealing with racial slurs but ignore the disabled person who is dealing with a physical attack.

This is all or nothing. If you aren’t willing or able to stand up for everyone, don’t wear the pin…

How Much Are You Willing to Risk?

This is the most important question. Before you get involved, you have to decide how much you are willing to risk in the interaction. Depending on how privileged and/or sheltered you are, you may be unaware that these kind of interactions can get violent and they can get that way fast.

Are you willing to have violence in your life? Are you willing to be violent in defense of the marginalized? If you’re not willing, that’s fine. Not everyone is. But you need to be realistic. If you wear the safety pin, you are telling people you are willing to confront violence on their behalf. And if you’re not willing to do that, don’t wear the pin…

DeBrujah goes on to provide some excellent guidance on intervention tactics and de-escalation that I highly recommend for consumption, whether or not you choose to wear a safety pin.

On the humorous, pro-safety-pin side of things, John Trowbridge writes at Huffington Post:

Grab some hot cocoa and sit on your Grampy’s lap, children! I want to tell you about the year 2016. It seems like a long time ago, as this is 2075, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

Do you whippersnappers know Donald Trump? Why, he was the Daddy of our current emperor, Barron Trump!

I tell ya, I was furious when he was elected. He posed a serious threat to every freedom we held dear. I knew it was going to take everybody in our great country working together to defeat him. So I took to the internet and attacked my fellow liberals for wearing safety pins on their clothes.

While I got a chuckle from this, I felt he overly simplified the matter, and I hope he takes the time to listen to the voices of the marginalized people who aren’t so sure about the safety pins, starting with Ijeoma Oluo.

So, for now, I’ve decided to continue wearing my safety pin, with the MAJOR qualification mentioned above, because at the very least there’s a chance that it might facilitate badly-needed discussion on this topic, that I might be able to share my thinking about what being an ally to marginalized people REALLY involves, discussions that could be contentious, that could make me and others VERY uncomfortable.

For, as I wrote in a post from December 2015, after a disturbing racist incident happened at my place of employment, Western Washington University, spawning a series campus events:

Of the very first of these sessions, a town hall, the Bellingham Herald wrote:

In response to the question about the hopes for the university, panelist and graduate student Alex Ng advised that these conversations should make people feel uncomfortable.

“As we go forward as an entire community and as individuals, what we’re asking people to do is choose to be uncomfortable, which is kind of crazy, but it’s so important that we do that and we have to have the courage to do that together,” Ng said.

So, here I am, feeling gloomy but still writing, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to be honest, even at the risk of being morose, choosing to be uncomfortable so that denial doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate that which I could choose to deny.

 

 

 

Anger Makes Strange Bedfellows, And We Have To Move Past It

love-hateSo, the photo on top, shot by me, is from right here in Bellingham, Washington, the other photo is from all the way across the country in Wellsville, New York, both of them post-election reactions to the outcome.

Do I really need to point out the cognitive dissonance?

Meanwhile, my Facebook feed, and by extension the interwebs in general, are filled with anger and finger-pointing and argument.

Take a step back from it all, view it from a distance, and it’s not really surprising. It’s a microcosm of our divided country.

But, as President Obama said in his first post-election remarks:

That’s the way politics works sometimes. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right and then people vote. And then if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection, we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena, we go at it. We try even harder the next time.

In a similar vein, when asked about this topic, Zen Buddhist teacher Norman Fischer says:

It’s OK to freak out, grieve, and vent for a while. Hold each others’ hands. Then we can get back to work, as always, for the good.

Think of what the Dalai Lama has gone through in his lifetime. He maintains daily practice, he maintains kindness for everyone, though he has lost his country and his culture at the hands of a brutal regime. Yet he doesn’t hate the Chinese and finds redeeming features in them. He maintains his sense of humor. He has turned his tragedy into a teaching for the world.

Lets do the same.

It’s not useful and it’s needlessly dismissive to deny anyone’s right to be angry.

But it IS useful and even critical for liberals/progressives to be told gently that it’s best to channel the energy from that anger into determined, assertive, sustained non-violent action.

We’ve freaked out. That’s ok.

Now, let’s get to work!

Belated R.I.P.s: Leonard & Leon

leonard_leonIf all you did was compare the musical styles of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, both of whom, this past week, sadly departed this world, you might not see all that much in common between the two.

But delve just beneath surface and you find two prolific songwriters acclaimed for their lyrics as much as their music, two songwriters who had long-lasting and wide-ranging influence on other musicians, the latter resulting in their songs having been performed by an astonishing list of their peers.

Just two examples:

Leonard’s Hallelujah: Bob Dylan, John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, k.d. lang, Brandi Carlile, Regina Spektor, Willie Nelson, Susan Boyle, Bono

Leon’s A Song For You: Billy Eckstine, The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson, Helen Reddy, Whitney Houston, Elkie Brooks, Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, Christina Aguilera

Additionally, both Leonard and Leon went through fairly dramatic transformations over the course of their careers:

Leon, from one of the originators of the Tulsa Sound; to a member of the legendary group of Los Angeles session musicians collectively known as the Wrecking Crew, who recorded pop hits by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra and Sonny & Cher to The Monkeys and The Beach Boys; to hippie soul man bandleader, piano and guitar player on Joe Cocker’s epic Mad Dogs & Englishman tour, the album from which I happen to consider the best Rock & Roll live recording ever, and my deep love of which I mention in the obit I wrote upon Joe Cocker’s passing.

Leonard, from published poet and novelist; to folk music singer-songwriter; to elegant elder statesman of sophisticated literary pop music; to Zen monk.

But, of all the things they had in common, my absolute favorite was Leonard’s song Bird on the Wire, the greatest version of which, in my opinion and no surprise given what I said above, comes from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, on which you can hear Leon’s gorgeous, dare I say Liberace-esque, piano playing.

So, thanks Leonard and Leon for all you shared with the world. May all drunks in midnight choirs rejoice in your work!