Showing up for roll call, strong in generations
This week Jena Schwartz, a wonderful writing friend and teacher published a post she entitled Roll Call.
"This morning in one the writing groups I facilitate, I essentially asked for a show of hands — a virtual roll call. Are you here? I asked. One by one, people came and said yes and yo. They wrote half-mast and no but I want to be. There was no wrong answer. Are you here? Are you here? Am I here?
We are here, and we are not leaving."
She was writing about her morning writing group, but she was also writing about the politics of our times, in particular, some of the more disturbing aspects of the Republican platform. For those of you who know me, it will be no surprise that there are many, many aspects of the current Republican platform with which I disagree. The bigger surprise may be that I have written so little in the past few months.
The truth of my quiet is that I have been in a state of waiting. Of I don't know what I'm meant to do here. Last summer I picked up Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I read it while on a long stretch at the beach with my family. Halfway through the book, I found myself walloped with despair. I told Graham I needed sometime alone. I rented a small hotel room, finished the book, and spent the rest of the day in a state that I can best describe as mourning. I cried for how much more work there is to be done, and for my absolute sense of not knowing what, personally, I could do.
Writing was always a possibility, but there was a part of me that did not want to add to the mayhem. With the political and racial climate plummeting, it can feel like the air itself is lace with vitriol. I also have bouts of anger, but have not wanted to add to the heat of the moment. And yet, it feels important, also to speak up, respond to my friend Jena's roll call, to say I'm here, count me in.
In particular, I want to share with you the issues that matter to me as a way of presenting myself without anger or heat to say, count on me for these issues. These are not the only issues I care about, but I feel each of them deeply, and struggle with feeling paralyzed in the face of their scope. I don't know what it means to ask you to count on me for these, or what I will be able to do to back my beliefs up. This not knowing has kept me quiet for a long time. Putting what I believe into words in public feels so meager, and honestly, not knowing what action to take makes me feel ashamed--and that more than meagerness has probably been the thing that has kept me so silent. What is more annoying than a person with strong convictions and not enough action? But you know what, forget that--these things take time, they take all of us, and it will take all of us putting our fears and shame aside to plunge forward. I believe saying what we care about matters, in ways that maybe we don't understand or can't understand in the moment of their saying.
So here it goes...yo' Jena, I'm here for roll call.
I believe in equity, inclusion, and in a democracy that is grounded in robust participation. I am troubled by Citizens United, the power that super PACs have in our electoral process, and the current legislation around campaign finance.
I believe that income inequality is polarizing American culture and society, and that the disappearance of the middle class instills fear and anxiety in all of our citizens.
I believe that as a country, we have yet to account for the exodus of women from the role of care taking. We have undervalued the role that care taking plays in a compassionate society and our lack of attention keeps structures in place that reinforce the cycle of poverty and the the shape of American work life. The dominant culture of work and social life encourages citizens to cover their differences in order to participate in our economy and other systems.
I believe that our country has profited off the bodies of black men and women, since our founding days, and that our current privatized prison system is a re-incarnation of slavery. To read more about this topic read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I don't think that we will come close to addressing racism in our midst until we address this and other structured injustices.
I believe that media has de-sensitized us to sensationalism, drama, and aggression--it makes it difficult to distinguish between news and entertainment. Though we can never go back to pre-Watergate days, in which the media and the government shared a gentlemen's reporting agreement with regard to the news, we need more journalism that is designed as a public service to preserve our democracy, not drive profit.
I believe that compassionate people have a role to play in reducing anger and increasing sanity. We need heroes and scripts and models for creating unity in an insane climate. We could do with far fewer guns in our public life, and deeper structural change in the geography that drives racism and injustice and the systemized concentration of wealth. We need to acknowledge that our thoughts and reactions are shaped by the geography and structures in which we live. None of us will be able to think or act freely for as long as groups of individuals are systemically disadvantaged.
These are not the only issues that trouble me, but they are the ones I feel intensely right now. This week I will take active measures to support Hilary Clinton. I don't care whether she is your candidate or not, but I do care about having skin in the game--yours, mine, everyone's. Unless we are all in it together, we risk losing what generations of Americans have made possible (um, sure, I've probably been listening to too much Hamilton, but honestly, it's an uplifting soundtrack for summer of 2016, which is serving up so much sadness, violence and disappointment).
If you're inclined, I would love to read your roll call. What do you care about? Where do you want to be counted, even if you don't know how to go about showing up?