Dear Lily June,
I admit it: I have been avoiding you on the page. In real life, my darling daughter, I hold you close, breathe in the miracle of your existence, and am able to exhale only by knowing I have to, for you. In internet life, I have been holding my breath, my tongue, watching as arguments become more violent, and physical violence becomes more everyday in my country.
I can only hope, by now, you know my politics and my heart. In some ways, I want to throw up my hands and ask, what does it matter whom I voted for or didn’t? (Hello, privilege.) What matters is how we treat people, how we live, not just what we claim.
And yet, in abandoning words to you, I am abdicating my responsibility as your mother. As an American citizen. As a writer. Toni Morrison wrote, three years after 9/11 and immediately following the re-election of a president she did not support, George W. Bush,
“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.”
The following letter will betray my biases, my deep-rooted beliefs. It will also betray the chaotic state I feel I am in. I no more want to become a Facebook activist or armchair philosopher. There is no need, anymore, to raise awareness of the undercurrent of tensions in America, the world at large. It has invaded our Facebook walls. It has threatened to build real and metaphorical walls around us all. We will never be the same.
When I look at the country I have now in place of the one I thought it was becoming (maybe the one I deceived myself into thinking I had, sleeping through what was really happening), I think of the words ex-pat poet Getrude Stein penned about her childhood home upon realizing that it had been torn down to pave way for an industrial park:
“There is no there, there.”
And yet, I cannot abandon hope. Now is the time, as Morrison writes, to get to work. A member of the White Rose Nazi resistance group, Christoph Hermann Probst, wrote,
“Once you have decided, act.”
I have decided, Lily June, that we will add a new category to our family bucket list in a jar. It will be called “world-care” and it will be actions we can take as a family to promote equality, help disenfranchised communities, step in for social justice, be better allies for those currently, at best, ignored, at worst, endangered, and ways to protect or restore the environment.
I start below with the theoretical framework behind our actions. I make this public on my blog, because I want to make sure any actions we take are done so in a careful, inclusive way. I invite feedback from those beyond our home on how to improve or expand on these, on issues to break up and analyze in more depth, or on issues to include in the first place. I also invite more concrete suggestions for action on a national and international level!
For me, working for change in this country begins with a single premise: American truth is a painting (always up for subjective interpretation), but it’s so easy for our citizens to get distracted by the partisan and/or polarizing frames we hang it in.
You’ll see what I mean, Lily, when you look at the political issues of the day when you reach voting age. The following represent trends I’m currently seeing in terms of issues, frames, and the truth behind (maybe beyond) them. I’m also trying to imagine the complications behind making change, and the actions we can take anyway, in a very general way.
Protests After Presidential Election
Examples of Frames:
- “Quit telling us liberals to be quiet and not protest! We’re afforded the same right to react to Trump as you were four years ago to react to Obama!” OR
- “You critiqued us conservatives for how we protested Obama, but now you’re turning around and holding violent protests against Trump.”
Truth: We live in a country where protesting is so fundamental, it’s written into our Constitution as a amended right.
Complications: Not everyone has the same level of safety when they protest. Some issues others protest for will be abhorrent to you personally.
- Support those causes which promote the rights to free speech and peaceable assembly.
- Find protests at which you can, even if you disagree with some of what’s being said, protect the rights of the protesters to say it.
- Write out the values you support privately so you know what you will stand up for or against.
- Brainstorm with family the values you collectively support.
- Discuss and revise your personal and family values regularly. We all grow and change our minds. We all evolve constantly.
- Attend/participate in a protest which supports the values you believe in. Don’t assume everyone there shares your values.
Gendered Bodies in America
- “You can’t judge Hillary by what she’s wearing! She’s a full person, not a pantsuit! Saying anything different is bad feminism;” OR
- “How can Hillary represent women as someone who has eschewed her own femininity? She doesn’t represent my traditional values/Christianity;” OR
- “Look at those hypocritical right-wingers, claiming to support morality and decency but electing a president whose wife and daughter have displayed their nudity publicly. If that had been Michelle Obama, she’d have been vilified;” OR
- “When it comes to Melania or Ivanka, blame the system that exploits, not the women being exploited;” OR
- “A woman has a right to choose what she wears—or doesn’t—on her body, including the FLOTUS or the president-elect’s children. Saying anything different is slut-shaming.”
Truth: We live in a country where the emphasis on physical appearance is problematic at best.
Complications: Work to change the superficial judgment of women often denies non-binary gender expressions. Issues of personal morality factor into individuals’ responses to dress and/or nudity.
- Examine your own gender expressions and know why you’ve chosen what you’ve chosen, and whether and why it feels right to present and perform in the ways that you do.
- Support (by donation or volunteerism) those causes which allow others to make the choices which reflect their identities without imposing an identity on you.
- Be a critical consumer and know how the companies you support advertise as regards gendering.
- Be a critical citizen and know how the politicians you support vote as regards gender representation and equality.
- Withhold your money or support for companies or representatives that do not uphold your values.
Discrimination in America
- “Do not express empathy with those who supported an administration whose leader is known to have made biased, inflammatory comments about [insert group here]. Doing so aids a system of oppression;” OR
- “Racists, sexists, misogynists, bigots, Islamophobes, homophobes, anti-Semites and ableists do not abandon their prejudices for being called racists, sexists, misogynists, bigots, Islamophobes, homophobes, anti-Semites and ableists. The label does not make change. Human empathy and an exchange of ideas and exposure to cultures can;” OR
- “Some people accepted, tolerated or ignored some positions they didn’t believe in at all only in order to support others they did believe in passionately;” OR
- “Those people who voted for the president-elect should now, if they don’t believe in discrimination, take an open stance against it, or their complacency makes them complicit.”
Truth: We live in a country built on extreme fault lines of discrimination, founded on principles set forth by politicians who owned slaves and defended slavery as an institution. America is 240 years old. For the majority of that time, citizens—and thus, voters—were defined as white males. Laws continue to change and evolve over time, though disparities remain between what is guaranteed by law and what is actually granted in practice. Dismantling institutionalized discrimination and bias means granting all citizens, regardless of sex, gender, sexuality, religion, race, ethnicity, physicality, etc. equal representation legally, socially and culturally.
Complications: Some people support discrimination and do not believe in equality, but rather the supremacy of one group or belief. Some people support policies or administrations that are against their own self-interest. Not everyone has equal access to an education that allows them full understanding of political practice or history. For those with varying degrees of privilege, it can difficult to determine how best to serve those who have been disenfranchised or discriminated against, without tokenizing and forcing others into the position of educating the privileged on how best to help them.
- Educate yourself.
- Listen to a predominance of voices from cultural, social, religious, racial, sexual, gendered or other backgrounds not your own.
- Instead of privileging your own voice, promote those (especially marginalized) voices to others that you feel best encapsulate your shared values.
- Practice what you preach. Lead by example.
- Accept that you can’t be everything for or to everyone.
- With permission where appropriate, join groups where you can support causes that have nothing to do with your own identities.(Don’t force your way into, though, groups that are closed.)
- That being said, find ways to get OUT of yourself.
- Listen to those groups who support discrimination so you can understand, dissect, analyze, and, refute their faulty logic or unbacked claims.
- Listen to those groups who fight discrimination and oppression so that you can do the same, but also help to bolster the arguments you believe in by researching from valid sources, and backing the claims you value with authorities you trust.
- Be informed without becoming elitist.
- Be critical of published knowledge without becoming anti-intellectual.
- Resist thinking by kneejerk party line. Above all, resist mob mentality.
- Above all, remember humanity.
- Think before you speak.
- Consider your audience every time you open your mouth or sit at your keyboard.
- Be intolerant of intolerance. Speak up. Know how to before you need to.
- Go back if you failed to in the moment. Send esprit-descalier letters to those you should have addressed initially once you find your voice and think of what you should have said.
- Be humble. Be willing to delete–or apologize for–what you have said.
- Resist voluntary deafness.
- Listen to all members of all parties in all aspects of all of humanity and choose the values you align with.
- Choose wisely, and do not demonize, villainize, stereotype, attack, or harm, physically or emotionally, those who have made other choices.
- Be passionate for kindness and understanding, even while recognizing the dangers inherent in conciliatory politics.
- Learn the difference between what is broken that you can fix, and what is fixed in place that would be better broken.
- Donate, if you have the money. Align your budget with your values if you can.
- Volunteer, if you have the time. Align your time with your values if you can.
- Don’t fall asleep again. This is real life. This is happening.
- You are here. Get going.
I have purposely left the above a bit vague and overgeneralized to allow for our family to narrow in on what we believe specifically. (If anyone is interested in supporting local groups, causes, and institutions in Muncie or Indiana at large that aim to promote justice, I’m happy to share what I’ve found.)
It is my hope, though, Lily, that in reading my letter to you, regardless of who they voted for in America, or even if they are not American, others might decide to examine their realities, beliefs, and actions. It is for this reason that, until the end, I’ve tried as hard as I possibly can to leave the analysis and actions open.
Someday, your politics will be your own, Lily, but remember that the personal is always political. And you will always be loved in this family. Excelsior!
- By Tysto – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=123743