Thursday, March 2, 2017

I got woke a little bit more at "Get Out."

Yesterday, I paid cash money to watch a horror film. This was the first time in my life that I’ve done that, and I surprised myself when I handed over the dough. But I really like Jordan Peele, and I’d heard good things about “Get Out” from people whose opinions I respect, so I took the leap.

Let me preface by saying I not only don’t like horror, I don’t much care for violence in movies, especially gratuitous violence. And even though I’m not a student of the genre, gratuitous violence kinda seems like the point to a horror film.

A crisp 103 minutes later, I was very pleased I’d gone to see it—particularly in the theater, rather than at home. Partly, that was because the audience, familiar with the tropes, warned me to shut my eyes right before something bad happened. Thanks, people at the 3:15 showing at the 34th St. Loews! 

But watching a movie that’s actually a very clear-eyed take on race with a largely black audience reminded me again of how I can never view the world in the same way a black person can.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to, of course. I just can’t. That was brought home to me again during a critical point in the movie when the protagonist(s) (no spoilers!) were in the soup and a police car rolled up. 

Yeah! The cavalry had arrived! But the audience let out a collective, weary sigh, clearly signaling they agreed “they’re screwed now.” That hit me like a slap. 

Of course I’m very aware of the way people of color are often singled out for increased scrutiny/harassment/violence from security personnel of all types. But being aware isn’t the same as having the experience. I will always be a person who’s treated with a certain amount of deference by security guards and peace officers. And many, if not most, black and brown people will not be. 

Given the issue didn’t get better in any measurable way during eight years of a president and two attorneys general who I believe truly wanted to change this fact, I’m very disheartened. But that doesn’t give me permission to just throw up my hands and write this off as a lost cause.

Those of us with privilege have to use it to try to hold our leaders responsible for this state of affairs. Obviously, this would be easier to do if all of the people who were targets of unfair treatment voted. We’re going to be a minority majority country soon, and if every member of a minority group fought for their rights, they’d be able to make some significant changes. 

But it’s hard to convince people to take part in a game they’re convinced is rigged. Again, that doesn’t mean we get a pass to ignore the issue. 

I’ve been cheered by President Obama and former A.G. Eric Holder working together to make some progress on doing away with gerrymandering, which keeps minority populations from being able to win more legislative seats. But that’s just a very preliminary step on the long road we have to cover.

We have so many critical issues to care about right now, with our current government seemingly intent on taking away every bit of progress we’ve made over the last few decades. But we’ve got to keep this issue at the top of the list. Over a hundred and fifty years after the purported end of slavery, it’s long past time to treat all of our citizens with the same level of dignity and respect.

As a GIF I saw yesterday reminded me, "Equal rights are not like pie. There's plenty for everyone."


P.S. One last thing—until 3-9-17, PBS is providing free access to a very compelling Independent Lens documentary on The Birth Of A Nation, called Birth Of  A Movement. It’s only an hour long, and well worth your time. Unless you’re a very keen student of the history of the early 20th century, you’ll learn something. And even if you are, it was nice to have a little additional light put onto this dark piece of film history. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March

Since November the eighth, I've woken with anywhere from a moderate to a severe sense of dread. Many days I labor under a pervasive sense of doom that I've been unable to shake.

I still work, but my work has been pretty lackluster. I still see friends, but nearly all of them are as upset as I am, so we try to ignore our collective ennui and have fun. But that dark shadow doesn't truly go away. It lurks around the edges, taking the shine off otherwise enriching encounters.

I long to talk about how I feel, but it has become a tail-chasing experience. No matter how many times you run around that circle, you never quite catch it.

When I first heard about the Women's March, I was pleased to learn that at least one group of people were getting off their sofas to do something positive. But I never seriously thought of going to Washington, even though it's a pretty easy trip for me. My main worry was that DC would be filled with supporters of the incoming president, and there would be far too many opportunities for me to flap my trap at provocateurs. I have bat ears, and every snide remark can goad me into responding. This isn't good for my mental health, so I try to avoid situations that might be too loaded.

I was very pleased when I heard the march was going to have local branches. Since fewer than 6% of Manhattan voted for the current president, I knew I'd be with my peeps. Perhaps that's not the ideal way to be. It would probably be better to go to Wyoming, where over 70% of the population voted for the current president. Showing up for the 2,000 women marching in Cheyenne might have been helpful, or had a bigger impact. But we can only do what we feel capable of. Self-care shouldn't be something to be ashamed of.

Armed with the knowledge that I'd be among friends, I took off from the wilds of New Jersey for the long ride into the city. Immediately, I was cheered to see that at least twenty percent of the passengers were going to the march, with pink pussy hats, pink scarves, buttons, and signs. Like breast cancer awareness month, but with an angry edge.

As we left Penn Station, a woman rode by on a bicycle, with a sign strapped to her basket, homemade pink hat in lieu of a helmet. My mood continued to brighten. As we walked, we encountered more and more women clearly headed our way. Then we noticed a lot of men in the group. That surprised me, but I was pleased. If you love women, marching for their freedom makes perfect sense.

Nearing Fifth Avenue, I heard one of those ear-splitting police cruiser horns, the kind that rattle your bones. But it wasn't a horn. It was a roar of people, their collective voices echoing off the buildings, a canyon full of outrage.

We slid into the group, immediately surrounded by surprisingly buoyant people. The roar we'd heard was almost like a wave, starting here or there and building strength as it traveled. But there were no words spoken. It wasn't a chant. I'd describe it more as a howl. Then it passed, with everyone smiling.

That's when it really hit me. We'd all been in roughly the same mental space for the past two months. This was our first time to join a group, throw our heads back, and let out a primal scream. It was incredibly heartening! You could feel peoples' moods lighten. Not because we thought anything would change in that moment. More that we we cheered to see how many of us were willing to stand up and be counted. When the president cares only about optics, it's vital to show there's a sizable group of people who disagree with his agenda, and the plans of his cabinet appointees. That's why my favorite chant of the day was "This is what democracy looks like. This is what America looks like."

This is what America looks like: all ages, all races, all sexual orientations, all gender identities, all the points on the socio-economic strata.  

This is what democracy looks like, and the march reminded me that the work of keeping democracy alive isn't done by sitting on the sidelines while a bunch of billionaires dismantles it.

I believe we've gotten lazy. Democrats have let themselves fall into the trap of believing in demographics. We see the country is slowly becoming more diverse, and we've assumed those black and brown people will logically vote Democratic. But that's a lazy way to look at it. We need to do what the Tea Party has been spectacularly successful at--starting small and working their way up.

That's why I recommend getting involved on your local level. There's a group called Indivisible, formed by former Congressional staffers, that's working to do just that.

They have branches throughout the country, focused on clawing back our state legislatures. That's what we have to focus on. We have to do something. Things won't change tomorrow. We're going to lose a LOT of rights we thought we'd locked up. So we have to be ready to yank them back. Given I'm not an anarchist, I believe the way to do that is to organize and vote. 

We screwed up in November. Now we have to use that defeat as a motivator to swear to ourselves we won't let that happen again. We might lose a skirmish, but we can't afford to lose the war. Our lives depend upon it.

I'm facing this day with a new attitude. It's not over. In fact, the fight has just begun.