Monday, November 14, 2016

Thoughts on Being and Elitist Asshole

Looking back on election coverage over that last year and a half, I am embarrassed by the arrogance. Aaron Sorkin wrote a letter to his wife and daughter apologizing for Donald Trump and promising to do a better job of protecting them. I could write a similar letter but instead of apologizing to my daughters for not being a better liberal, I would apologize for being such an elitist asshole. And if you live in the same NPR, MSNBC, Late Night Comedy and New York Times echo chamber that I live in, you just might be an elitist asshole, too.

Eight years ago, on November 5th, 2008 I woke up elated. I took my car in to have the oil changed and there was an older black woman waiting with her grandson and she was showing him the photo of President elect Barack Obama addressing the crowd. “Yes We Can” was the headline. I caught her eye and we shared a smile. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel embarrassed in the presence of a black person. For the first time, I felt like the stain of privilege and implied racism wasn’t the first thing she saw because this white nation elected a black man to the highest office in the land. I felt pride in my country that perhaps wasn’t as racist and bellicose as I thought.

I was elated when the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed and when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. I even changed my Facebook profile picture to the rainbow filter when Same Sex Marriage became the law of the land. I smugly pointed to the stemming of the tide of widespread job loss and the slow but steady economic recovery as evidence of the superiority of the Democrats and the strength of the liberal agenda. The questions about the President’s citizenship and demands to produce his birth certificate were just indications that his opponents were ignorant racists.

While I still believe that questions about the President’s legitimacy are indicative of ugly racism, I also think we should have been much more gracious in our victories and worked harder to bring people along with us. Instead, a cottage industry based on making fun of poor white people in the middle of the country emerged. We have spent the last eight years reflecting the religious and cultural diversity that we on the left embrace and admire while mocking the people clinging to their guns and their religion. “Modern Family” wins Emmys year after year while “Duck Dynasty” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” are snarky punchlines and Tea Party favorites like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are ignorant boobs on “Saturday Night Live”.

Over the past few years, more than a few of my right of center friends and family members have said, “This is not the America that I grew up in…” or “It’s time we take our country back” and silently rolled my eyes. Now that my candidate lost, I hear myself utter the exact same sentiments almost verbatim. I woke up disoriented and shocked on Wednesday morning, disbelief that a gaudy reality TV star who does not share my values will be the President of the United States.  It’s like I woke up in the Upside Down from “Stranger Things” – everything is in the same place, but I’m on a different plane or frequency where everything is dark and ugly. But for many, the Upside Down for them is Obama’s vision for America. I don’t understand why they feel that way, but I would like to learn.
I find Donald Trump abhorrent and feel betrayed by my neighbors and friends who voted for him. I struggle to understand how anyone could vote for such a gross and venal man. I can’t bear the thought of listening to him for the next four years. What I have come to realize, though, is that there are many in this country who have the same sense of loathing for President Obama, Secretary Clinton and all of us “elites” who have been pointing and laughing at them for the past eight years.  


There is a lot of work to be done to stitch our commonweal together but I would like to make a radical proposal: Let’s stop calling each other names and be willing to listen to each other and feel each other’s pain.  

Monday, September 12, 2016

Take a Knee

I understand the visceral reaction that many have to the collective protest of our National Anthem and Flag. When my home team quarterback Colin Kaepernick set off the firestorm by sitting for the anthem, I felt stung and my sensibilities were offended. Kaepernick, I thought, is an example of our meritocracy – a black man growing up in a struggling Central Valley town who by hard work and skill was able to lead his team to America’s greatest stage. He is an example of America when it works. My reaction was anger and annoyance, how dare he insult our vets when he has benefited so much from their sacrifice? Who the hell is he to complain? He seems to have it pretty good…

First of all, why not Kaepernick? Why not use his position as a successful (albeit currently challenged) athlete on the national stage to make a strong statement on behalf of those who are silenced? Until he sat down for the anthem, no one was paying any attention to him, either. Tweets do not make a movement. Tweets and Facebook posts did call attention to the number of black men who are killed in the street by police officers who later face no trial of their peers. A movement erupted but the comfortable ignored it or made fun of it, insisting that all lives matter when clearly they do not. If the lives of these black men mattered, then there would have been indictments and trials.

He sat and we finally paid attention but we still ignore the statement. We latch on to the hagiography of what the flag means to us without truly questioning what it should mean. Kaepernick made me think hard and my mind was changed. Fundamentally, we a nation of ideals. We a nation based on the political ideology of equality under the law.  We are not a nation defined by our borders and our cultural identity. We are not a nation defined by nationalism; we are defined by our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution that codifies our equality under the law.

By taking a knee for the anthem, Kaepernick asserts those ideals and makes a strong and painful declaration that we are not living up to them. Our nation was founded by those who wanted to leave behind the blood and boundary nationalism of Europe. There is an England, there is a France, there is a Germany that transcends the political system of the moment. Vichy France was never not France and the Democratic Republic of Germany continued to be German even under Soviet control. These were and continue to be nations that are defined by their cultural identity and nationalism. We are not.

With my initial anger at Mr. Kaepernick I lost sight of America’s great legacy. We are not a nation founded on boundaries and ethnicity. We are a nation that is founded on the ideas of equality and liberty. If the flag is only a symbol of the sacrifice of our soldiers during war time, then we are nothing more than the physical borders that must be protected, not our principles and not our ideals. Our nation is much greater than our boundaries and we should demand respect for those ideals, especially from sworn officers. Extrajudicial murders in black communities, carried out by the very officers who are meant to protect us, are a perversion of the ideals our nation is built on. The integrity of those ideals are more important than the integrity of our national boundaries, if not more so.

Opening Day of the NFL season fell on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Nine Eleven. Even after defending my quarterback for the last couple of weeks, I felt ambivalent about the appropriateness of continuing the protest on a day where our nation mourned the greatest attack on our national integrity since the Second World War. Our homeland was attacked. We went to war to protect our ideals and our way of life. Surely sitting down on 9/11 is disrespectful to that memory, isn’t it? And yet, surely it is disrespectful to our ideals to accept that entire communities are not afforded the rights enshrined in our founding documents. To accept that citizens of this country can be killed with impunity, where there is no accountability for the taking of their life, is to deny the concept of our right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

If our flag doesn’t stand for those ideals, then what does it really stand for?


If our flag doesn’t stand for those ideals, then we should all sit.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On Single Mothers and Shame

Jeb Bush was recently asked to clarify his statements on single mothers in his book, “The Restoration of Shame”.  In an amazing feat of political acrobatics, Mr. Bush seemed to both back pedal and double down saying single moms face challenges in the world we are in today (presumably a world of reduced economic opportunities stemming from the collapse of the financial system at the tail end of his brother’s turn as president) that hurt the prospects and limit the possibilities of young people being able to live lives of meaning and purpose. 

Mr. Bush has it backwards.  Yes, being raised by a single mother reduces opportunity and possibility but the conditions that are limiting are due to public policy that is implemented specifically to censure and punish women for being single mothers. In a New York Times editorial, Charles Blow points out that we spend energy blaming births to unmarried women ( http://nyti.ms/1IWZ2gL ).  I would say we blame unmarried mothers.  The way we treat them is part of the punishment.  Bush laments the flagging sense of ridicule and shame heaped upon the irresponsible conduct of unmarried mothers, but in the absence of shame and ridicule, what we have is the punishment of seeing one’s children struggle in penurious circumstances and reduced opportunities, all due to their mothers’ “poor choices”.  Meanwhile, our society, our culture, makes unintended pregnancies and births inevitable by limiting education about reproductive health and even more so, limiting access to reproductive health services – especially for poor young women whose future offspring will be most impacted by the reduced circumstances and opportunities.

We are in a tenuous cultural space where feminism and the sexual revolution have ruptured the former modified chattel model of marriage where women traded their reproductive capabilities and caregiving services for economic security for themselves and their children.  Women are no longer ostensibly tied to the father of their children, dependent on them for economic security, yet the organization of our society is such that women, especially mothers, are severely disadvantaged in the workplace, degrading the material well-being of their children and even more so the mental and emotional well-being of their family given the emotional stress of poverty. We have organized ourselves as a society in the worst possible way to support children and families.  We have the dual sides of the pincers crushing families with free market capitalist economic theory that pushes the cost of labor down to the lowest point the market can bear; and women will accept less because .72 on the dollar is better than .00.  At the same time, the free movement of capital to places with a lower cost of labor makes the competition for jobs fierce for men and women, but due to the rupture of chattel marriage many men no longer feel obligated to support their families and women no longer feel compelled to remain with men who abuse drugs and alcohol and are violent toward them and their children.  In Jeb Bush’s world, shame and ridicule would keep women locked in marriage and keep men feeling responsible for supporting their families.

What he and others fail to see is the interlocking vice grip of the free market capitalism that forced women into the workplace by gutting middle class opportunities gained by organized labor coupled with the freedom of women to flee unsafe or unsatisfying marriages.  Thanks to the global economy, men are no longer able to hold up their end of the chattel marriage negotiation and require a partner's income. Ergo, conservatives are in a pickle because on one hand, they want the cost of labor to continue to decline, but the decline in wages makes the “traditional” marriage arrangement untenable.
In our attempts to sustain traditional marriage, we make these macro policy decisions that punish some women for unwanted pregnancies and their subsequent children are punished along with them.  I am certain that fathers and men are punished as well for the “poor decisions” by being estranged from their offspring and missing out on the edifying work of parenting and building a family – but I was a single mother not an estranged father, so I can speak more authentically on my reality.  We do make poor personal choices, but given the circumstances, the options we choose from are limited and equally bad.  The greater sin is the choice we make as a society as we evolve from organizing our families in one way to another.

We can recognize that we are liberated from an arrangement based on women trading their caregiving for security.  That was never fool proof and many women and children were left the poorer for it, my own mother and grandmother included.  We should embrace that we are no longer subject to such an arbitrary and insecure arrangement.  We should embrace policies that recognize families, irrespective of their make-up, as the foundation of our culture, society and in this free-market capitalist democracy families are also the foundation of our economy.  A strong family is the foundation of a strong economy, therefore, public policy should support and strengthen families.
Seeing my friends with kids, I know that raising kids is the time when the stress of all the familial responsibilities can become too much to bear, leading to all sorts of ills; an increase in drug and alcohol use, abuse, violence, fractured relationships, anger, resentment or simply alienation.  These in turn can lead to divorce and to single motherhood – the scourge of modern society, according to Mr. Bush.

The lack of access to reproductive health services also contributes to unstable families.  Unplanned pregnancies can create families where there is no foundational commitment between the parents. Access to free, long term birth control without the slut shaming would reduce unplanned pregnancies and probably abortions.  But it would also take away conservatives’ most potent tool in controlling women’s sexuality.  Without the threat of an unplanned birth, women will be free to have sex with whomever they choose.  That’s the other side of the conservative vise grip – cost of labor on one side and the conservative, religious social mores on the other that fears women’s sexual liberation and freedom.

What Mr. Bush displays with his comments underscores the basic misogyny in our commonweal. Women's sexuality should be controlled and managed, women's reproductive rights should be controlled and managed and economically empowered women are more difficult to control and manage.  

Friday, December 11, 2015

Let's Not Take Our County Back


Last night at the Working Partnerships USA reception, Zelica asked me what I want to be when I grow up. I thought about the question and said some stuff, but what I didn’t say was that when I grow up, I want to amplify my voice to influence public policy on behalf of working families to forge a just and equitable commonweal.

Somehow, regressive powers have seized a large swath of public thought and are preying on people’s fears.  First we laughed at the ridiculous buffoonery and now we are scared.  The GOP leaders are really scared because their voters love Trump.  But they are governed by their economic interests and know a Trump presidency would be a disaster and embarrassment and more importantly, very bad for their economic interests.  Now they are preparing for a brokered convention. That will reinforce everything the Trump base believes about Government and Politicians.  They are making their voices heard and the GOP is proving to be as much of a bi-coastal elitist party as the Democratic Party.  It would be kind of funny if their base wasn’t armed and dangerous. When the Democrats forced a brokered convention in Chicago in 1968, the protesters showed up with angry voices and flowers. These people will show up with legally purchased assault rifles and the steely resolve to “take back our country”. 

This is a distorted form of extreme patriarchy where more than a few of the GOP candidates believe they are inherently superior and there are natural differences between “us” and “others”. It is the same rationale that was used to justify slavery – some races and religions are inherently inferior and therefore must not be allowed to have influence or agency.  There’s also a big dollop of misogyny for good measure. For example, Trump “loves the women” but as works of art that exist for the benefit of his male gaze. Unattractive women are an affront to him. He is offended if a women who is old, fat or ugly gains a platform. That is the America that they want to take us back to, where we all know our places and the patrician white males’ place is right at the top by divine right.

Last night fed my soul and I want to see Silicon Valley Rising as a counterpunch to the Fascist Tea Party. I’d like to see SVR replicate like the Occupy movement but really contribute to policy changes in a way Occupy couldn’t. It changed the conversation, but had little effect on the body politic. On a national scale voter ID laws are disenfranchising black voters, gerrymandered districts have guaranteed a GOP House in perpetuity and our economy is built on the hardest working, most productive backs who receive an ever smaller portion of the income generated by their labor. 

That must change and Silicon Valley Rising is an instrument of change.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Women in the NFL: Dancers or Punching Bags?

This is a screenshot of the Yahoo Sports page today:


The sports world is congratulating itself for the harsh punishment that the NFL is handing down to Ray Rice for the assault on his fiancĂ©e (now wife) in an elevator last February.  Yahoo Sports published this excellent article that point by point illustrates the numerous ways that Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens, the National Football League, the District Attorney's Office and many others failed Ms. Palmer.

But look closely at the content on the right of the page listed under "Latest NFL Slideshows".  There is a slideshow highlighting athletes who own their own sports franchises, and highlights from the week's games but insidiously - next to an article about a woman whose football player husband punched her in the face and dragged her out of the elevator like she was a rag doll - there are two slideshows of scantily clad women dancing for benefit of the male gaze.

The incongruence of the article about the victimization of Ms. Palmer next to slideshows of nearly nude dancers is tinny at best, sad and disgusting is more like it.  The cheerleaders, like Ms. Palmer, are undeniably beautiful.  But it is sad to see women relegated to a role of either dancing for male pleasure or punching bag/defender.

What is actually much worse than the slideshow (which, as I said, portrays beautiful women celebrating football) is to read the comments left by "fans".  The hate and denigration directed at the women displays a deeply troubling misogyny that explains the mindset of the NFL fan that accepts the violence that star running backs and defensive ends direct toward their wives and girlfriends.  That news of Ray Rice's assault on his wife is covered in the "Sports" section reinforces our society's acceptance of violence against women - it's all just part of the game.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Reflections on Mandela


My husband is travelling in Europe and called me early this morning, bereft that a character in the series “Sons of Anarchy” had died.  I was still waking up, but was dumbfounded that he called to tell me that, but had nothing to say about the passing of Nelson Mandela.

He is about 13 years younger than me.

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, my husband was still in junior high while I was preparing to leave for El Salvador to support that country’s march toward justice.  Nelson Mandela was a potent symbol of the injustice of the apartheid system that many of my fellow student activists were fighting to overthrow.

I spent most of the 80’s relearning the world order as my perspective shifted from my conservative parents’ devotion to Reagan and certainty of “American Exceptionalism” to one of horrified recognition that the United States often ignored the blatant behavior of dictators and bullies throughout the world or worse, assisted them in their exploitation and oppression of the people they ruled.  The examples were plentiful, Somoza and Pinochet, the Shah of Iran and scores of generals whose names are better forgotten.   But the most cogent and embarrassing symbol of the United States’ official indifference to the suffering of exploited and oppressed people the world over was the Apartheid regime in South Africa.  It was a caricature of every value that Ronald Reagan claimed we possess.  Reagan’s “shining city on the hill” as a beacon of hope the world over was the provenance of cash and arms meant to continue oppression. 

The President’s insouciance in the face of the violent and disgusting treatment of black South Africans left no space for ambiguity.   Official “concern” about communism in South Africa was laughable in the face of the Apartheid.  A generation of social justice activists, myself included, came of age as part of the wave of divesture that finally forced the US to withdraw support from the Apartheid regime and we learned that we did, in fact, have power.

Nelson Mandela began as a symbol of the Apartheid regime’s fatuous racism and willingness of the powerful to crush dissent.  But upon his release from Robbin Island, his stature only grew.  He demonstrated that one did not have to be crushed by anger and bitterness.   He lived and led by example the principle of liberation theology that oppression equally oppresses both the oppressed and the oppressor.  

I believe that he is the greatest man who has lived within my lifetime.  I am saddened by the loss to the world of this great man.  My sadness is greater still because my husband, who I believe is a good man who cares for justice, is untouched by his passing. 

We have been careless with his legacy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who Cares: Unpaid care work, poverty and women's / girl's human rights



Several years ago, when I was completing my graduate studies, I had a dream that I was late to my graduation where I would be recognized for my outstanding academic achievement.  In my dream, I could hear "Pomp and Circumstance" playing and I could hear them calling my name, but I wasn't able to reach the stage because there were mountain high piles of dirty laundry that I had to climb and walk over to get to the stage.  I remember as keenly as if it had happened in true life the struggle to wade through the piles of clothes, feeling the pant legs of my husband's jeans tripping me as I fell into the soft mountain of clothes then half swimming and half crawling to get there as they called my name one final time to take my place on the stage.

Then, like a it was a lost dinner reservation, the speaker on stage moved on to the next name, that of one of my male colleagues and he stepped forward in his graduation gown and accepted the recognition.

My piles of laundry that I can easily manage by tossing the clothes into my high efficiency washer do not compare to the hardship of collecting water and firewood in the developing world.  However, this video illustrates so powerfully how the unseen and uncounted labor of women handicaps us in the marketplace.  Caring for a family is hard work.  I love the closing quote that we should have the right to provide the care, and also the right to not be exploited.  Caring for a family is truly beautiful and meaningful work and it should be counted and it should be valued.