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!

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!

My Post-Election Trumpism-Opposition Begins: Taking It To The Streets

So, in my last post I dusted off Fish & Bicycles and declared my intention to resist the impulse to despair over the barely believable, gulp, election of Donald Trump, and rather, to get to work on being part of a solution.

After an initial round of research, I identified several local social justice groups, as well as a chapter of Our Revolution, the organization that the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign morphed into, and I’ll be looking into these further and attending meetings soon.

But, my first offline action, this past Friday, was to attend a protest loosely organized around a demonstration that has been taking place on the same street corner here in Bellingham, Washington, save a few gaps here and there, since 1966, the longest running event of its kind in the U.S.

This weekly peace vigil, held every Friday, was the most natural place to find an organized group of people guaranteed to be equally shaken by the election and opposed to the agenda of the man elected. But, rather than the usual relative handful of protesters on just one street corner at Cornwall & Magnolia, as seen in the photo included in this post, this week all four street corners were packed.

fullsizerender7I’d made my own “Love Trumps Hate” sign, and when I arrived I took my place at the street’s edge, where passing cars and my fellow protesters across the street could see me, and with the very first smile from these lovely people and honks from supportive vehicles zooming by, I felt better than I had, by far, since election day.

The signs held by those assembled ran the gamut: peace/anti-war, environmental, reproductive rights, pleas for black, brown, LGBTQ lives, etc. While I had been wondering how or if we could ever really come together and stay together, there we were, with good intentions and shared purpose, a mutual desire to keep hope alive, hope for a more peaceful world in the face of an unimaginable national nightmare.

And yet, standing there with my sign in hand, I experienced some conflicting thoughts and feelings.

As I looked around at the staunch peace vigil veterans who have shown up weekly for years, not just when there’s a headline-grabbing crisis, I felt humbled, ashamed even, inadequate, for not having done much more than preach peace and love casually to friends and family, to write about it on my blog occasionally, a protest here and there, volunteering as a Bernie Sanders delegate, but only at the County Convention, and all those stupid online petitions.

But then, I observed a group, young and old, singing We Shall Overcome, and every single derisive stereotype of hippies and 1960s/70s counterculture came to mind, along with thoughts of how it all seemed for naught, as we have slid so dramatically backward as a country. We shall overcome, my ass!

But then…the music reached my heart, and cynicism and skepticism melted away, and I joined my voice with theirs.

The next song, the hauntingly beautiful Singing For Our Lives, by Holly Near, with the refrain, “We are a gentle, angry people”, sealed the deal.

I was right where I belonged and past inadequacies no longer mattered.

Only action remains important.

 

The World Needs Trump Like A Fish Needs A Bicycle: I’m Back!

love_trumps_hateIt’s a little embarrassing and quite telling that it took yesterday’s election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States for me to finally turn the lights back on here at Fish & Bicycles.

My last post was published way back in August, when I interrupted a string of entries I’d done on lighter subjects — including my Notes From Italy series, which I sadly never finished — to touch on the topic of white privilege in America.

What followed was a confluence of challenging world and life events that consumed me and drained from me any inspiration to write.

Given all that, you’d think that the outcome of the 2016 election would have driven my inspiration even further away, maybe even permanently, but this morning, when I faced the choice of utter despair and retreat vs. heeding the call to get to work on reversing the swing of the pendulum, thanks to a figurative kick in the ass from Mrs. Fish & Bicycles, I chose the latter.

I harbor no illusions that Fish & Bicycles can reverse the pendulum, but for the past 7 years this blog has been my primary vehicle for expressing myself, and as I recommit to the idea that I’m part of the problem if I’m not part of the solution, and to the reality that this is NO time to be silent, it will be very helpful to have this outlet to process and share my experiences along the way.

I’m not yet sure exactly what form my solution work will take. Because I was a passionate Bernie Sanders delegate, it’s tempting to jump on the Our Revolution (the organization that the Bernie 2016 campaign morphed into) bandwagon, but I’ll be researching other progressive organizations as well, both local and national, to identify the top priorities and the best way for me to contribute.

Here at Fish & Bicycles, then, there will be news of successes, setbacks, perhaps the occasional emotional meltdown, and, as often as possible, welcome distractions like my Eyecatchers and Video Fridays series.

So, stay tuned!

Awareness vs. Self-Preservation

burying-ones-head-in-the-sand

“It’s good to be exposed to politics and what’s going down here, but it does damage to me. Too much of it can cripple me. And if I really let myself think about it — –the violence, the sickness, all of it — –I think I’d flip out.”

–Joni Mitchell, from Rolling Stone Magazine, 1969

I think about this ALL the time!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I was choosing to face some gloom, because not doing so would be contributing to the problem rather than the solution, and the toll it took on me was considerable, I just about flipped out.

See, I feel like, if I’m going to be helpful I need to be well-informed. But man, getting informed, reading as much as I can on issues, reading more than one source, reading competing ideas, it all adds up to a lot of exposure to ugly details, terrible injustices, radically horrible attitudes and ignorant ideologies.

And yet, even if you bury your head in the sand, your ass is still sticking up in the air and vulnerable to getting mightily kicked.

I do believe that spirituality can help, I keep doing my meditation and yoga in hopes that being more firmly grounded in the present moment and less susceptible to regret and fear will help, but I still can’t avoid becoming overwhelmed by the unforgiving harshness in the world.

So, what’s the solution?

How do people like career activists and humanitarian aid providers do it, day in and day out in some of the most desperate situations?

Any ideas?

 

It’s Not About The Mascot

vikingWhen I began writing this post Monday, it was a VERY different post.

I’d read the news that some students and a professor at Western Washington University (WWU, Western), my place of employment for the past 15 years, were calling for a change of the university’s mascot, the Vikings, claiming it conflicts with Western’s commitment to diversity.

And so, I was going to write a casual exploration of the topic, reflecting on the fact that the mascot at the junior high school I attended was also the Vikings, half joking about how the current graphic of the Viking, included here, whether or not you believe it a barrier to creating an inclusive community for people of color on campus, is so freaking scary he looks like he very badly wants to pillage my village, rape my women, and impale me on his horns, and then, maybe, I’d lightly touch on the topic of political correctness vs. free speech.

But Tuesday morning, before having any time to complete this post, an email was sent to the entire Western Washington University community by WWU President Bruce Shepard, announcing that classes had been cancelled for the day in response to hate speech on social media, directed at students of color at Western because of their opposition of the mascot.

So, I needed to take a break from writing and regroup, I needed to read the coverage in the media, and I even masochistically subjected myself to reading the reader comments on the article in the Bellingham Herald and on Western’s Facebook Page.

Then, shortly thereafter, I read the news that five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot in Minneapolis.

And what became abundantly clear to me was:

It’s not about the mascot.

It’s about racism.

What kind of country do we live in where this happens?

  • A handful of students of color state publicly that they oppose a university mascot because they feel alienated by it, and they are met with hate speech and threats, AND…
  • This same handful are told, with derision and anger, that they shouldn’t be offended and scared, that they are “cry babies” and “pussies”, and that this is just political correctness run amok, AND…
  • The president of the university is attacked for cancelling classes, which he did because he understands that students of color might be scared, given that racism and violence on college campuses is a national epidemic, and that the whole university needs time to process the awareness that racist threats were made to our students.

In April 2014, President Shepard, in a convocation speech, said:

“ … if in decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as a university.”

…and he swiftly came under fire for those comments.

I suspect that many who found fault with what he said then are likely the same people angrily criticizing the opposition to the mascot and the decision to cancel classes.

Racists have a glaringly obvious tell: Even hint about taking away a symbol of white power — a maniacal Viking, or, let’s say, the Confederate flag — and they doth protest too much.

Listen, I’ll take a politically correct overreaction over a racist overreaction any frickin’ day!