Principles of Resistance

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There is so much to write about right now for a political blogger, yet I don’t think I’m alone in being so overwhelmed that I’ve struggled to put words down. I could write about the Muslim ban (yes, it is a Muslim ban). I could write about senseless alienation of our allies, like Australia, only to satisfy President Trump’s brash pride. I could write about his threats to send troops to Mexico (again, our ally). I could write about the confirmation of an oil executive as our Secretary of State, or the nomination of an EPA adversary to run the very same agency. I could write about the travesty that is the nomination of Betsy DeVos. I could write, as I have in the past, about the infiltration of our Executive Branch by advocates of institutional racism, such as Jeff Sessions.

Of all the freedoms Trump has threatened either in word, deed, appointment, or Executive Order, let’s confront the very First (with an intentional capital F): the First Amendment right to free speech, press, and peaceful assembly. For those of you who take Trump’s threats to this freedom seriously, I commend you. For those who insist these are empty threats, I implore you to open your eyes. Trump has made evident since his very first day in office that he is not joking. The delusion that this may all be a charade needs to stop here and now. The normalization of Trump and his administration needs to stop here and now.

A white supremacist being a lead advisor to the President is not normal, but Stephen Bannon’s language, if not his fingerprints, are on every single order and statement that Trump issues. The nomination of an Attorney General whose history of racism rendered him too contentious to be confirmed to a federal judgeship is not normal, but Jeff Sessions’ nomination is advancing to the full Senate, where he will surely be confirmed. A President who refuses to divest from a multibillion dollar business or, at a bare minimum, be transparent about his tax returns is not normal, but these conflicts have been permitted to fall to the wayside, even by his opposition. A mass disavowment of facts is not normal, yet they appear to have no consistent value in America’s new “reality.”

Returning to free speech and press rights: Trump has forbidden his staff to give interviews to news outlets that displease him. He has told civil servants that if they do not agree with him, they should leave rather than register their concerns (even through the official State Department dissent channel that’s existed since the Vietnam War). He’s berated individual journalists. He’s chastised peaceful protesters. He’s threatened to withdraw federal dollars from schools where protests occur. He fired Sally Yates, who questioned the legality of his Executive Order (which, by the way, was part of her job description as Attorney General).

We can and will fight back. We must fight back. But I wonder aloud: can we undo the damage that has been done by Trump’s promotion of his favorite concept of “fake news”? Trump’s supporters now live in a world where increasingly, objective fact does not exist. You could cite any statistic in the world. You could cite any direct quote. You can cite any study or history book. It doesn’t matter. If it displeases them or the President, surely it’s fake news. How do we undo that? Even with a press that has sterling integrity (which is impossible. There will always be the National Enquirer — WHICH, by the way, Trump has praised — and the like), I am apprehensive that the concept alone of “fake news” is here to stay, and its political implications are enormous.

So what do I recommend we do? First, I place the disclaimer that I can only guess. But here are the principles I propose we, the increasingly organized resistance, adopt right now:

  • We take seriously the threats that Trump poses to free speech and reject them every single time a new one surfaces, registering this rejection in all ways possible (letters/calls to representatives and media, peaceful protest, social media, etc.). We resolve to make President Trump know he will garner no admiration by painting a free press as his adversary.
  • We protest nonviolently, but with all the conviction and passion our minds and bodies can muster.
  • We support protest by those with whom we disagree as long as it is nonviolent and protected by the First Amendment (Note that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, but there are strategies to mitigate conflicts arising from hate speech without violating First Amendment rights. Also be mindful that while hate speech is protected, “fighting words,” threats, and incitements to violence are not. Hate speech can often include such elements. These forms of speech must be disavowed).
  • We support the right of private institutions to allow or prohibit certain forms of speech within the bounds of their own institution.
  • We reject the term “fake news,” even when we believe a news article may accurately be classified as such. Do not use the language of those who wish to suppress your voice. It lends them legitimacy.
  • We reject the word “lie.” “Lie” is a judgment of the intent of the speaker. Instead, say something is “false” or “not proven.” Always provide evidence to support such an assertion.
  • We hold ourselves personally to the standards of accountability and truth that we want our press to embody. We provide only demonstrable facts.
  • We admit when we do not know something. When we do not know something, we research it thoroughly and relay our research onward.
  • We demand our legislators align themselves unequivocally with a free press. We hold them accountable for any complacency.
  • We donate money and/or time to organizations that defend civil liberties.
  • We donate money and or/time to organizations that provide training for aspiring journalists or in civil disobedience tactics.
  • We recognize that certain citizens, such as racial minorities, the LGBT community, the impoverished, the disabled, children, and the elderly have barriers to free speech and participation in free press. We donate money and/or time to organizations that empower and assist these individuals to meaningfully participate in our democracy.
  • We recognize the importance of evaluating someone’s exact words. We do not dismiss the evaluation of language as “semantics,” “rhetoric,” “reading too far into things,” or, worst of all, “political correctness.”

My final suggested principle is the most difficult to confront. We have lived with our First Amendment rights for so long, we cannot easily acknowledge the following reality. We must acknowledge it now.

  • We recognize that in this turbulent time, laws may change so drastically that certain forms of just and currently legal free expression may become illegal. We proceed according to our First Amendment rights as currently established, with the understanding that we may face repercussions for such expression, including being harassed, accosted, and jailed.

I find it useless to cite the Civil Rights Movement or any variety of revolutions here. We all know what has been done by brave and successful resistance in the past and what must be done now. It is a question of whether we are brave and wise enough to take seriously the danger in which our country finds itself. This will be determined less by our capacity and more by our commitment. There is no denying that we truly are at a crossroads and, as the cliché goes, we each must decide now if we will do what is most just or what is most immediately convenient. Let us not forget that each of us bears both personal and collective responsibility for not only what has happened, but for what will happen to our nation.

Our Shallow Vision of The Strong Woman

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I love Rosie the Riveter. For those who do not know, Rosie the Riveter was an image used in propaganda encouraging housewives to take on factory jobs during World War II to make up for the deficit of male workers (who were off fighting in the war) in munitions manufacturing. This and similar propaganda were largely successful. In 1943, women composed 65% of the workforce in the U.S. aircraft industry. Rosie’s image can be seen to the right in my blog layout (if you’re on a computer. It doesn’t appear in the mobile version).

Rosie is the first typical archetype one may conjure when thinking of “strong women.” One feature of Rosie’s likeness is a prominent flexed muscle. Rosie is the woman who can do all the things a man can do, and arguably can do it better. She rises to the challenge, does what needs to be done. In short, she kicks ass. Similar fictional and real women fitting this archetype include Joan of Arc, Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), Katniss Everdeen, Wonder Woman, and lesser known Deborah Sampson (known to her fellow American Revolutionaries as “Robert Shirtliffe” until her gender was discovered by a doctor and she was discharged from the Continental Army).

Another prominent (although I would argue less valued) archetype of the strong woman is “the brain.” She’s brilliant, she makes connections that others overlook, and without her presence, all plots, plans, and intellectual and philosophical progress stagnate. My personal favorite hero in this archetype, and I think of all time thanks to a childhood shaped by the Harry Potter saga, is Hermione Granger. Also included in this category may be figures like Simone De Beauvoir and Marie Curie.

Then there is my personal favorite class of strong women: the political ones. Fictional and non-fictional personae fitting this category include President Mackenzie Allen (from Commander and Chief), our beloved Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler in Parks and Rec), Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Margaret Thatcher (for better or for worse), Eleanor Roosevelt, Condoleezza Rice, and Michelle Obama.

You’ll (hopefully) notice that from this list of archetypes, and even my self-professed favorites, there’s a deficit of women of color, with only two recent exceptions who I think would be considered universally well-known and popular. My omissions here are deliberate, because I believe that the overwhelming majority of strong women archetypes are white, which is a gross deviation from the real composition of strong women in our world. Where we think of Susan B. Anthony, we omit Sojourner Truth. While we all know Marie Curie, we’re just now learning about Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan thanks to the upcoming film Hidden Figures (scheduled only for limited theatrical release). Perhaps Emily Dickinson is more likely to come to mind when pondering female poetry, while Maya Angelou falls to the wayside. And frankly, it’s difficult to find a universally popular black female action hero aside from Halle Berry’s brilliant depiction of Catwoman (later given to Anne Hathaway in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series).

Aside from our overwhelmingly whitewashed vision of female heroism in the U.S. and other W.A.S.P-y countries, what actually prompted me to think about our vision of female strength was criticism of the character Queenie from the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film. A pop culture article that appeared on my Facebook news feed professed that clairovyants (Queenie) are dumb:

Does she [J.K. Rowling] think people like Queenie Goldstein and Professor Trelawney who use legilimency are dim when it comes to dealing with people because of their psychic gift?

For those who have yet to see the film, Queenie is a “legilimens” (mind reader), depicted on the surface as a stereotypical 1920’s floozy. The assertion by whoever wrote this article (fraught with errors, by the way; Trelawney was not a legilimens) that she is daft and has little depth drove me insane. In fact, I argue that Queenie represents an archetype of the strong woman that we prefer to ignore and often consider to be at odds with feminism: that of a woman who uses her sexuality and the shallow perception of herself by others to her advantage.

A similar figure would be Marilyn Monroe, who alongside her often overlooked acting and modeling chops, carefully leveraged  her sexuality and manipulated the world’s perception of her to build a wildly successful career.

Consider also Lena Horne, who used a combination of talent, beauty, sex appeal, and determination to rise to prominence in Hollywood, a status that typically eluded African American performers and artists in her day. Lena also is an example of the brilliant minds that propel the success of women who are often dismissed as simply “a pretty face.” A testament to her brilliance, she ended up being blacklisted for her political activism in the Civil Rights Movement.

We should recognize this strength and talent as what it truly is: a subcategory of “the brain.” Queenie and her real-life parallels are proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. It’s easy to write these women off as hopeless flirts good for little but some entertainment — beauty with no remarkable talent to back it up. This is a huge mistake.

My hope is that as we become increasingly aware and celebratory of the diversity of women’s strengths, our vision of the strong woman will expand to include not only the action heroes, the “I can do anything a man can” women, the smart women, and the politicians, but also the mothers, the romantics, the “silent but deadly” ones. Most importantly, beyond recognizing a broader array of archetypes, we need to recognize that women of all colors and races, women of all sexualities,  women of all levels of ability/disability, women of all ages, and women of all walks of life are strong simply by virtue of being women.

A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down

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I know I’m not the only one who has gone (or attempted to go) on a self-imposed news media blackout since the election. Personally, I think it’s a great idea. This election pretty much swallowed us all whole, and we need to be reminded that there is a world going on around us that isn’t in print.

My typical news media consumption is (was?) as follows:

  • Facebook: all… freakin’… day
  • Twitter: Less often, but still all… freakin’… day.
  • The Express: When I get to the train station in the morning to go to work, I grab a copy of the free Washington Post newspaper, the Express, and read it on the train. It’s the perfect length to take me from departure to arrival.
  • MSN.com: It’s my homepage at work and I can’t help but read a few pieces from the headlines.
  • Apple News: I intermittently skim the headlines on my iPhone and if something is particularly interesting/breaking I read the article.
  • Comments sections on items 1 and 3 (danger! toxic! turn back!)

On item number 1, I’ll openly confess I failed miserably. For the rest, I started by beginning to refuse my daily Express. This in itself was difficult, because the workers who hand out the Express seem so excited to hand you your paper in the morning. Turning it down felt like a personal affront to them (though it was a bit easier when the worker said, “It’s not Hump Day; it’s Trump Day! Get your Express!”). From there on, I’d say I did pretty well avoiding all the other outlets.

But today, exactly one week from the election, I’ve terminated my media blackout, completely without any preexisting intent to do so. It ended exactly where it had started: the Express. This morning, I came down the stairs at the station and the worker said, “Good morning, young lady!” and handed me the paper. I could see a little tuft of Trump’s hair printed on the cover, so I knew immediately that receiving this particular edition completely quashed my intentions of “phasing” myself back in. It was like intending only to stick your feet in the shallow end at the pool party, when some big bully comes along and pushes you right into the deep end with your clothes still on.

I kept walking toward the train, trying to decide whether I’d toss (recycle!) the paper or read it. This was a particularly difficult decision, given the cover was a picture of Trump, Stephen Bannon, and the headline “Trump’s alt-right right-hand man.”

I read the paper. And there were things I already knew in there that made me angry. There were things I didn’t already know in there that made me angry. But there were also things I didn’t know in there that made me happy:

  • The three year project to rebuild the Capitol’s dome is finally complete. Bonus: during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was put under pressure to delay the construction until the end of the war, but he insisted construction proceed, in order to display faith in the Union.
  • High school students in Maryland organized their own protests and took to the streets and returned to class after. D.C. is planning the same for today. Wow! These are teenagers!
  • A bookstore in Wyoming requires customers to put away their laptops, phones, and tablets in the store, with a sign in the store saying, “Take a break! Live like it’s 1993, emails can wait.”
  • Oreo has come out with a chocolate bar!
  • Ed Sheeran and his mom have donated a bunch of his outfits and memorabilia to benefit East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices in the U.K.

To some, items 3 through 5 might seem trivial – “well that’s nice, but so what?” But what I noticed in reading this paper is that truly balancing my reading is what made the bad news (i.e.: Stephen Bannon) bearable. And being able to bear the bad news means that I was able to avoid being completely consumed by it.

I think one of the reasons I shunned the news after the election is because I was really afraid of being regularly consumed by the fear and grief that I felt on election night, and frankly the entire fiasco of the “campaign” leading up to it. But placing some weight on the good news, and yes, even the fluff news, helps us to digest the bad and troubling news. And once you’ve digested the bad news, you can move forward to decide how you will react to it, and what action, if any, you will take.

Am I okay with Stephen Bannon exerting influence at the White House? Absolutely not. Does being happy about the Oreo chocolate bar make my disgust for him any less valid? Absolutely not. Does it impair my capacity to react to what I see as bad governance/a storm up ahead? Absolutely not! In fact, bringing Bannon back to the forefront of my consciousness early in the morning was probably a good thing, as unpleasant as it may have been.

So my message today is balance. Balance your consumption of media. Balance your disgust with your joy. Balance your pauses and your action.

And don’t be afraid to read the paper.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it.”