Saturday, June 10, 2017

So, Imma send a letter

Dear Paul,

Can I call you Paul? Okay. Great. I haven’t taken the time to congratulate you on your promotion to Speaker of the House. When I first heard the news, I thought, ‘Well, Paul and I disagree on a lot of fundamental things, but at least he is intelligent and has enough courage to do the right thing in the difficult situation a divided congress often presents.’ You see, Paul, I don’t know you, personally, but I know where you came from. The last time you were home, in fact, my mom saw you in church. She prays for you, Paul. I do, too.

Janesville, Wisconsin is a place that is difficult to describe. I learned about right and wrong from the stories my grandmother would tell over a boiling pot of goulash at 1107 Hamilton Ave. She would also pepper our imaginations with the fairies that lived in the big oak tree and magic that dances in bon fires. The house is gone now, but stories and memories are more difficult to tear down.

My grandfather, however, taught me other lessons. He taught me about hard work. He taught me how to make a living. He taught me how to be proud of the work that I’ve done. He worked at GM for as long as I can remember. And, when it left Wisconsin, there were a lot of people out of work and out of hope.

The people of Janesville have recovered because Wisconsinites have an uncanny way of moving Forward. We take our lumps and make the best of the situation we’re given. We’ve learned right and wrong. We’ve learned hard work. We’ve learned pride in ourselves and our home.

But, Paul, I gotta tell you some things. That health bill you actually rammed through (as opposed to the eight month process the Affordable Care Act underwent), it is not good for many, many people. You had the House vote on it even before the Congressional Budget Office could take a look at it and let the American people know what American Health Care Act would cost.

I’m not talking money, here, Paul. Money can be made, and money can be spent. I am talking about lives. Human lives. The plan you passed would kick a whole slew of folks off of health care—people in your district, people in Rock County, people in Janesville, your home town. I know you have spent the past 13 years in DC; I can imagine it is hard to remember the farmers in Evansville or the people living near Riverside Park. But, we need health care. And, kicking it back to each state to determine who can and cannot get quality, affordable care won’t work out as cleanly as you hope. There are going to be a lot of sick people wearing Make America Great Again hats knocking on your door demanding some answers.

Paul, you sold an idea. A flawed idea, but genius all in the same. Your “health care” plan is a tax cut for wealthy people. Some wealthy people are all for it, obviously.  But, here is the sneaky part. You sold this plan with the American Dream, with the idea that ‘I’m not rich now, but I could be..someday.” And, that is how you got it. The people who believe they will someday be wealthy don’t want the government taking their hard-earned money when they have it, in the future. But, the American Dream is just that, a dream. Rags to Riches isn’t reality. There are systemic poverty and class structures designed to keep people in their places.

We may not have castes, here, but do you know how difficult it is to move up a social class? To move up several social classes? You need good, quality public education. You need parents working at a livable wage. You need public programs to form open and accepting communities. You also need healthcare.

This, of course, is where we differ. It is important to have fiscal conservatives to balance out my plans. But, it is a balance. There is some give, and some take. But, Paul, with this health care bill, you just took. And, when the Freedom Caucus said nah, we’re good, you bent over backwards to appease them. You know who that doesn’t benefit? Your constituents.

Health care is obviously a big deal, a bigly deal, if you will. But, I am much more concerned, Paul, with how you have kowtowed to our new Commander in Chief. Remember in paragraph one, when I thought that we have different ideals, but I appreciate your character? Well, I’ve got to say, I have been unimpressed. You have stood by this man through a lot of hair-raising details of how he chooses to live his life. And, just recently, you stood up for him saying something like, ‘He is new to government. He is new to all of this.’ It is okay to make several gaffs while being new to waiting tables or even mis-shelving books in your new position at a library. But, for goodness sake, he is the leader of our country.

A new rookie comes into the White House every four or eight years. Your excuse of him being new to politics doesn’t hold water. If he wasn’t ready for the job, we have several specific failsafes, all of which, well failed. They all failed because the Republican elite, you and your friends had neither the courage nor the gumption to stand up to him. He has taken your party and made a mockery of it. There is a time and place to be a Republican. But, right now, Paul? Right now, it is time for you to be an American.

Peace,
Katie Botsford




Tuesday, February 7, 2017

So, I knew dementors caused this fog

As a teacher, an educator, and a guide, I am called to help children understand the abstract. I am called to show them why 2+2 equals 4. I am called to encourage children to explore root words and etymology. I am called to help children see information in a new way, a way of which they perhaps hadn’t thought before.

I am called to help children understand the intangible, that which cannot be sensed. I am called to show children unyielding love. I am called to offer children freedom and responsibility.

I am also called to show children hope. Hope for their future. Hope for their present. Hope they understand their past.

I am called to be a balloon that can only rise. I am called to be a positive spectator of children’s learning and understanding. I am called to show up for my children when no one else seems to.

And, right now, right now, I am deflated. I have nothing inside of me to give.

There was a moment of hope between 10:00 a.m. and 11:40 a.m. when my friend posted about calling Thom Tillis, a Republican senator from North Carolina, to perhaps sway his undecided vote. Almost everyone in my program called immediately. There was a chorus of “Vote No for Betsy DeVos” and “As a teacher, I implore you to vote no for Betsy DeVos.” There was a lighthearted feeling, a moment of activism in our grueling schedule. It felt like there could be a chance. People called from Vietnam, South Korea, all over Wisconsin showing up for our educators, for our children, and for the Senate Democrats who spoke all night trying to convince one more person to cut ties with their party.

Our children are not Democrats. Our children are not Republicans. Our children are amazing beings who yearn for knowledge, meaningful work, and adaptation into society. It is irresponsible that so many Senate Republicans put party over country. It is deplorable that they put party over children.

By siphoning funding from public schools, the quality of education will drop because they no longer have the already feeble funds to run a school. It will widen the poverty chasm. It will privatize schools. Schools will become businesses that can “let go of” under-performing children to boost their scores to receive more federal funding.

Children have a right to public education. The government has a responsibility to provide the highest quality of education they can for public schools. I am so, so, so tired of people who have never stepped foot in a classroom as an educator making decisions that affect our children so directly. I would love for Betsy DeVos, as our new Secretary of Education, to come to public schools, to hear our needs, and to make a plausible plan that respects educators. But more importantly, she needs to make a plan that respects our children and their vast intellect. They deserve a Secretary of Education who will fight for them not against them. They deserve people who will show up for them. They deserve people who will stand up for them. They deserve people who will do everything they can to give them the best education possible.


Right now, though, I am out of hope. I have none of it left. Please, join me in representing that which is best for our children. Together, maybe, we can make the difference our children deserve. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

So, grassroots politics has a lot of growing to do

I thought that, for all of my blustering about politics, I need to be an active participant in every way that I can. I attended a Town Hall Meeting with Representative Jim Sensenbrenner this afternoon at the Waukesha Public Library. My intention, here, is to write an op. ed. to The Freeman, that Waukesha newspaper. So, edits and thoughts are greatly appreciated. 

To Whom it May Concern, 
I attended the open Town Hall Meeting hosted by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, State Representative Adam Neylon, and State Senator Chris Kapenga. This was first Town Hall meeting since returning from living abroad. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I did my homework and wrote a first, second, and third tier question if in case others asked similar questions. 

The first several questions focused on Congress' meeting to begin talking about repealing the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Sensenbrenner consistently commented that he does not want to pass anything without knowing what was in it, quoting then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, "You have to pass the bill to find out what is in it" no less than three times, suggesting she passed the bill without knowing what is inside of it. Upon further investigation, she said, "We need to pass the bill, so you can see what is in it away from the fog of controversy." Linguistically, that is a different sentence, but I am not here to quibble over proper pronoun use and cherry-picked quotations.  

In response to a question (I am not sure the specifics), Representative Sensenbrenner began talking about an art project in Washington. He said that a group of art teachers gather student art and display it in the hallway between their offices and the House Chamber. He talked about how the art teachers chose an inappropriate piece of artwork. He further explained that it was a piece of student art that depicted police officers as pigs. Once again, the content of the art isn't the focus. His following sentence was something along the lines of 'there is a divide between teachers and the government. And, here in Wisconsin, all the high school teachers don't like the Republicans.' It was after that quote I began taking more detailed notes, because I knew I needed to write this piece for whomever would listen. 

Representative Sensenbrenner's speech patterns and idioms set the tone for the entire meeting. He spoke in broad brushstrokes like this, which, in my opinion, further divide the parties. Representative Sensenbrenner also spoke in a curt and combative manner to his constituents who were asking questions about the Affordable Care Act, how he is going to use his voice in the House to make sure all people's voices were heard, as well as many other sentiments. 

Then, he called my name. I was lucky enough to still have my first tier question. This is my question, verbatim:

"Gentlemen, thank you so much for taking the time to be here and listen to us, your constituents. Representative Sensenbrenner, as one of those high school teachers, whom you broadly painted to all dislike Republicans, I understand the necessity of both the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression. I also understand the responsibility with which one must handle both of them. The President Elect's inflammatory and derogatory remarks on women, racial and religious minorities, and news media have spurred a seemingly impassible chasm in our already divided country. How will you, as well as congress, hold the President Elect accountable for his words and actions? It seems as though we're drawing lines in the sand that every time the President Elect goes 'too far' we erase it and draw it again. Where will you draw that line?" 

His immediate response was that the House of Representatives has no place in voting for the President Elect's cabinet, that he has no say in who will be in the cabinet. Then, he continued to say that he does not go around using those words, but he defends the President Elect's right to say them as much as my right to disagree with them. 

I said, "Thank you, sir, for that information. I did not know that piece about the House and Senate. However, that was not my question. My question was, 'Where do you draw the line in acceptable language?' How are you protecting your constituents from the things the President Elect is saying?" In response to my keeping the focus on the question and refusing his pivot, there were claps and nods of affirmation. 

His response was rapid fire, which cut me off, "Well, aren't you a teacher? Shouldn't you know that the House does not vote for the cabinet?" There were some cheers for his response, and I needed a second to reel back from that. 

I responded, "Sir, that is not an answer to my question. And, the tone with which you have conducted this meeting is both inappropriate and disrespectful to us, your constituents." 

Representative Sensenbrenner needed to call the room to quiet and reiterated that he can't control what the President Elect says and that it is within his right to say it. He also said that people need to responsibly use their words. 

And, then he moved on. 

About two or three speakers after me, Representative Sensenbrenner banged his gavel and said, "The more you clap and cheer the less questions we can answer," which took away our power to show if we agree or disagree with the speaker. It took away the community aspect and made it individuals with individual problems as opposed to a community feeling similarly about a topic. 

Throughout the meeting, several of Representative Sensenbrenner's comments were pointed and divisive. He did take a hard line on being careful with how he will respond to Russia's perceived influence in our election either for or against the President Elect depending on whom you ask. He referred to Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, past president of the University of Notre Dame as, "a proud, flaming liberal." (1:58 p.m. , 14 January 2017, Town Hall Meeting, Waukesha, WI), which states pretty clearly Representative Sensenbrenner's opinion of anyone left of center. This comment and opinions like this further divide this country along party lines. How can we possibly heal our country if our representative speaks so divisively of both the Democratic and Republican parties? 

Most of the this afternoon's town hall meeting focused on the Federal level, and consisted of people asking questions and sometimes being talked over. However, near 2:15 p.m., a gentleman stood up and asked  State Representative Adam Neylon and State Senator Chris Kapenga about voter suppression in Wisconsin. The gentleman suggested that if voting is a right, should there be an automatic registration process and photo ID  for anyone who turns 18. Representative Neylon's response was, "No." Senator Kapenga expounded saying that people need to make the effort to be engaged in the political process. It is not too much to ask people to register to vote. 

The gentleman followed up with it isn't necessarily about the  registration process, but what about living in the inner city and not having transportation to the voting booth or an ID to use if it is necessary. 

Senator Kapenga's response was something like, 'You don't have that problem.' 

The gentleman retorted, "How do you know that? How do you know my background?" 

Senator Kapenga said, "Are you a constituent of this district?" 

"Yes," the gentleman said.

"That's how I know," Senator Kapenga quipped.

"But, you don't know my background. How can you assume that?" The gentleman said, as murmurs spread across the room.

"You create problems in your own mind," Senator Kapenga stated. The room erupted in noise both in support and defense of his comment. (2:23 p.m., 14 January 2017, Town Hall Meeting). 

Representative Sensenbrenner banged his gavel and brought the question to the federal level by documenting South Carolina's initiative to have people without transportation call the DMV to drive them to their polling place. He said that 59 people used it (I have not verified this number or program), which he suggests it was not a successful venture. 

After the meeting was dismissed, I approached Representative Sensenbrenner and told him that the tone with which he spoke to me and many others was disrespectful and inappropriate. I assured him that I did not need or want an apology, but I wanted to tell him that his comments about me not knowing specific parts of the Constitution were uncalled for. 

He followed up with, "Every teacher should know the Constitution. If someone wants to become a citizen of the country, they need to know the Constitution. The people teaching our children should also know the Constitution." 

I responded with, "I am an English teacher. I studied literature. I don't expect you to know the inner workings of literary theory." 

"Literature is not the basis of our country. You should know the Constitution." 

Baffled, I responded to that with an idea that my knowing this aspect of the constitution is wrong or right, is not the point. I continued, "The point is the tone of this meeting was combative and defensive. I just wanted you to know how one of many of the people here perceived your message and tone."

"Well, your comments and questions were pejorative and derogatory to me."

At this point, a line began to form behind me, and with such a loaded statement, I felt pressured to answer quickly or not at all. So, I decided to get off of the hamster wheel. I thanked him for his time and exited. 

After the meeting, more than one person approached me, thanked me for my words and bravery, and said that his comments and composure were not atypical. I am not being brave. I am speaking my truth. I am standing up for what I believe. I am refusing to normalize this political climate. I am living my American dream--a dream in which people can hold respectful conversations, a dream in which the government listens to the people, and a dream in which people, all people, work towards unity. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

So, my mom is a better person than me

It has been nearly two weeks since the United States held an election, which resulted in President-Elect...I don't need to say his name. You know.

I have rolled through all of the emotions over the past 11 days. I went to bed on Monday night, assured that when the time comes, I will be able to get married, legally, to my girlfriend. I woke on Tuesday, donned my pantsuit, and bubbled with excitement of hearing the words "President-Elect Hillary Clinton."

I went to bed Tuesday night stunned and terrified that when I woke the legality of my love would be in jeopardy.

On Wednesday, the sun did indeed rise. President-Elect, ugh, was not a bad dream. He is my reality.

And, some of you may be thinking, "What's the big deal? You can still have a ceremony." To that I respond, "I don't care about a ceremony. I care about parental rights. I care about family insurance coverage. I care about next of kin. I care about my wife being able to see me when I am in the hospital getting ready to go. It isn't about flowers and a white dress. It is about my rights as a human being to love and be loved, to have our love protected by the law."

As the dust settles, I have stepped back from my egocentric response and instead focused on how many people will be affected--how many people have been affected. Hate crimes have sky rocketed. This is a fact.

And, this, this is where things get sticky. I lost sight of how much hate there was in this world. I hid behind my liberal elitism and posited and postulated without shutting the hell up and listening. I tried to reason and to debate with those who shared different views from me. I didn't listen to their undertones of fear, of hatred sugared by, "Oh, no. I don't agree with what he says about ______ group. But economics? But Supreme Court?" (Fill in the blank with literally any minority group. And, like, literal literally not the fake literally OED added two years ago.)

So, when the polls rolled on in, that wave of hatred washed over me, and pulled me into the undertow. And, there I sputtered, drowning trying to find footing in anything solid. But, everything kept slipping from under  me.

I swallowed their hate. It filled me up. I was...am...so angry. And, in one of my soapbox demonstrations (held in the cozy atmosphere of my living room to a single other person), I ranted, "I mean, I can't even. I have been going high and going high and going high for the past 6 months. I just want to dig in and really go to town on how this man has bullied, mocked, and flip-flopped his way onto this ticket. I am so damn sick of going high. Where has it gotten me? What do I have?"

And, my mother, ever wise, hugged me and whispered, "You have your dignity. You. Have. Your. Dignity."

And, I breathed for the first time in what felt like forever.

This is not to say that I will shrug my shoulders and watch this train wreck of an administration collapse. But, my mom refocused me. She reminded me that love always trumps hate. Love will always, always win.

So, what comes next. Now is the time when artists get to work. We are the voice of the people. And, the time is now. So, with neither pomp nor circumstance, an open letter to American citizens aged 18-really old:

People who voted for Trump but "didn't agree with his hate speech,"
You need to go to work. Right now. You need to stop hate crimes when you see them. This man has normalised racism. This man has normalised fear of the other. This man has normalised bullying on an astronomic scale. This man has incited the words of Richard B. Spencer, "America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity...It is our creation. It is our inheritance, and it belongs to us" (video of Richard B. Spencer's address to the Alt-Right party, The Atlantic). You gotta step up and say that this blatant racism cannot and will not be accepted by the Republican party. This Alt-Right movement has scary, scary resemblances to Nazi Germany. I have refrained from making that comparison, because it makes me want to vomit. But, when Spencer opened his statements with "Hail, Trump," I can stand neither idly nor quietly. And, neither should you.

Conservatives who did not vote for Trump,
We may not agree on a whole lot of social policies, but I recognise your economic platform as a reasonable approach to government funds (though I may disagree with them). But, take back your party. Let this man know that he doesn't speak for you or your party. This man is not a Republican. He jumped on a bandwagon driven by fear. You know this. Let your elected state officials know it. They must govern according to their constituents. Call up Paul Ryan and tell him that this man does not align with you. Tell him, or else he will continue to support this man's policies. He won't listen to me, but he might listen to you.

Liberals,
Take a hard look at how you've engaged in discourse. Was it respectful of others' ideas? Look around your world, your reality. Make sure that you are truly living according to the democratic idea. Are you helping those in need? Are you standing up for what is right even when it is awkward or uncomfortable? Liberal Elites forgot a huge section of people in this campaign. We forgot the blue collar workers who feel disenfranchised. Now is the time to push for real policies that will help even the playing field for them (not the pipe-dream promises this man has given them).

The 46 million people who didn't vote,
You live in a country that let's you have a voice, a say in who becomes the leader? This is not a universal right. Is the two-party system messed up? Yes. But, that does not mean that you abandon the system. Work to change it.

To the people who really and truly believe that this man is the best fit for president,
Please, look at the people around you. Look at the people in our nation. We are hurting. The aftermath of this man's election has raised hate crimes against people of color, against Muslims, against LGBTQ people, against women. We love. We fear. We bleed. We are humans. Please, please see us that way.



   

Friday, November 4, 2016

So, I threw away my shot.

Let's just get one thing out in the open: I neither believe in violence as an answer nor condone it as a means to an end.

However, Mama wants to get in a bar fight. That being said, I would never throw the first punch, but I would definitely throw words that would warrant a punch to which I would obviously retaliate.


As a nearing-30 pacifist who believes that most misunderstandings can be sorted out with words much more effectively than violence, my window of opportunity is coming to a close. The excuse of "Oh, I was dumb and in my 20s" is waning, so when I threw away my shot on Monday evening, I came to the conclusion that this weird bucket list item may not be crossed off in this lifetime.


Let me just set the scene for you.


Every Monday, my trivia team Tequila Mockingbirds (don't steal my team name; you're better than that) plays at a local catch-all pool hall/poker table/dart board having bar in suburbia. On Mondays, we share the space with a big poker game and general wayward travelers the wind blows in.


My mom, arguably the smartest lady-person as well as non-lady-person (not to suggest lady-persons aren't as smart as non-lady-persons, but gender is important here) I have ever met, just finished telling a real-life story of a Traveling Insurance Salesman who had the audacity to say to her, "blah blah blah, insurance, blah blah, numbers, numbers...Oh, don't worry about the numbers, honey, I can explain them more later." 


My mom, bubbling with Midwest Nice, decisively shows him the door and with a saccharine smile says, "I don't think we'll be purchasing your insurance, sir. Have a good day, now."

After her retelling, she wondered, "I just don't understand how someone can be so condescending as they're selling you something. What was his game plan? I wonder what he's doing now?"


I piped up, "I bet that jackass is voting for Donald Trump.*"


A guy at the bar snapped his head toward me, "Oh," and promptly dropped his glass.


I chuckled and said, "Oh, are you also voting for Trump."


Now, yes, that was rude of me. I know this. I just didn't realize that Trump supporters or people who  can believe or support a man who has campaigned on fear and hate were in my midst. I live in a privileged reality in which most of my close friends have similar political views as me. My mom, that smart lady-person from before, and I have some differing views on things, however we always approach conversations with respect, openness, and love. But, I haven't really had to go head to head with anyone politically in a while. Anyway, my big mouth opened and words fell out, for which I take full responsibility.


As I got up to help the man clean up the glass and apologize for being flippant, he said, "No, this is my fuck-up. I clean up my own messes, and you can just sit right on down, and I will be over in a minute."


I didn't like being told what to do, but I also didn't really want to pick up glass, so I sat down. I ran through the talking points I planned to address.


-I do not want Donald Trump because he has already sworn to elect a Supreme Court Justice (touchy subject: I just can't even) who could jeopardize the way in which my love is legally recognized or my rights as a uterus-having person.

I could list a hyperbolic amount more, but those are the two about which I feel most passionately.


So, Brotimes pulled a chair over, ushered his drunkdrunk friend to the nearest table and sat down. As he lowered himself down, he muttered a comment to the man sitting next to him (spoiler alert: my dad), "No easier thing to do than offend a feminist, am I right?"


My dad didn't respond.


Brotimes: Didn't you hear what I said?
Katie: I heard what you said and am choosing not to respond. (pause) First, I would like to apologize if I offended you. It came out as a flippant comment, for which I take full responsibility.
Brotimes: I am not offended. It takes a lot to offend me. But, for argument's sake, what would you do next if I were offended.
Katie: Refer to my apology and encourage an open dialogue about the thought process behind my comments and, perhaps, your perception of them.
Brotimes: Well, I'm not. So, let's talk. Sticks...sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me. That is a confusing saying. Like, words can hurt, but not in the same way as a guy pounding on you, just getting sucker punched. That hurts. Words are nothing.
Katie: While I do agree with you in that words do not physically hurt others, hateful language, and hate speech are microaggressions that...
Brotimes: (rolls eyes, scoffs, and yawns)
Katie: Your body language tells me that you don't agree with me. 
Brotimes: Microaggressions are bullshit.
Katie: They aren't. They are real ways that...
Brotimes: Microaggressions are just things that you people whine about when your feelings are hurt. They are things that are made up for  when you people can't get it together on your own. They get all the blame for when you people can't handle it.
Katie: (eyes flare,  intakes breath) I wasn't fi...
Brotimes: You weren't finished? Are you mad I am talking over you?
Katie: This is exactly the kind...
Brotimes: The kind of thing that you think is so important?
Katie: Sir. I listened to you. I listened to your speech on...
Brotimes: (intakes breath)
Katie: No, sir. It is my turn to talk. I listened to your words. I invited you here expecting to have an open, respectful, conversation about politics.
Brotimes: Respectful? Why does it have to be respectful?
Katie: If you're not interested in having a respectful conversation of ideas...
Brotimes: (muttered) This is ridiculous.
Katie:..then I have no business talking to you.

Katie exit.


Aside: I blew it! That could have been my moment! I am sure I could have gotten under his skin enough to draw the first punch, but I chose to walk away. I guess I am a Hufflepuff after all. All my grand dreams of maybe pulling through to be a Gryffindor--being real silly in the name of bravery--lost in a flurry of needing to be just out of that toxic situation.


According to my friends and family still at the table, he continued his rhetoric of "What? I just wanted to talk." And, "why did she start a fight if she didn't want to finish it." And, "Imma go find her."


My mom quickly left to make sure I didn't walk home or start any more fights. My friends got up to leave as well, and Brotimes continued, "Hey, what did I say? Why is everyone leaving?"


My dad, a Gryffindor for sure, turned to Brotimes and said something like, "You were out of line, sir. You approached it all wrong. You came in attacking her, which put her on the defensive. You spoke over her and you chose to be utterly disrespectful to her. You were wrong. You, sir, you were in the wrong here. Big time." And, he, too, got up and left.


And, this little scene, this little conversation represents a huge shift in the way in which we discuss politics. A paraphrase of my friend Megan, 'I would love to discuss policies of my candidate, but I have been too busy encouraging people not to vote for a demagogue' who spews hate and presents fiction as fact.


The complete lack of truth in most of his comments and flippancy with which he disregards the real concerns of basically anyone who is non-white or not a straight man is unsettling in any respect, but especially in someone vying for the highest office in our country.


These things have changes how some folks talk about politics. Fact are irrelevant. Respect isn't required. And, memes are credible sources. This era of immediate social media has been both a boon and a bane of this election. Real-time fact checkers source the presidential debates (are you kidding me?!). And, biased media gives a whole lot of uninformed people a platform from which they repeat his rhetoric.


This is not the America I want for me. This is not the America I want for my children. And, this is not  even the America I want for the folks who are voting for this man. It isn't going to look like the white, shiny walled in compound he's promised. It can't.


And, for those Republicans falling in line behind this man because "Well, he isn't Hillary" I want better for you. I want better for your party. I disagree with you on so many social issues, but this is not the Republican party that used to be.


This is a party of fear, of hate, of disrespect, and of fallacies. Stand up for your party. Stand up for yourself. Say this is not right. Republican Elite, your dislike of this man is palpable, and yet you're still voting for him?


You are on the wrong side of history.



*I know very, very good people voting for Donald Trump. But, this misogynistic condescension has been his basic campaign approach during the past 14 months.    


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

So, Black Lives Matter...always

So, you may be wondering why I am writing this now. There hasn't been any sort of national newsworthy police shooting recently or irrational use of police force sensationalized by the media. Sadly, though, it is only a matter of time before these events surface again. It always seems to rear its ugly head juuuuuusssssst after folks feel safe in their neighborhoods again, feel like they can trust those around them. However, there are those who never feel safe in their neighborhoods, those who are afraid to live in this country because the color of their skin combined with their gender place a target on their back before they're even born. 

And, yes, the media hypes it up. Yes, the media makes these incidents the top-of-the-hour news and spins them however their bias leans. But, the media also makes these problems visible. And, for those of us privileged enough to have been unaware of everyday racism, these stories shed light on the cracks and chasms that have been forming for decades. Racism didn't end the same day the Civil Rights Movement did. Racism didn't end the same day Black people got to vote. And racism sure as hell didn't end the same day ‘Jim Crow’ died.

So, in light of all that is happening in the 2010s, I wrote two poems. The first poem I'm leaving here, "Deferred Dreams," was written in response to the second poem (which I wrote about a month ago). It integrates lines from Langston Hughes' poem "Harlem" with America's present social and societal problems. The second poem, "Post Amble" came in a fit of twenty minutes when I was supposed to be doing homework. It is a call to White allies to do something. It uses the Preamble of the United States' Constitution to show that we need to become one whole country. If you're already familiar with the Black Lives Matter Movement and/or the total necessity to have these conversations with anyone at any time—not just in the wake of tragedy but before it, then you can probably skip over the first poem and get right on to the second one. Or, read both. I don't know. I don't tell you what to do. I'm not your mother...probably.

Deferred Dreams
My buddy Langston, he told me about 
what happens to a dream when it is deferred. 
And, right now, I just can't sleep.
I close my eyes and see
Black men and women's lives
drying up like raisins in the sun--
juice seeping from them. 

And, that, that is why Black Lives Matter. 
Because senseless violence, perpetuated
by hate, by profiling, by casual racism 
festers like a sore.

Black Lives Matter because they
run and run in an endless cycle of 
self defense, police violence, 
Black retaliation, violence, protests,
violence, death, violence, death, violence.
Death.

White standers by watch, 
They wring their hands unsure of 
whose lives matter, or if they matter at all. 
Their mere observation stinks of rotten meat. 
They participate in that casual racism that prepares
their fellow Americans for slaughter. 
They
        cross the street.
They
        clutch their bag. 
They 
        start sentences with, "I'm not racist, but..."

There is no but. 
There is no reason for these actions.
There is no response to this onslaught of deep-seated
violence and hatred. 

The cries of 
"All Lives Matter" 
         or 
"Blue Lives Matter" 
crust over the experiences of our Black brothers and sisters--
a syrupy sweet concoction meant to pit us versus them.

We are a divided country. 
We see this every day. 

White standers by, pick up the mantle. 
Stop wringing your hands.
Use them to lift up your brothers and sisters
whom—for too long—have sagged under this heavy load. 
Be a part of this movement. 
Stand
         up.
Show 
        up. 
Be upset. 
Be an ally.

Together, we explode.
Our hopes and dreams 
flare and catch, 
spreading a fire that
cannot and will not
be extinguished. 

The next poem is a more direct conversation with those who know there is a problem but do not know what to do about it. It may be enough to just let your friends know that you’re there. It may not. You have to be ready to engage in hard conversations, open those cans of worms, talk about the racial issues that make us uncomfortable. We must build a future worth living in. And right now? This isn't it. 

Post Amble
We the people
are angry. We are sick.
We are tired.

We are raising our voice
in order to form a more perfect union
with our Black brothers and sisters.

Too many of whom have died at
the hands of those who’re meant to
establish justice, who’re meant to insure domestic tranquility.

We are frustrated at those who
provide the common defense
of “All lives matter.”
But, you see, Black lives, they don’t matter more,
But, Black lives matter.
Too many of us have forgotten.

So, before we forget Alton
Before we forget Philando,
Before we remember to forget whoever is
next and next and next,
we must stand with our brothers and sisters to
promote the general welfare in our country.

Now is the time
to provide a space
in which they feel safe,
in which they feel home.

Now is the time
to help them to safety on an
elevated railroad.
  
Now is the time to
shout and protest and rally
from St. Paul to Ferguson.
We must secure their blessings of liberty.

Now is the time
to share this burden
wherever you are.

We, the people, do ordain and establish this
constitution of fairness, of justice,
of being on the right side of history.

Now is the time to band together.
We are a many-colored revolution
that demands equality.

Now is the time to become the
United States of America.


Friday, June 17, 2016

So, it has been about a week

Remember the shooting in Orlando? It was the one six-ish days ago. It was in a gay night club on Latin night? I'm just reminding you because we've become desensitized. It's been, like, twelve hours since someone tweeted their thoughts and prayers. When you scroll through your facebook newsfeed, you're back to how much of a train wreck this presidential election is or, you know, puppy videos. You might've already forgotten. So, I just wanted to hearken back to this event that I learned about 48 hours after the fact because I just wanted a weekend without technology. 

I'm angry. And sad. And angry and sad and angry and sad. But, mostly angry. 

I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that these shootings are no longer isolated incidents of terror. We are a country who lives in terror. We're so afraid of our own shadow. We're allowed to carry concealed weapons to use whenever something spooks us. We cry "self-defense," and all is forgiven. If you wacky liberals take away our rights to own guns, America will go straight to hell in a hand basket.

Guess what, Team America, we're already there. We live in a country that's so star spangled awesome that there was an average of 92.05 gun related deaths per day in 2014. President Obama has had to address the American public 15 times in response to mass shootings. We've normalised death. We've normalised terror. We've allowed gun rights lobbyists to usher us into a country of complacency. And we have done nothing. We've sat idly by while the entire country goes through the motions: outrage, profile picture changes, rabble-rousing statuses, flags at half mast, mild anger, new cute profile pic with a baby, #foodporn, flags fly high, complacency, comfort in knowing it could never happen here. Then, boom, another fucker with something to prove and nothing to lose gets his hands on a military grade weapon and shoots up a space of safety.

And, this, this is what breaks my heart. You wanna know the first thing my students in Korea asked me when they learned I was from America? They asked me if I knew how to shoot people. Not 'how to shoot a gun,' not 'if I owned a gun,' but if I know how to use a gun to inflict pain on another human being. What am I supposed to say to that? How do I even respond? I said, "No, no I don't. I don't know how people hurt each other like that." Their response: "It makes me sad, Kathryn Teacher." It makes me sad, too. 

This is, of course, a multi-faceted problem. But, I would really love it if the gun wielding politicians actually worked on the mental health issues on which they blame all gun related deaths. Or, take a hot second to remember that we are a country founded on immigrants. Or, figure out that the most recent radical terrorist attack in Orlando was a dude born and raised in the United States who believes in a bastardization of the Islamic faith. His relationship to Islam is akin to the Westboro Baptist Church's relationship to Christianity. It is outrageous and inappropriate. 

As a gay person, it would be remiss of me to overlook the location and perceived reason of the Orlando shooting. Gay clubs, like so many have said before me, serve as a place of solace, comfort, release of the constant tension gay people hold. Personally, I have a difficult time expressing my sexuality in public. Don't get me wrong, my rock-a-doodle haircut and proclivity towards Oxfords and trousers clearly show that I am gay, but I don't express myself as a sexual being for fear of making others uncomfortable. This is my problem, I know. But, in gay spaces, I can relax enough to show the kind of public affection that straight people so often take for granted. 

And, on Saturday night, as Latin night just started to heat up, a man disgusted with the idea of two men kissing rampaged through Pulse, flat lining 49 heart beats. 

Some cry, "Terrorism-an affront to the US." Period. Full stop. But, I shout, "Hate crime--an affront to the queer community." You cannot erase us from this history. I refuse. I am angry. I am angry about the social environment in which gay people are less than. I am angry about the erasure of mental health issues. I am angry about toxic masculinity. I am angry about people doing hate in the name of their god. I am angry about how fucking easy it is to acquire firearms whose sole purposes are to kill. I am so, so angry.  

It would be naive of me to think that there would ever be a total recall of firearms in the United States. We'd have to pry the second amendment from the NRA's cold dead hands. But, there is absolutely no reason that a citizen needs an assault rifle. There is no reason that citizens needs a weapon that discharges 600 rounds of ammunition per minute. There is no reason you should be able to purchase a firearm without showing identification. There is no reason you can purchase an AK47 at walmart.com for fifty dollars and twenty-five cents...don't worry, though, it's free shipping. There is no reason for this. Absolutely no reason.