Tag Archives: US politics

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

signs of the times

I know that everyone and their mother and their dog and the fleas on their dog’s back is thoroughly and entirely tired of hearing about the stinkin’ US presidential election.¹ But this time, I’m going talk about a different race: the Massachusetts senatorial race. Not even really about the race. About the sign we have in our front yard. (But maybe your dog and its fleas should leave the room, anyhow.)

Early in 2010, Massachusetts held a special election to fill the seat that had long been held by Ted Kennedy, after his death. I was not happy about the results.² Happily, there is a new candidate for senate this time, and one I enthusiastically support: Elizabeth Warren

I have been marginally involved with the Elizabeth Warren campaign. I did a very small bit of phone banking, and an afternoon of door-to-door canvassing. And I signed up to put up a yard sign.

This may seem like no big deal, but it actually was a bit of a deal. Perhaps a medium-sized deal.

We’ve never had a yard sign up before. We support candidates in a variety of ways, but not typically with signs. One issue is that we are non-confrontational, and somewhat private. Anyone who knows me well knows how I lean politically. But it has generally not been the case that people who don’t know me well would necessarily know.

It should also be noted that while we live in a blue state, our town is far from blue. We live in Scott Brown territory. Back in August, when I put up our sign, I don’t remember seeing any other Elizabeth Warren signs. (Happily, there are some others scattered around town now.)

You may wonder whether having a sign up does any good at all, but I have to say that I think it matters. Especially in areas where signs for one candidate dominate. People driving by see that there is diversity of opinion. Closet supporters of a candidate feel heartened. Open supporters feel bolstered. (I know I am happy whenever I see other Elizabeth Warren signs in my area.)

But, it also publicly marks us. And in these rather ugly times, with so much open hostility surfacing with election, that’s not always a comfortable feeling. One afternoon, while I waited at the top of our driveway for Phoebe’s school bus, I noticed someone giving me a dirty look as he drove by. In the next day or so, our sign disappeared. Coincidence?

John’s response was to order 2 new signs. A few weeks later, we had a sign back up in the yard. The 2nd new sign was kept as a back-up, in case the new sign also disappearead.

I’m happy to say that our current sign has weathered both the ravages of weather and hostile neighbors. We have not needed to break out the emergency back-up sign.


Here is our first sign, in early September, shortly before the sign’s disappearance. Note the green leaves on the trees.


Here is the replacement sign, several weeks later.


Here’s the sign again, just this afternoon. Still there! And check out all the leaves, none of which remain on the trees.


Here is our back-up sign, at the top of the stairs, in front of a bookcase. Note the lack of leaves, but the presence of a Duplo robot and some light bulbs.

Phoebe and I also got to meet Elizabeth Warren at an event at her Worcester campaign office, which was enormously exciting for me. I was more than a little star-struck, but Ms. Warren was gracious and kind, and spent several minutes talking with Phoebe. Here they are doing a pinky promise.

¹ Especially you poor souls in swing states.

² I concede that Scott Brown has turned out to have been not as extreme as I feared, and has even occasionally broken with his party in his voting. However, he still by and large doesn’t represent me and my views. But I don’t want this post to be about him.

³ The reasons I support Elizabeth Warren are many and varied, but a good indication of them can be seen from my results from ISideWith, a website that shows how well you mesh with candidates based on answering policy-based questions. I scored a 96% overlap with Elizabeth Warren, and only 52% with Scott Brown. (For the record, for the presidential race, my highest score, 97%, is for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Second is Obama, with 90%. As for my overlap with Romney? 6%. I kid you not. That’s not a typo. Less than 10%. Of course, I don’t know how they determined Romney’s positions on policy, because they seem to be moving targets to me…)

a binder, goofier discourse

With apologies to my international friends and readers who either aren’t following, or are getting more than they’d like about, the US presidential race. For my friends and readers in the US who are still hearing more than they’d like about the US presidential race, I feel your pain. But I’m going to go ahead and post anyhow.

On Tuesday night, I faced the debates with a knot in my stomach.

That last few months have been increasingly stressful for all in this country who have convictions about what is best (or worst) for the country. The discourse has become increasingly ugly. Civility has left the building.

It won’t surprise anyone who reads this blog regularly that I am left-leaning.¹ I voted for Obama in 2008, and will enthusiastically vote for him again this year for a variety of reasons. But that’s beside the point.²

The point is that I watched the debate with many months of tension building, expecting to feel outraged. Dismayed. Disturbed.

What I did not expect was to go to bed giggling that night, and to wake up feeling like a 50-pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

I thank the binders full of women.³

I have a number of friends and relations who really didn’t see what’s so funny about “binders full of women.” They saw the reaction to it as blown out of proportion for a simple poor choice of phrase. They saw it as distracting from the real issues.

But I saw it as funny.

Really, really funny.

I loved the way people ran with it, and the many, many clever and quick responses.⁴ Sure, Romney’s phrase was only slightly off. If he’d phrased things a little less awkwardly, there might have been nought to run with. But the phrase brought up absurd imagery. And run with it, people did. To my great enjoyment.⁵

For the record, there were plenty of things that Romney said during the debate that I objected to. Things having to do with real issues that I care about deeply. But for all the critically important well-constructed arguments on the issues, for all the articles and the numbers and the counterpoints, none of them has given me so much relief and release and actual hope about the outcome of this election as the binders full of women comment and the ensuing flood of mockery.

So thank you, internetz. You came through for me this time. And thank you, Mitt.⁶


There are some good analyses out there about why the phrase got such a broad⁷ response. I though this one from the Guardian, brought to my attention by laloca, was particulary good. Here’s an excerpt:

Why did the phrase resonate? Because it was tone deaf, condescending and out of touch with the actual economic issues that women are so bothered about. The phrase objectified and dehumanized women. It played right into the perception that so many women have feared about a Romney administration – that a president Romney would be sexist and set women back. And it turns out the way Romney presented it – that he asked for a study of women in leadership positions – wasn’t true anyway.

¹ I regularly lean really, really far to the left, but I have good balance, so I don’t usually fall over.

² Sort of.

³ In case you missed it, “binders full of women” was an unfortunate phrase used by Romney when telling an anecdote about his efforts to recruit women for positions on his cabinet as Governor of Massachusetts.

And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And they brought us whole binders full of — of women.

To see the full transcript, with a really cool interactive feature that lets you play the section of video from the transcript, check out this page on the 2nd debate at the New York Times.

⁴ Like these, most (if not all) of which can be found on the binders full of women tumblr: 3 rings to rule them all, nobody put’s baby in a binder, Binder?, Gobias, txt from Hillary, Hefner, Bill Clinton. Or the Facebook page, which someone started within seconds of the phrase being uttered. Or the reviews on this binder on Amazon. Or this one.

⁵ I’m sorry, but if the RNC can go gung-ho and build a whole convention theme around a poorly phrased bit of reference ambiguity offered by Obama, folks can have a little fun with Romney’s poorly phrased bit of metonymy.

⁶ Not something that my friends have expected to hear from me.

⁷ Heh. I said “broad.”