#metoo

Since about mid-September, I’ve been thinking back to, “This time last year….”

This time last year, we were closing in on the US presidential election. I was not certain that Clinton was going to win. I knew nothing was a given. But I was hopeful. Having grown up in evangelicalism, I have as many conservative friends as liberal ones. I know them to be good people. Surely the majority of Republican America would not vote for this man.

And yeah, yeah, HRC got 3 million more votes than Trump. That is the tiniest bit comforting. But just the tiniest bit, because Trump still got almost 63 million votes.

This time last year, I was daring to believe that there weren’t that many people who would put up with his shit. I was wrong.

I’ve been debating whether or not to post #metoo. Because of course, #metoo. Reading the avalanche of #metoo stories, I feel as I did watching the second presidential debate, almost exactly a year ago, when Trump incessantly interrupted Clinton and paced menacingly behind her: I feel like I can’t breathe.

Over the years, I’ve heard people say, “There’s no need for feminism anymore.” I witness that is their reality, that they feel no need for it, but there are millions of us gasping for the air of autonomy. To not be interrupted. To not have our space taken away from us. To not have to contort our selves into ever smaller shapes to make room for others’ sprawling colonization of our space. And of course, to not be raped. To not be blamed and shamed.

It is part of my story, one that I tell openly, that I’ve dealt with depression since I was 13 years old. I don’t view it as a pathology so much as a completely appropriate response to having read a history book. An appropriate response to the feeling of fingers beginning to creep around my neck, squeezing my throat, threatening my breath. I was so young, but I was already experiencing the silencing of my girl voice and objectification of my girl body.

One might call what I was feeling grief. As I’ve grown older, as I’ve surrounded my self with friends and a life partner and poets and other authors who are witnesses, who get it, I’ve come out the other side of grieving. The depression has subsequently eased.

I have to admit that as I’ve read all of the #metoo stories this week, I have been scared of grieving again. So much grief. How can we bear it? Especially, how can we bear it in this world where even a man who claims to be an ally, joining our marches, has assaulted dozens of women? Where a man stalks a woman, openly, in front of God and everybody, and 63 million people say, “Yes, he should be the most powerful man in the world”?

I don’t know the answer. All I know is #metoo.

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I’m Not Angry. I’m Awake.

I’m not angry. I’m awake.

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about the manipulations that are used to keep people – especially historically disenfranchised people, such as women and minorities – out of places of power. This happens in systemic ways, and it happens in every day personal interactions.

A few years ago and again this week, I had an experience where I was, open-heartedly and with great vulnerability, sharing my thoughts and feelings with other women. What I was telling them weren’t my edicts on the world. They weren’t even feelings I would share publicly, as they were thoughts-in-process. I was searching, to sort through them and pick out conclusions that were good and useful.

The women cut my process short by leveling an accusation at me: I was angry.

This stung me, the pastor’s daughter. This stung me, the authority pleaser. This stung me, the woman who didn’t locate my nexus of control inside myself until my mid-20s.

An extra layer of hurt was added because both were women who would have described themselves as feminists, and because they were older women whom I looked up to.

Anger is a word lobbed at those-with-less-power to discount our experiences: “You’re just angry.” I don’t think the women I was talking with meant to invoke this historical context of the anger accusation. I think what we were discussing triggered their own feelings. It was still an arrow that hit an old, scarred-yet-tender mark in my heart.

I’ve been sitting with this today. I lit a candle. I said a prayer that I would find the truth I needed from this situation. The words just came to me: I’m not angry. I’m awake.

I am a gentle, kind, thirsting-for-righteousness woman who has taken back (from history and society and specific experiences) my power. I am human and imperfect, so sometimes I say the wrong thing or act the wrong way. I am always willing to apologize. In fact, I find peace and healing in saying, “I’m sorry.” I see injustice and powerlessness and pain, and I recognize it and I often use words to express my witness of it.

I’m not angry. I’m awake.

Amen.

The Alt-Right, Systemic Inequality in Charlottesville, and What to Do on Saturday

This Saturday, the alt-right is holding a rally in Charlottesville, on the heels of a KKK event in our city earlier this summer. The KKK members were not from Cville. They were from North Carolina. They came to protest our city’s decision to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and to rename two parks previoulsy named in honor of the men. The alt-right event this weekend is a further protest in the same vein.

There are expected to be many more people showing up at counterprotests, in support of equality and justice and love. Businesses on our downtown mall – a hub of Cville community life within walking distance from the planned alt-right rally – are hanging signs in their windows that read:
“If equality and diversity aren’t for you, then neither are we
We are OPEN in protest of recent demonstrations of hate
Minority rights are human rights”

Others are declaring their business a safe space. One restaurant’s sign reads:
“We are a safe space.
If you are victimized, please come inside!
We will call the authorities for you!”

The message ends with a hand-drawn heart.

The alt-right presence in our city is disgusting. The response of defiance from many in our community, of anger over injustice, is heartening.

And.

And many have argued (importantly, people of color have argued) that the alt-right and KKK rallies are not the scariest expression of racism in Charlottesville. It’s the “quiet” racism, the kind that doesn’t wear a white hat but makes decisions. It’s the racism in courts and places where policies are made.

UVA alum Martese Johnson and Aryn Frazier laid out this case in a succinct, thoughtful essay: “Why the upcoming alt-right rally in Charlottesville may be less important than we think.”

They wrote:
“But the media should also cover [in addition to alt-right and KKK protests] the outcomes of the myriad town halls called to garner solutions to issues of racial injustice that either followed or preceded this most recent display of bigotry. Inform viewers of whether their elected and appointed officials are simply paying lip service to these causes and using time and money to seem as though they are addressing the problems everyday citizens and citizen-activists have brought to their attention, or if they are actually moving policy and practices to be more in line with equality and justice.”

The racism in policy and practice must be what we fight against every day. White people like me can support people of color who are working for change in Charlottesville, through organizations like our local NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Legal Aid Justice Center, and the Women’s Initiative – which offers, among other things, support groups and services to women of color – to name a few.

That’s not to say that we don’t show up on Saturday, too. I read on the Facebook page of one community leader, addressing the questions of white people on how we can support the fight for equality, that there has to be many different approaches to combating racism. Likewise, there are many different ways of showing up on Saturday.

The JMRL Central Library is going to be closed on Saturday due to safety concerns stemming from the rallies, but the other branches will be open. I’m going to take my girls tomorrow afternoon to check out books about black lives and black leaders. Together Cville has compiled a list of community events being held this weekend.

After this weekend, after Charlottesville drops out of national headlines for the racist rallies being held here, we will still be a town sitting in the long shadow of a plantation. Racism is our history, and it is our present. Making a different future will require us showing up every day.

Don’t Boo, Vote

Just voted in our VA state primary.

The last time I left this polling place, my heart was full of hope and love. And I spent the next day crying.

I still love you, America. I love our ideals, and I love that I have the freedom to call out the many ways that we fail to live up to our ideals. You – we – are far from perfect, but I can hold my little girl’s hand as I walk into a local school to vote. And for that I am grateful.