Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fired Up! Reclaim Women's Equality Day

Update: Rally at 4:30pm Monday, not at 1pm, as previously announced.

I don't know about you but I've had enough. I've had enough of the venomous anti-woman agenda of the Republican party, the leadership of which is more concerned about proving to the right-wing extremists controlling their party that they're really as anti-abortion as it's possible to be. It's ridiculous to call them "pro-life" because they oppose abortion even to save a woman's life. I don't know what that is, but it sure as hell isn't "pro-life." It comes closer to pro-death.

The Republican anti-woman agenda includes denying women equal pay for equal work, aggressively going after Planned Parenthood and other women's health care providers, outlawing abortion, and limiting access to contraceptives. Now all are agape at Todd Akin's supposed slip, in which he says exactly what he means, reiterating the right-wing fantasy that in cases of "legitimate" rape a woman has the magical power to "shut the whole thing down" and prevent pregnancy. The obvious implication is that if you get pregnant from rape, it isn't a "legitimate" rape. Whatever the hell that is.

Since then, Akin and every Republican running for office across the land have fallen all over themselves trying to back away from Akin's callous remarks and what they reveal: the party's deep-seated contempt for women. That's what this is really all about. Women, who apparently lie about rape and are prone to hysteria, cannot be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies.

This message is brought to you by the toxic rape culture in which we live. The message is precisely the same as that of every rapist: "You don't get to decide what happens to your own body. I do."

Rep. Akin, you are seriously mistaken. You and Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and all the other sad little members of the Republican misogynists' club. Enough of you! Over ninety years ago the women of this country rose up and fought like hell for the right to vote and the right to hold public office. In the spirit of their fight and what they achieved, we are rising up too, for the sake of our daughters and sons, for the sake of our planet, for the sake of our democracy.

In 1971, the U.S. Congress designated August 26 of each year as "Women's Equality Day." Eager as we are to acknowledge all that our foremothers accomplished, we also recognize that we have a lot more work to do to gain women full equality and the respect they deserve.

On Monday, August 27, at 1pm 4:30pm, all of you women and the men who support you, join us on the west side of the Wisconsin State capitol in Madison for "Reclaim Women's Equality Day." After we gather, we'll encircle the capitol in a live demonstration of our commitment to continue the work of our foremothers in ensuring women's equality.

You members of the misogynist party, we're putting you on notice. We're fired up, and we're not gonna take it anymore!

Update! Update! Update!

The time of the Reclaim Women's Equality Day rally has been changed to 4:30pm on Monday. Please help spread the word!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reclaiming the Commons

Advertisements insidiously worm their way into our hearts and minds despite our best efforts to tune them out (which is why Tom and I don't watch TV anymore). They must be accomplishing something, or advertisers wouldn't shell out the big bucks for them, would they?

But isn't there some kind of saturation point? Aren't we getting to a place where people are just sick to death of always having stuff hawked and pushed at them? Does anyone else ever feel like you spend your whole goddamn life in a marketplace, with sellers screeching at you nonstop?

This must be why younger people are known to be a more susceptible "market." (They're human beings—not a market!) They haven't yet reached their saturation point.

I just have to say shout this: I am not a consumer! I am a human being! I am not a market! I'm a person!

Capitalism is all well and good to a point, but could we put some boundaries around it so that not every goddamn thing in life is first and foremost a money-making opportunity? There are many arenas in life that are not appropriate for capitalist meddling. Prisons. Health care. Education. Military. This shouldn't be so very hard to grasp, but the folks currently holding the reins—that would be the corporate 1%—don't have the first clue.

How can we have a prison system that makes more money when there are more prisoners? The system has a vested interest in putting more people in jail. How can that possibly work in the cause of justice?

How can we have a health care system that makes more money when people are sick? Or that turns away those who are sick because they are unprofitable? The system has a vested interest in people being ill and needing more "care," provided they have the means to pay for it. How can that possibly work in the cause of health?

How can we have an education system that makes money off of our children's future? The system has a vested interest in enrolling as many children as possible and churning out cookie-cutter automatons ready to be fed into the corporate profit machine. How can that possibly work in the cause of education?

How can we have a military system that makes more money when we are at war? The system has a vested interest in devastating parts of the planet where other profit makers plan to establish more "profit centers." How can that possibly work in the cause of peace?

The same can be said of journalism. How can we have "news" sources whose sole purpose is to make money? The system has a vested interest in not offending its corporate sponsors. How can that possibly work in the cause of truth?

And public transportation. Our poor beleaguered planet is begging us to figure out how to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. Is this really so beyond us? Yes, doing so will cause some disruption for those whose livelihoods come from fossil fuels. But won't the solutions also provide livelihoods? And can we not assist those working in a harmful industry to transition to a less harmful one?

The fact is that we have allowed capitalism to run amok, to the point that it has metastasized. It has invaded area after area where it doesn't belong. It needs to be excised before it completely cuts off our vital organs and reduces us to a neofeudal machine in which the only acknowledged "good" is profit, that is, profit for the very few. Walmart wages and Walmart living for the rest of us. That would be hell on earth, and that is precisely where we're heading.

Is there anything wrong with ordering our common life for the common good, rather than for the profit of the very, very few? Could we not declare some areas of life off-limits to the profit makers? This is not a new or radical or alien idea. The ordering of the lives of all for the profit of a very few isn't a new idea either. It's been called many things: feudalism, plutocracy, fascism, to name a few. And we've seen how those have worked out—not well at all.

It's time to choose, time to get busy and root out the sanctified greed that is causing the rapid deterioration of our common life. Time for all of us to pitch in and push, not for what will benefit only you and yours (or more accurately, them and theirs, as in the 1%). Rather it's time we all worked for what will benefit the human family. It's time to roll up our collective sleeves, work together tirelessly and joyously to restore the common good. It's time to reclaim the commons.

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Many thanks to Ricardo Levins Morales for the Reclaim the Commons poster.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Driving Out Darkness

The shootings Sunday in a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, have affected me very much as they have affected others. I am sad, shocked, stricken. Coming so soon on the heels of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, it's hard not to feel that hate and violence have gained the upper hand.

About the same time I heard about the shootings in Oak Creek, I found myself on the receiving end of some nasty vitriol. This happens from time to time when you're very fat, as I am. Many people believe it's possible—and obligatory—for all of us who are larger than average to better conform to the norm. In my experience, in this body I live in, I have not found it possible for longer than a year or so.

My many determined attempts earlier in my life to lose weight always ended in misery, with me gaining back all the weight I lost, and then another 25 percent besides, at which point I hated myself and my body more than ever. I have come to accept, though, that my body is more determined to save me from starvation than I could ever be to whittle it down to a socially acceptable size on a long-term basis.

After a long and tortuous journey, I have come to love and respect the body I live in, to honor what my body and I have been through together, to reject the ubiquitous pressure to be other than I am. That doesn't mean I've given up. Quite the contrary. It means that my relationship with my body is on much friendlier terms and I am free to care for it in the ways that work best for me. I also believe that my relationship with my body is my business alone. I am under no obligation to explain or apologize for my size. The judgments of others are not my problem unless I allow them to be.

But every now and then, judgment and hate come from an unexpected quarter, from someone I consider an ally, a fellow traveler. This happened Sunday on Facebook. Every time this sort of thing occurs, I have to shore myself up, give myself a good talking to, and actively resist colluding in the judgment of the hater.

Coming from someone I had thought a friend, the hate was very hard to take. I was hurt, and I took it personally. I had expressed my objection to a photo making the rounds that showed a very fat person sitting on a flimsy chair. That photo, taken from the back and not showing the person's head, is in itself designed to dehumanize and objectify the person. In the photo, "Chick-fil-A" had been photoshopped onto the back of the chair, and the text said "Welcome to Chick-fil-A, where being obese is 'genetic' but being gay is a 'lifestyle choice.'"

I felt I had to respond, because in such instances silence is the same as giving assent. I couldn't, in good conscience, do that. I registered my objection by posting a link to a Jezebel article by Lindy West, "I Know You're Mad at Chick-fil-A, but Stop Taking It Out on Fat People," that very articulately raises the same points I wanted to make. I never expected the venomous response I got. I pointed out that the hater was talking about me personally. And I tried to make sure that he had read the most salient part of the article:
We live in a culture where bullying is both socially acceptable and state-sanctioned. And it's that fucked-up aspect of our culture that makes Chick-Fil-A's anti-gay bullying a legitimate political stance rather than just the ramblings of some wacko fringe pariah. Our permissiveness around bullying is what's fueling this entire "debate." So to fight those bullies with bullying of our own isn't just counterintuitive—it contributes directly to the climate that keeps bigots like Chick-Fil-A above water.
Alas, not much of that sunk in, and after a couple more hateful exchanges, I gave up. I just couldn't subject myself to any more of it.

But I have a dear friend who also spoke up. I had reacted defensively, as though the entire conversation was really all about me. But my friend was more understanding. She engaged him further, and ultimately he admitted that his hatred was really directed at himself and his own body. He had lost some weight; he had hated himself when he was heavier. He felt justified in his hate.

What a revelation this was to me. First, given my personal vulnerability, I am so grateful that I didn't wade into these perilous waters alone. Second, my friend was able to practice kindness when I was not. Her persistence was a gift to me. Whereas before I had felt only horror, after I read what the hater said about hating himself when he was fat, I understood that the conversation had very little to do with me.

Thus my friend handed me the only really effective means of driving out the darkness of hate: forgiveness. In fact, when I understood what was really going on, I realized that forgiving this hater was no different from forgiving my former fat-loathing self. It took me a long, long time to be able to love myself the way I am. Perhaps it will take this hater as long or longer. I can only wish him well on his journey.

Perhaps hate always involves our feelings about ourselves—fears, insecurities, perceived inadequacies. In understanding this, I came to feel compassion for the hater, and I felt free to love him and forgive him and wish him well. I consider him a fellow traveler now more than I did before. He may not consider me the same, but it doesn't matter. I have my weapon—forgiveness—and I will wield it as ruthlessly as I'm able to drive out both the darkness within and the darkness without.

I'm not altogether sure how to wield it where the shootings in Oak Creek are concerned, but certainly the shooter's act was motivated by hate. And certainly at some point in processing what has happened, forgiveness will or can be a force for healing. We must counter hate as best we can in all its guises—the gross, horrific ones and the small, sad ones, both of which I experienced on Sunday.

Certainly our impulses toward solidarity and support that cross the barriers that usually divide us must be nurtured and encouraged as expressions of the imperative need for love to triumph over hate. The lessons we learn as we strive for healing must be shared and remembered and emblazoned on our hearts.

For my part, I will think twice when next I personally encounter hate. I will think about what it is in the hater's life that drives them and binds them. I will seek to forgive and to understand as best I can. I hope I will remember that they are not really all that different from me, and that the worst of their hatred is directed inward.

At the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a sermon on loving our enemies. He wrote it while in jail during the Montgomery bus boycott. It's well worth taking the time to read the whole thing—it's not that long—but here's the most powerful part:
To our most bitter opponents we say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. ... Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. ... We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory."

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Many thanks to the Overpass Light Brigade for the "Practice Peace" photo.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Poetry Break

Ancient Dreams

Ancient dreams
awake in the longing
of the night.
Who am I
when I close
my eyes?

I am the
revered body,
the sanctified
I am the
of tribes.
I am pride
into bright days
of abundance.
I am the
awakening of
ancient dreams.
--Mary Ray Worley,
August 1, 2012

The photo is of the an ancient statue called the Dreamer of Malta, from around 3000 b.c.e.