Just Not That Into the Election

November 6, 2012

My facebook feed is full of people who are inspired by voting and the election… those who are excited about their candidate or love to make fun of the other side. I, on the other hand, feel really ambivalent about the whole thing. I voted, but I wasn’t even sure I wanted to wear my “I voted” sticker. Because, for me, making a big deal about voting and how wonderful it is distracts from how profoundly broken our political system is.

This whole election season has been disheartening and depressing and I just cannot bring myself to pretend that I think otherwise. I think so many regular people like me (not to mention my students) are alienated by the partisan ridiculousness, the harshness of both sides being nasty and making fun of each other, and failure of the system to speak with authenticity to the everyday people who want to work hard, care for others, balance public good with personal needs, and make our world a livable place.

So, I say, do your voting. Then, roll up your sleeves and try to make the world better. Because I can make a promise: neither candidate is going to make this world the world you want. That can only be done day in and day out by everyday folks trying to do the hard work of love and justice and freedom that so many religious and political folks say they value.

What are we to do?

May 7, 2009

My partner is German, and he and his generation dealt with the question of what to say to their parents and grandparents who knew what was happening during the war, but didn’t do anything. How to understand that? What to do with that?

What are we to do with this?

In all, 98 detainees have died while in U.S. hands, with 34 identified as homicides, at least eight of which were tortured to death….

I fear that these numbers are too low, but even if they are exaggerated, one death by torture is too much. How will I respond to my little one, who sleeps on my chest as I write this, when he grows up and asks if I knew of the torture my country was committing? When he asks me what I did? Blogging and sermon-giving and voting and going to a protest and praying all feel woefully inadequate, yet it is about all I can think of. I am so disappointed with my country of citizenship and residence. I have never identified strongly with my country, yet I don’t think that somehow relieves me of guilt by association when terrible things are done by the U.S. government.

I knew of so many bad things in our past… yet somehow for me, systematic torture during my lifetime seems so clear… so obvious… so much like something that I feel we should be able to stop. If this is okay, what is not okay? If this doesn’t provoke outrage… and legal action agianst those responsible, what possibly could?

I find myself increasingly questioning what a democracy is. At what point is a country no longer a democracy? How many human rights and international laws must be violated before a country gives up the right to claim noble values and good intentions and such things as rule of law? I know this is not a well-thought out or well-articulated post. Mostly I just feel despair and sickness and a deep sadness about this. I wanted this nation to do better. To live up to its best self instead of confirming the worst.

The Rick Warren Bru-ha-ha

December 20, 2008

I am of two minds on the Rick Warren matter.

My first reaction is to say, “Look, I don’t like the guy either. I don’t agree with his theology. I don’t agree with his politics. But it isn’t like he was chosen to be the minister-in-chief or something. He is giving an invocation. I know it has a lot of symbolic meaning, but it doesn’t have any practical consequences in and of itself. It is a gesture of the president elect to say, ‘I am not a president only to progressives or to liberals, but a president to the whole country.’ And, there are big parts of the country that can identify with Rev. Rick Warren. And, as conservative evangelical pastors go, he is one of the less offensive ones who has at least made some overtures toward changing the tone of the rhetoric. My hope is that it is a gesture that will soften the hearts of those who would tend to be more opposed to Obama and his policies. It will not solve many problems, but it is a gesture of unity, which people are always talking about. You know, one country, working out our differences and that sort of thing. By saying all of this, I don’t mean to say that I don’t understand why people don’t like it. Heck, I don’t like it either. But I see it as a strategic move that may help in the long run with things that matter more than who gives the invocation at the inauguration.” (It is of course another matter whether there should be invocations and benedictions at inaugurations anyway.)

That said, it occurred to me how often discrimination against women or the GLBTQ community can often be chalked up to theology, while few people will stand for discrimination against ethnic minorities chalked up to theology. I try to imagine if someone gave the invocation that said that they still supported slavery based on theology. Or that women should obey thier husbands based on theology (heck, Warren may agree with the second of those statements). What would it mean to have someone give the invocation as a gesture of unity and goodwill who was known to support legalized discrimination against women – that they should get paid less, that rape should be less of a crime, that they should not have inheritance rights? Hmm. No matter how symbolic or strategic that would be, I would be feeling really unhappy about this. So then I started rethinking what I said above.

And now I just don’t know. The thing is, so many of these difficult issues are totally intrackable. “We” dig in our heals. “They” dig in their heels. We write on our blogs about why we are right. We affirm each other at our churches about why we are right. We are smug. We know whose side God is on. And where does this get us? What is the way forward toward better understanding each other, finding common ground to work on together, even, dare I say it, finding areas where compromise makes sense. I am not talking about any particular issue, but rather all of these very intense social and political issues that are so close to our hearts – all of our hearts – and where it seems so difficult to move forward.

I’m guessing having Rick Warren give the invocation at the inauguration isn’t the answer. But I wish we could come up with a better one that just insisting on how right and just we are and getting offended and indignant. Not that I am somehow immune to this. I do it to. But there must be a better way…

A Festival of Non-Information

October 6, 2008

This is how Shark-Fu at Feministing described the vice-presidential debates and it was one of the best characterizations that I have heard of it. That anyone takes these seriously as somehow saying something about the candidates or their policies, is, in and of itself, annoying and depressing. Unless you consider the strategic and selective repetition of various sound bites and partial truths to be “saying something.” I know, I know. Get more excited about democracy, Elizabeth! But it is hard. And I am tired. I think we as a country are tired.

And I feel really very badly for people whose retirement accounts are plummeting right now. Everyone else’s will have time to recover, but not those who are retiring soon. Not to mention those who have lost houses. I wish there was more I could do in the short term other than feel bad for those folks and wish it would be different.

I am sure there are many more pressing things that should be said (like the Rev. Bill Sinkford meeting with the oppressive and ridiculous President of Iran, Ahmadinejad and then making this public as if it was a super-good thing). But sometimes I feel like I have run out of things to say. I know, I know. Speak truth to power. And I am not giving up. But just taking a break for a while.

On a happy note, some of our dear friends welcomed a new baby to the world this week – Ms. Josephine Katherine. So welcome Josephine!!!! We are so happy you arrived safe and sound, and that you are part of our world. We can’t wait to meet you!

On that happy note, off to class.

Peace, E

The Age of Facebook Activism

September 22, 2008

I have seen all sorts of groups on facebook. Some make sense to me – like a student group that I am a part of has a facebook group. You can go and see who is in the group. Announcements about gatherings are made. Pictures from functions are posted. But I recently saw a group somewhere along the lines of End the Violence Against (Certain Minority) in (Certain Other Country). I am not listing the exact name because I don’t want to criticize this specific group at all. But my wondering is… what happens when you join this group? I have looked at it. There are not events. It seems like maybe updates can be sent to members about what is happening around this. There is no way to give money. No info on how to get more involved. There are all sorts of silly facebook groups (like Bring Back the Chicken Strips at Tommy’s Diner or I Love That Melon (The Group)) which make sense in that they are meant to be inside jokes or funny or silly.

But for serious things, I have a slightly nagging feeling that I don’t like to be able to join the facebook group about really serious social problems and then get the feeling that, yes, now I have done something for that cause. It reminds me of online petitions – I think by and large (there are probably exceptions) they are a waste of time and energy. So what if a zillion people forwarded something around to end human rights abuses in __________ or to end the war __________ or to ban foie gras in Montreal or whatever and they all signed their names? Who reads that? Who cares? (Please don’t provide me with an exception unless you know of 1000 meaningful exceptions to this.)

It isn’t that I am so much against facebook activism or online petitions in and of themselves, but rather that they provide people who take part with a sense that they are doing something useful when they are not. This raises two questions for me (for which I do not have answers). First, if a MILLION people join your group, does that make a difference? Does it matter or make some sort of statement to someone(s) that care if that many people will join a facebook group? My point being maybe if TONS of people join your group, it does somehow matter (?). And, second, If people couldn’t join facebook groups about their favorite causes, would people then go out and do something actually meaningful? That is, do gestures for a good cause that have no impact whatsoever actually reduce the level of action that does have some sort of impact?

An afterthought is that people on facebook (and online petitioners) feel so helpless to do anything (I mean, what could you do that would be that meaningful to end the war in Iraq or genocide in Darfur without committing a significant amount of time and energy?) that they just do facebook groups or online petitions to somehow address that feeling of helplessness – that is, the idea that people just don’t feel like they have the ability to commit real time an energy to one issue (or to the many issues that may tug at us) so facebook groups are sort of a stop gap measure…a way to represent care for an issue, to announce to friends that something matters to you, with no pretence that it actually does do any good.

Anyway, just some thoughts. No conclusions just yet.

How Sarah Palin Made Me Cry

September 10, 2008

My partner is a political scientist, so talking about politics is one of his hobbies. So I talk with him about politics, including the election every day. I also am a consultant for an organization that deals a lot with democracy. There is no escaping it.

Yet, I always keep it at a distance. It is not my ministry. It is not my passion. It is not what I study and love. I change the subject when it comes up at dinner, I try not to upset anyone, gently suggesting where I stand, but not going much further. How are those Red Sox doing anyway?

My mentor from high school who remains a friend wrote to ask me what I thought of Sarah Palin. I ignored his email the first time. I knew he probably disagreed with me.

He emailed again, so I told him. I didn’t want to tell it to him, or to myself. It feels something like Bush winning in 2004, only somehow worse. A mixture of disbelief and hopelessness. That there is simply nothing that can be done to save our country. Even if she and McCain do not win, I am so disheartened by the level of support that they have that it doesn’t even matter anymore if they win or lose. My dear mentor, who reads newspapers and is educated and cares about poor people and is not a radical Christian conservative, thinks Palin is great. Too many millionaires running our country in the past, he says. She can be a mom and a leader. He loves that she is anti-abortion, says being a governor provides plenty of experience. And the reason this made me cry sitting right here in Diesel Cafe is because I know he is a good person. If kind, giving, well-meaning people like him who keep up with the news can be convinced by Palin, then what is there to possibly be done?

Sarah Palin makes me cry because I hurt for our country. I try so often to not be overly dramatic or engaged with politics because it feels like such a futile use of my energy. I vote. I am involved in my community. Why get in a tizzy about things that I cannot do much about? Yet, for some reason, Sarah Palin did it for me.

I do not feel like some sort of partisan nut. I do not think the Dems are somehow amazing. But rather, I am just aghast at how bad the Republicans are. It is just that I care about poor people. I care about hard working people. I care about a country that tortures people. A country that is a world leader and runs around invading other countries based on manufactured intelligence. I care about women who have been raped who can’t have a rape kit unless they pay for it themselves. I care about our military people who cannot get decent healthcare after fighting for our country. Or ordinary people who cannot get health care. I am just sad for all the suffering that has been caused by the previous government, and a country that is not able to recognize that. I know many caring people support the Republicans, and have been won over by Sarah Palin. Which is what makes me so upset, I guess. That it is possible for large numbers of people who really do care about others to think that McCain and Palin really care as well. I am just so sad and frustrated that someone like Sarah Palin and John McCain can successfully portray themselves as people who are going to take care of our country… to take care of people.

I always felt like people who considered moving to another country were selling out, were being overly dramatic, were abandoning people in this country who need fairness and justice more than ever. We won’t leave. But I increasingly understand that impetus.

I will get over it. I will re-detach. Do what I can. But it hurts.

What, they can’t hide the tapes?

December 8, 2007

I know I am by no means the first person to write about this, but I just find it so absurd and continuing evidence of the absolute horror that this presidential administration has wreaked on our country and world, that it seems worth repeating.

As many of you already know, the CIA has destroyed tapes of of interrogations that included “harsh” interrogation techniques. Harsh probably meaning what most people would consider to be torture. First, our president apparently “doesn’t recall” being told that the tapes had been destroyed. I always feel like when a politician “doesn’t recall” something, especially something important, this really that means, “I don’t want to say if I remember that or not.” But, what I find most wild about this whole story is the CIA’s explanation as to why these tapes were destroyed:

“Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the programme, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qaeda and its sympathisers,” [CIA Director Michael Hayden] said (via BBC).

I mean, please tell me that the CIA is able to hide really important things. They don’t have some big top secret vault that they can just lock things in that they don’t want leaked? If it would really be the case the the CIA isn’t able to hide something like this, it seems that this would represent an intelligence issue far greater than the possibility of a few tapes leaking. Couldn’t they get all the people together who run our Central Intelligence Agency and come up with a better reason for destroying these tapes? It just seems so lame.

As with so many things, I feel like blogging about this is such an inadequate response, and almost trivializes the very serious issue of the United States torturing detainees and then covering it up. But, I suppose we do what we can do. So let’s vote. Protest. Blog. Talk to our neighbors. And continue to think something better than what we have now is possible and keep on doing what we can to work toward that.