Category Archives: Politics

On Connecticut’s Fiscal Year 2018-19 Budget, and Concentrated Activism

So, for the second or third year in a row (at least, but remember I’m fairly new to caring about this) there are cuts in Malloy’s budget for the state. In previous years, Connecticut libraries lost massive funding for their delivery system, and we’ve never recovered. We also have not had a statewide catalog for well over a year, maybe even two. CT Humanities had to eliminate their Quick Grant program last year due to cuts, which means less funding for cultural programs in libraries. And the parks. Several state parks reduced their hours, or camping seasons, and some parks closed their campgrounds entirely. This year, the statewide library delivery system, CT Humanities, and DEEP are all facing cuts yet again. I don’t know how we’re supposed to handle it. And I’m especially angry about the state parks, and especially because the season passes and parking fees that I proudly paid, thinking I was supporting the parks, goes into the state’s general fund. So I sent an email to Governor Malloy, and also gave it as written testimony to the Appropriations Committee that is doing public hearings about the budget this weekend:

I am writing to urge you to preserve funding for Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which is facing a cut in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Growing up at the foot of Blue Mountain in eastern Pennsylvania, I learned to value the beauty and importance of our country’s natural landscape and resources. My childhood was spent hiking on trails, making lean-tos, memorizing bird species, and camping in state parks. As a child, I also saw the environmental devastation brought by zinc companies, which stripped all animal and plant life from one side of the mountain for decades.

As an adult who has lived in Connecticut since 2011, I now value our natural resources even more. I live a five minute drive away from Sleeping Giant State Park, and I have spent countless afternoons hiking its trails – and exploring trails in parks throughout the state – with my husband and dog in pursuit of exercise, education, and entertainment that requires little or no money. Sometimes in the parks, I find myself with a few moments of privacy within our densely-populated state, and at other times, I find community in other Connecticans who are out enjoying nature with their own families, and who also believe in the importance of preserving our natural spaces within the state park system.

However, our parks system is not perfect. Our state parks are severely underfunded, with Connecticut ranking 49th out of all 50 states for lowest percentage of the overall state budget allocated to parks. Our camping facilities are not as modernized and welcoming as those in nearby states, with privies in campsites like Macedonia Brook State Park, and only one dog-friendly campground in the entire state after the closure of the Connecticut’s second dog-friendly campground, Devil’s Hopyard State Park, last July.

I strongly believe in the importance of maintaining our state parks for recreational, educational, and health purposes. Our state parks are open to enjoyment by all residents, and parks like People’s State Forest, Gillette Castle, Wolf Den, and Day Pond preserve local history within the park borders. Time outdoors has been linked to lower rates of obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression in children, and adults are well-aware of the peaceful effects of walking in nature. Without our state parks providing experiences of the natural world, we will be less healthy and less happy – and without their protection through DEEP, we may lose those valuable experiences and resources, the way my hometown lost part of their mountain.

An easy first step to preserve DEEP funding is to separate the parking fee revenues at our state parks, which currently goes into the general fund, into a fund earmarked solely for parks. It is estimated that this move alone would provide around $6 million in revenue. I am also in support of a $10 charge on all vehicle registrations in exchange for free parking at our state parks, which would encourage more Connecticans to utilize our protected natural spaces and generate an estimated $14.3 million in revenue.

Our state’s parks are too important to us, and to our children, for us to further reduce their already shamefully low amount of funding.

Yesterday, after going to a work-related social justice event and running errands, I drove up to Hartford so I could give testimony in-person. Fun fact: if you want to be in the lottery for speaking order at a 4:30pm public hearing at the Hartford Legislative Building, you must show up between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm. I, like many people, am terrible at digesting information that I read on a computer/phone screen, so I missed this. Not that I could have really done anything about it, really. So I wandered around for about 10 minutes, wondering if everyone else wearing suits and business attire were there on behalf of their jobs or if I was just breaking an unspoken norm by wearing jeans, and found some security guards and staff members who helped me get on the end of the speaking list. It was nearly 8:30 by the time I got my three minutes to speak, and I focused on my experiences as a kid in a poor family whose vacations were hiking on trails and visiting state parks, how state parks are open to everyone, how they preserve local history and improve health, and how Connecticut is beautiful and it’s a state that deserves a robust park system. It was a really long day and I had to wake up and go to work early the next morning, but I’m glad I came out to see the hearing process and meet other people who are fighting on behalf of DEEP. I’m also glad to see that the Appropriations Committee was sympathetic to the vast majority of those giving testimony. I’m under the impression that the speakers who showed up are frequent advocates in Hartford, and that the committee members are, unfortunately, used to fighting against budget cuts.
So why am I fighting for DEEP and the state parks? According to a number of activist-related things I’ve been reading such as this Medium article on how to #StayOutraged, it’s best to concentrate your efforts on one or two issues. I’ve decided that the issues I’ll actively fight for are social justice where it intersects with immigration and race, and on a local level, the environment. Planned Parenthood will get lots of support, as will DAPL. The arts and humanities have advocates, as do LGBT organizations. I’m still supportive of these causes, of course, but my local parks need somebody to speak up for them, keep them clean, and remind people of their importance. And I need to fight for the incredibly brave refugee families I have met who fled their homes and may never see their parents and siblings again, and for the girls and boys in my town and across the nation who receive direct and indirect messages about their worth as human being because of the color of their skin or the neighborhood where they live.

Raised Rural 4: Rural Politics

I’ve been trying for weeks to get to the point where I can talk about how my culture and politics have fundamentally changed. Before I get there, though, I think I have to spell out exactly where my politics were. I have to take a step back so I can dissect exactly how they changed.

At home, I had a politically disengaged mother who would have voted for Ralph Nader if she had been registered, and a father who was deeply distrustful of government. He told my younger brother and I, in no uncertain terms, that we should never trust a government that wanted to take guns away from the people. On his desk, he had a “stop scabs” button protesting the temporary workers who come in when unions go on strike, and a MAD magazine cartoon picturing a museum docent in the background, explaining to a tour group that vikings believed they would be rewarded in heaven for their barbaric and violent behavior, and in the foreground, a crazed-looking man with “Arab terrorist” written across his machine gun strap exclaiming “Sounds perfectly reasonable to me!” The desk was a heavy metal thing that looked like it belonged in an office somewhere, and though I remember seeing his business textbooks from his courses at community college sitting on the desk, I have no memories of my mom using the desk when she was enrolled.

Sometime after we got a computer in 1996 or 1997, but before my father started taking online classes at the University of Phoenix, he shared a printout of racist jokes with my brother and me. It wasn’t our first time encountering them, of course. I had heard them traded at holiday dinners, especially when the pastor of my grandparents’ UCC church would join us. The pastor recited his contributions with a slight Pennsylvania Dutch accent, one that wasn’t nearly as heavy as my grandfather’s accent was when he interjected comments while listening to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Or when he told me to “turn that crap off” when found me watching Janet Jackson’s “You Want This” on MTV in the living room one afternoon. Or when my brother and I overheard mutterings about “the Mexicans” drifting back to us from the passenger seat of my grandmother’s minivan. We had learned about the evils of racism and prejudice in school when we studied the Civil War, and we were both shocked that it still existed, let alone in our own family and in the leader of the church where we went to Sunday school. Coupled with statements from my parents about how the Pennsylvania Dutch around me were ignorant and backward, it bred in me a low-grade revulsion that lasted for years and years.

In school I learned that the Republican Party was business-focused and the Democratic Party was people-focused, and at home I learned that all politicians were corrupt. In the high school sociology elective that I took after my parents’ sociology and philosophy textbooks piqued my interest, I got more information in the the form of a handout explaining the demographics of each political party. Republicans were generally rural, had a high school education, and were working-class. By contrast, Democrats were generally urban, had college degrees, made more money, and/or were often non-white.  In my interactions with outspoken high school girls who were dressed in trendier clothing than me and had “the only bush I trust is my own” on their MySpace pages, I also learned that Democrats tended toward self-righteousness.

Because of the timing of my 18th birthday, I was late getting in my voter registration, which would have declared me an independent and given me the ability to vote for Bush in 2004. I didn’t do much research aside from a cursory Internet search, but I knew Kerry claimed to represent the interests of of the people while being one of the wealthiest men in Congress. Shortly after the election, my grandfather said something about boycotting Heinz products.

I became slightly more engaged with politics after my boyfriend (and later husband) and I got together that fall. His parents hailed from Catholic working-class and middle-class families in the Philly suburbs, and they moved around the Philly area and the Midwest before landing in our town when my husband was a toddler. We’d first met in the elementary school gifted program when he was a quiet fourth grader and I was an awkward sixth-grader, and in high school he sometimes came to football games and traded Monty Python quotes with mutual friends who sat with me in the marching band section. Instead of music clubs, he pursued debate team and scholastic scrimmage. The way he explains it to me, he was an “elite nerd” who enjoyed arguing with peers, and since his peers were primarily liberal, he had to take a conservative stance in order to have arguments. At some point, he started believing in the persona he had formed. It was reinforced by the beliefs of his parents, who often watched Fox News when we hung out in the evenings, and other respected adults in the area, who presumably understood the world better than teenagers.

My boyfriend/husband read political theorists like Machiavelli and Rousseau, as well as lots of history books, and he argued his stances with refreshing pragmatism instead of the unexamined gut reactions. For example, such-and-such government program sounded great in theory, but it would be prohibitively expensive. Or, so-and-so federal law was basically a good idea, but lawmakers had hidden a bunch of junk in it to appease their constituents. Or, so-and-so senator shouldn’t be writing this bill because he has no expertise, or so-and-so is saying this strategically but he actually votes that way. Or, this-and-this government program targeting that-and-that problem created dependence and actually perpetuated the problem instead of solving the root cause. Socially pretty liberal, but skeptical of implementation of social policies. He rolled his eyes at mainstream conservative media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Bill O’Reilly. He was knowledgeable and impassioned, and his libertarian-esque beliefs and concerns mostly became my own. We believed everyone had equal opportunities for success and just needed to use their own talents accordingly, as we had.

His family ties to the Philly area – and the desire to go somewhere much more exciting than our town – led him to enroll at La Salle University and work towards a history degree, while also working 30 to 40 hours a week at the restaurant his father managed in the suburbs. I needed desperately to get out of our town too, and I joined him at La Salle after I finished up at community college. Through his social circle I met religious conservatives, a branch of conservatism that I hadn’t encountered in our hometown of mainline Protestants whose politics were completely detached from their religion, as well as business-oriented conservatives from well-off families. As mentioned before, I became friends with other socially liberal, fiscally conservative, moderate independents. We wondered at the narrow aims of our outspoken Democrat friends, who seemed solely concerned with social issues. My friends and I liked Obama’s personality but distrusted his message (and felt more than a little alienated by his dismissive “clinging to their guns and religion” statement), and we voted for McCain, the war veteran with years of experience, a message of ‘reaching across the aisle,’ and an immigration policy that was to the left of the GOP party line and more palatable to us and the undocumented workers we knew from our jobs.

During our time in Chicago and in New Haven proper, my husband fell into political nihilism, refusing to acknowledge any position at all. After what I’d experienced in Chicago, I wasn’t sure what to think, either. The Tea Party movement had gained traction within the GOP, and it quickly morphed from a libertarian opposition to excessive taxes into refusal to compromise with Democrats, calls for Obama’s birth certificate, statements that he was a Muslim with the implication that a Muslim president was a bad thing. It was a movement with racist undertones that I did not want to be part of. I didn’t register to vote in 2012, but I found myself somewhat happy that Obama got a second term. Despite my initial hand-wringing and the passing of the controversial Affordable Care Act, he had gotten us out of Iraq and started withdrawal from Afghanistan, slowed and stabilized the economic recession he’d inherited, and he had proved tougher than expected in foreign policy. He hadn’t been terrible, and might have even been good.

Plus I’d liked living in his neighborhood.

Hillbilly Elegy and Cultural Identity

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Yesterday I nursed a cold and finished the audiobook of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. My husband walked in on occasion during the course of the book, and he often punctuated  the narration with a loud “yup.” As somebody who came from a culturally working-class background and found himself at Yale getting an advanced degree, they have a lot in common, and Vance’s experiences often rang true to him. I feel the cultural distance myself, too, within the Yale social circle, though I’m not immersed in it at work like he is. I remember being at a professor’s (insanely nice) house once and overhearing him ask another student, “Do you have any working-class friends?” I wanted to wave my hand frantically and point to myself and my husband.

Like Vance, my husband and I can also point to potentially traumatic experiences that affect more children with limited economic means than children in middle-class and higher families. I can easily check off at least three of those ACEs about maybe four, and I think Vance checked off six.

I was hoping that Vance would spend a lot more time talking about how his identity changed because of Yale, if he had to give up parts of his hillbilly identity in order to advance himself, consciously or unconsciously. He did tell how he lied about his Yale enrollment to a woman in Ohio with a Yale sweatshirt because he didn’t want to identify with her presumed class, and about how he learned to navigate the hiring process and how it’s structured in a way that it screens out those who aren’t already part of upper middle class culture. And how he would get calls from home about his drug-addicted mom, reminders of where he came from. And how he realized he had a quick, violent temper and an inability to express his emotions due to his volatile home life, and he worked to change that. But I want to know if he stuffed the more inconsequential parts of his origins down, like his personal tastes. Did he unabashedly talked about country music, or Cracker Barrel, or ask Yale friends if they wanted to shoot at beer cans on the weekend? Did he intentionally turn that part of himself off and shed it from his identity, or reserve it for trips back to Ohio and Kentucky? How aware was he of his cultural markers? He doesn’t indicate if he gave any of these parts of himself up, or what it felt like to decide to shed them or keep them. More on that in a minute.

Many of his phrases – skewering “lazy” people who took advantage of government assistance, defaulting to church as a force of social organization, talking about the decay of tradition without defining “tradition” – show that he remains entrenched in politically conservative modes, presumably which he got from his conservative relatives.* I found myself wondering if his harsh criticism of welfare recipients or a coworker who was taking 40-minute bathroom breaks (which to me is an indication that somebody is shooting up) was misdirected anger from his own opiate-addicted mother, or if it’s willful blindness to the way that addictions affect the addicts’ behavior and ability to function. He acknowledged that current psychological thought views addiction as a mental illness, but he doesn’t seem to extend his own personal sympathy toward addicts. Moreover, I don’t think that widespread addiction is something that you fix by giving people more church. I say that as a churchgoer.

He opines that we use government to fix issues that it can’t resolve, that it increases learned helplessness among groups like the working-class whites of his childhood. In his mind, hillbilly culture itself, its violent tendencies and family instability, is something that has to be fixed from the inside by hillbillies themselves. I admit that I have a tendency nowadays to look at governmental solutions. And it’s true that some people take advantage of the safety nets that government provides. But I think the stakes are too high for us to remove those nets and hope that our economically disadvantaged populations are going to toughen up and straighten out their cultures on their own.

Payday loans might have helped Vance pay his rent on time and avoid late fees that one time that he used it, but overall, I think payday loans do more harm to our society than good when low-income families get into the habit of using them. People are going to abuse WIC, but if abolishing WIC means there are kids that go hungry, I’d rather accept the abuse. Some people are doing a terrible job of parenting due to ignorance or drug abuse or other reasons, but if the schools ignore the shortcomings of those families and push their scheduled curriculum forward without trying to take up the slack, then those kids fail, and the school has failed those kids just as badly as their parents. It’s not right. And it would be great if we had social institutions instead of government institutions that would take up the slack, but we don’t, and it’s going to hurt a lot of people if we just take those government institutions away before the social ones are strong enough, or varied enough, or can survive, let alone thrive, in the mobile population we currently have.

Vance seemed to think that churches would be the best social organization structure, pointing to studies that regular attendees report higher levels of happiness than non-attendees. But Vance himself pointed out that the teachings of some churches can be destructive and turn people inward, and I don’t think that theological agreement with a group of other people should be a prerequisite for inclusion in social safety nets. It’s awesome if you can find that group, but I wouldn’t want to force people into a box. Political parties could be a better organizing structure, or looser community action groups centered around certain broad principles and ideas. Maybe it’s a relatively new, or American, or even individually-focused or selfish, idea that the beliefs and practices of faiths matter more than the benefits of social organization, but I’m okay with that being the new status quo if it means we have more sincere expressions of faith. (Similarly, I think that extending marriage to gay couples revitalizes the institution. If marriage is truly a special union that commits two people to each other, then straight couples have been diminishing its significance for decades by marrying because of unplanned pregnancies, because it seems like the thing to do in their long-term relationship, or for any other number of wrong reasons.)

 


 

And now for something completely different. Like Vance, I come from a rural, working-class background, and I have moved up in the socioeconomic ladder. Though my current income level and most of my cultural affiliations mark me as securely middle class, I do actively reject some markers that, to me, signify the middle class and upper middle class. I am well aware of them. Here’s a partial list:

  • Apple products. I have a Samsung Galaxy phone, no tablet, and a Chromebook.
  • Lululemon. I do spend money on Nike activewear because I find it comfortable, and sometimes on sale items at Athleta, a lesser-known activewear brand under the Gap umbrella.
  • Home ownership.
  • Buying brand new cars.
  • Urban Outfitters. (More a rejection of hipster culture than anything.)
  • Victoria’s Secret, PINK, Abercrombie. The exception: VS has awesome pantyhose.
  • Starbucks. I make 96% of my coffee at home, and sometimes I go to Dunkin Donuts.
  • “Fancy” restaurants. I prefer pub settings, and I tend to balk at the price of restaurant entrees when I can make something delicious at home for a fraction of the cost.
  • Brunch. See above re: cost.
  • Purebred dogs from a breeder. Shelter mutts are my go-to.
  • Skiing. Always seemed so expensive, and what rich kids did on break.
  • Country clubs. See above re: rich kids.

There are middle- and upper middle-class things that I do embrace, though:

  • Consumer Reports. They helped me pick my coffee maker as well as my…
  • Toyota Prius. Reliable, not wasteful of fossil fuels, and affordable to maintain.
  • News sources: New York Times, The Atlantic, NPR, Slate
  • Podcasts. Goes hand in hand with the news.
  • Audiobooks. Goes hand in hand with podcasts, but it really took off because my job gives me access.
  • Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, J. Crew. With blessings from my mom, the cast of What Not to Wear, numerous fashion bloggers, and my employee discount when I worked at BR, I happily spent money on building a good quality wardrobe.
  • Craft breweries and local breweries. My husband and I got married at a brewery.
  • Art films and foreign films.
  • HBO Now, Netflix, Amazon Prime. Cheaper than cable.
  • Travel abroad. My husband is way more into it than I am, but I’ve visited five countries aside from the U.S., none of which had English as an official language.
  • Whole Foods. They have good quality products that are oftentimes cheaper than regular stores. For example, house brand organic yogurt is $3.39 per 32 oz tub at WF, and it’s $4.39 for Stonyfield at Stop & Shop.
  • Organic products, to an extent. Processed organic products often have less  ingredients and taste better, and I notice a taste difference with some produce.
  • CSA membership.

Of course, I could do the same with rural Pennsylvania / working-class things. I’ve sort of done that before in my Raised Rural posts, without collecting them together in a list.

It’s pretty telling what I reject and embrace. Intellectually, I identify way more with populations that are more educated. It isn’t a surprise given my education level, my social circles, and my job, which encourages and rewards curiosity. Economically, though, I appear to be frugal and concerned with my bottom line and balancing quality and cost – maybe even too preoccupied with it. Without a doubt, this comes from growing up with little to no disposable income. I don’t stress about it like I used to, when I would create spreadsheets with store brand prices between several stores and think about how my mom’s grocery shopping involved both Giant and Shop-Rite. But it’s not something I want to totally give up. Besides, the more money I save on yogurt, the more there is for travel and books.

 

*ADDITION 2/8: I encountered that, too, and 2017-Lauren doesn’t believe in them. 2003-Lauren was hearing a lot of outrage in rural Pennsylvania about “welfare queens” and abuse of the system and was more bothered by it, and 2007-Lauren believed that America was a true meritocracy and that social, cultural, and economic issues could be overcome. 2017-Lauren knows more about how the decks are stacked and is also much more compassionate. No version of Lauren believed in the virtue of  old “tradition,” seeing it as way too constraining to historically marginalized populations.

Why I protest the Trump administration

For the last few months, maybe even close to a year now, I’ve noticed that political memes and updates by some vocal Trump supporters on Facebook often come from sources called “Boo F*ckin Hoo” or “Sorry if the truth hurts” or “Liberal babies,” and the primary message of these posts is “Liberals are whiny snots who don’t understand how good they have it.”That protesters shouldn’t be protesting. Some carry the message that we’re sore losers, and that they didn’t protest against Obama’s presidency (setting aside that some did), so it’s juvenile for anti-Trumpians protest the Trump inauguration. The argument that protesting the inauguration is “whiny” is often based in the Trump supporter’s respect for the democratic process, and the assumption that I don’t respect that process if it doesn’t go my way.

Respect for our democratic process is EXACTLY WHY I AM PROTESTING.

There are some basic traditions/assumptions about how our government works. People in positions of power (ideally) get their appointments based on merit: on experience, skill, a personality that will work well on a team and act as a lubricant. It’s exactly how we would like any employer to hire their employees. The president has previous experience managing in government, and the successful ones have a magnetism that makes it easier to get things done. Reagan, for example, a former movie star and governor, and patron saint of modern conservatism. The heads of EPA, Department of Defense, and other departments have experience in those departments, such as academia or research or in administration, and they have evidence in their work history that they are capable leaders in their field.

From the top down, the Trump administration has none of these merits. Trump’s picks for his cabinet include people with no experience but with long campaign donation histories or with political sway and early statements of support for his run for presidency, partisan critics who have stated they want to completely dismantle institutions that protect Americans and that predate the Obama administration, friends of friends, and at the very worst, warmongers and white supremacists who incite unfounded fear that leads to unexamined, blinding hate. His picks would sound like a joke if they weren’t his actual picks and thus so tragic:

  • Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart “news” who is currently Trump’s chief strategist and supposedly the architect behind the shoddily designed, poorly implemented Muslim ban
  • Betsy DeVos, his pick for Dept of Education who has never worked in education, who wants to abandon the public school system in favor of vouchers, and who has made $200 million in contributions to the GOP
  • Rex Tillerson, former head of Exxon-Mobil and Trump’s pick for Secretary of State who was given a friendship medal by Russia/Putin. Nope, no possible conflicts of interest there.
  • Rick Perry, pick for Department of Energy and climate change denier who once said he wanted to scrap the department and who didn’t understand his job role in the new administration.
  • Jeff Sessions, pick for Attorney General and old-fashioned racist.
  • Ben Carson, former neurosurgeon, bizarre pyramid theorist, and pick for Housing and Urban Development solely because he’s Black and thus understands the issues of all Black folk. Also the only non-white.
  • Andrew Puzder, anti-union and anti-minimum wage chief executive of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. and pick for Labor Secretary

 

Trump himself is a private business owner who has needed to answer only to himself and his investors, and he has a trail of lawsuits documenting manipulation of his customers to increase his bottom line. This is not somebody I would trust to balance the interests of an entire country. He has no political experience whatsoever. Some people like this about him, but the fact that he doesn’t understand the basic mechanisms of politics and governance worries me. Throughout the presidential race, he showed that he is tone-deaf not only to the language and norms of political world (or even the real world – see: his Twitter account, “grab her by the pussy,” the disturbingly threatening body language he used when debating Clinton), but to the ethics that bind politicians. I want my politicians to value the concerns of all Americans, not just those that voted for them. I want them to listen, and I want them to respond to the concerns of Americans. Trump doesn’t even pretend to do this. Or maybe he does – but only after creating a narrow definition of who can be an American and who can’t. Under the Trump administration, I am not an American, and therefore my concerns don’t matter.

Along with ignoring the ethical responsibility of the president to include all Americans, Trump is ignoring the basic values that make our government work, and which Republicans in particular seem to hold in high regard. He is questioning the authority of the judicial branch, which is supposed to balance his executive branch. He has not divested his personal business interests. He has rejected daily CIA briefings that would help him make major security and policy decisions. However, he continues emotional outbursts on his own personal Twitter account. (Sad!) He has undermined our first amendment rights by stating that flag burners should have their citizenship revoked, refusing to talk to one of the biggest news outlets, and suggesting that our arguably best-researched, most professional, most respected news sources are “fake news” while sending out his stooges to claim “alternative facts” (which has spawned some really great parodies). His recent executive order is in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and Rudy Giuliani has admitted that Trump approached him to help him make a legal ban against Muslims. I can’t even recall every instance in which he has shown his disregard and disrespect of our laws, and he has only been in power just over two weeks.

And let’s not ignore how much this sounds like authoritarianism, like Mussolini, Chavez, and other world leaders who have done terrible things to their own people. How he throws temper tantrums when other world leaders wouldn’t play ball with him. Let’s not ignore that George Orwell’s 1984 is a current best-seller, and that it was the most-requested title this past week when I sat on the public desk at my library job. And that more than 4 million people showed up to protest his inauguration in the U.S. alone to make for one of our largest protests in history shows the fear that many of us have for our future. And that on my  Facebook feed, all the ambivalent Trump voters who claimed “wait and see” are strangely silent these days.

And that stupid fucking myopic Muslim ban for which he elicited not a shred of input from his military cabinet members, who would have told him it would be a dangerously stupid move in the fight against ISIS, and turned instead to an Islamophobic hatemonger to help him draft it. It’s illegal, and it’s un-American. Nearly all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. It’s a common narrative on the right (and on the left too), that people came to this country from nothing and were able to raise themselves up.

Once upon a time, I bought into American exceptionalism. I bought into the idea that all the bad stuff that happens in the world couldn’t happen here. That we were somehow immune from it, intrinsically different from other countries. That our system was just, or could be just, simply by the fact that it existed. That we wouldn’t willingly vote an authoritarian into power who will either terribly exploit our system or completely destroy it from the inside. That the words “freedom” and “democracy” meant something more to us, that those principles were stronger than fear and hate. I was wrong. We are no different than any other country, and our democracy is just as fragile as every other ruling system, and it needs regular citizens to stand up and fight to protect it.

And that is why I protest.

 

This week.

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I have no one word that can accurately express exactly what the last week has been to me.

First there was… whatever happened Monday and Tuesday. I don’t even remember. Writing a ton, I guess, and reposting something on cervical cancer and how women of color are disproportionately affected, and coming out on Facebook to defend Planned Parenthood as somebody who uses their services and has gotten cancer screenings from them. I joined my local state park’s association and got in touch with people doing cleanups, and donated to my cousin’s March of Dimes fund for her adorable son. Then I found a news article buried somewhere on the internet rumoring that Trump was going to sign an executive order to ban refugees for 120 days. I spent the night furiously looking up my representatives’ contact information so I could ask them what they would do to protect and welcome refugees in my town, and what they would do about Connecticut’s sanctuary cities. And about what IRIS needed.

Wednesday I could barely function at work, between hounding my representatives and checking the news every 2 minutes to see if the executive orders went through, and posting entreaties to my Facebook friends. I despaired. I got angry with people who didn’t seem to care that people’s lives might be at risk, or the parallels between the terrible refugee situation we had during World War II and the current rhetoric. Some people online were still talking about alternative facts, and I was worried that the dozen or so refugees I knew… scratch that, it’s more like 20 refugees… would be deported and sent back to a place that wasn’t their home. I learned that the currently settled refugees were safe (for now), but realized that students and friends in academia would be barred from leaving, or at least coming back into, the country that was their workplace and home. And I started wondering what the next step in extreme vetting would be, seeing that refugees already undergo extreme vetting.

This is not justice.

My anger has not abated through the last few days. Through seeing the National Parks Service’s alt-Twitter account materialize, and protests that spontaneously formed at JFK Airport and other airports throughout the country yesterday, where attorneys showed up with handmade signs scrawled “immigration lawyer” in English and Arabic. Through hateful posts on Facebook from people who themselves have been radicalized. Through realizing how illegal, unconstitutional, and un-American it is. And how un-Christian the ban is, and then realizing how many religious conservatives were remaining silent through it all (all of them, it seemed). I did my RCIA readings on the topic of Christian morality and found them timely. I bought a megaphone on Amazon and I played sad songs on guitar until 2 in the morning.

Today was a day of action, though, as I feel so many future days will be, and I let my anger propel me to good actions. I did the church thing and again found the readings resonated with everything going on – the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 that steer one’s moral life, the first letter to the Corinthians that states ‘God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.’ Initially I read that as a reflection of our political climate wherein populists revolted against the “elite” in the Democratic party, and then as a call for me to humble myself before those who don’t feel the same outrage. Maybe it speaks to how our whole democratic system has been pulled upside-down in a matter of days. There are a few ways to read that.

In the afternoon my husband and I went with another student up to Bradley Airport outside Hartford and joined a protest that we found out about the night before, organized by CAIR. Hundreds were in the arrivals section chanting louder than I’ve ever heard before.

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No hate, no fear, refugees / Muslims / immigrants are welcome here.

This is what democracy looks like.

Build a wall, we’ll tear it down.

No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.

There were a couple “We the People” posters with the star-spangled hijabi, and a girl who was wearing her own.

After the protest wound down and I talked to a librarian from western Mass for a few seconds, it was back home to fuel up, then back to New Haven for a benefit concert featuring a bunch of Yale musical groups. We couldn’t make the vigil beforehand, but we heard the turnout was massive. As for the concert turnout, Battell Chapel was at capacity with more than 1100 attendees and standing room only by the time we arrived.

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The talent in this room was amazing. There was a quartet who performed video game music (!) and I had to explain to my husband, who has probably never played an RPG, the greatness of composers like Nobuo Uematsu. I smiled straight through their performance. There were combined choirs who performed peace song medleys, a capella groups, a solo guitarist who used distortion and sampler pedals to perform original works, choirs that performed moving pieces that reminded me of my favorite songs during my choir days, a fun song with a clarinet and electric violin, and an accompanied choir that did “No One Is Alone” and may have involuntarily caused me to cry, because, Sondheim. Didn’t help that I was singing along, though…

The money they raised was astounding too, roughly $14,000 that will benefit IRIS. After the performance, I read from IRIS’ Facebook page that their 5k Run for Refugees a week from now is at capacity, and they’re trying to have a second heat in the afternoon to meet demand.

Maybe we’ll survive the next four years. But only if we keep caring, keep fighting, keep giving, and keep loving.

Indoctrination

Reading people’s Facebook posts amidst the shitstorm that was today’s action against refugees, I came across somebody arguing that colleges indoctrinate America’s youth. Then another argument that it’s liberal teachers in our public schools who are doing the indoctrinating.

They’re right. Memorizing a pledge to recite every morning at school and before every scout meeting before we know the meaning of the word”pledge,” learning to remove our hats and place our hands on our heart the way we get taught to work a zipper or to borrow the 1 and carry it over, learning a tidy history that moves from one era to another, ignoring countries outside of the Americas and Europe, and that claims peaceful reverends who had a beautiful dream were solely responsible for the civil rights movement and everything’s been happiness and candy ever since – that’s indoctrination. Being a young child whose mind is still forming definitions and maps of your world, and overhearing adults say offhand comments followed by “you know how those people are” or jokes about “those people” when you have no actual experience of “those people”and so you color in your map with information from those comments and jokes because you know no other way. That’s indoctrination.

The university is not what made me liberal, and they did not indoctrinate me. I went in slightly right of center in politics and identity, and I was antagonistic to the super-liberals there to the point where I drew a caricature that they published in the newspaper. I left the university still center-right, still suspicious of liberal politics, just with more ammunition to defend the right-leaning parts of my perspective. And I was in the humanities, not science or business or nursing or another major where you’re not dissecting political and social systems at some point in most, if not all of your classes.

What turned me liberal was actually living in and working in and engaging with a city and learning how to recognize the messy history and the injustices from which I was insulated in rural Pennsylvania, and in many cases, from which I am immune. Finally interacting with “those people.” What I saw and heard in a working class Black neighborhood. The books I read about gang economy and code switching. The library patrons who came in every day to look for jobs or get help navigating assistance programs. I’ll get into that in my next post. But for now, I needed to set the record straight on exactly what indoctrination is in this country. It’s not what they say it is.

Raised Rural: Part 3

I established what it was like growing up rural, white, lower-middle class / working class, and conservative as a result. Here I’ll try to lay out how that changed. I imagine it’s going to be just as navel-gazing as the other posts.

While at La Salle, I felt like an outsider. Most other students were urban or suburban, well-off, and Catholic, a denomination that I had grown up knowing very little about, and certainly nothing positive. I was rural, overweight at a time when Pink was blowing up as a brand, and making some of my own clothing out of necessity since I couldn’t afford trendy brands or shop at many regular stores, and I was years past the point of asking my mom for money that I knew she didn’t have, while living among a sea of slim girls with credit cards whose balances were paid by their parents. I didn’t have the money for regular Starbucks runs, impractical Ugg boots, or Apple products, and I didn’t want to identify with that group of people anyway.

In classes, I explored American and British literature and took religion courses, and I learned a little Russian and improved my Spanish. I performed in the jazz and pep bands, and I sang in choir and was an officer at one point until some other students and I pushed our choir director, an older man whose day job was teaching at an all-boys Catholic school, to perform not just for nuns in a nursing home an hour away but to bring our music to children in the local public schools, and the ensuing arguments got so nasty I had to leave choir. I tutored kids in Camden and south Philly once a week, until constant motion sickness from the long van rides forced me to stop. I got work-study in the university archives and every other weekend, I went back home to work a few hours at Kmart. During the summer, I would go back to the Lehigh Valley and take jobs with temp agencies, doing data entry for a beer distributor one summer, then warehouse work alongside women and men mostly in their thirties and forties, and a few stints in factories making boxes or assembling lotion containers. My husband and I both worked in the same warehouse one summer, and we heard over and over that we needed to finish our degrees so we wouldn’t have to come back and work there permanently.

I chafed against the very vocal far left students, who came off to me as smug, shallow caricatures, taking great pains to conform to a stereotype of ultra-liberal college student and who seemed condescending towards those whose political opinions differed from theirs and who had no desire for open discussion. It was easy to poke fun at the socially awkward, intense anarchist, and the artsy atheist vegan who listened to British punk and who wanted everyone to know she was an artsy atheist vegan who was into British punk. I wrote an article criticizing the slant of the college newspaper and bemoaning the lack of balanced viewpoints. I considered myself a moderate, socially fairly liberal but economically conservative and concerned about national security and government spending much more than social issues, a position shared by several college friends who also came from modest backgrounds and went back to work during school breaks. When we openly criticized Obama’s foreign policy during the 2008 election and took his cheer of “yes we can” as a hollow message lacking any substance, I remember a liberal Democrat friend remarking something like “well, they hate Democrats.” The language of this remark placed us into a box, created an artificial binary where one didn’t exist, and shut down any sort of discussions we could have had. My moderate friends and I supported McCain, the moderate Republican, therefore in my Democrat friend’s eyes we were against Democrats, despite our Independent status on our voter registrations.

In truth, this creation of binaries, this idea that I encountered from many Democrats that they were somehow superior, and the automatic assumption by many of my Democrat peers that I shared their viewpoints and political affiliation (and the consequent underlying assumption that if I were Republican, I had differing viewpoints that were also inferior), played a large role in why I stayed away from the left as long as I did.

 


 

This broke down when I moved to Chicago with my now-husband and I truly became an adult.

Graduating in 2009 with more debt than we’d expected and with a terrible economy, we both went directly into graduate school. He fled turmoil in his family, and I followed him. We weren’t insulated by a college campus as we were in Philly, but actually living among real people now, first in Kenwood and then Hyde Park, both on the south side. Our neighbors were mostly working-class Black folk.

Our apartment was robbed within a week of us moving in, and our landlord, a tall Irish man who never seemed to make much eye contact with me and reserved it for my husband, assumed it was a mentally ill tenant on a floor above us and he tried to enter his apartment to look for our items and take my husband along with him, who refused to help. Over the next several months, though, we would have to confront our landlord’s practices for the racism that it was. We overheard him treat the Black tenants – who were trying to raise families – dismissively and listen to us, the two stupid college students who would be gone in a short time. We befriended the spunky, talkative 12-year-old girl upstairs, who was one of the only people our new dog tolerated, and we heard about how the landlord treated her and her mother. We grew so uncomfortable with this favoritism and his general terrible practices as a landlord that we moved when our lease was up, despite the reasonable monthly cost.

During the two years we lived in Kenwood and Hyde Park, I made small talk with men and women who were waiting at the same bus stop or who wanted to greet our dog or who waited on me in stores or who wanted to tell me they were extras in the Blues Brothers.

We got dirty looks when we climbed aboard packed buses, full bags hanging from us from a grocery shopping trip, two white kids taking up aisle space among tired women who appeared to be on their way home from work.

We loaded up a gigantic suitcase every two weeks with our dirty laundry and wheeled it eight blocks to the laundromat and watched People’s Court while women folded white t-shirts.

We came across a man laying on the sidewalk, soaked to the bone and unmoving, and I reached out and shook him to wake him from what we guessed was an overdose, and after he rose, bewildered, the ambulance we called refused to come out and make sure he was okay, because he was able to walk.

I was spat upon by a disturbed, angry man who also spat upon an older white lady working in the laundromat – I knew it was ridiculous when the enraged woman said she wanted him to be charged with a “hate crime,” and I stood in court next to her and the white student who witnessed it and the white cop who wrote up the incident, while the white judge talked to the man as if he were a child and made him apologize to the laundromat lady, and outside the courtroom the cop told us the man would be back out in the streets in a matter of months because the jails were overcrowded and it was warm outside.

We saw how the neighborhoods became dusty and litter-strewn and boarded up immediately south of the University of Chicago, package stores the only thing open for blocks and blocks.

We heard how the college kids raved about Harold’s, the chicken joint in Hyde Park at 53rd and Kimbark, but were too afraid to venture out beyond the bubble of the university, though we knew you could get vastly superior chicken at Golden Fish and Chicken at 45th and Cottage Grove, near our first apartment.

We were approached one cold night close to Thanksgiving by a man who asked us if we could get him something in the supermarket, and we bought him sandwich supplies to feed himself and his family for a couple days.

We were asked by a suspicious bus driver one night, after a long day downtown, if we knew where we were going and we replied “home,” though the driver didn’t seem to believe us.

We took a bus transfer on our way to a nice dinner and found ourselves waiting on a trash-strewn intersection, deserted except for several men and women, high and stumbling around as if they were the walking dead.

We saw the devastation from the earthquake in Haiti and learned that an immigrant we knew, a former coworker of my husband, lost his entire family in Port-au-Prince.

I waited 40 minutes for a late bus one day before I decided to walk to my green line stop on 47th, and as I got closer to the station, I saw dozens of people standing utterly silent on the sidewalk as a woman screamed, full of grief, in a vacant lot across the street, a news camera trained impassively on her, and I later found a news article containing a photo of a bloodstained White Sox hat lying on the macadam.

When I finally found a job at a research library, my boss told me that the workplace barely ever closed for bad weather, because it only closed when the schools closed, and the schools stayed open because they were the only place that many kids in the city would get a meal for the day.

I waited for a train one day and heard two young men threatening each other across the platforms, and an older gentleman quietly turned to me and said, “excuse me, do you think there’s a lot of hate in this world?”

I overheard a woman with scarred, scabbed, picked-over skin and a clear, angelic voice talk to somebody only she could see.

I read about how a girl who had sung at Obama’s 2009 inauguration and who lived in our first neighborhood had been shot and killed on a nearby playground.

I stood as one of the only white folk at the Easter Vigil at the church in which my husband was being received, and without any hesitation, the parishioners grasped my hand during the Lord’s Prayer and shook it, smiling, during the Sharing of the Peace.

I was told to kill with kindness at my retail job on the Magnificent Mile.

I was told that the old lady who made an extended fuss and exasperated my patience was probably lonely and looking for somebody to talk to.

I felt guilty that, in the middle of summer, I could only point the Muslim woman and her daughters to the clearance floor and hope they could find something modestly cut from the early spring leftovers.

I realized that no matter how little money I had, there were always those in much worse shape than I.

I saw men and women relieve themselves on State Street, a boy throw up on himself at 8 am on a Saturday morning, and a man with pink stubs where his fingers should be.

I touched eugenics journals from 1930s Germany, and washing my hands didn’t remove the deep feeling of unease I had or the image of the swastikas on the cover, and I cried when I stumbled upon an article from an 1880’s medical journal where a doctor wrote luridly and in great, gratuitous, tabloid-like detail about a severely deformed infant girl.

 

 

 

This is how I became an adult.