Who would I have been in the days leading up to Nazi Germany, Stalinist Prague or US slavery times?

In 1996, I sat in a class of American college students on a study-abroad program in Olomouc in the Czech Republic. A Czech man just a few years older than us came in to give a lecture about life in the 1980s under Stalinist totalitarianism and the Soviet occupation. I don’t remember the exact details of the lecture but it was good. It was moving and detailed and real.

I was the only one in the class who knew much of it already and who spoke Czech. I had been to the country before in 1992 and had my mind exploded during a week in a rustic cabin with a group of young people who had been quiet dissidents three years earlier, copying down illegal protest songs by hand in tattered notebooks.

Creative Commons image by Xabier Otegi

Creative Commons image by Xabier Otegi

I absorbed the university lecture eagerly, asking several questions at the end to draw out interesting parts of the man’s story. Then I made myself stop. I didn’t want to hog the space and I knew I should let the others ask. But when I looked around there was not one hand raised.

One of the American college students, sprawled in a chair at the back of the class, drawled, “Yeah, that’s the difference over here. Americans would never have put up with that.”

It sounds like a cliche but I really felt like something hit me in the chest. I had no breath. Before I could recover, the class broke up and the lecturer exited quickly, while my classmates put their notebooks away and went out for an afternoon of Czech beer.

Listening to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the US supreme Court and the protesters screaming for all they were worth from the gallery, I thought of that remark and of Jan Palach, the student who lit himself on fire in protest of the Soviet invasion of 1968. Palach is a symbol of the final and most extreme protest when oppression has become so immense that dissent is easily silenced, dismissed, buried or imprisoned.

Things have gone from bad to worse in the US in the past two years. The quiet corporate coop that made a mockery of electoral democracy for decades has become overt. The extreme racist, misogynist, eco-cidal ideology that was threatening before has taken more and more power by more and more unjustifiable means.

Plenty of readers will sneer at my title and say that I should not compare this to Nazi Germany, Stalinist Czechoslovakia or slavery times. We are not seeing people shot in the streets… well, except when they are black and vaguely suspected of something. We can still protest. We cannot compare ourselves to Jan Palach and those who had all of their other options taken away.

And that is true. We still can protest. And that is why those screams made me think of Jan Palach. Those protesters hauled off by security were mocked by many. They screamed as a man credibly accused of sexual assault, a man with clearly stated misogynist and extremist views was given lifetime power over us.

They yelled and made a scene and they were ultimately powerless to do anything. The charade of “democracy” went on with smug indifference. Those in power snicker and call their “tantrums” futile and petty.

But it is not nothing to scream at injustice and the destruction of a democratic country. It is not nothing. It is the one thing that still stands between us and the likes of Jan Palach. We can still scream where it is heard. He couldn’t without ending up being tortured in a dark cell.

There is a meme on Facebook that says “You now know what you would have done in Nazi Germany. You’re doing it right now.”

The idea is that the early days of Nazi Germany did not look so different from our current situation, a terribly polarized country with a ridiculous, extreme right-wing faction gaining popular support among a certain frustrated portion of the population while most of the traditional powers tut-tutted and insisted that any resistance be done through their channels. Most of the middle class and intellectuals were sure for a very long time that it wasn’t really that bad, that these nuts would not get total control. They considered the Nazis to be deplorable certainly but not a real threat.

And most people either were swept up into the extremism because they were easily swayed by advertising and razzle-dazzle or they disliked the extremists who gained power but just grumbled quietly about it and mostly made sure not to take any great personal risks.

The thinking behind the meme is that the beginnings of Nazi Germany looked a lot like the United States today and so it is now easy to tell what kind of person you would have been then. And in some ways that meme is right. We have far different technology and public discourse and we are more aware of totalitarianism than most people were then. But the same dynamic is clearly visible, the same divided groups and the same vulnerability to manipulative extremism.

I don’t compare our times to the height of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Prague or slavery times. I do compare our times to the run-up to such moments in history. We are still in the stage where we can scream and not be shot—most of us. We are not yet faced with the choice Jan Palach perceived—to live in utter oppression or to die loudly enough that the scream will at least break the oppressive silence.

And so I ask myself who would I have been in the days leading up to the darkest times in history?

And today I know the answer.

I would have been a writer who wrote the truth even if it meant losing jobs—and eventually a career—over it. I have done that. I have lost jobs and lost my hard-fought career in newspaper journalism with one of the best national newspapers in large part because I wouldn’t tow the line and I broke out of the mold of the celebrity-focused, reality-impaired news too often. I had a couple of run-ins with censorship of historical facts and ended up on the NRA’s journalist “hit list” before I was done.

I would have been a member of a vulnerable group who could not get work or participate in mainstream society in my own country because of the self-destructive way that country was organized which directly excluded my group. Because of that I would have been forced to leave the country and spend my life far from my home and family. I left the United States twenty years ago because as a legally blind person I could not be independent and fully participate in society without public transportation, which is today one of the greatest needs for everyone to combat climate change. Because I am legally blind, the community I emigrated to does not entirely accept me either, but I do have public transportation and so I can have a normal life, a family and a job. The same was true of many who fled destructive regimes for other reasons—less-than enthusiastic welcome but a chance to live.

Whether I stayed or left, I would have been active in protest movements, organizing as long and as hard as I could. I led protests against the war in Iraq in my city, even though it cost me another job and impacted my health. But for a long time I would not have been among those who dropped everything to protest full-time or risked the most. I participated in actions to support Greenpeace blockaders who did risk their lives to protest US imperialism and environmental destruction. I was terribly afraid when I was almost caught by military police while bringing food to an encampment. All I risked that time was a trip to the local jail, a fine and a record. But I quaked with fear and because I was trying to adopt children and didn’t want the possible bureaucratic repercussions, I didn’t ask to take on a riskier role in the protests.

In those other times, I still would have adopted children from a vulnerable group, despite disapproval from many sides. I have done that. I would have been one of those people who held down a hearth and cooked food and let people traveling to protests or fleeing from danger sleep in their home. That too I have done.

Creative Commons image by Michelle of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Michelle of flickr.com

I would also have been among those who eventually became too exhausted by hand-to-mouth work and health problems to go to most protests. I am exhausted. Most protests are too far and too difficult for me to get to anymore. Then again, needy children keep me tied down. I would have been one of those who found a small corner to hide in when I got older and less physically strong. I would have continued in small ways to resist personally and to give help to the endangered ones who crossed my path.

I would have been among those who wished to do something significant, to join the “real resistance,” but didn’t first because of fear and later because of those who already depended on me. I have fantasies of helping refugees from war-torn and climate-devastated regions. I have fantasies of going off to live in camps at places like Standing Rock to put my body between the corporations and the destruction of the earth’s climate and our children’s future. But I haven’t done it. I am less afraid now that I am older. There is less at stake because there is less of my life and no career or adoption process left to lose.

I would have been a quiet ally to those most targeted by the oppression. I would have stood up for them against social bullying and helped if I could. But I wouldn’t have had either the energy or the capacity to do much that really mattered, because I am also not among the privileged and because even when I don’t fear for my own life and livelihood, I fear for my children, and because of distance and lack of funds and reticence toward cold, hard living.

I would not have been a hero or one remembered by history. I would not have been a collaborator or someone who willfully didn’t see what was happening. I would have been willing to sacrifice a job or a career, but not my family in order to tell the truth. I would have done small things to help those worst affected and felt guilty that I didn’t do more. I would have been among those taking carefully measured risks. And unless I was among the unlucky few—like say Heather Heyer— I wouldn’t have paid the highest price. I know because that is the kind of character I am in our current story.

Have you let yourself think this through? Who would you have been?

Avoid falsely easy answers. You may be among those targeted by hate today but there are likely others who are in greater danger—assuming you have the leisure to be reading my blog.

If you are among those most targeted today, consider that victims also had options back then. Would you have been among those who left early, who found a way out or a way to fight back? Would you have been among those who covered their ears and prayed that it would not go so far? Would you have been among those who blamed your friends and neighbors or joined with them in mutual aid to survive? What is it you are doing today? Are you lashing out at allies or frozen with fear or getting your children to safety and building alliances?

And if you are part of a group that is not yet targeted, who would you have been then? Would you have been the bystander who knew a bit of what was going on but chose not to get too involved? Would you have been the one who who shut their ears and eyes to the suffering of others and the devastation of their homes? Would you have had the courage to use what rights you had to say “no,” to protest loudly when you could and to give aid quietly?

Who would you have been? A lot of the wondering has been resolved in the past two years. Who are you now?

Put down your burdens and breathe in the spring

The first day when the vibrant green of new grass shows through, the first moment when the sun really warms your back again--it may be unseasonably early but spring is still good.

In some ways, this spring feels better than any I can remember. It's partly because I have two functional greenhouses--an investment of two years of physical labor and financial scrimping. Now they are already full of leafy young greens, radishes, carrot tops just poking through and young cucumber vines braving the still chilly mornings. I also have chickens laying smooth eggs that fit perfectly into the palm of your hand and impart a sense of comfort and security. 

Creative Commons image by Song River - CowGirlZen 

Creative Commons image by Song River - CowGirlZen 

That makes this spring particularly lively and the changing weather gives me reason for a bit of joy. But more than that I am thankful for the contrast from the rest of life. My work necessitates sitting at a computer for hours on. A few more hours are spent in on-line, telephone and graphic design activism to help civil rights and democracy-oriented organizations back home in the US in this difficult time. . 

I'm heartened to see the surge of interest and activism in the United States over the past few months after what felt like decades of apathy and disinterest on issues such as climate change, the undermining of our democracy, structural racism and rule by corporations. But the activist work still often feels insurmountable and i am like a kid getting out of school when I get up for a break and go to work outdoors. 

Old wisdom has it that you often love the time of year in which you were born and I suppose that might explain part of it. But there is no period when the air is cleaner or better than it is in early spring. The coal smoke of fall and winter has blown away on brisk winds and washed away with the gentle, misty rains. Summer dust and heat has not yet come. Now and for the next month and a half, it is delight to take big lung-fulls of the air, even in town. 

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

I know there are people who suffer from pollen allergies even this early in the year. That seems like a particular injustice. And I do mean injustice. Rates of allergies and rates of chemical pollution and use of pesticides are closely correlated. I count my blessings having grown up far from industry and large-scale agriculture. Thus I find myself allergic to almost nothing, except hypocrisy and money (including m own oddly enough).

My hands are a bit cracked and dry from all the digging in garden soil, but I have herbal salves for that. I hung wind chimes on the back deck, so the song of the wind and the soft clucking of the ducks follows me as I water and coax the young plants.  

Meanwhile, on-line there seems to be a campaign to divide Democrats from supporters of third parties or independent options. Many on both sides will defend their perspective at all cost, but the hand of corporations such as social media and internet companies in gleefully promoting the acrimony is also clearly evident.

Even I have been cut out of two of the largest on-line activist organizations, though I refrained from negative comments, never used crude language and only rarely posted articles at all. The official reason given in one group was the scandalous discovery (found by browsing my page and history, rather than through my comments) that I had volunteered to help a local Green Party chapter. I never knew that was against the group rules as it was supposed to be a progressive activism group, and the other large progressive group banned me though I had not made any recent comments, most likely due to shared administrators with the no-Greens-allowed group.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

It is actually not that hard to shrug off my momentary resentment at this exclusion from the largest on-line activism groups. It is less easy to banish the fear that wells up inside me. We have this a slim chance to resist tyranny and we seem to be letting it slip away for the most banal of reasons--infighting between those who should be allies. And worse yet, while some of this infighting appears to be organic, some is spurred on by precisely those interests that stand to lose if democracy wins the latest arm wrestle with fascism. 

My heart is heavy after an evening spent on my publishing work and a discussion with the Google content removal department, which despite the filing of official complaints refuses to remove links to pirated copies of my books. Google's official policy continues to state that they will remove such links and no reason was given in their official refusal letter, except that they believe since i published the work, I agreed to its "public" use, despite copyright laws. 

It appears that the corporate behemoths will always flatten you in the end, even when you think you've found a crack in their glass ceilings. My professional work is fragile and completely at the mercy of companies like Google. And if all life was contained in their computerized world, it would truly feel hopeless.

The morning sunshine blazes through my windows, greeted by a wild chorus of birdsong from the tangle of brush in the empty lot next door.. I don't know what the future holds. But for now I skip outside, giddy the way I was hopping off the school bus long ago, and sink my bare hands into the earth. It is a time to put down your burdens, breathe out your sorrows and take time to be one with spring.

If democracy is losing, let's change the rules of the game

I know discussing "elections" can be like being forced to take a math test with something smelly smeared on it.

Now the stakes are much higher than a grade in math class. Tackling fair elections may be the only way to save our own lives, avert climate disaster and have any hope of a vibrant and successful community.

Creative Commons image by  James McNellis

Creative Commons image by  James McNellis

So grab a cup of tea and settle in. I'm going to make this as painless humanly possible.

What stops us from having universal health care, rail-based public transportation, economically sound and family-friendly immigration policies, a fair and environmentally responsive tax system, solar energy as high a priority as coal or oil, sober leadership for those who choose to fight for our country and a host of other things most developed countries have that we don't? 

People will say various things in response to that questin--the two-party system, the swamp, politicians, corporate money in politics, etc... Essentially though, they all come down to the same thing. The people in office are not responsive to the voters.

American public opinion has been percentage-wise vastly more progressive than our elected representatives for decades. Sure, there are Americans with non-progressive viewpoints. I'll bet some readers of my blog don't identify as progressive. But given your tolerance for my posts, it is very unlikely that you are happy voters of the Democrats or Republicans. You may be more fiscally conservative than progressive or concerned with individual freedom or interested in living wages.

Whatever your stance, if it is not directly in alignment with one of the major parties, we share the same number one problem.

That is our system of voting. 

Now I am not dissing the founding fathers. They did pretty darn good for their time. They only had a few European examples of semi-democracy to go on and they took some ideas for the US constitutin from the Iroquois.

Creative Commons image by Alisdare Hickson

Creative Commons image by Alisdare Hickson

Still--due respect to the founding fathers granted--let's face it. As good as it was for its time the Electoral College was a system set up to handle the problem of carrying ballots on horseback over hundreds of miles of open country. And the party system was also based on a pre-technological world. 

We have better options today.

The primary reason for changing our voting system is that it would allow for representatives who more accurately reflect the views of the citizens to be elected. And it would mean that those representatives would be more responsive to the concerns of constituents, because they would know that party loyalty will not balance out lack of popularity among voters. 

You are no doubt familiar with the concept of "spoilers" in elections. That's where you have two main candidates for a position, one from the Democrats and one from the Republicans. And then along comes a third party candidate.

If the third candidate is a Green, it is possible that some of the voters who vote for the Green would not have stayed home if the Green didn't exist. They might have voted for the Democrat. If the candidate is a Libertarian, the voters for that candidate might have voted for the Republican if the Libertarian didn't exist.  

The logic is that if you are a concerned and responsible voter, who really cares about your country, and you go to vote, you must vote for a major party candidate who has a "real chance of winning," because a vote for a third party candidate is just like staying home. It means your vote is wasted and it could have been used to help the better of the two major party candidates.

Creative Commons image by Master Steve Rapport

Creative Commons image by Master Steve Rapport

And when the worse of the two major party candidates bears a striking political resemblance to an early-years Hitler or Stalin, that becomes a real problem. 

Every single American I know has been in that very unpleasant bind while voting, whether they chose to buck the system and vote for an outsider or to tow the line and hope for the best. Whether you're one of those people who says we should vote for the Democrats to avoid people like Trump or one of those who says we have to vote our conscience, we aren't really two different camps. We've been through the same anxiety and frustration.

A change in voting system is an issue that a vast swath of Americans can get behind. Our political, strategy and policy differences don't matter in this, because in the end a voting system that allows each voter to vote their conscience without fear of spoilers is a system in which everyone wins.

Well, almost everyone. The top brass of the Democratic and Republican parties and their corporate backers will lose. And we'll all drink to that just before we part ways and start having a real democracy in which it isn't a dire problem that we disagree on everything else.

So, here in a nutshell is the technical explanation you've been waiting for:

Score Run-off Voting is a system in which the voter gives every candidate on the ballot a score. It's kind of like a beauty contest except it's a policy contest. You rate each candidate on how much you like their stated policies, track-record, ethics and statements. You have a scale of, for instance, 5 to 1, and you look at each candidate in turn and decide if you like them a lot, a little, or don't care, dislike them a little or a lot.   

Let's say you score an independent candidate as a 5 (because you know them well and believe in everything they stand for), a Green as a 4 and a Libertarian as a 4 (because you like most of their policies but not all), a Democrat as a 3 (because you aren't crazy about them but could survive them) and Trump as 1 (because your child will die of type 1 diabetes if he repeals the ACA).

Your scores along with everyone else's scores contribute to each candidate's overall score. You have supported the Democrat over the Republican and you have given support to several possible candidates, while giving the most support to the one you want most. Those scores will be tallied by a fairly simple computer program and two top winners will emerge. 

The computer will then run-off those two candidates using your score for each.

If--as Democrats and Republicans are always predicting--the top two candidates are still the Democrat and the Republican, then when those two are run-off your vote, in the example above, will be a vote for the Democrat. If you gave the Democrat a 3 and the Republican a 1, you have essentially voted for the Democrat in the run-off. 

But because the fear of spoilers would be taken away and the two major parties would no longer have a stranglehold on resources or an argument to journalists and voters claiming that other candidates are irrelevant, it is altogether possible in local and national races that the run-off could be between, say, your favorite independent and the Libertarian you sort of liked. In that case your vote in the run-off would go to the independent and even if she didn't win, you'd be better off than you are now.

Score Run-off Voting has a difficult and technical name and this whole thing may seem like a little technical issue, but in reality everything else develops from the voting system. That is why I argue that if there is one single issue to focus your finite energy for political involvement on, this should be it. Whether you're concerned about the environment or education or Black Lives Matter or health care or a living wage. it all comes down to this. 

We must have a realistic hope of electing those who back policies we need and a guarantee of un-electing those who don't follow through. 

Here are the reasons why:

  • Score Run-off Voting is the system that would actually break the two-party stranglehold on elections. Some other run-of or "approval" systems would help and can be supported as interim measures, but this one is the clincher.
  • It would undermine corporate influence.
  • And it is achievable. Through state-level initiatives for Score Run-off Voting the change can be made within a few years, whereas strategies such as "taking back the Democratic Party" or building up another party have an outlook of decades and a small probability of success. 

There are currently initiatives in Oregon for Score Run-off Voting and interest growing across the country. 

Fifty years from now: Standing Rock in historical context

In fifty years, what will they think of 2017? With all our frantic concerns about the state of our country and the world, what will be considered most crucial to history?

Certainly there will be a mention of President Donald J. Trump’s stormy first few weeks in office. But in a world fifty years from now, whether fossil-fuel-driven climate change is in full swing or it has been averted at the last minute, a far more important historical drama than the Trump presidency will dominate the histories. 

Creative Commons image by Dark Sevier of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Dark Sevier of Flickr.com

And it will center on North Dakota. Until now it was hard to imagine a place more remote from the center of power and history. But in the past six months, something happened there that will mark history one way or another. I don’t mean "merely" the gathering and unity of the Native American tribes at Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

That is significant and surely will be mentioned. But more important still was the unprecedented feat of indigenous and grassroots activists who defeated (even if only for a time) the Goliath of the fossil fuel industry, culminating in the decision by the Obama administration to deny permits for the pipeline last December. 

US military analysts have joined the vast majority of scientists in stating that human-induced climate change is a greater security threat to our country than terrorism. And whether we counter it or let it overwhelm us, the stand off in North Dakota will be a key moment. It may the beginning of the last-minute sea change toward a sane and sustainable future or it may mark one of the last stands of that sanity in a world quickly descending into the chaos of massive drought, famine and huge migrations of refugees. 

Last week, militarized police evicted protesters from the Standing Rock camps protesting DAPL. Dozens of officers in riot gear descended on the camps with weapons drawn and helicopters in the sky, pointing guns at people at prayer and arresting forty-seven. 

Right now the political climate is such that the event was primarily reported by foreign newspapers such as The Guardian in the UK and most US media were silent. But history will have harsher words for this reactionary act of corporate government. 

This may well be one of those times our grandchildren will ask us about someday. Where were you and what did you do? Did you wring your hands or were you one of those who had the courage to stand up for our lives? 

Creative Commons image by Dark Sevier of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Dark Sevier of Flickr.com

Most of us feel helpless to stop such disastrous events, but even in the most difficult circumstances there are things we can do. They may not stop the injustice and destruction, but they will be an answer--of sorts--to those questions. We can attend protests, write letters, organize, speak out constantly about climate change even amid momentary concerns and call our political representatives.

We can demand that public officials step in or at least speak out with the enhanced voice of their offices. And this does not mean only Republican officials who may have backed the demolition of the protest camps. In many ways, it may be more important to call the Democrats. 

Even if they are too few to stop what is happening here and now, they can speak and work toward solutions to the crisis of climate and fossil fuel. 

And the message for them is essentially the same as the message for us. Another era will come and they will look back on the treatment of these Native American activists fighting for all of our futures today much the way we now look on the beating of civil rights protesters in the 1950s. 

Every public official today will be historically defined by where they stood on this issue. 
 

The 2017 List: 13 things to bring into the new year

With some truly depressing 2017 lists out there, I want to add a couple that might actually come in handy... or at least crack a smile.

Here is the Rebel With a Pen list of what to take with you when leaping into 2017:

  1. Chocolate
  2. A solar panel
  3. A manual for communicating with racists
  4. A Canadian passport or at least least a maple leaf bumper sticker
  5. Your entire library of books
  6. Wool socks
  7. A couple of 1960s protest albums
  8. Food stockpiles
  9. A bomb shelter
  10. Your family and near neighbors
  11. A first aid kit with extra bandages
  12. Your ability to laugh in the face of disaster
  13. Your generosity of spirit when it comes to people you might feel like judging

And with some of the bizarre wish lists out there, I figured that my brand of fantasy wouldn't seem far fetched at all. Here's my wish list for 2017:

  1. I wish Donald Trump would get on TV, laugh really loud and say, "Just kidding!" And then go back to his moocher lifestyle and leave us in peace.
  2. I wish everyone in the media would suddenly realize they should actually listen to scientists. Then science and climate discussions would be at the top of the news cycle all year long.
  3. I wish oil executives would realize the Indians own that land in North Dakota and that squeezing every last drop of oil out of the sand in Texas is not going to prolong their gluttonous lifestyle for very long anyway so they might as well start thinking about long-term survival.
  4. I wish my kids would wake up January 1 and realize that bickering defeats fun.
  5. I wish the next president would declare a new New Deal consisting of building solar panels to go on every roof and a light-rail system serving the entire country.
  6. I wish all the teenage ISIS fighters would get a deep hankering to go live with their mothers and watch TV until they're forty. 
  7. I wish all bombs, missiles and munitions as well as all guns not in a safe under lock and key would mysteriously disappear on January 1.
  8. I wish someone brilliant would invent a way for writers and artists to make a living at their craft.
  9. I wish Microsoft would go bankrupt and have to sell off all of its parts to independent programmers who want to make an honest living.
  10. I wish our society would begin taxing the use of natural resources instead of the labor of the working poor and the funds would be put toward educational opportunity, urban greenspaces, rural public transit and subsidies for high quality cottage industries. 
  11. I wish a benign virus would evolve and spread among humans which deactivates the part of the brain that categorizes according to skin color, speech pattern and the appearance of a person's eyes.

With those sweet and optimistic thoughts in mind, I wish you a very happy (and peaceful) new year!

Surviving the new reality

Rain drums on the roof as I write. I am on enforced rest. Doctor's orders. I could cry for joy over the rest, except that the eye surgeon has forbidden me to express intense emotions. 

But you get the idea. I don't feel sick but I'm supposed to stay inside, keep warm, not work much and be at peace. I know, I wish I could spread it around a little too.

The only downside of this is a feeling of vulnerability that comes with the isolation.  I hesitate to venture out much, even on-line. I am a bit breakable and the world has suddenly become doubly harsh.

Creative Commons image by Sepp Schimmer

Creative Commons image by Sepp Schimmer

I saw a post from an old work colleague about attacks against people of color in the US. I wrote in a quick reply of support and bittersweet humor. And instead of solidarity, my old office-mate lashed out at me, labeling me an "sheltered white expat." 

I instantly had the urge to fight back. I'm not one who takes things lying down or turns the other cheek. Sure, I'm white and I know better than many white people what privileges and protections that entails. I am highly aware when I meet police officers that I am wearing the backpack of white privilege--then and many other times. I also know that when any country is in the grip of fear that there is an understandable anger toward emigres--those who left, no matter how good their reasons. 

On the other hand, I'm also a person with a significant physical disability. I'm up against the wall in this too. My children are not white and they are newly naturalized citizens. Will we ever be able to go back to visit my home and family again? That is not an idle question in these post-election days. We are also in a country (the Czech Republic) that Donald Trump has pledged to put a military base in. We are isolated for the moment, but far from off the hook. 

Still, I bit my lip and said none of that. I know well the furious emotions raging in my colleague's post. I replied only to express more simple and direct support for her. I told her I am an ally and I understand her words. She and another friend continued to express anger and rejection toward me. There was no reconciliation. 

I am worried.

I'm saddened to lose a connection to someone I enjoy simply due to these terrible times. But I am even more worried by what this negative interaction among allies means for our people--the people of our country, citizens and non-citizens, all cultures and all backgrounds. We're stuck in this together, after all. 

My home county in Oregon reportedly voted 67 percent for Trump. There are people I call friends who did and likely even a few only moderately distant relatives. And if I cannot meet a friend who agrees with me in support and solidarity, if we are so divided that I am the enemy even when I am not across the political divide, how... oh gods, how will we live with those who really do hate and choose a hateful leader? 

Let's take a moment to forget that Trump even exists. 

Sigh. Now doesn't that feel better? 

But wait a minute. There's a problem. We've made Trump disappear but we haven't made the many people who vehemently support him disappear. Sure, we can say they are a minority, as few as 20 percent of the nation and not even most of the voters. But they are enough and we have to live with them, Trump or no Trump.

I have always felt this because of where I grew up, far from the cosmopolitan and high-thinking coasts. I love visiting Portland, Seattle, New York or Francisco for precisely this reason. Our bubble of acceptance and freedom feels so good. 

But we forget that this is not all of the nation at our peril. We ignore rage at our peril. We belittle politically incorrect antagonism at our peril. We've seen that now.

I know it is hard to think about surviving the next four years. But we will... most of us at least. And here is how I propose to do it:

Creative Commons image by Peter Roome

Creative Commons image by Peter Roome

  • If there is a registry for Muslims, get on it. I'll be a Muslim on paper.  If we're all on the list, the list will have no teeth.
  • Talk to Trump supporters. Really talk and listen. Listen to what motivates them, what they are upset about. Share your thoughts with respect and without contempt.  They are people and most people are susceptible to change, even if slow change.
  • Promote facts, everywhere, over and over again. The media will not help, so we have to do it. Talk about facts, post them, remember them, make lists. Don't let up about climate change.
  • Explain white privilege, primarily if you're white. Explain it again and again and again until you're sick of it and then explain it to more people. There is no way we're as sick of explaining it as Black, Hispanic and Native American people are.
  • Talk to the person no one is talking to at a gathering. Invite the disabled colleague or classmate to whatever. Connect. 
  • Make your circle bigger. Whatever it is you can give easily, put it in. Got a neighbor with younger kids who could use some of your nicer used clothes? Got extra veggies from the garden? Got wood or materials or whatever? Buy less, trade more, reuse more. Gain your security from community.
  • Take care of your own basic needs with as little resources as possible. Reduce plastics and fossil fuels in whatever ways you can. And remember you'll do more and better if you're rested, healthy and fed. Don't wait to be taken care of. Stand strong, think ahead, link arms.

My hope is with you. 

She said it in 2016

My predictions for the next four... or ten years

I don't particularly want to be political on my blog, but this election was a call to all of us. It is past time we look at how this happened.

I know you're probably sick of politics at the moment. Frankly, so am I. It all seems too depressing and also confusing. It feels like talking about it does nothing but dig us into despair and negativity.

Here's the thing though. I have seen every part of this coming. When I was in my twenties and organizing international anti-war protests and one of my best friends was from Syria, I shocked her by predicting that her country was next. I could have been a bit more gentle about my horribly accurate prediction, but I saw the writing on the wall--wiggly, magnifying-glass eyes or no. 

A year ago, I also predicted Trump as president. I was confused all winter and spring about why people thought there was any contest in the Republican primary. I never had a moment's doubt about the Republican nominee.

Creative Commons image by Joseph Delgadillo

Creative Commons image by Joseph Delgadillo

Still if Donald Trump wasn't here, it would be someone else. This year or next time. This moment was a long time coming. I say that because I understand on a gut level the frustrations and alienation that led many Trump supporters to support him and to accept and even wallow in such hateful and bigoted statements, as well as to applaud irrational and extremely vague economic proposals. 

I am from Oregon, but the eastern, rural, Christian, conservative part of Oregon. My family were weirdos there with our internationalist, counterculture and often leftist thinking. But still. I understand Trump supporters. Partly because I grew up near them. Partly because I share their most basic root frustrations.

No, of course, I don't agree with them on everything or support Trump. But when you look under the racism, bigotry, fear-mongering and undefined-corporate economic concepts, you find people who feel disenfranchised because they never had anyone to vote FOR. They always had to choose the lesser of evils in a broken two-party system in which candidates never talk about the real issues.

Social media changed that this time; that, and Donald Trump's private media empire.. Let's face it. This election was not about who looked better or who had better speech writers and snazzier campaign ads as it often has been. This election, for the first time in my life, was about issues. It's sad that it was about racism, fear of foreigners and taxes for poor people, but there were real issues raised, issues that were previously taboo. 

Trump supporters in the parts of the US that I know well--that terrifying red swath through the middle of the country--are people struggling with the same root fury I have felt for years. But they were struggling with much less access to information and education, struggling in a society that never let the world (I mean the world beyond US borders) in.

Clinton supporters I know are out on social media right now bemoaning the election of Trump and yet repeating the very strange conviction that "America is still the best deal on earth," as if most of Europe, parts of the Middle East and good parts of Asia didn't have better education, health care, standards of living and just about everything else. Barack Obama convened congressional debates on health care early in his presidency and would not allow members of Congress who supported European-style single-payer health care to even participate in the debate.

And we are surprised that many Americans lack information and their frustration turns to bigotry?

If we limit choices to two parties which officially predetermine which issues can be brought up in televised debates, if we keep our school system focused on our own country's history and political system alone, if we allow news media to be controlled by a few naturally self-interested corporations, if we allow corporations to run almost every aspect of our society, we should not be surprised at the results.

Yes, this election was real democracy (except for the part about Bernie Sanders, the candidate with the most vehement supporters, being artificially cut out). This election reflects the frustration and lack of choice and the segregation of information that is rampant in our society.

Don't blame Trump. And don't blame Trump supporters. There are reasons for this.

As for Bernie Sanders, he is the only political candidate I have ever fully supported. That is primarily because I have known and closely watched him for twenty-odd years and I am convinced he was the real deal. I loved those months when Sanders looked like hope, but deep down I feared that the leadership of the parties would never stand for it. I also predicted that the next president would be a Republican. Sanders made me wonder for a while there because of the unpredictable influence of social media, but that was really only wishful thinking, given the impact of corporate media.

Where do all my predictions and statements about society come from? I am not a pollster or even a media junkie. I have been accused of almost never watching the news lately.  But I do keep up and follow important events. I observe the emotions of groups of people. My original profession was journalism and I was most known for drawing out the views of all sides in controversies. I heard out the fears of Czech Neo-Nazis and then walked across the street to a Romani ghetto and heard that side of the issue.

It isn't so much about knowing facts and polls, as it is about listening to people.

So, I have a few things to say in 2016 that I don't think you will want to believe. That's fine. I'm going to say them anyway and in four or five years, I'm going to dig this post out again and check how I did.

  1. Trump will be very bad for us and life will go on. Most of us will live and I will probably not be homeless in four years.
  2. Trump supporters will be told that their economic woes and feeling of disenfranchisement is not improving because of foreigners, Black people, the very poor (including people with disabilities) and other groups they should be against. For that reason, they probably will not be disillusioned with Trump as fast as we would hope.
  3. But their underlying frustrations, which stem from a lack of true choice in US politics and the heavily consumerist, corporate-led society, will remain unsatisfied. Unless something in the media changes radically, most Americans will continue to confuse the systems of corporations with the concept of "big government."
  4. Climate change is the most important threat to our survival. Extreme authoritarian religious groups are the other major threat--be they fundamentalist churches in the US or Islamic extremism (i.e. Trump or ISIS).
  5. Putin is not nearly as bad as Trump. He is in power and will generally stay there. If he has to imprison a few journalists to stay in power or keep his picked successor in power, he will, but he will use intelligent international and military strategies that are good for Russia and only incidentally good or bad for anyone else. His main concerns are what is good for Russia and his power in Russia.
  6. There will be other extremist groups that look like ISIS. There will be many refugees. There will be famine and huge waves of millions of refugees within ten years. Europe will build walls against them. And the US will shut down immigration from those areas.
  7. Climate change will not produce very many Hollywood-worthy disaster moments. Oh, there will be ever worse hurricanes, but mostly the dry lands will get drier. Violence will become more and more "normal." Resources will be more and more stretched. Life will become harder slowly enough that most people will not realize that much of the hardship is caused by climate change. But for the next ten years at least, we will keep struggling on. 
  8. History books will one day remember that a very important and dire world event happened in November of 2016 and it will have to do with the Dakota Access Pipeline and the many other pipelines being laid for frantic fossil fuel projects, not the election. I'm serious. In the long-run, that will probably be more historically important and our generation will look back and wonder why we were so distracted and didn't see it. 
  9. And after all that, I predict we'll still be here in 2030. I think life will be hard and we'll look back on this as a time with simpler problems and easier decisions. Our kids will not understand why we couldn't do better. But we will not live in a post-apocalyptic world. We will live in a stressful daily grind in which resources are limited and the cost of poverty is very high in terms of disease and mortality. There will never be a moment--more than now at least--when we can say the apocalypse has come. 

And we'll have to deal with all of that sooner or later. The sooner we start to take it seriously the better prepared we'll be.. 

Now is the time to put your energy into what you believe. Now is the time for solar panels, for learning self sufficiency and for building local communities. Now is the time for preparing for hard times and making sure we have the skills to survive.

This is the time to be serious and think hard about what we spend our time and money on. Is it TV and Facebook or is it learning to grow food and overcome antibiotic resistant bacteria with complex natural compounds? Is it buying another new car or is it about putting twenty percent of your income into one thing that might make a long-term difference.

This isn't about a catastrophe scenario. This is about right now. Live what you believe. If what you believe is not consumerism and TV (i.e. supporting corporations), then don't do it. There is much to be done.

Staring down my ballot

I envision Americans all over the world--Americans living abroad that is--sitting and staring at this letter the way I am. Americans abroad get to vote quite a bit early.

I'm sitting at the kitchen table with the envelope in front of me. I am glad it made it given the funky postal system these days. I'm also grief stricken. And terrified. I hate the damn thing. And I'm grateful that this at least remains to us.

A ballot.

How many people fought for this? Women. People of various colors. People with disabilities. Immigrants. If you belittle it, you are either an ass or just plain ignorant of history.

We all know that.

It's a great thing to have a ballot. My neighbors and my husband don't get one. The issue of who will be the next American president will impact them nearly as much as it impacts me. But they don't get a vote. I do.

And I don't know what in Hades to do with it.

I do know it's one in a hundred million. My ballot does not mean squat. If I ball it up and throw it away in disgust no one will care. Clinton will win or Trump will win, whether I do it or not.

I don't get political, I mean actually election-political, on my blog very often and I swear I'm not even doing that now. I'm not going to tell you how to vote because I don't know how to vote this time around. 

"Knock me over with a feather!" I can hear some of you shouting. "Arie doesn't have a political opinion for once."

Oh, I've got opinions. I've got a gazillion of them. That isn't the problem. 

I'm going to hazard a guess here. I'll bet I don't have very many readers who are Trump supporters. (Except you, Andy. And we love you anyway.) He's sort of a family member and you know how that goes.

But the rest of you... well, who reads my blog? According to my Google stats some people actually do, for which I am immensely grateful.

And from comments I'm guessing some of you are general treehuggers, like me, and you know you're not voting for Trump. Then there are the non-Americans who read my blog, and you wouldn't be voting for Trump even if you could. There are quite a few people with disabilities who read my blog and Trump would just as soon see us dead. Same goes for my Romani and otherwise non-white readers.

A lot of readers are also variously Pagan and Goddess inclined. Now one could theoretically argue about whether or not Trump will make America "great" again, but we know for sure he'll make it Christian-or-else again, so that sort of settles who Pagans aren't voting for.  

Therefore, I'm not going to tell anyone not to vote for Trump because it's pretty safe to assume that no one reading this is planning on it, except possibly that guy Andy. And he's only reading this to humor my mother.

Instead I'm going to commiserate with you.

Because if you aren't voting for Trump, what are  you going to do?

Okay, there's the question. Vote for Clinton or don't vote for Clinton? Clinton is one of the least popular politicians in history even before the election and with good reason. You may be one of those desperate people demanding that every decent person vote for Clinton because "if you don't, you're signing the country over to Trump and thus signing your own death warrant!" 

I get it. I really do. When I look at Trump. I think of course there's no choice. That Green on the ballot might as well not even be there. No real choice.

And then I put my head in my hands and cry. Because... remember all those people I mentioned, the ones who fought for this ballot. And now the ballot is as good as useless. There's no real choice. 

Every single election in my adult life (that's since 1996) I've been told, "There's no choice. Just vote AGAINST that guy!" whichever guy it was. Who I was supposed to vote for did not matter.

So, we grit our teeth and do our duty. We vote for slime, for lies, for candidates who care as much about us as they do about the gum they stepped on when they got out of their LImo last night. 

It's only harder this time because we had hope for a little while. I knew it wouldn't last. Admit it. So did you.

If we were right about the way the political system works, if you actually believed what Sanders was saying (including Bernie Sanders himself), you had to know that he would never be allowed to compete for actual votes cast by people.

He said the system is broken and rigged. And it is. So Clinton participated in a blatantly rigged primary to deny us our right to vote. And now we'll vote for her because... we have no f---ing choice!

I try to comfort myself. Clinton mentioned climate change. She actually MENTIONED it. Bernie did that at least. He has forced her to at least say a few taboo words. We all know she won't do what needs to be done, that she doesn't care and that these are all just words to her, but maybe I should throw my vote her way as a sort of "thank you" for the mention of the single most important security crisis facing us (according to official US military analysis and everyone else worth their salt). At least she didn't completely ignore reality. 

And I do have a daughter. She's seven and she's into Lego Friends, who first rush home to change their clothes and put on make-up every time they are called out to rescue endangered animals. Think about what it would mean if the president is a woman--a woman who does not even make coquettish noises every two sentences. My daughter could grow to her teenage years with this woman's face as the supreme power in the world. That is worth something isn't it? No matter how much of a liar and conscienceless shell she may be.

That is something to vote FOR, isn't it?

My gut feels like a sack of rotten potatoes. If you've ever smelled rotten potatoes--really rotten--you know what I'm talking about this election.

So, good luck when you get your ballots, America. You've got my sympathy which ever way you toss your lack of choice. Just remember that NOT voting is still part of the game and there may be consequences.

I'm going to go out tonight and wish on a star. I wish just once in my life to vote FOR a president, rather than against. Even if my choice doesn't win. Please just once. I want to cast my vote for a candidate I trust and admire. 

And that wish is light in the darkness. We may have to fight for the right to vote, really vote, all over again. Don't forget. It's been done before.