Where Do We Go From Here?

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Like many, I am still processing the results of the presidential election.  I have experienced  a variety of emotions this week and have had a few days to consider how best to move forward as a diverse and vibrant country.

  • Elections have consequences, but your obligations as a citizen continue beyond voting in an election. 

Donald Trump is the winner of the 2016 presidential election.  Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and perhaps significantly, as the ballots continue to be counted, but the popular vote is not how we elect our president.  If you don’t like it, work to change it. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing my concerns about many systemic changes I believe are needed to ensure that democracy survives.  We particularly need people willing to work on moving the drawing of Congressional districts out of the political process to avoid gerrymandering, and to counter voter suppression efforts, and address via legislation or court rulings the damaging impact of money in politics.  These are not sexy issues but for voters on both sides who believe “the system” is not representative and corrupt, these are important reform efforts.

In addition, I think President Obama and the First Lady have set a tremendous example in their grace toward Mr. and Mrs. Trump.  He pointed out that he does not want to see the President-Elect fail.  None of us should really want that, although we can certainly  disagree with how and what he wants to accomplish.  We all want America to be a safe, prosperous place.  We can extend that grace to him.  I am willing to give him the chance to be a different President than he was a presidential candidate.  I realize that many in Congress did not accord that same grace to President Obama, but President George W. Bush did.  I think that grace shown by President Bush significantly influenced President Obama in return to do the same for Mr. Trump.  We do not have to respect the person in the office, but we should respect the office itself.

  • Invalidating or belittling others’ feelings accomplishes nothing.  

I have seen many posts from people who feel offended by  media outlets referring to “uneducated” citizens.  (I have actually heard the media use the term “people without college degrees” which is a simple statement of fact and does not necessarily imply that one is not educated).  There is a strong temptation to condemn people who voted for Trump as ignorant and uneducated, but I don’t think it is true or helpful to make that claim.  Likewise, I have seen many Trump supporters condemn the people who are protesting across the country as crybabies who need to get a job, which is equally presumptuous regarding the status of these people.  In a classic “mean girls” move, I have also seen women who complain about bullying at their kids’ schools openly ridicule people who have cried or missed work in response to Trump being elected.  This week I had someone openly laugh in my face when I acknowledged my own tears about the election.  I called the person on it for the cruelty involved, only to have the person justify it by saying others cried when Obama was elected, then shake it off as a “nervous tick.”  (To the contrary, I remember how upset some people were about Obama’s election, and I would never laugh at their pain.  I’m just glad when people care enough to have that depth of feeling!)  To move forward, we need to recognize the humanity in each one of us.  Your social media post making fun of the other side does ZERO to move the country forward.  Your desire to have everyone come together and “just be Americans” so you can be comfortable does nothing to help heal the nation.  Let the feelings subside, because they will, eventually, even if the loyal opposition does not (and should not).

  • Look hate square in the eye and meet it with radical love.

This next part is the most important to me.  I have read and shared widely on social media the concerns of many people of color, LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, Jews, and others who feel very afraid right now in this country.  They have seen a person who has behaved as a bully, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, who has called for Muslims to register, who has called for a ban on immigration for non-Christians, and who has called Mexicans rapists and criminals.  He also has stated that an American-born judge of Mexican descent should not be allowed to adjudicate the FRAUD trial he is facing (for scamming regular people, I might add, out of thousands of dollars for lousy degrees from Trump University).  Many people from his own party, including Paul Ryan, have condemned Trump’s statements as racist.

You may not consider yourself a racist or a sexist, and you may believe in the religious pluralism that is at the heart of the American idea.  As others have pointed out (especially good take here), you need to consider that your vote enabled and empowered someone who has made statements that strongly contradict those ideals, and whose election has emboldened some of the ugliest, most reprehensible bigots in our society.  The KKK endorsed him and is celebrating; others, too.  You have the power as one of Trump’s supporters to reject that behavior and policies that undermine equality in this country.  You may believe that Trump is really not a bigot and that your support for him is more about “respect” for the little guy (from him? really?) or his policies.  Just keep in mind that from the perspective of the many groups he has insulted and ridiculed, you found their very humanity to be an acceptable sacrifice for you to get your respect.  One man’s heartfelt Facebook post:

“Trump’s appeals to racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc. made it about personhood.  Sure, all of my moderate or conservative friends try to reassure me that Trump voters were really voting ‘pocketbook issues’ – not for the racism and sexism.  That doesn’t make it better.  Because it means they voted for their pocketbooks over my personhood – over the personhood of everyone who isn’t a straight, white, Judeo-Christian male.  They sold me out for money – and that makes me no better than a slave.  I would never have done that to them.”

As one person said on Twitter, “Not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal-breaker.”  And while you may point to the fact that more African American and Hispanic voters supported Trump than they did Mitt Romney in the last presidential election, there is no disputing that Trump won the presidency because a vast majority of white men and a majority of white women put him in office.  Had only people of color voted, Clinton would be our president-elect, and by a wide margin.

I would also challenge you to reconsider what you believe to be racism.  Trump has certainly undermined the more recent social norm that overt racism is taboo in polite company.  But generally, people are smart enough now to express racist opinions or sentiments around people they consider “safe.”  Too many white people are afraid to speak out when their uncle or grandmother makes a racist statement, out of some ill-advised “respect” that they grew up in a different time.  You are enabling racism, and are complicit.  This must stop.  You don’t have to be angry with them, but you do need to say that such statements are offensive.  While we are certainly seeing a rise in overt racist acts and statements these days, systemic racism is equally if not more damaging to our society.  Do you realize that in many school districts across the country, African American students are disciplined more harshly than white students for similar offenses, and that the discrepancy exists even when we control for socioeconomic status?   Do you know that this tendency to discipline African American students more harshly starts as early as preschool, and results in loss of critical time outside the classroom in early years, contributing to educational deficits?  Have you heard of the “school to prison pipeline?”  If not, please learn more as this is one of many examples of systemic racism we need to address to move forward as a country.

For me, what is most compelling is sharing the stories of friends who are disabled, LGBTQ, people of color, Muslims, and/or Jews who are so afraid right now.  You may think such fears are unfounded, but we have Japanese-American citizens who lived through domestic internment camps during World War II.  I’ve heard from friends whose family members survived the Holocaust and say this time is eerily reminiscent of pre-World War II Germany.  Even if you support Trump, you can and should call out bigotry where it manifests, and reject not only his supporters who behave badly, but reject policies based on unfair and racist stereotypes.

  • Re-focus your time, talent, and treasure to be the change you wish to see in the world.

My husband and I were already in the process of recalibrating our family priorities in terms of time, talent, and treasure.  This election only further motivates us to continue our charitable giving to our church and for organizations that protect and defend our civil liberties and refugee relief and resettlement groups.  Consider how you can shift your normal holiday spending from consumerism to support of things you and your loved ones love.  Instead of going out for drinks, go serve at a local soup kitchen.  One of my friends started a “Goodness Group” of busy moms who take turns selecting a different charitable activity each month for us to support.   The group prepares and serves meals at a soup kitchen, collects clothing and furniture for refugee families, donates school supplies to an area charter school, and many other activities.  At times like this it feels exhausting to get back out there, but we have to do it.  Find your causes, and then be the change you wish to see.

  • Be bold in caring for the hurt and broken, and resolute in standing up to bullies.

This goes along with the time, talent, and treasure above.  We are seeing an outbreak of racist incidents around the country, including in our schools.  We have to set the standard for our own children that bullying and bigotry are unacceptable, and we must demand that our schools, places of employment, and public accommodations take prompt and effective action to address it.  Moreover, we should not wait for such things to happen and respond, but instead take a proactive approach to make crystal clear that such harassment is illegal and unacceptable in a pluralistic, civil society.  We also have to check in with our friends and family members who are hurting in light of this election and reassure them we have their backs.

  • Listen.  Read widely.  Seek understanding.  Be a connector.

This week I sat down for coffee (soft drinks, actually) with a friend who is a solid Trump supporter to get an understanding of why he voted for him.  He had offered the idea of getting together in response to a social media post I made before the election, in which I stated that many principled and respected conservative thinkers reject Trump profoundly and I could not understand Trump’s appeal to a conventional ideological conservative.   During our time together, we laughed and admitted we both thought that we’d be discussing a Hillary victory.  Our conversation was pointed at times.  However, I did learn from him about his personal motivations and world view that helped me understand, if not agree with, his decision to support Trump.  I also had a great discussion via Facebook with another conservative friend who was not supporting Trump or Hillary to get a sense of why.  I have sought out these conversations with friends and family not to simply push my opinions on them, but to understand why someone I frankly found to be so reprehensible and eminently unqualified for the office to be an acceptable choice.  Some preferred not to discuss and closed me off; others were more receptive.

I am trying to connect because I am generally a connector.  I believe in the goodness of my friends and family and I hope that when I share the stories of my friends who are so afraid right now, there will be a human reaction of kindness and understanding and love.  I realize that as a white, straight, non-disabled person, this is my work to do.  I may withdraw at times because it is hard work, but it is still my work.  It is our work.

 

 

 

 

 

For Her


Election Day is tomorrow (*finally*).  In the morning, I will take my son and daughter with me to my polling place.  As always, I’ll enjoy seeing them get unnaturally excited to get an “I Voted”sticker that I hope I remember to remove from their shirts before washing.  I will mark my very long ballot, put it in the machine, and note how many ballots have been cast with that machine thus far.  (Always assessing turnout).  It will be the seventh time I have voted in a presidential election.  

As I make my choice for President, I will be thinking of many family members and friends, but especially my paternal grandmother, Lillie Ruth Joplin Randolph, pictured above with a 10-year-old me and my adorable baby cousin.  More than anyone else in my childhood, Grandma Ruth influenced my thoughts on politics.  We spent a lot of time at her house because we lived in the same town.  I would often sit and watch the news with her.  (She also let me watch “The Golden Girls” and “Solid Gold”).  She was a proud Democrat and did not hide her disdain for Ronald Reagan.  She read the newspaper every morning.  If we grandkids had stayed the night, I’d  find her in the morning in her kitchen, hair full of curlers, coffee cup in one hand, the paper in the other, standing over the floor furnace vent to stay warm.  I don’t really remember a lot of what we talked about regarding politics, but what stuck with me was an interest in current events and the opportunity to participate in our political process.  She also described the Reagan Republicans as only being interested in protecting the wealthy from paying taxes.       

I think many of us will be thinking of mothers and grandmothers tomorrow.  My senator, Claire McCaskill, said at a rally I attended on Saturday that she would be remembering her mom.   The stories of women who were born before women gained the right to vote move me to tears.  Like 2008, this is an incredible moment in the life of our country.  

I realized a couple of weeks ago that regardless of the outcome tomorrow night, I will be “ugly crying” on my couch.  That my daughter may grow up seeing a woman as President is a tremendous opportunity to show her a woman as a leader who has worked hard, made mistakes, and overcome significant obstacles to achieve the highest elected leadership post in the world.  I want my son and other little boys to see it as well.  If we’re going to change how the world sees women as potential leaders, we have to teach young boys to see them that way. 

Grandma Ruth worked in a factory in World War II, taught school, and helped my Grandpa Max with bookkeeping for the family farm equipment business.  She was a proud wife, mother, grandmother, and community volunteer. She died in 2005, and I cannot know for certain how she would have voted in this election.  I do feel very confident that she would have absolutely loved seeing a woman on the ballot for a major party for President of the United States.  And when I cast my vote, I most certainly will do it with tears in my eyes and Grandma Ruth in my heart.  Who will you be remembering on Election Day?  

It’s Not Rigged; You’re Doing It Wrong

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I spent a lot of time this weekend exercising my right to participate in the political process.  Our family attended a rally to get out the vote for Missouri statewide Democratic candidates, and I also made volunteer GOTV calls on behalf of Hillary for America to likely voters in North Carolina, Colorado, Michigan, and Florida.  I made contributions to some of our Democratic statewide candidates as well.  Missouri used to be a battleground state, but as the population has trended older, it has become a red state (BOO!).  So it has been a busy last weekend before the election and I suspect I will take some time off of work on Tuesday for some final volunteer efforts before planting myself in front of the TV at home to watch the results roll in.

We talk a lot with our eight-year-old son about politics and government, and are careful to model good citizenship and the need to critically evaluate candidates.  Like many parents, we are repulsed by the vulgarity of the presidential campaign, although we have allowed him to watch the debates and talk with him about the allegations.  He loved the rally on Saturday and soaked up the speakers’ referencing him and his friends as one of the reasons it is so important for us to be involved and active citizens.  He is most excited about getting to color in his Electoral College map of the United States on Tuesday night, a little tradition in our household for Election Night.

Anyway, I dropped off my son and some neighborhood kids at a birthday party this afternoon, and was returning home along a local highway when I noticed a large display on the overpass.  Specifically, I saw about five huge Gadsen flags and several large American flags, and a *yuge* Trump banner hanging over the side of the overpass.  The display certainly grabbed my attention, but on further inspection I noticed there were only three or four actual people up there monitoring it.  My knee jerk reaction was to cringe.  Ugh.

Upon further reflection, I thought, “What a waste.”  Think about it.  This is the last weekend before the election.  I doubt these well-intentioned activists were connected officially with the Trump campaign.  While the display may help bolster enthusiasm among Trump supporters passing below, it is not a good use of their time if they really want to help Trump win.  Elections are all about turnout, and the side that can get more people out wins.  To do that, GOTV efforts are critical, and while banners are nice, they don’t raise campaign funds or tell people when and where to vote.  Many critics of the Trump campaign operation have talked of the lack thereof, i.e., that there is no real statewide organized effort to get out the voters who will support him.  That is a critical error, and I wonder if his supporters understand that.  He complains about a rigged system, and many of his supporters talk about feeling like they have no meaningful voice with our political leaders.  It’s nice and all to hang a banner on a highway, but it doesn’t really move your preferred candidate closer to the presidency.  Do they not get it?  Or is it just easier to be angry and protest the system?

Perhaps these individuals are also doing other good work.   I don’t know.  And banners are fine, but the weekend before the election is go time for GOTV.  Missouri is going to vote Trump, so it won’t matter, but if Hillary Clinton wins, and Trump supporters wonder why, one of many reasons will be because the campaign’s organization was miserable, including GOTV, and they should blame their candidate, not a rigged system.

All that to say, make a plan, and GO VOTE TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8!  www.iwillvote.com.

On the Edge

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If you were able to wake up today, get ready for work or do chores around the house, drink your coffee, get your kids out of bed and to whatever summer activities they had planned, all without knowing or seriously considering what happened yesterday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, consider that your privilege allows you that luxury.  Because for far too many in America, what happened last night and what continues to happen is causing fear that I have never, not once, had to face for myself or for my family.  No one in this country should have to.

If you are completely fine with a white guy openly carrying an AR-15 through your local neighborhood, but you attempt to justify police murders of black men when video evidence indicates that lethal force is not warranted, consider why you perceive one to be a threat and the other simply expressing a constitutional right.  Why does one make you feel safe and the other warrant state-sponsored violence?  (Also, if you are a member of the National Rifle Association, ask why no outrage from their very active political and media machine.)

If you are a white person and have zero friends of color, and I mean real friends, not just someone you say hi to at the coffee shop, can you understand that you might not be able to truly grasp how many people who don’t look like you are hurting and scared, and yes, angry?  Can you see how your day-to-day going about your business without doing something communicates ignorance and indifference to their suffering?  What are you doing to seek out these different voices to listen and understand?

If you are wild about your college’s sports teams until the black student-athletes on those teams withhold the use of their bodies to take a stand against injustice that directly affects them, their family, and/or friends, and then you decry them because “it makes your school look bad,” does it bother you that you value the reputation of an institution more than the well-being of the students who are currently attending it?

If you respond to the #BlackLivesMatter movement with “All Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” you demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the movement.  We do not believe that our police, our justice system, and our schools value black lives the way they do mine, or yours, if you are white.  They are crying out for what you assume as a given.  Also, if you dismiss the fact that police officers in 2015 killed five times as many young black men as young white men of the same age, despite the fact that black males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprise only 2% of the total U. S. population, what does that say about whether you really believe that “All Lives Matter?”

Philando Castille.  Alton Sterling.  Dontre Hamilton.  Eric Garner.  John Crawford III.  Michael Brown.  Ezell Ford.  Dante Parker.  Tanisha Anderson.  Tamir Rice.  Eric Harris.  Walter Scott.  Freddie Gray.  Trayvon Martin.  Sons. Brothers. Husbands. Fathers.  All lost, human tragedy of our own making.  OUR making, because the system we so blithely accept as protecting us fails to protect all of us, and in the face of evidence that demonstrates again and again that it does not, we do nothing.  We are convicted.  Lord, hear our prayer.

In the past month, I watched a pickup truck parade a huge Confederate flag around Liberty, Missouri (irony, yes?).  In a country where every institution is a “white culture center,” why on earth do people need to defend this bloody flag as a symbol of “white pride” or “Southern heritage?”

In the past month, I have had a colleague and friend ask me sincerely why I think so many working class white people are blind or dismissive of the systemic and painfully individual injustices that are so plain to her, and to me.  It breaks my heart that she needs to ask this question.  She shared her concern that, as an African American, she and other persons of color are seen as less than human, even as she expressed compassion for the fact that so many white working class individuals are losing economic ground and have their own fears.  Her ability to be compassionate toward such people is astounding to me.

In the days after the Orlando shooting, my husband was at an area golf course/country club and overheard a group of older white males joke that the only thing that would have been better about the incident was if the victims were black.  My husband was shocked and visibly shaken when he told me what happened.

At an Independence Day party, a friend, who is white, confided in me that as she reads the coverage of Donald Trump’s not-so-subtle racism and the continued support he receives, she cannot help but be filled with rage.  Trump himself continues to spur anger at persons of color with his cries to “build that wall,” and his assertion that a United States District Court judge, born and raised in Indiana, cannot be impartial due to his Mexican heritage.

Tonight, I head to a class on Theology, Race, and Literature co-sponsored by two Kansas City-area churches.  One church congregation is primarily white; the other, primarily black.  Only by being with each other and listening and sharing can we begin the hard work of true reconciliation, as a church and as a nation.  And if there is any hope I can draw from my sick feeling that this country is about to ignite in ways not seen in 150 or so years, it is that opening up this festering wound of our original sin is the only way for us to heal.

 

 

 

 

Star Wars-Inspired Parenting

Star Wars Figures

We are a Star Wars family.  We own the original trilogy and the prequels.  My son’s room is filled with the Lego versions of an Imperial Star Destroyer, AT-AT Walker, Jabba’s Sail Barge, Rey’s Speeder, B-Wing Fighter, Poe’s X-Wing Fighter, and my personal favorite, the Millennium Falcon.  I own action figures from my childhood and of new characters from The Force Awakens.  My daughter has her own action figures and light saber.  My husband owns the Sphero BB-8 droid that he controls remotely from his phone, and the remote control Millennium Falcon that really flies.  We binge watch The Clone Wars and await each new episode of Star Wars Rebels.  We are dedicated fans, and Disney has made a lot of money off of us.  Of course, we have pre-ordered the digital and Blu-Ray copies of the movie (out today, April 1, and April 5, respectively).

We enjoy these movies as fun entertainment, but the movies and shows also offer Doug and I the opportunity to teach our kids valuable lessons about the world and how to live in it.

  • Heroes are ordinary people who rise to the challenges of their time.  This may seem to be a surprising lesson given that Luke Skywalker and other Star Wars heroes are blessed with a special power, e.g., to feel and harness a mystical energy called The Force.  However, the Rebellion is composed of numerous people from all across the galaxy who contribute in some way to the cause:  pilots, intelligence, military strategy, communications support, supply requisition.  Han and Chewbacca were smugglers who initially had no interest in helping the Rebellion, yet were drawn in by the commitment and willingness to sacrifice demonstrated by Leia, Luke, and the others.  In fact, the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, coming out in December 2016, is focused on the rebels who stole the design plans for the original Death Star that enabled the Rebels’ successful destruction of it at the Battle of Yavin.  According to what we know thus far about the movie, none of the characters in Rogue One are Jedi or are Force-sensitive, yet their contribution was critical to the Rebel cause.  (They’re also led by a women, played by Felicity Jones.)
  • Giving in to anger, fear, and aggression leads to misery.  We have our fair share of temper tantrums and  meltdowns around here.  Yoda’s warning to Luke that “anger, fear, and aggression” lead to the Dark Side of the Force is repeated in our household as a way to lighten the moment.  We also talk in calmer times about how it’s okay to have these feelings and to express them, but that it is not healthy to dwell or wallow in them, but try to channel the feelings into something constructive.  Otherwise, you inevitably worsen your situation.  Conversely, Yoda’s praise of self-control and patience is repeated by us as a way to help our kids make good choices.  If they find ways to take a breath, a break, or ask for a hug, they can avoid the spiral into a meltdown or tantrum that leads to additional bad choices.
  • The galaxy is full of various sentient life forms, all of which are worthy of respect.  In the Star Wars galaxy, Jedis and members of the Rebellion are members of not only different races, but different species.  In contrast, while not explicitly stated in the movies, Star Wars literature frequently references Emperor Palpatine’s prejudice against anyone serving in the Imperial Fleet other than humans.  The Force Awakens takes some additional steps in this area, with the three main heroes being a white female, black male, and Latino male.  We use these themes from the Star Wars universe to discuss prejudice and discrimination in our own world with our children, and emphasize the need to love and respect the people and living things of our planet.
  • Safeguarding our freedom is difficult in times of intense fear and instability.  It is no coincidence that Revenge of the Sith, the 2005 movie released in the aftermath of September 11, highlights this truth.  The Old Republic’s Senate, faced with a growing military threat from the Separatists, enthusiastically approves granting supreme executive authority to Chancellor Palpatine, who declares the beginning of the Galactic Empire.  Senator Padme Amidala’s stunned response: “So this is how liberty dies…to thunderous applause.”  Of course, Palpatine and the Empire proceed to enslave entire worlds and use a super-weapon to destroy Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan.  As our own nation and others face fears of terrorism from within and abroad, we see the rise of candidates (ahem, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz) who promise stability and project authority in a calculated play on these fears.  We speak with our children about the dangers of trusting too much in any leader to make any country great and repeat the lesson above about giving into our worst fears.  We firmly believe that our country will rot from within if we allow our misunderstandings and fears to isolate and punish innocent people who can be our allies.

Finally, I will share how Star Wars has inspired me personally, dating myself in the process.  My very first memory is of three-year-old me going to my hometown’s drive-in theater to watch the first release of Star Wars in 1977.  My brother and I were in the backseat of my parents’ car and I remember waking up from a nap as Princess Leia drew her weapon to defend against Stormtroopers at the start of the movie.  She has been my hero ever since.  In a play world dominated by Barbies and baby dolls, she was a female role model for someone who used her gifts to fight for freedom for others and against evil, with bravery, diplomacy, political negotiation, and if necessary, military force.  She was a confident leader who stood up for what she believed in.  Her example stayed with me throughout my childhood and inspires me to this day.  With the arrival of Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey, I am thrilled that my daughter and son will have the opportunity to see a woman who is both powerful and loving, who has survived horrible circumstances yet is full of hope.  And I can say that the most emotional part of watching The Force Awakens for me was not (spoiler alert) Han’s death at the hands of his son, but the moment when Rey successfully calls Anakin’s lightsaber to her and raises it to battle Kylo Ren.  Tears rolled down my cheeks as I watched Rey’s face, full of fear but resolute in her determination to defeat him and save herself and her injured friend, Finn.  A she, not a he, is the center of the hero’s journey in this new trilogy, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what happens in Episode VIII, due in theaters December 2018.

Star Wars Legos