Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Life Simply Is... Speaking Up

When I was in my 20’s I was an activist. I put myself out on the front lines in the work I chose, the demonstrations I attended, and the conversations I had. It was both invigorating and exhausting. I opened myself up to a lot of proselytizing and venom; I frequently became the unwitting target of others’ personal rage.

It was an experience and a time period that profoundly shaped me, and unexpectedly also helped me to see the other side of the debate. While it only helped to strengthen my convictions, I also gained understanding and at times even compassion for those with opposing views.

It was when I embarked on my rangering journey that I made the deliberate decision to not be an activist. I was not only relocating, I was transitioning into transience: I had no idea how long I would be mobile, or where I would end up. I would be repeatedly navigating new neighborhoods, making new friends, and changing careers – into one that was both law enforcement and underrepresented by women. I’d have enough challenge with all of that; no need to take on social causes as well.

Fast forward to living with post-traumatic stress. Confrontations with people have been my singular biggest hardship. Even debates with friends are enormously anxiety-provoking. I have left jobs rather than face difficult working relationships. In recent years I have made few new friends, and lost some old friends, finding myself unable to navigate misunderstandings or differing priorities.

Keeping a low profile has been my goal these past years. Do my job, be polite, don’t get too involved, and try to keep the target off my back. (Oddly, this approach isn’t nearly as effective as it should be.)

But lately I’ve been struck by the changes I’m seeing in the world around me, caught up in them and stirred out of my relative hibernation. Change is happening, and I feel compelled to be a part of that. I cannot remain silent.

It seems to me that as the radical right becomes more extreme, divisive and hateful, the rest of us are more bravely voicing our own truths. Same-sex couples are gaining the right to marry across the nation amidst a groundswell of support. Young women and men are speaking out against street harassment and our rape culture. Believers of true religious freedom are standing up to Christian presumption. Advocates for racial equity are calling out racism for what it is, when bigots hide behind distractions such as “looting hoodlums” or “illegals;” students are demanding an accurate accounting of America’s “discovery.” Walmart employees are striking for a living wage. A new feminism is sprouting up within the younger generation, one that is stunning in its holistic beauty and power. Being a good citizen of this planet doesn’t look just one way.

The divide grows wider as the feasibility of communicating across that divide seems to dwindle.

Rhiannon, Zariya, and Belissa's powerful poem, "Somewhere In America."  

I came home last night from a lovely home-cooked meal with my son, daughter-in-law, and some of their friends, to news about the verdict in Ferguson and the eruptions of outrage and disbelief across the country. As I perused Facebook it struck me: when I already know which of my friends and acquaintances are bigots, why do I waste any time or effort trying to sway them? Nothing will be gained. A wise friend once told me that if a person draws a line in the sand, I can be certain that any further efforts on my part will only be for my benefit.

All of my frustration and indignation – at people who refuse to believe that blacks, gays, Mexican immigrants, or women deserve respect and equal civil rights – needs to be rechanneled. Forget those vocal few who spew hatred and intolerance. They will have no power if the rest of us come together, build each other up, and work together. Our diversity is our strength, and we need to ensure that our country is not controlled by those who insist there is only one “right” way to live.

There are many fronts on this battlefield: gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, weight, physical ability, mental ability. I so strongly believe that we are fighting the same battle: we are fighting for human dignity, for civil rights, for all people. The hate-propagators are the ones trying to pit us against each other. I’m so sick of the suggestion that we should support military veterans over (illegal) immigrants. That competition is fabricated; its only purpose is to keep us busy fighting each other for resources, and to cast other struggling humans as “others.” Terms such as “illegals” are degrading and dehumanizing. In today’s headlines, we are distracted from accepting and confronting our very real racism:
“Notice how the mainstream news outlets are using words like riot and looting to describe the uprising in Ferguson. What’s happening is not a riot. The people are protesting and engaging in a justified rebellion. They have a righteous anger and are revolting against the police who have terrorized them for years.” http://qz.com/250701/12-things-white-people-can-do-now-because-ferguson/

In some ways the two meanings behind the name of this blog are in conflict. “Simply” implies a life of small pleasures and few complications, which might preclude activism or political involvement; whereas “Life Is” implies radical acceptance; looking our blessings and our hardships head-on and taking stock without color coating.

Where these two merge, for me, is intention. I want to be deliberate with how I spend my time, and what complications I take on. I will consider myself imminently fortunate if I never again am enmeshed in office politics. However standing up for truth and justice and risking backlash, while potentially painful for me, is a valuable way to spend my time. It feels imperative that I speak up at a time in our history that seems so raw and perilous.

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