A Year of Donald Trump

Tomorrow marks a year that Donald Trump has been the POTUS, and it’s been like a never-ending season of HBO’s Veep with the reigning incompetence in Washington, D.C. But this post isn’t about reflecting on the racism, homophobia, misogyny, or fear-mongering coming out of the administration over the last twelve months. I feel like the news cycle, Twitter, and outrage voiced all over the country and all over the world serve as evidence of the behavioral issues in the highest office in our land. This doesn’t mean I won’t continue to call it out over the next weeks, months, years (hopefully not years) of Trump’s term. Rather, I want to take this opportunity to reflect on how this last year has affected me.

Facebook Activism

For the first half of the year, I was into Facebook activism. I felt like I was reaching people when I posted news and opinions in reaction to Trump’s decisions. That started to die out until Charlottesville, at which point I started #WriteBacktoFightBack (more on this later). My social media activism started again, but I ultimately started focusing on just a couple of issues close to my heart because I couldn’t be on Facebook all day long.

The fact is though that I don’t think it actually makes much of a difference. Here’s why: There are two groups of people I’m friends with on Facebook. Conservatives and liberals. The conservatives won’t change their minds because I post something on Facebook. The liberals are already on my side and probably already know about what I’m posting.

Where does this leave me? I still posted sometimes toward the end of the year, but less and less about politics and more and more about cute animals. This doesn’t mean I stopped paying attention.

You might be wondering why I bothered to stay friends on Facebook with conservatives. I’ve been asked by people before if I would cut out of my life those who had such differing ideas from my own. After Charlottesville, I was ready to delete people from my Facebook and my life who agreed with Trump’s horrifying statements about that event.

Over the subsequent months though, I wondered how that would help? How does further division actually help? Better to keep telling those people I’ve connected with what I believe, that there’s still love between us, and hope that they realize Nazis are not on the same level with non-Nazis. As I said above, I don’t actually think I’m changing anyone’s mind there. And if someone posted a comment that could be hurtful to others, I tried to be quick to act and remove it. Yes, that’s censorship, but it’s my timeline. I can censor it if I like.

Thanks to school demands, I’m not really using Facebook right now. I’m checking in with school and writing groups, but that’s about it–so the whole question of Facebook activism might be moot, except for the fact that it gave me a forum to express my frustration in an internet where I didn’t feel safe or comfortable expressing that frustration elsewhere.

Enter #WriteBacktoFightBack

I created this hashtag as a way to use my words to address the issues our country and our world is facing. It gave me the courage to stop hiding behind friends-only posts on Facebook and talk about how the world is affecting me as a writer and a human and a woman. And you know what? Response has been positive so far. I try to keep an open mind, look at both sides, and examine facts. Not alternafacts. The real, researched kinds of facts.

It wasn’t until recently when someone told me that the theme of a speech he was giving was based on #WriteBacktoFightBack though that I really felt a deep connection to the project. I felt honored that he used this idea that writing and fighting–especially after the 2016 election–are interwoven for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writers alike. What I like most about this project is that the fight happens on the page, instead of in the streets.

Because we’re protected by the right to free speech, #WriteBacktoFightBack is possible. It can open up conversations, because the fact of the matter is that we’re not getting out of this alone. Liberals will never defeat conservatives in the sense of converting them, and the opposite is true, too. Even if we don’t like one another’s ideas, we have to acknowledge their existence–both the people and the ideas.

We may not be able to change minds, but maybe we can change hearts. By opening our own, we can perhaps open others so that they see us as people and not just as “liberals” or “snowflakes.”

Where I Am Now

Honestly? I’m tired of politics. I want to crawl under a rock with my novel and short stories and live in their worlds. Except their worlds have politics too, so I’d probably want to escape again. I also feel that as a wordsmith, I have the duty to respond in writing to what’s been happening in our world. As my hashtag suggests, this is where I fight, peaceably and nonviolently, seeking to educate, inform, and inspire.

We’re a year into this presidency, with possibly three more to go (though I hope not). We need to look after one another and try to mend the rift that the administration is only too happy to widen.

Net Neutrality at Great Risk

When I was in middle school, I remember using a 14kbps dial-up modem. I’d log in to AOL, listen for the familiar “You’ve got mail” notification (a rarity since I was only in middle school and spam wasn’t really a thing yet) and open the web browser. I’d type in the web address and then get up and do something else for a few minutes. By the time I came back to the computer, the frames on the website would have almost finished loading.

I didn’t mind back then that the internet was so slow. For one reason, I didn’t know any better. People didn’t have DSL or gasp–cable–yet. WiFi wasn’t a thing anyone mentioned. Heck, cell phones were large, clunky, and used primarily by business people. (I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was 17, and I shared it with my mom. It had a 20-minute battery life.)

The second reason I didn’t mind the internet being so slow is that I was only using it for fun. I was navigating to webpages about my favorite cartoons, looking at pictures of puppies, and reading about dinosaurs whenever I could. I didn’t need fast internet in order to earn a decent hourly wage as a freelance writer. I didn’t need to conduct last minute research for a 20-page paper; Google didn’t even exist yet. I had friends who I talked to on AIM, but we were used to everything taking its time, and we were fine with it.

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At Risk: Internet Speed at an Affordable Price

The problem with killing net neutrality isn’t that the internet itself will slow down: The problem is that telecom companies can elect to charge users extra for faster internet. How much they can charge depends on what enough of the population is willing to pay…but for those who cannot afford those packages, they will not have the same ready access to information and communication that we enjoy today.

Speaking of being charged for services, it’s unlikely that telecom companies would all of a sudden start charging for social media and email packages, but the danger is that they legally could charge for these things. This will make social media and email unavailable for many who cannot afford to tack on an extra set of fees each month.

I’ll just text.

I’ve heard people say this, and yes–texting is a great alternative to email. But if we let the FCC roll back net neutrality, which established that the internet is a utility necessary for everyday life here in the U.S., how long before someone decides it’s a precedent to start charging people per text message again?

Do you see the danger?

At Risk: Freedom of Information

My thirteen-year-old self didn’t care about the news, social activism, or any other topic that relied on the internet. I had a couple of Greenpeace stickers on the mirror hanging on the back of my bedroom door–i.e. I cared about the environment–but I wasn’t reading about it regularly or signing petitions to fund our national parks.

You might argue that at thirteen, someone isn’t old enough to really participate in those discussions. Fine–I will grant you the freedom to think that though I disagree–but the fact remains that without net neutrality, we risk losing the freedom of information to make up our own minds on important political debates.

Our current president is doing everything he can to misinform the masses (someone take his Twitter away, please?!), and by appointing someone like Ajit Pai to head up the FCC, he’s creating an environment wherein the danger exists that the people might lose access to information.

Again, this isn’t a change we’d see right away after the end of net neutrality. And it might not even happen…but we need to acknowledge the potential for tyranny to flourish in an environment where corporations can play gatekeeper on the information and propaganda we receive.

Basically, without net neutrality, telecom corporations can decide which websites we have access to. That’s a huge deal, especially when over $60 million has been lobbied by telecom companies this year.

Let’s not lose track of who is in whose pocket.

What can you do about it?

If you want to keep your freedoms in place–and your internet access neutral–don’t feel overwhelmed by the FCC’s ruling to roll back net neutrality on Thursday. Even as an individual, there are things you can do to reverse this.

A Reminder

Cast your imagination into the future when, like the CDC which Trump wants to silence by banning certain words from their reports (hey wait, that’s not the future), articles like this one are deemed to be less than complimentary to our misogynistic, narcissistic, megalomaniac president and his cronies. You wouldn’t be able to read it. You wouldn’t know your freedoms are at risk or how to stop it.

We need net neutrality. This fight is far from over, and every person counts. Do something to stop this, yet one more threat to the fabric of our democracy, while you still have the power to do so.

Haven’t We Learned from SVU that Victim Blaming & Shaming Isn’t Okay?

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In the recent and growing flood of accusations against sexual predators, there is one question I hear again and again: “Why didn’t [the victim] report it sooner?”

This is never okay to ask aloud. It shouldn’t even be a thought. For any readers of mine who have never watched a single episode of Law & Order: SVU or who have never known a victim or been a victim, I’m going to lay it out plain and then show why this question should never be asked.

It assumes the victim is in a place of power.

Sexual harassment and abuse is about power, not physical desire. Usually, predators choose victims who don’t hold power over them. Children and minors, employees, students, protégés, etc.

When someone doesn’t have the power to stop another’s abuse of them, it’s usually a sign that they don’t feel like they have the power to report it. This is why when one person does make a report, there are often subsequent reports made public. With numbers comes power–suddenly the victim is no longer alone. This is one reason why the #metoo campaign was voiced by so many.

If an employer sexually harasses or abuses an employee, for example, the employee may feel as though reporting the misconduct/crime will mean losing that job. Then, not only has that victim taken a huge emotional risk, but she or he has also taken an immense financial one, too.

It assumes the victim is not emotionally affected by the incident(s).

When I was sixteen years old, my grandfather passed away. I did not cry for over a year, and then one day, while getting a routine dental cleaning, I just broke down. I felt bad for my dentist afterward, because not only did he think I’d somehow been grievously injured, but he also found himself in the position of having to empathize with a patient about grief. He’d been my dentist for over a decade though, and he altered his appointment schedule to sit and talk with me about when he lost his father.

My point is that emotional trauma, whatever its nature, often has lasting impacts. Sometimes it doesn’t hit right away; other times it’s ever-present.

For victims of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault, they must work through that emotional trauma. Sometimes it’s just not possible to report an incident right after it happens.

It assumes the victim feels they will be believed.

This is a big assumption because most of the time, situations of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault come down to one person’s word against another’s. When one of those people is in a position of power, say a boss for example, the victim may believe that the abuser’s power will lend credibility, and therefore her or his own story won’t be believed.

In many cases, this is true. Even if it’s not true though, the victim may worry that it is.

Imagine being sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted and having little to no physical evidence. Imagine deciding to report it and then imagine no one believes you’re telling the truth. Whatever emotional healing may have already taken place could be at risk, as well as other elements of a victim’s life.

It assumes the victim has done something wrong.

Saying that someone should have reported an event sooner is placing some blame at their feet. Maybe not for the event itself, but for its aftermath, and that’s not okay. It’s never a victim’s fault that she or he is attacked.

If someone speeds through a red light and T-bones your car when you have the right to cross an intersection, you’re not at-fault. We need to stop shaming and blaming victims. We need to stop putting the onus on them to keep themselves safe from sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. We need to provide a safe space for them to come forward when someone has victimized them.

Can it go too far?

The source of victim blaming and shaming isn’t often malicious. Often times, it’s fear of a modern witch hunt that causes this mentality to take hold. After all, since it’s one person’s word against a potential predator, who do you trust?

The answer is simple, I think. Far simpler than it may seem, especially for those of us not involved in investigations into claims of such abuse. Here’s what we need to do:

  1. Treat the victim with empathy. Make her or him feel safe to speak about what happened.

That’s really all we need to do, until something is proven in a court of law. Yes, the court of public opinion matters but we need to guard ourselves that it not go too far. I’m not saying I don’t believe victims. I think in 99.99% of cases they’re telling the truth. But there’s always the possibility for a shred of uncertainty.

In our country, people are legally innocent until proven guilty. We have due process for a reason. I’m not saying it’s always fair or right. I’m not saying that you can’t go ahead and believe someone is a sexual predator.

What I am saying is that unless you sit on the jury for that case, it’s not your job to decide. The system isn’t perfect and it never will be, but we have to work within it to improve it, and that starts with empathy for anyone who feels victimized.

Final Thoughts

I am a feminist, which means I believe in equality for all regardless of gender association or disassociation. I’ve also studied history and literature. Humans have a tendency to go into witch-hunt-mode and I think it’s important to prevent reaching that point while still supporting those who are suffering. Let’s focus on trying to make our system work better so that we can enforce laws that make those who are guilty a) easier to identify and prosecute and b) pay their debts to society.

I’ll leave you with this thought, which I learned from reading Witchcraze by Anne Barstow. Prior to the attachment of the idea of worshipping Satan, witchcraft was not a crime punishable by death. If someone accused a witch who was then found innocent, the accuser would have to pay a fine. The people of the medieval era understood that a crazed witch hunt would devastate the population.

So let’s not get crazy about this. It’s great that people feel safe enough to come forward. And I’m not suggestion they shouldn’t be believed. I’m just saying that judgment should wait until evidence is in.

Ladies, We Might As Well Work For Free

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Yesterday, this article about the gender wage gap popped on my newsfeed, and it made me feel more than a little sick. I knew there was a wage gap between men and women, but I’d never thought of it in these terms before. Basically, on average, if women worked for free from October 26, 2017, until the end of this year, that would represent the average wage gap.

That’s disgusting for a couple of reasons. I won’t wax poetic on how it’s 2017 and we should be past this because I think if the last twelve months have proved anything, it’s that America at age 241 has not yet reached maturity. (Seriously, does anyone know the conversion rate to human years for a country?)

To me, one of the biggest problems isn’t just that women make less than men. It’s typical for privileged groups to make more–not that that makes it okay because it certainly does not–but what really bothers me, what’s really at the heart of this issue, is the division of labor based on gender.

I’m sorry, did World War II just end? Is it time to send Rosie the Riveter back to the kitchen because now the men are back and we certainly can’t expect them to take up cooking and cleaning and all the home economics jobs? Is it time to rip the Barbie out of your son’s hands and tell him he must play with G.I. Joe because he’s a boy and boys play with action figures, not dolls?

Are we going to force women to confine themselves to female roles for female pay because we certainly can’t expect men to deign to take those jobs for that salary and corporate America couldn’t possibly imagine paying equal wages? How about we go back to the times when women were forced by societal standards to wear so many layers (and cook all the meals) that 25% of American women died in kitchen fires? (Don’t believe me? I read it in this book. By the way, an excellent resource for writing about Colonial life.)

For the record, I’m being a tad hyperbolic for a reason–to point out how ridiculous it is that we even have a wage gap. It’s more likely these days that the misogynists who perpetuate this situation would rather women not be in the workplace at all. They’re the same men who say that if a woman can’t handle being sexually harassed or assaulted, then she doesn’t belong in the workplace.

To be fair, there are some companies that are striving to close the wage gap. In some roles, that gap is closing. But it’s not closing fast enough, and in certain positions, it’s even worse than $0.80 on the dollar. So how do we fix it? Where do we go from here?

I promise that the answer doesn’t lie in shipping all men out of the country. Men are valuable, as valuable as women, and their opinions are just as necessary to create a diverse and complete world. For that reason, starting a company run by and entirely staffed by women is also not the answer (and it’s pretty illegal).

Here’s what needs to happen to close this wage gap:

  • Hire for the needs of the position, and the matching skills of a candidate–not whether she can get the job done for less money than a man.
  • For persons of all genders, and those who don’t associate with a gender, stop trying to force them into roles defined by gender.
  • Persons of all genders should learn how to negotiate a salary. We should teach anyone and everyone applying for jobs (and before then) that associating with a non-privileged gender does not mean one’s professional skills are valued less.
  • Support companies that strive to close the gender gap by shopping with them. Shop less or not at all with those companies who refuse. Money talks.

Oh, and one more thing: We need to stop telling women not to answer the gender question on job applications. I’m not saying everyone or anyone should answer. But telling a woman not to answer is like telling a woman not to wear certain clothes because such a wardrobe might be too much of a temptation for men.

Finally, we need to take this problem out of the workplace. What I mean by this is that we need to stop thinking of men as the breadwinners and women as the caretakers. Men are capable of being caretakers and women are capable of being breadwinners.

Free Speech: What Does The 1st Amendment Allow?

constitution-1486010_1280It’s interesting to me how the effects of an event can continue to be felt, like aftershocks of an earthquake, long after the event occurred. I still hear people talking about Charlottesville and how the white supremacist protestors’ first amendment rights were infringed upon.

No, they weren’t.

So I decided to take a moment to talk about the first amendment, and what it really means. I also don’t mind taking a break from my MFA work to #WriteBacktoFightBack.

The first amendment of the United States Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Let’s take a minute to unpack this amendment, and the language the founders used when they wrote it.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

Congress isn’t allowed to tell you what religion to practice if any.

or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press

Congress isn’t allowed to tell you that you can’t say something. It isn’t allowed to say the press can’t print or say something.

or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Congress isn’t allowed to stop people from peacefully protesting. It can’t stop anyone from petitioning the Government if something the Government is doing is irksome.

The Constitution is a Contract Between the Government and the People

Notice that the first amendment begins with “Congress.” It doesn’t say “The People shall make…” The whole document is like a contract, or agreement, between the government and the people. It stipulates how the government can treat the people, and vice versa.

So, here’s what this means for what happened in Charlottesville back in August:

  1. Congress could not tell either the white supremacist protestors or the anti-protestors that they couldn’t gather or speak out.
  2. The anti-protestors were not infringing on the protestors’ first amendment rights when they shouted over them or stood against them.

It’s impossible for The People to infringe on someone’s freedom of speech because that freedom is only guaranteed in the relationship between The People and the Government. It’s not guaranteed between The People and The People.

In other words, if I say the sky is blue and you think it’s purple, you can shout it’s purple at the top of your lungs until you drown out my voice–and you’re not infringing on my first amendment rights.

Screaming “Fire!” in a Crowded Room

As The People, we have an inherent and assumed responsibility to others that when we exercise the rights guaranteed to us by our nation’s Constitution, we do so without causing undue harm to others.

Basically, if you get up in the middle of a crowded room and scream, “Fire!” when there is no fire, you are using your freedom of speech to harm others. By all means, if there is fire, warn everyone and help them exit in an orderly manner. But if you cry wolf, and someone gets trampled to death, on your head be it.

When the protestors gathered in Charlottesville to spew hate speech, that was akin to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded room when there wasn’t even a wisp of smoke. In that case, anyone who was there had a duty to speak out against them.

There were no fine people on the side of the white supremacists that day. I wouldn’t want to be in a movie theater with any of them when one of them gets up and screams “Fire!” because they would just go along with it.

Therefore, in addition to not having their first amendment rights infringed upon, the white supremacist protestors used those same rights in an irresponsible manner.

Share Your Thoughts

Have you had someone tell you that they feel for those protestors because “their first amendment rights were trampled on?” What did you say? How did you react?