Stars & stripes


We protest school segregation

The President has said something racist, again. This comes as no surprise, as the President regularly uses racist rhetoric to rile up his base, who either share his bigoted views or simply aren’t troubled by them. To me, these two options are equally bad. If you rush to defend or choose to ignore racism, you are empowering it: either way, you are complicit.

Police brutality must stop now

The fact that our President is racist is not news; people who were paying attention in 2016 knew this, but plenty of folks still voted for him. But what is new is the way the past two and a half years have revealed people’s true values. I’m willing to give voters the benefit of the doubt if they voted for Trump with a vague hope that the solemnity of his office would tame or temper him. But as the President’s Twitter tantrums have continued, his policies have gotten increasingly cruel, and his cozying up to dictators and autocrats continues unabated, I haven’t learned anything new about Trump himself. This leopard hasn’t changed his spots, and what we’ve long seen is what we continue to get.

What has been revelatory about the past two and a half years is the behavior of Trump’s supporters and enablers. If you still turn a blind eye toward what Trump does–if you continue to say nothing or merely offer excuses–this tells me everything I, your neighbors, and your children need to know about your character. As much as you claim that you yourself are not racist, your failure to condemn abhorrent behavior says more about your priorities than any of your arguments.

I might be next

History has its eyes on us, and so do our companions and contemporaries. When I was a young and impressionable child, an impassioned priest showed my religion class footage from Nazi concentration camps, imploring us to learn from the past so we would never repeat it. As I watched the grim and grainy images, I wondered with childlike innocence how ordinary Germans could have stood by and watched while genocide happened in their midst. Now, decades later, I have my answer.

Genocide doesn’t start with death camps; it starts with divsion and objectification, with slogans and conformity, and with repeated exhortations to support your country right or wrong. Genocide starts with a moral muddying of waters and with the suggestion that some folks and families don’t matter as much as yours do. Genocide starts with good, otherwise decent folk deciding to stand by, shut up, and do nothing as norms and morals are violated, the act of minding one’s own business being weaponized as a tool of the state.

Black and white together

Plenty of folks who voted for Trump in 2016 insist they aren’t themselves racists; instead, they argue, they voted for economic reasons, or for the sake of Supreme Court picks, or because they disliked Hillary Clinton. But now that we see the kind of behavior the President is engaged in–the kind of behavior he talked about and that some voters chose to ignore, defend, or quietly agree with–we now know how low Trump’s supporters and enablers are willing to crawl. I haven’t learned anything new about the leopard, but I am continually heartbroken by the hyenas who continue to hang around him.

When I studied Spanish in high school, I learned a saying that seems particularly apt these days: “dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.” Tell me who you walk with, and I will tell you who you are. If you tell me you voted for Trump in 2016, I can be kind and assume you were duped. But if you tell me you still support him, I must assume you either support his abhorrent behavior or (worse yet) simply don’t care. Two and half years after Trump was elected, ignorance is no longer an excuse. If you continue to lie down with dogs, you must enjoy waking up with fleas.

Today’s photos show protest signs on the Green Street parking garage in Central Square, Cambridge: part of Representative Ayanna Pressley’s Congressional district.

Frederick Douglass bio and Postcards to Voters

Today is the 4th of July. After reading outside on the patio for a short while this morning, I’ve spent the heat of the day inside our air-conditioned bedroom, trying to keep the dogs cool and ushering them outside for short, closely supervised bathroom and exercise breaks. So much for the Dog Days of summer.

Frederick Douglass

I’m currently reading David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, a weighty brick of a book I checked out and returned to the library several times before making time to read. Yesterday, I read the chapter in Blight’s book that discusses Douglass’s famous speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” which seems more relevant than ever this year.

Great Hall

Blight accurately interprets the speech as a classic American jeremiad: a speech intended to provoke and spur listeners to action and repentance. In it, Douglass argues that Independence Day means nothing to slaves who lack the freedom it celebrates:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Chairs

This year, I find myself wondering what the Fourth of July means to migrant children detained in squalid holding pens, citizens in gerrymandered districts denied the full power of their vote, or homeless and suicidal veterans fighting PTSD while our draft-dodging President entertains himself with military parades.

Eagle, clock, and portraits

Today I celebrated the Fourth of July by doing two things that I consider to be my civic duty. First, I spent some time writing Postcards to Voters. Voting is an important way to preserve freedom, and encouraging Florida voters to enroll in Vote-By-Mail is one way to get-out-the-vote one person (and one postcard) at a time.

Light fixtures

Second, I spent some time with the Mueller Report, which I’ve committed to read in 10-page daily installments over the course of the summer. In today’s installment, I read Robert Mueller’s indictment for Russian social media meddling, which the Washington Post edition includes in an appendix of supplemental materials. It feels important to understand what the Russians did in 2016 and how easy it was to mislead voters with fake news, sham social media profiles, and even in-person rallies organized from afar and designed to energize some voters while discouraging turnout among others. It’s easy for nefarious agents to mislead gullible constituents; being savvy and thinking critically are also part of our civic duties.

Overhead

July 4th is when we celebrate America’s birthday, but every day it is our job as citizens to defend democracy by doing the work of engaged citizens. This means educating yourself: read books and understand history. Vote and encourage others to do so, too. Pay attention to the news and hold your elected officials accountable. These are the gifts any one of us can give Uncle Sam on his birthday or any other day.

Golden shadows

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s midterm elections, I’ve been thinking of a line from Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 essay, “Slavery in Massachusetts”:

Golden age

The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls- the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.

In even the best times, voting is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. Now that a record-breaking number of people have cast ballots in an election that many saw as a referendum on Donald Trump’s politics of fear, pundits are trying to parse the results: is this a win for Republicans, Democrats, or the country at large? Many on the left had hoped for a complete repudiation of Trumpism, as if a single election could eradicate racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. But as Thoreau observed more than a century ago, simply voting isn’t enough.

Pine and maple

The social dynamics that propelled Donald Trump into office have not changed: fear, anger, and perceived victimhood are still powerful motivations for a particular segment of the voting public. Not even the biggest blue wave could sweep away America’s ongoing legacy of white supremacy, patriarchy, and economic injustice. Karma is long, and any given election cycle is short.

Democracy depends on voters, to be sure…but a just society depends just as heavily on engaged and active citizens. Showing up at the polls is a good start, but it is just that: a start. In the present the aftermath of this year’s midterms, we each are faced with a question: what next? Given the deep divisions, lingering resentments, and daunting injustices our country still faces, what can each of us do–both individually and within our communities–to work for a better world?

The morning after

The first thing J did the morning after the midterm election was take down our yard sign for Joe Kennedy, who easily won re-election. We’ll put it out again in another two years.

Voting Is My Super Power

J and I voted early at City Hall over a week ago, navigating a confusing array of sidewalk construction on our way into the building. As we waited in line to deposit our ballots, we overheard a poll worker mention that she has voted in every election since becoming a citizen.

Penultimate pile of #PostcardsToVoters

“Where are you from,” J asked, and the worker described the circuitous journey that brought her to America via New Zealand and China, where her parents had fled from Russian pogroms. “I don’t take for granted what I have here,” she said as she handed us our “I voted” stickers.

That was the day before the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, and I’ve occasionally thought of that poll worker and her roundabout flight from the oppression that drove her parents out of Russia. Today during my office hours, I scrolled through my social media feeds to see photo after photo of friends who didn’t take their vote for granted, and in my afternoon classes I was cheered to see more than a few students wearing “I voted” stickers, too.

Final batch of #PostcardsToVoters for this election cycle

Seeing young people excited about voting reminds me of Election Day 2018, when I voted for Barack Obama alongside long lines of first-time voters. It felt good to be a part of history then, and I had hoped to be part of history in 2016, too. Back then, J and I chilled champagne in advance of what he’d hoped to be Hillary Clinton’s victory. This year, we don’t have any champagne on hand, just anxious hopes for a blue wave.

Mistakes were made (and corrected)

I can’t remember the last time I used Wite-Out correction fluid. It’s been decades since I’ve used a typewriter, and Walt, the electric typewriter I used when I was an undergraduate, used correction film, eliminating the need to brush correction fluid over typos.

Spent part of Presidents' Day writing #PostcardsToVoters for @kellysmithky #kelly4ky #gotv (Want to get involved? Email Join@TonyTheDemocrat.org)

But yesterday while I was writing my latest batch of Postcards to Voters, I made a careless mistake on three cards, writing that Democrat Javier Fernandez was running for Florida’s “State Senate” instead of “State House.” So yesterday I discovered that my local grocery store does indeed carry correction fluid, and the second I opened the bottle, the toxic-chemical scent reminded me of a bygone era of caffeine-fueled all-nighters and stress-induced typos.

Five more #PostcardsToVoters for Marie Newman. @marie4congress #IL03

I can only hope the ten Florida Democrats who receive my handwritten cards appreciate that they were written by a real human being who makes real human mistakes. The campaign for Florida’s House District 114 has gotten so heated, fake people are sending typed letters to voters, trying to smear the Democratic candidate. Because of the mudslinging, one of the suggested talking points for volunteers writing postcards is “I am a real person. This is my actual handwriting. I hope you vote.”

I hope Georgia Democrats like orchids, because I'm sending a blooming bouquet of #PostcardsToVoters for Phyllis Hatcher in tomorrow's mail. #FlipGA17 #ElectBlackWomen

The whole appeal of Postcards to Voters is that it is a grassroots network of real people sending friendly, handwritten reminders to fellow Democrats in states all around the country. In an age when voters are inundated by slick professional mailings, there’s a certain charm in receiving a handwritten card from a fellow citizen. My fellow postcarders and I don’t use fake names or fake addresses: we sign our real first names, postmarks make it clear where we are writing from, and we try to add a personal touch by decorating our cards with artwork, stickers, or doodles. It’s craftivism at its friendliest.

Five Superman-themed #PostcardsToVoters for #DDD4WI. Be a hero - use your vote!

My fellow postcarders and I aren’t funded by a super PAC or wealthy donor; we buy our own postcards, stamps, colorful pens, stickers, and (yes) correction fluid, and we write postcards here and there when we have the time. (I try to write ten postcards a week.) My fellow postcarders and I are real people who volunteer to write to other real people because we think encouraging people to vote is more helpful than screaming at the television.

So I hope the registered Democrats who receive my handwritten, hand-corrected postcards recognize they were sent by someone who is only human: not a bot, not a troll, and not a social media algorithm. Mistakes were made, and mistakes were corrected. I trust Florida voters can see the humanity in that.

I’ve written about Postcards to Voters before. With a constant stream of special elections–and with the 2018 midterm elections approaching–we always welcome new volunteers who want to help turn out the vote one Democratic voter at a time. CLICK HERE if you’re interested in learning more.

Rally against racism

Yesterday there was a student-led march to protest six racist incidents on campus last semester. This isn’t the first event students have organized to speak out against racism on campus, but it’s the first one that happened when I was on campus and not either teaching or tutoring.

Silence is betrayal / End racism

I’m not by nature a march-goer. Although I attended the Unity Walk students organized after the 2016 election as well as the Women’s March on Boston Common in January, 2017, my dislike of crowds makes me a less-than-ideal rally-goer. My personal political proclivities are more introverted in nature: I’d rather stay inside and make a sign than go outside and wave one.

Rally against racism

Yesterday, however, I ignored my personal proclivities. The whole point of a protest, after all, is to gather a crowd, and a crowd needs lots of bodies. “Silence is violence,” several signs reminded us: when bigots are spewing words of hate, doing nothing speaks volumes. Even if you don’t know how to fix a problem as big and complicated as white supremacy, the least you can do is show up to the fight.

Hibiscus

I’m almost done reading Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir, What Happened. I rushed to read the book in large part because of the backlash against it: many angry reviews have been written by people who haven’t read (and indeed refuse to read) the book, so I was eager to make up my own mind. Regardless of how you feel about Hillary Clinton, she’s in a unique spot to comment on an unprecedented election.

Cherub

Now that I’m almost done with What Happened, I have a few observations about it. First of all, I’ve been struck by how much of a bookworm Clinton is. I knew that Clinton was smart, but I wasn’t expecting a memoir that mentions so many books: books Clinton read before she entered politics, books that guided her as a candidate, and books she’s returned to in the aftermath of a crushing defeat. In the first chapter alone, Clinton mentions more books than Donald Trump has probably read in his entire life. I don’t think Clinton is trying to look bookish; she’s just a person who reads (and thus talks about) a lot of books.

Tamarack

Second, I’ve been struck by Clinton’s obvious religious faith. Whereas many politicians make a big show of piety to appeal to heartland voters, Clinton has always been private about her own Methodist faith. Now that Clinton is out of the political realm and thus more comfortable talking about her personal life, it’s clear that her faith inspires pretty much everything she did as a politician and (especially) everything she’s done since. Although many of Clinton’s critics will presumably accuse her of false piety, she literally has nothing to lose now that she’s no longer running for office. When Clinton explains how prayer and the advice of trusted spiritual advisors helped her weather everything from the trials of her marriage to the stresses of a contentious campaign, I choose to believe her.

Water lilies

Third, I think What Happened is far more than an autopsy of a failed campaign; it’s also a warning about what lies ahead. Press reports (and negative reviews) peg the book as a political postmortem, with Clinton offering excuses for why she lost the 2016 election. But as attention-grabbing as those parts of the book are, the most interesting, troubling, and useful parts are the ones that warn of what comes next: a book that could have alternatively called What’s Happening. Clinton’s days as a candidate are over, but the challenges she faced as a candidate are not going away. Instead, those challenges will be alive and active in future elections, threatening to undermine our democracy as long as we continue to ignore them.

Maidenhair fern

Clinton describes a perfect storm of factors that led to her defeat and Trump’s victory: a toxic stew of sexism, misogyny, racism, sensational press coverage, an ill-timed letter from then-FBI director James Comey, Russian interference, a widespread inability of voters to detect and ignore fake news, and a willful campaign of voter suppression. Despite all of these impediments, Clinton still won the popular vote by nearly three million votes, but that still wasn’t enough to win her the presidency.

Mown path

Still a policy wonk, Clinton offers ample evidence to support her claim that a combination of forces tipped the election in Trump’s favor, devoting an entire chapter to a statistical analysis of how Comey’s letter about an FBI investigation into Clinton’s email usage proved to be the nail in her campaign coffin. But here’s the thing: even if you don’t believe Clinton’s admittedly subjective account of what went wrong in the 2016 election, you’d better listen to what she says about future elections.

You can argue that sexism and misogyny weren’t a factor in Clinton’s loss, or you can argue that James Comey had no impact on the race. You can argue that nobody is to blame but Clinton herself, and she would actually agree with you. But–and this is the essential point–with the exception of James Comey, none of the factors Clinton discusses is going away, so we ignore her insights at our (and our country’s) peril.

Stonewall

Maybe Clinton was a terrible candidate, as her critics argue. But sexism and misogyny aren’t going away, so the next woman to run for president will still have to face them. Maybe racism didn’t motivate Trump voters–but racism isn’t going away, so future populists and demagogues will still have reason to appeal to it.

Maybe the Russians didn’t work single-handedly to get Trump elected–but we know for a fact they interfered in the election, and they continue to spread fake news and propaganda designed to sow domestic discord. Russian propagandists and click-bait factories aren’t going away, so future candidates will have to face the lies they spread, just as Clinton did.

September faun

Most alarmingly, voter suppression might not have lost the election for Clinton, but it played a role, and it’s not going away. If we believe in fair and accurate elections, we should be alarmed by the number of voters who were prevented from voting in states where the election was decided by a slim margin. Voter suppression alone might not have thrown the election to Trump, but it’s an issue we should care about if we care about future elections.

Clinton’s tale of “what happened” is about much more than her individual experience of the 2016 election. Instead, it’s a tale of what will continue to happen if we don’t learn from recent history.

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