Category Archives: social justice

setting an alarm (a letter to myself 6 months from now)

Dear Future Me,

I just wanted to check in with you to see how you are doing. From back here, during this first week of the new administration, things look pretty dark. When the election results came in, I braced myself for a dystopia. But I guess much like the expected death of a loved one after a long-term illness, you can never be truly prepared. The grief and shock still hit hard.

I hope that from where you stand, 6 months into the future, in July of 2017, that the outlook has improved. Hopefully impeachment processes are already underway. Hopefully rational voices have finally prevailed, even among the conservative right. I know that Pence is not the president you would ever in any way have voted for, but from back here, he looks at least sane compared to the dangerous madman now in office. If Pence is the one now in office, I hope that you are working to block his attempts to move policy back 60 years.

Either way, I hope you are still resisting. I hope that you are still outraged. I hope that by now you have attended marches and helped to keep the flames of hope going in yourself, your friends, your family and your community. Did you find a Black Lives Matter march to attend in Boston? Did you finish reading the New Jim Crow? Did you attend that talk in February at UMASS on dialect discrimination? Did you attend a march in support of science? Did you find a place to volunteer with immigrant populations? Have you done your part to help your Democratic Town Committee keep up the momentum and follow through with outreach plans?

I imagine that you are tired. While I hope that you have held on to your sanity and your health, I want to make sure that you have maintained a level of awareness that this is not normal. Have you found yourself thinking things are getting better? If so, are you sure that things really *are* getting better? Better compared to what? Have you checked in with your conscience and your friends of conscience to make sure that you are not just getting used to the new normal? 

How are Syrian refugees doing? Are we welcoming them with open arms and resources? Has all the nonsense about building a wall along the Mexico border been shut down? Has the Black Lives Matter movement been recognized as an important political movement by the mainstream? Are people expressing anti-Islamic or anti-semitic or other religion-based bigotry getting censured by the mainstream? Are our legislators working to protect all people, regardless of religious background or ethnicity or gender? What is the state of the first amendment? Is the press still free? Can people still freely assemble? Have people been able to hold on to their healthcare, or are families with sick children facing bankruptcy over life-saving medical interventions? How do things look for women’s health and access to birth control? LGBTQ rights? Public education? Climate change research? Science research in general? (I’m afraid to even ask about international relations. Please, please don’t tell me that we’ve started a new war.)

As you can see, future me, I have a lot of questions for you. But here’s the big one, the key one, that I have for you right now: Are you paying enough attention?

With love and encouragement to stay in the fight,

Present Day Me 

p.s. I hope you can write back.
p.p.s. I hope you didn’t let the crumbling of our democracy keep you from finishing your work for that NSF grant. Science and accountability are still important, right?
p.p.p.s. Did you ever finish that one crazy Hogwarts jigsaw puzzle with the irregular edge? That thing seemed pretty near impossible. 
This essay is my third entry in #52essays2017, a project to write and post an essay each week this year. (I’m a week behind, but not giving up.) To read more about the 52 essays project, visit Vanessa Martir’s Blog.
 
This post was inspired by a quote shared by a friend on Facebook, excerpted from a column in the New Yorker:

At a writers’ protest organized by the PEN America Center, on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum last Sunday, Andrew Solomon, the organization’s president, decrying Trump’s apparent disregard for free speech, quoted a South African friend who had lived through apartheid: “ ‘What is most shocking is not how shocked you are right now, what is most shocking is how unshocked you will be in six months time.’ ” Solomon went on, “When I heard him, I took it as an occasion to declare that I will remain shocked. That we will remain shocked.” –Emily Eakin, The New Yorker, January 20, 2017

I commented that the quote made me feel like I should set an alarm. I have effectively just done so. I put an event on my calendar for 6 months from today: RESIST. I wrote in my new paper planner, and put it in my computer with it set to alert me a day before. I very much hope that I remember what this means.

resist

planning the day

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
― E.B. White

I stumbled across this quote a few years ago during a visit to my mother. It was posted somewhere in her community art room, and I read it in passing. But the words followed me out, and prompted me to both look them up again, and revisit them regularly in my thoughts. E.B. White’s words nicely encapsulate so much of my inner conflict. For example, my struggles with figuring out what to post here, and on a larger scale, what to do with my life.

I find great joy in the little details in the world around me. I can get lost in the sparkle of ice on a branch or a fence, or the unexpected grace of shadows on a stairway. I often attempt to capture the beauty in photos, with varying degrees of success. I am a collector of images, and it pleases me to sort and categorize them, and share them here. A group of leaves here, an assortment of doors there, a selection of silhouettes yonder. Hell, I’ve even posted photos of storm drains and the peeling paint on dumpsters. I find beauty and comfort in seeing patterns, and putting them together.

Beyond that, the world offers a multitude of sources of enjoyment for me. I love food, I love to make things with my hands. I love art. I love music. I love reading and watching movies. I love humor and playing with words. I love the structure and richness of the world’s languages. I love doing scientific research, and finding the beauty in patterns. And I really, really love to travel. I love to spend time with my family and friends, and I love to spend time by myself doing things that I love, or thinking about doing things that I love. There is enough passion in me for so much beauty, so much wonder for the world’s amazing variety and order, that I could fill a hundred blogs (and I mean blogs, not just posts) if only I had the time to do so.

On the other hand, there is so much ugliness in the world that I can’t ignore. News reports of police shootings. Stories of the plight of refugees. Data reflecting the threats to our planet’s equilibrium through climate change. Systemic racism and misogyny and homophobia and xenophobia and so many other biases. Horrific acts perpetrated by governments and individual acting on their behalf, in blindness to the systemic biases in the system and the damage they inflict. Horrific acts being perpetrated by individuals, often growing out of the collective illness of our society. There is so much societal injustice that needs to be addressed, and I regularly feel the call to address it. How can I sit back and write silly posts about pants when there are people literally dying in the street? What good are my sets of colorful leaf photos to a world in which hundreds of thousands of displaced people want nothing more right now than food, shelter and safety for their families? If I’m going to be writing or posting, shouldn’t I be putting my energy into addressing the injustices of the world?

Further, frankly, writing about difficult topics is…difficult. While I have ventured into social justice topics in my writing, such forays take a lot out of me. I want to be able back my claims with data and sources. Moreover, I want to choose my words with care, lest I inadvertently do harm to the very cause which I am hoping to contribute to. I worry about provoking backlash, both from those who disagree with me, and from those who largely agree with me but find fault with my words or understanding. I am flawed and learning and growing, and I am prone to mistakes.

It has been this tension within me, the pull to share posts reflecting my enjoyment of the world against the pull to lend my voice to improving the world, that largely kept me from posting or doing anything creative at all for many months. I wanted to post light things, felt like I should post heavy things, and in the end generally posted nothing.

I have come around the realization that I really want to do both things, and that I can do both. They may not be equal in measure, but I am giving myself permission to express myself creatively and also, at least occasionally, write about topics that I consider deeply important. I can feed both of the desires, and both can help me to grow, and grow stronger.
This essay is my first entry in #52essays2017, a project to write and post an essay each week this year. To read more about the project, visit Vanessa Martir’s Blog.

resistance is not futile

mail

I engaged in an act of political resistance this week. I sent a letter to each of the 20 electors of Pennsylvannia to urge them to consider casting their vote for anyone who shows better respect for international diplomacy and the office of president than the president-elect. I don’t expect my letters to change any minds. There’s a good chance my letters won’t even be read, that they won’t arrive before the electoral college meets. That they will be buried in the bags of letters being sent. Even so, I wanted to add my plea to those of many thousands of others to voice that the upcoming administration does not have a mandate to carry out policy changes that put our world at risk.

As an aside, when I stopped by the post office to buy my stamps and mail my letters, I was amused by one of the signs in this quaint little scene at the back of the building.

loading-dock

“Do not climb or jump on or off the dock. Use stairs or ramp.”

jump

It is rare that we are publicly invited to jump off stairs in public buildings. (But I did resist the temptation.)

 

the flawed scales of justice

I have been spending a lot of time thinking and reading about the imbalances in the way that justice is served in this country, the US, especially those imbalances based on race. I hope to make the time soon to write more about this, because my conscience is chiding me for my apparent silence over the recent egregious examples of racial injustice and glaring evidence of systemic racism in the US. Far from being unconcerned, I am trying not to be overwhelmed. There is too much to say. I find myself so grateful that I have friends who are outspoken in their anger over recent current events and who have shared their words and links to the words of others. There is so very much to be angry about, and so much work to be done.

the little gray hoodie on the hook

We wear hoodies in our family, all 4 of us. I am the mother of 2 young children, one a little boy. He probably has more hoodies than the rest of us, in a range of colors. He even has a gray hoodie, one that we got during our visit to my husband’s high school for a reunion a few months ago. Each day when we send him to his pre-K class, we have to send him in with a sweater or sweatshirt. Even on hot summer days, since New England weather can turn quickly, or the air conditioning inside can be excessive. This past week, I have found myself consciously avoiding that gray hoodie. I see it hanging there on the hook on the back of a door, along with the yellow hoodie and the blue one with the prints of cars.

I look at that little gray hoodie, and my heart hurts. I can’t even bear the thought of posting a photo of my little boy in his gray hoodie, because of the association with the vulnerability of being a target. Because of the association with a boy who lost his life, and a mother who lost her child.

One day my little boy will be the same age as Trayvon Martin was that night last year. He will be a teenage boy, with the range of moods and sometimes unpredictable behavior that come with that stage. He may be an honor student, or a rebel, or a little of each. He may choose to behave exactly as Trayvon did, buy the same candy and sugary drink. Want to walk out in the rain to get away from adult company. He may be the same height and build as Trayvon. He may choose to dress exactly as Trayvon did. And yet I also know that he will never be a target in the same way that Trayvon Martin was. The privilege of white skin will give him license to wear that hoodie, to walk in an unfamiliar neighborhood, to shop in a store, without being profiled by default as a potential threat.

The discourse of the past 2 weeks reminds me of the privilege that I have and that my family has. The fact that I can be reminded of my privilege is itself a hallmark of privilege: I have the luxury to be able to regularly forget. Where I live, I can drive around my town, I can walk through my neighborhood, shop in any store, without once wondering if the color of my skin will attract negative attention. I know that I don’t entirely fit in where I live, and my hairstyle and clothes mark me as a bit different. But never in a threatening way. I can dress like a slob without worrying that it reflects badly on my heritage. I can drive a nice car without raising any eyebrows, or drive a beat-up car without people assuming that I am poor. As a white female, people make lots of assumptions about me, which may or may not in any way reflect who I am. But none of the assumptions put me at higher risk of being stopped by the police, or worse, someone like Zimmerman: highly armed but poorly trained, full of anger and self-righteousness and fear.

I have been feeling heartsick since Zimmerman’s acquittal. The messages I read from that verdict and some of the ensuing discourse just drive home to me how far our society has yet to go to achieve equality. I have the sense that this country is divided: those who see the systemic inequity and the harmful biases, and those who are unwilling or unable to see them. I know that I live in a society that continues to have systemic racism. I am ashamed to sometimes see evidence of that racism in my own thoughts, my own assumptions. Much as I sometimes find my thoughts reflecting sexism, ablism, agism, classism and so many of the other isms that are part of our society. But I call myself out. Sometimes I even have the courage to call out others when I see it.

I have had conversations with close friends and family members, and feel lucky that those closest to me see things much as I do. But I am realizing that these private conversations with like-minded people are not enough. I need to make a public stand, even if in my small way, by writing here. I know that people who are blind to what I see, to both systemic racism and the privilege that allows them that blindness, are not necessarily bad people. I know people, some of them even friends or family members, who fit into these categories. Even thinking about starting conversations with them about race and privilege exhausts me. But I am thinking about these things, and with this post, I am showing that I am willing to be part of this conversation.

I have been reading posts and articles every day since the news of Zimmerman’s acquittal. I have spent a lot of time reflecting. I have felt outrage and deep sadness, but also great hope that this conversation will continue, and will bring progress. I am busy and am protective of the time I need to spend on my work and family obligations. However, this conversation is too important to me. I need to be part of the conversation because I want my children to grow up in a world where no child’s life is cut short by others’ assumptions about race.

I want to live in a world where a mother’s worries about her son’s choice to wear a hoodie when he goes out on a walk will never be about anything more weighty than whether that hoodie will be warm enough.

I have recently read lots of post relating to the death of Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman’s acquittal, and privilege. Here are some of the ones that have stuck with me:

If you have written things about these topics yourself, or read things that moved you, please feel free to share links in the comments.

The September 2010 Just Posts

Welcome to the September 2010 Just Posts, the latest edition of a monthly roundtable of posts on a range of topics relating to activism and social justice hosted here and at Cold Spaghetti. Please show your support and check out the great posts on the list below!

If you have a post in the list above, or would just like to support the Just Posts, we invite you to display a button on your blog with a link back here, or to the Just Posts at Cold Spaghetti. If you would like to have a post included next month, you can find out how to submit posts and all sorts of other stuff about the Just Posts at the information page.

The August 2010 Just Posts

Welcome to the latest Just Post roundtable, a collection of posts from the month of July on topics relating to social justice hosted here and at Cold Spaghetti.

The posts of this month’s roundtable were nominated by:

If you have a post in the list above, or would just like to support the Just Posts, we invite you to display a button on your blog with a link back here, or to the Just Posts at Cold Spaghetti. If you would like to have a post included next month, you can find out how to submit posts and all sorts of other stuff about the Just Posts at the information page.