Why Blog Politics?

When i first started blogging here, I’d sometimes write posts just to clarify my thoughts and see what sort of feedback they’d get. This is one of those. Now that I’ve moved my #WeekendCoffeeShare posts to Sourcerer and the Feminist Friday archive is hosted at Part Time Monster, this blog’s going to need a new tagline and and about page revision. I’m wrapping up the summer run of the Feminist Friday Discussions here this week. Do join us — it will be at least several weeks before we start them up again.

Long-term, I don’t see keeping this blog active, but for the moment, this is the only one I have access to where I can do social commentary any time I feel like it. So I’m not quite done. I’ve done political blogging off-and-on for almost as long as blogs have existed. I’ve not always been good at it, and I’ve had to learn a few lessons the hard way over the years.

This is me.

This is me.

I’ve had to learn to moderate my rhetoric and be open to criticism while remaining firm in my position and not allowing myself to be baited by debating tricks — not always easy things to do, especially on the internet. It’s very much a work in progress. I’ve learned to not attack people (also the hard way), and I’ve moved away from advocating for political parties and candidates.

Now, I’ll just be honest. Aside from a handful of local candidates, I haven’t voted for a Republican since, well . . . ever. I’m a liberal by any reasonable standard of American politics, but I don’t consider myself that far to the left. There have been times in the history of the U.S. when I’d have been considered a moderate. But I feel like my own views are defined, as far as the larger culture goes, by measuring their distance from a center which has shifted progressively to the right for most of my lifetime.

I’ve been given all sorts of labels over the years for having views I consider to be common sense. Liberal. Progressive. Leftist. Socialist. Bleeding Heart. Hippie. That was difficult to deal with when I was in my 20s and early 30s. It’s one of the reasons it’s been such a struggle to moderate my rhetoric and learn to write political content that has a chance of appealing to readers. As I’ve gotten older, though, my skin’s gotten thicker. I’ve learned to shrug that stuff off and just say what I need to say.

I think there are signs the center could be shifting back a little in the U.S. The marriage equality ruling, the progress on legalization some of the western states are making, and the President talking about prison reform all bode well for that. I think the way the country is trending demographically also favors this shift.

That said, the culture warriors of the far right aren’t going quietly, and I don’t see anything resembling an actual “left” in this country. Yes, you can find a handful of liberal politicians who hold some extreme views on a few issues. And yes, large segments of the population would prefer more liberal leaders and more liberal public policies. But there’s no “left” equivalent of the Tea Party.

Feminist_Morpheus_Quickmeme_by_GeneOThat’s important to note. Even if the more extreme elements of the right were correct on the issues and we could all stomach their vision for the country, not having a coherent group to counterbalance them is bad for everyone. I don’t know what to do about it except keep advocating for my own positions and hope to make enough friends on the internet to find ways of making progress.

I’m in an especially difficult position for a liberal because I live in the Deep South. So I not only have to contend with run-of-the-mill parochial conservatism, there are all the historical social problems, too. I have to deal with various strains of Christianity that I can only describe as 19th-century ways of thinking. Because of the way we’ve been historically divided by race — and at times our elites have intentionally set us against one another — it’s nearly impossible to have a productive conversation about either race or class. There’s plenty of misogyny, much of it unacknowledged, which informs all kinds of conversations about issues that intersect with gender. And conspiracy theories all around.

Despite those difficulties, I’m lucky. I’m a man. I’m tall. Even though I’m not smokin’ hot or anything, it’s fair to call me attractive and I present well. My intelligence is above average. I’ve always been physically healthy because I grew up middle class in a home with two parents who took care of their children, so I had good nutrition and the best medical care an insurance company could afford until I was in my mid-20s. I’ve got an undergraduate degree I didn’t have to pay for myself, which allowed me to get a graduate degree later without being absolutely crushed by the debt.

If I’d been born into real wealth and didn’t have the anxiety, depression, and insomnia to deal with, I’d basically have ALL the privilege, except a high-ranking government job. I wasn’t born into real wealth, though. My entire adult life has been a struggle to maintain my financial independence and to keep myself and my family afloat. I came out of a middle class family with no idea how much money it was requiring to maintain that standard of living. I chose my college major because I thought I wanted to be a poet or fiction writer or a professor, and I was encouraged to pick something I liked, rather than something that paid. Started out in local journalism (which pays terribly) because I knew I didn’t want to teach school.CSE_Live_06_26_2015

Yet still, despite my modest means, I’m privileged. I’ve never been hungry unless I chose to be. Never had to sleep on the street. And when I look at how 85 percent of the rest of the world lives, it seems like I have it pretty good. “Get to the point, Gene’O,” you say.

My point is this. Yes, I’m privileged. But I’ve lived close enough to edge to wonder if I was going to end up either homeless and hungry, or completely dependent on relatives. I’ve seen enough real, on-the-ground, racism, poverty, and sexism, to last a couple of lifetimes. And enough outright meanness cloaked in conservative and Christian ideology to last a dozen. So I have to figure out this social criticism thing.

I support adequate social services because I don’t believe people should go hungry for lack of money, and I’m not content to leave that entirely to charities. I support Planned Parenthood not because of my pro-choice and feminist views, but because women who don’t have the money or adequate insurance to afford them still need pap smears and cancer screenings. I support penal reform because I believe we’re locking too many people up, and the application of our laws is falling disproportionately on minorities and economically-disadvantaged people.

I’ve got to find a way to cut through the noise and start talking about that stuff openly and productively. Got to learn to put things in terms people can understand. And most importantly, I’ve got to find a better place to do all that than this tiny WordPress blog.

Thanks for reading, and do stay tuned.

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A Speech for the Ages

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968

I regard Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam,” also known as his “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam” to be one of the finest pieces of writing ever produced in American English. Even though it is designed for oral presentation, he had to sit down and write it first, and it is truly powerful. American Rhetoric has an audio file of the speech and a certified transcript. Excluding the salutation, it is 6,720 words long. He delivered it on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City – a year to the day before his assassination.

I am not going to explicate the speech here. You can read it if you like. If this is your first encounter with it, I strongly suggest taking a look. It is Dr. King’s explanation of why he decided to publicly oppose the Vietnam War, and a critique of profit-driven, materialistic society. It is an important document. Here is why I think it is important:

  1. He connects militarism and poverty in a way that is easy to understand.
  2. It is a statement of conscience. Part of what he is doing is explaining that he’s looking as some ugliness and he has no choice but to talk about it. I believe this part of it.
  3. By 1967, he’s already accomplished more of the things he set out to do than any man has a right to expect. He has woken millions of people up and seen civil rights codified in federal law. He’s crystallized generations of struggle into real results in a very few years. He’s put the country on the path to progress on racial equality and vindicated a lot of the people who came before him. He could have retired from activism and just been a preacher for the rest of his life, or confined himself to racial justice, or done any number of things other than give this speech. He chose to give the speech.
  4. You can read this speech and just know, if you have any frame of reference for the U.S. in 1960s, that it has consequences. It is the sort of speech that gets you labeled a radical. Called a communist. Accused of sympathizing with our enemies. Yet still, he chose to deliver it.
  5. It is a rich, complex text. There is something of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in it. It obviously draws upon the founding documents of the American republic. I think it’s informed by Gandhi, as well. Sometimes I look at this speech and I wonder what he must have felt, in those last few moments before he walked up to the pulpit and started speaking.

I’ll leave you with a trio of excerpts. The first is my favorite part – you can find it in the first 10 minutes. It is part of a long list of reasons he gives for speaking out against the war:

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

This one, a little later, identifies the problems he is really getting at (emphasis added):

We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

And one more. One that I think we would all do well to consider, when we think about what sort of society we’d like to live in:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

I believe it to be true.

image: public domain via American Rhetoric; the text of the speech is copyrighted by the King Estate