Monthly Archives: February 2017

Report From a Town Hall With Tom Perriello

There’s been a lot of talk about the Democrats retaking Congress in 2018, but in Virginia, my home state, the fight starts earlier. While most states have elections every two years, here in Virginia there is a major election every year, which has historically advantaged Republicans. For reasons I’m still figuring out, Democrats across the nation don’t show up as regularly for midterms, and during off-off years this impact is compounded. I myself have missed most of my state’s elections because I didn’t know they were going on.

This year is a big one; among other key legislative positions, we elect a new governor. In this past month and a half, Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe has shown just how much a state government can do to protect their constituents from bad policies like those coming down from the Trump administration. He fought the Muslim ban, spoke out in support of the ACA over Trump’s block grants, and has repeatedly vowed to veto any bill that attacks transgender bathroom rights.  As great as all that is, we only have him for another year, and if the usual turnout rules hold, we could end up replacing him with a Trump puppet.

When Democrats show up to the polls, Virginia can go blue easily. In fact, it was the only former confederate state last year to go to Hillary, and it went to Obama twice before that. What we need is a way to get the word about this election spreading fast. One hope for the state is if somebody interesting is running; somebody who can excite the young progressives who are allied with the Democrats but disenfranchised with the way they seem stuck in the mud. Recently, Tom Perriello joined the race. He has distinguished himself from the other Democratic candidate, Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, not with his policies but with his passion. He doesn’t stick to the language of normal politics from years past, when presidents spoke in complete sentences and at least pretended facts matter, but talks about the fight ahead in an intensely divided nation. He’s been giving town halls throughout the state, and I went to one nearby to see if he could really be the start of the grassroots progressive movement in Virginia, or if he was just an opportunist capitalizing on that language.

Frankly, he blew me away.

Tom Perriello

First, I was impressed at how he was willing to call the racism and bigotry in this nation for what it was. He didn’t shout and rant, he simply was willing to call privilege privilege and call oppression oppression. Democrats are only just starting to have the guts to do that. It’s like there has been an unspoken code; you will disguise your racism with dog whistling, and we won’t call you bigots to your face. It’s a nonsense tradeoff that helps no one and solves nothing. If it ever served a purpose, that purpose was invalidated the moment Republicans nominated somebody who unironically talks about “bad hombres.” The time to hold off calling political opponents bigots is long gone.

Second, despite that refreshing frankness, he had practical solutions for how to reach out to rural red district voters who are genuinely hurting. The reality is that solutions championed by Democrats, like green energy and socialized healthcare and education, would help the poorest in our nation most, including those rural blue collar workers who tend to vote Republican. But we don’t make our case for them in ways that will reach them. Their well being still matters and we have done a terrible job communicating that. He showed me he can get that message out. He got away from the normal rhetoric and talked about the practicality of education as an investment that, in the long term, saves the taxpayer money by creating someone who can take care of themselves. He also gave concrete examples of green energy investments creating jobs and revitalizing struggling regions.

As we put together our rising progressive movement, those two qualities paired are going to be absolutely essential. We cannot afford to keep letting bigotry off the hook, but neither can we afford to keep neglecting people struggling in red districts. In fact, the longer we neglect rural and blue collar workers, the easier it is for the white supremacist “alt right” to sweep them up with fearmongering and scapegoating. We can win this fight, but we can’t do that if we keep using the same talking points that Democrats have used for a generation. We need to find new ways to get our message across.

Which brings me to the final thing I liked about Tom Perriello. There’s things you learn about a person by seeing them react to questions in the moment. I loved the way he listened. I never saw him try to evade a question or change the subject. He gave responses that were practical, focused, well thought out and clear. I saw him remember details of people’s often long questions and answer them thoroughly. (My boyfriend was impressed, at the end, when, to save time, he took four questions in succession and then answered them all at once. Going in reverse order, he answered them as thoroughly as any other question, without needing to ask anyone to remind him of what they had said.) He never sounded rehearsed either. Obviously he had thought about these issues and prepared himself, but you can tell when someone has prepped soundbites and is waiting to deliver them. That wasn’t what he sounded like. He just sounded like a smart, well read human being who did his homework and was ready for your question. I had almost forgotten politicians could sound like that.

Needless to say, Tom Perriello has already convinced me that he’s the kind of politician I need to be backing right now. I’ve already signed up to volunteer with his campaign, and I look forward to reporting on my experiences there.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this. When asked about his prospects for the race, Tom Perriello said the biggest fight won’t be against any of his opponents, but against apathy. If anything like the number of Democrats who showed up last year vote in November, this election will be a cakewalk. But, as I said, a lot of Virginians don’t even realize there’s an election every year.

So do me a favor. If you have friends in Virginia, ask them if they know there is a race. If you are a Virginian, look into the race. Read up on the candidates. I’d love it if you agreed with my conclusion that Tom Perriello is the best man for the job, but it’s honestly fine if you don’t. The most important thing is that, whoever you support, you remember to vote.

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The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

I’ve taken a break from this series because I didn’t like the format I was using. I’ve been playing around with new ones and I hope you like this one. Also, I’m going to make an effort to make these a regular Monday feature, so check back next week for another recommendation!

  • the-bluest-eyeGenre
    • Drama, Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Plot summary
    • A series of vignettes, set in a Black community in a late 30s Ohio town. They center around Pecola, a neglected dark skinned girl who comes to believe that, in order to be happy, she needs blue eyes. 
  • Character empathy rating
    • Toni Morrison loves her characters. She loves their darkest thoughts and their most hopeless moments and the day when life strangled the will to be good right out of them. She writes them with so much gentleness and heart that you cannot help but love these ugly, broken people, even as they destroy each other.
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • This book is all scenes that are hard to read, but you can’t put it down, because they are too beautiful. There are so many books that I’ve tried to read, because they are Informative and Very Important Grown Up Books That Will Change Your Life. More often than not, I leave them half finished, because they are so ugly I can’t read them and keep going through my day. Then I join the ranks of lying intellectuals who say, “oh yeah, I’ve read that. I too am cultured.” That didn’t happen with this book. It hasn’t happened with any Very Important Grown Up Book written by Toni Morrison, because she doesn’t lecture. She just loves so deeply that your heart breaks with her.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • Talks about a period of Black history that often gets erased
    • Audible.com has a version that she narrates, and it’s amazing. Her lilting, smoky voice fits the novel perfectly
  • Content Warnings
    • If child abuse or sexual abuse are triggers, this might not be the book for you. 
  • Quotes
    • “All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us–all who knew her–felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we has a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used–to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.”

Why You Need to Watch Sonita

About an hour and a half ago, I was flipping through Netflix’s new releases, looking for something to keep me company while I tackle the lasagna dishes that I put off yesterday. I saw a documentary from a couple years ago, about a young Afghani woman who aspires to be a rapper, and thought “oh, that looks interesting.”

sonita

Goddamn.

God. Freakin’. Damn.

First of all, I seriously want to be Sonita’s real life friend. In her every action, this beautiful blend of gentleness and tenacity comes through. She’s someone who has lived through more than her own share of hardships, and still is fueled artistically as much by the desire to help others as herself. In her world, she defies both traditions and rules to be a voice for the unheard. You couldn’t ask for a better subject for a documentary.

Second, speaking of real life being as good as fiction, her story is gripping. It feels wrong to praise the narrative structure of real events that are being captured, rather than imagined, but the crew got incredibly lucky with their material, and put it together masterfully.

Third, and you knew it was coming to this, this is a story that needs to be watched right now.

sonita-red-scarf

I don’t just mean that this is a story that people need to be aware of. I do happen to think that, even when you are fairly well educated about the issues, there’s some things you can’t grok until you see a human story dramatized. But right now, the need for stories like this goes beyond the need for the viewer to understand someone like Sonita. It’s about the world knowing that viewers want to understand someone like Sonita. It’s about the media being encouraged to spend their time and effort supporting women’s rights and immigrant’s rights and human rights. It’s about turning our backs on the bigots and white nationalists who want to control the conversation, and instead saying to each other, “have you heard about that Afghani immigrant who made a music video even though it was technically illegal in her country? How she raps about social justice? She is so epic I kind of can’t stand it.”

Fourth, it is so full of hope. In addition to the amazingness Sonita herself, there are so many beautiful moments of love and empowerment. It was sad, and scary, but also warm and lovely and ultimately so happy. Trust me, you need to feel the way this film will make you feel.

Go, watch it! It’s amazing.

sonita-smiles

The Electoral College and the White Supremacist’s Advantage

In these first few weeks of the Trump Administration, we’ve seen truly awful executive orders. We’ve also seen a historic rising up of people, organizations, and businesses. Even normally lazy and intractable politicians are taking the hint. This isn’t shaping up to be the smooth ride Donald wanted.

While this encourages me, it isn’t actually him who scares me the most. He’s the current manifestation of something that has been around a lot longer, will probably outlast him and is a lot more dangerous; the white supremacy movement.

How to create a truly diverse and equal world is a complex conversation with many different valid perspectives, but any decent human being should agree that it should exist. If your fundamental goal is to deny the humanity of anyone based on their race, language, nation of origin or ancestral ethnicity, you are not a legitimate political movement. You are an organization of hate. In recent years, white America has patted itself on the back for racial progressiveness, all the while ignoring dog whistling, southern apologists, and the piles of evidence for ongoing institutional racism. Now that white supremacists have put themselves back in the public eye, they have an opportunity to put themselves back on the table as a political perspective that we treat as normal. That cannot happen.

It is well known that your odds of being racist inversely correspond with your actual experience with people from different races. This effect can be mitigated by taboos against discussing race, institutional racism and socially acceptable racism, but in general, when people are allowed to socialize with other ethnic groups, discuss their differences and also find common ground, the idea of institutionalized racism becomes abhorrent. As America moves towards both greater demographic diversity, and also a greater social conversation about race, white supremacy loses more and more footholds. This excellent development means that, as time goes on, they only have a few regions of the country where they even have a chance to spread their ideology.

Simply put, they are better off in rural regions than urban areas.

This advantage doesn’t come from any moral superiority of city dwellers, but simply the fact that in a city you become more and more likely to run into people who are different from you on a daily basis. You are more likely to get inoculated against white supremacy, even in a society where racist institutions still exist. Rural areas are more isolated, and so easier for white supremacists to infect.

Now, the fact that they are so isolated should give white supremacists a disadvantage politically. This is where the Electoral College comes in. Because of the Electoral College, every Presidential election, voters in highly rural get their votes weighted double or treble over voters in states with major cities. With every Presidential election, they get a chance to control the public conversation about race. They get a chance to appoint Supreme Court Justices by proxy. They get a chance to dictate global policy. Without the Electoral College, white supremacists today would have no chance of putting their platform on a global or even national scale. With it, well, we are all seeing what has happened.

I think we will defeat Donald Trump. He’s too easy to mock and rally against. What scares me is the prospect of someone taking advantage of the galvanized white supremacist movement that he created. I worry that someone will come along who is smoother, more subtle when it comes to concealing their crimes, and altogether far less easy to mock. Not only do I think this is possible, but right now I think it’s inevitable.

What isn’t inevitable is that person’s victory. Even now, with so many racial problems still infecting our country, I believe our population has become too diverse for a true white supremacist to win the national popular vote. But as 2016 has proved, it’s possible for even a very unlikable one to win the Electoral College.

Activism against the current threat is wonderful, and we should keep doing it. But we should also have an eye on the future. The Electoral College is life support for neo-nazis. We need to unplug it.

This is part of an ongoing series on why I care so much about the Electoral College and the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. If I’ve convinced you that the Electoral College is something to be concerned about, or just want to know more, please check out the NPVIC’s site. If you want to take action, the best way is to call your state governor and representatives and tell them you want your state to sign the NPVIC. On their homepage is a search bar, where you can type your zip code and find out who they are.