Regarding the State of My Country

You kind of have to laugh to keep from crying. Sometimes my heart just breaks as I watch the lengths the powers of this world are willing to go to to protect a corrupt, destructive system from even the most reasonable, necessary changes. The pain and suffering they’re happy to inflict on everyone while acting like we don’t deserve any better. I have moments where want to be like some melodramatic woman with a cloth on my head crying out in a psalm: “my country, my country”. While clasping a sheaf of wheat to my chest and falling to the ground in agony. I hope and pray we make it out the other side alright, but what times to live through. And to think it’s been like this for some folks pretty much the whole time. No wonder black comedians can be so damn funny. It’s humbling, honestly. It should be a humbling time for all of us, really.

But I wrote something to some friends earlier today that I wanted to share here as well, because I think it’s important. It’s about denial. And how tempting it can be to allow yourself to slip back into it. Especially when things are so bad and you’re in a position where you can just turn away and retreat into denial even as you continue to pay lip service to your determination to do the right things with your life. I mean, we all retreat there from time to time. If we can access it, that is. Of course we do. It’s self care for people who aren’t used to living without it. I mean – who wouldn’t want to at least visit denial sometimes? It’s soft and comfy and it feels like you could just live there forever. Which is kind of the problem. It’s not real. But that feeling of forever makes it oh so tempting to pretend you don’t know that.

I happen to know a thing or two about denial. Denial is my mother’s tongue. I have this very funny story about my poor mother (she is never spoken of to me without the honorific “poor” before her name or position, btw) trying to do what she could with a home that was bought as a fixer-uper and then never actually fixed up. The house had a leaky basement and cracks in the plaster, but was otherwise solid and comfortable. The problem, as 8-year-old me saw it, was making it habitable for people with eyeballs. To this day, I think it may be the ugliest house I have ever set foot in. My mother has many talents and endearing qualities, but let’s just say that some of the worst conflicts she and I ever had were over the clothing she would pick out for me to wear when I was a child. So when faced with one room that had a speckled green and black shag carpeting some of you would go crazy over today but which was considered an eyesore in the early 80s, my mother painted the room a soft, simple, baby blue. As one does. And when she was done and we were looking at it together, she says, “I know it doesn’t match. We’ll just pretend the floor’s not there.” 😂🤣(This memory makes me laugh every time, btw.)

I told this story to my brother-by-another-momma who lives down in Sante Fe. And he goes, “wow. That’s like industrial-grade denial.” It’s like the most on-brand story I have about my mom. Because denial is my mother’s tongue. So believe me when I tell you this: denial is deadly. Denial is soft and comfortable, like a mother’s arms. But denial will offer you up to monsters while saying “I love you”. It may feel safe, but it can never, ever be trusted. Do not allow yourself to play with denial. And as hard as it is, I promise you, I swear to you, scary reality is ALWAYS superior and usually much more enjoyable than comfortable denial. Whatever denial you have, find it, identify it and do not entertain it. Be done with it. You will be so much better without it. I swear before God it’s the truth – and y’all know I don’t ever do that. Denial can be a survival mechanism. But denial is not your friend.

Now, on a lighter note, I have finally figured out what to do with the MAGAt trolls that come on my wall. I’m just sharing a link to this blog post which I wrote – you will note – all the way back in 2014 (because this whole thing has actually been super predictable, tbh. Scholars had written papers on it and run it through algorithms.) I’m adding a comment thanking them for their service in the planet-wide “asshole identification training” the universe has been running. I let them know that the people around them have taken note so no need to keep identifying themselves, although we do understand that compulsion is a thing so perhaps they won’t be able to stop in which case we’ll all just block them. Thank you so much for going to such lengths to clearly identify yourself, MAGAtron. And then I tell them that they picked the wrong side. Again.

How on earth do people who claim to be Christians fail an open book test they were given the answers to ahead of time this badly? They’re bad people with bad motives and now we all know who they are because they’ve come right out and identified themselves. The good news is that among human beings, they’re a distinct minority. A distinct minority who have proven that they shouldn’t be trusted with so much as a tooth brush half the time. And then I wish them luck with their recovery. Being that many kinds of wrong hurts. Yay Jesus! 

Anyways, I said it back in 2016 after the election and I still say it today, I think we have a fighting chance this time. I really do. I mean, creating a fundamental shift in societal awareness as the forces which benefit from denial are fighting their absolute hardest to destroy you is not an easy trick to pull off. But if ever a people had a good fighting chance of fighting off oppression under the worst circumstances imaginable, we do. And, for the record, as I said 3 1/2 years ago, it will be because of the work that has been going on for generations. And yes, it can get much, much worse than this. I’ll probably need to write about it more soon, but I hope everyone appreciates the fact that these protests have been going on everywhere for almost 2 months and there are next to no known instances of significant violence against human beings from the protest side. That requires discipline and that kind of discipline isn’t developed overnight. If the anti-lockdown people had been met with police in riot gear shooting tear gas at the slightest provocation, without regard for who is present, there would have been shooting within the first days. We’d be looking at pockets of significant loss of life everywhere. It is the groundwork laid by activists, movements and generations that creates a movement capable of holding up under these conditions without giving free reign to the impulse to inflict physical harm on other human beings. The protesters have nothing but my respect, although to be honest, there are certain things I’d prefer they stop doing, but I’m not in charge of anything or anyone but myself so that’s neither here nor there.

And finally, LoveTalks, Baby! is having a fundraiser. We’re selling long and short sleeve t-shirts, custom-designed by yours truly. Sure to be a collector’s item one day. (You know who you are – secret Rebecca fan club members. We have another one ready to put out when these are gone – you know you want more!) You should go buy one to wear and one for the closet. Or if you have a dog, you could buy one for them too. We can’t print and ship them until we have enough orders, so the longer you take, the longer everyone has to wait. The link is in the picture. Click on it. Raja. (That’s please in Arabic):

tshirt1 mockup ad

Or if you’d rather just make a donation or are wondering what in the world LoveTalks, Baby! is, go here where I explains all. Peace! Love y’all!

Wanna Help Me Change the World?

Once upon a time, I wrote on this here blog so frequently that mere mortals had a hard time keeping up. Strangely enough, all that writing never turned into the massive money-making machine one would assume. Sad though that is, it’s fine because I’ve found a new money-making venture that’s sure to lead to the fame and financial windfall which, I’m sure we all agree, would be mine in a sane universe: feeding homeless people!

OK, OK, so feeding homeless people doesn’t exactly sound like a great money-making venture but that’s because you just haven’t seen the way we’re feeding homeless people. It’s new! It’s revolutionary! It’s going to get me the money to buy that new car I’ve been needing for like 20 years and pay for plastic surgery to remove these two weird bumps on my nose. Just you wait and see.

So, all joking aside, I do need to tell you about this crazy, brilliant thing I helped build called LoveTalks, Baby! And it really is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s the brainchild of my sister Linda and her husband Adam. There’s an entire movie and several books worth of background story to how LoveTalks, Baby! came to be, but for our purposes, let’s start this spring when the lock-down began. For years Linda and her family have passed out food and spent time with people experiencing homelessness in the Old Town area of Portland. They had paused while Linda and her grandson recovered from COVID-19 in early March, but while driving to the hospital for her grandson, Linda and Adam witnessed an encounter between a homeless man they knew and police that left her very disturbed.

ltb2The thing about Linda is she can be a bit . . . extra. She follows her heart, does everything BIG and once she sets her mind to something all you can do is follow along and hope she doesn’t get hurt. She’s the sort of person who witnesses an accident and gets out and shuts down traffic on the expressway while she pulls the people out of a burning vehicle. After seeing this encounter between the police and one of her homeless friends, she worried that with the streets empty the homeless were even more vulnerable to abuse by those cops who are bad actors than usual. So she and Adam went home, made meals for 40 people and went out in the middle of the night to pass them out. She knew that people needed food, but as importantly she wanted the cops to see housed people around to signal that the homeless weren’t actually alone.

ltb8While on the street, Linda learned that the bathrooms and water fountains in the area had been turned off. The restaurants were closed and even fast food places were inaccessible except by car. Social services agencies were either shut down entirely or had limited operations. It was the end of winter and the elderly, disabled and sick were too weak to even get up and move. People were relying on each other to bring back what food and water they could find. Alarmingly, Linda saw that all of the windows in the area were boarded up. Other than an approaching hurricane, the only reason to board up all the windows in an area is when violence is expected. And really, if you leave impoverished orphans, widows, autistic, mentally ill and severely traumatized people to die on the street without access to food, water, bathrooms or human connection under the supervision of police whose interactions tend towards violence and humiliation, violent outbursts are inevitable. It had all appearances of a set-up. Vulnerable and potentially volatile people who are already widely despised would lash out and their behavior would be used to justify subjecting them to violence and forced confinement by the government.

So, Linda did what Linda does and intervened. She told me, “I may not be able to stop terrible things from happening, but no one’s going to say that when a holocaust was brewing on the streets of my city, the body of Christ failed to show up.” She contacted the mayor’s office and got categorized as an essential service so they could be on the street every night, serving. It started with making large quantities of food at home to pass out ltb21in take-out containers, along with water and whatever blankets, tents and other supplies they could get their hands on. Soon, they got a rig to cook food right on the street. The smell of cooking food attracted a crowd. And just like at home, people needed something to do while waiting for dinner to be finished. So Linda and Adam brought a rug for people to sit on, then some chairs, tables, music, art supplies and sometimes even a TV to watch movies together. They provided charging stations for people’s phones, tents and other supplies for those who needed them, vitamins and supplements for the elderly and sick and most importantly, love and boundaries and acceptance, regardless of difficult behavior, questionable appearance and whatever baggage people had. A Street Family started to form.

Linda and Adam are not rich people – she’s on SSI and he’s been out of work since being laid off from eBay 2 years ago. They put every penny that came to them into food and supplies for their evening gatherings and when that wasn’t enough, took out a $20K loan to get through several months of lock-down. The homeless themselves gathered donations from each other. While the world was shut down, the homeless were having parties on the streets of Portland. When they were forced to move from a sheltered location near a parking garage, party tents and lights were brought in along with more seating and decorations. Their gatherings took on the appearance of a fancy party happening on the street, except all of the attendees were homeless people.

ltb10For the longest time, no one except the cops and their friends even knew they were there because they came late and cleaned up before leaving. The cops kept their distance and didn’t interfere. Occasionally one of them would privately thank Linda and Adam for sparing them from spending their nights dealing with the problems that homeless people in mental and physical crisis tend to create on the street. Not only did a violent showdown between cops and the homeless never happen, crime rates in the area remained consistent with historical levels rather than going up as one would expect given the conditions.

83586444_10220356242309666_1940147078197936128_oWhen the protests started in late May, Linda and Adam rented cotton candy and snow cone machines and provided a safe haven for their people in the midst of chaos. When the noise and chaos threatened to overwhelm, they played soothing music and sat with everyone to help them remain calm and in control of themselves. Sometimes passing protesters stopped to share food, often leaving donations and thanking them for what they were doing. A couple of local police told Linda and Adam privately that without them the protests would almost certainly have been even more explosive and violent than they were.

So now it’s July and the nightly gatherings are still happening. The loan money is gone so we’re operating hand to mouth and donation to donation each day with the help of a few generous individuals. We’re hard at work creating partnerships with local businesses and charitable organizations to meet the need. We’ve formed an official registered charity (501c3 status pending) with a fancypants board and everything, built a website and are about to start selling merchandise to raise funds. We’ve met with a city commissioner, been given official clearance to keep using the city sidewalks for the gatherings and are working with her team to start integrating what we’re doing into the city’s efforts to serve the homeless. We met with US Senator Ron Wyden and his state director who will be visiting the gathering in the near future. Next month, Linda and I will complete training curriculum for people who serve vulnerable populations on issues like trauma, autism, deescalation, safety and building trust which everyone we encounter has told us is desperately needed. That training will become workshops which will create the revenue stream needed to fund the street operations.

ltb6I started the story with what happened this past March, but really, Linda and I have been laying the groundwork for this for years as part of a larger vision. The lock-down forced us to launch rather suddenly and unexpectedly, but we were able to make such a heavy lift so quickly is because we’d already laid out the vision for a model that can be replicated in other places to bring fundamental change from the bottom up. Once we get this pilot in Portland self-sustaining and solid, the plan is to train people in other cities to do the same. And as important as it is to make sure homeless people are ok, by getting the community actively involved and invested in providing people with a safe, healthy place to just rest, relax, dance and sing and share a meal together, the divide between the community and the people in the community who are unhoused can begin to heal.

Beyond that, our real mission is to trigger a fundamental shift in the way that we treat each other generally. Homeless people – even the difficult, troubled ones – are fellow image-bearers and deserve to be treated as such. It’s why we feed them good food in an attractive setting and treat them like valuable human beings who deserve good things. Because when homeless people have standing to be treated as human beings who matter and belong, then we all have standing to be treated as human beings who matter and belong. Which is a shift that very obviously we desperately need in this country.ltb13

So I’m asking for donations, not for my new car or to remove those weird bumps on my nose, important though that may be, but to keep us up and running through the end of the summer. By then we should have rustled up enough community and government investment to keep us going until we’re self-sustaining. You guys have come through in the past to provide clothing for naked grannies in India, medical care for injured children in Pakistan and even to help me pay my family’s rent. So I know you’re the sort of people who will pitch in for a good cause when you can.

We need at least $5000 to fund operations for the next 6 weeks. It’s more than I’ve ever asked you folks for, but seeing as only the very best people read this here blog of mine, I believe we can do it. Pray about it and if you feel lead, chip in whatever you can – it all adds up. Pass this on to your family and friends. Share it on social media. Stand on a street corner with a sign and a can if you want. Whatever we need to do. I really do believe that working together, we have what it takes to change the world. After all, the world is on fire and if we don’t show up and do it, who will?

You can make a donation using the button below or at our website where you’ll also find more pictures and videos from our gatherings. If you’d like to do something more personal for our Street Family, go to our store and pick items to meet specific needs. While you’re there, be sure to leave your email address so you can receive notifications when LoveTalks, Baby! Merchandise becomes available and to receive a monthly newsletter sharing what we’re up to. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with what’s happening on the street. Or, just click on the donation button below to make a cash donation today and know that we’ll put it all to good use. All donations are tax-deductible. And when we make our goal, I’ll be sure to let y’all know. Come on – let’s change the world. You know you wanna! Donate button

What’s the Point of Protesting? #womensmarch

Image result for women's marchAfter the shudder and wretch inducing inauguration, the incredibly successful Women’s March on Saturday was balm for a lot of our souls. A reminder that Trump does not have the support of the American people. Which is all well and fine,  but what good does protesting actually do? Especially when the aims of the protest are so nebulous and ill defined? Even if we have the numbers, the bad guys have the power. Does all this marching and protesting actually matter? Are we just yelling to the wind as some critics have charged?

Well, I would argue that protests – especially large, noisy, hard to ignore protests do matter and will make a difference. And this is true even when there’s no specific policy goal or demands being made. Heck, the Republicans have spent the last 8 years (or longer) demonstrating that protest works, even when no one actually agrees with what you are trying to do.

The reason that protests work and are worthwhile has to do with the way that most people think about politics and the political process. Which is to say that they really don’t. Most Americans are what are referred to as “low information voters“, meaning that they aren’t keeping up with all the ins and outs of what’s going on in the political and policy world. And let’s face it, with the complexities and competing narratives surrounding politics, a lot of people are going to struggle to make sense of what’s going on even if they did paying attention. So what most people rely instead when forming their opinions are called heuristics, or rules of thumb, in evaluating the political sphere.

One of the important heuristics which people use when deciding whether a president (or party, but mainly the president) is doing well or not is the presence of open conflict. If there’s open conflict, that sends a signal to voters that the president is not doing his job well. If there’s relative quiet and things are getting done – even if they are things that voters don’t necessarily agree with – that sends a signal to voters that the president is doing a good enough job. This is a well documented phenomena which has strongly influenced which party holds power in the legislative branch for the last 30 years.

Typically, the conflict is created by the politicians from each party on capital hill. But given the Democrats’ demonstrable inability and unwillingness to provoke and sustain conflict, the work of creating conflict has fallen to the American people. While conservatives have been busy having a meltdown over the protests which basically amounts to screeching “shut up stupid women” over and over, this massive show of discontent and opposition sends a powerful signal to the average low information voter that there’s a problem. And when there’s a problem, it’s the president and his party which gets blamed.

Of course, one protest isn’t going to change things, popular though narratives about “protests that changed the course of history” are. In order to bring about change, there needs to be sustained efforts, protests and confrontations which keep the conflict front and center in the public’s eye. At this point it seems likely that those of us who oppose Trump aren’t going to settle quietly back into normal life. The election of Trump has already radicalized a significant number of people. And Trump appears determined to do his part to keep the movement motivated and active.

The problem we face is that Trump and the GOP are authoritarians who don’t much care what the public thinks or wants. And the GOP has managed to gerrymander and essentially cheat their way into a permanent grip on power. Which just makes it all the more important that we continue to engage in frequent, highly visible displays of opposition. While our opposition may not move Trump or lawmakers, the public has the expectation that the president will create peace, not turmoil. Really, there’s nothing that the average Joe blow wants less than a breakdown of social order and the ongoing presence of this conflict will send a powerful signal to them that the president is failing in his most basic tasks and duties.

The danger of pursuing a course of action which maximizes conflict is that Trump’s authoritarian impulses will lead him and/or his supporters to respond with a show of force meant to shut down opposition. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the kinds of state violence which we observed against Standing Rock water protectors will become common place throughout the country.

However, a president who essentially goes to war against his own people will be signing his own resignation papers. Americans value peace and order (at least within our own borders), but at the very core of our identity is that we are a free people. We can be manipulated, but we’re damn hard to exert control over. No president who openly turns on masses of his own people will long endure. And when that president seems to be going out of his way to be as divisive and unpleasant as humanly possible, people are not likely to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I mention the possibility of provoking a dangerous, repressive response because we need to be honest with ourselves about what we’re dealing with. However, I don’t think it will come to that. While it’s been criticized by the “give cheeto Mussolini a chance” brigade, the fact that there is such intense opposition right out the gate will work to our advantage so long as we maintain it going forward. Donald Trump is a thin skinned, vengeful billionaire who isn’t used to engaging in fights that he can’t just buy his way out of. He’s also a megalomaniac who has to bring his own cheering section with him where ever he goes. Either he’s going to start trying to placate us (getting rid of his appointees and advisers who have ties to white nationalists would be a great place to start). Or he’s going to continue to misstep badly. Either way works to our advantage.

Never forget: both reality and the will of the American people are on our side. So protest away! It’s going to make all the difference.

Let’s Be Real About What We’re Looking At Here

I didn’t mean to make this an all Trump Monday, but I suppose it’s appropriate given the electoral college vote this morning. Which I’ll probably have something more to say about tomorrow. But now that that’s done, we have a very serious issue to grapple with that I think we’d be fools not to take seriously. It boils down to three straight facts that probably 90% of American can agree are true:

  1. A white nationalist leader ran our president elect’s campaign and is acting as his personal adviser.
  2. People bought a shit ton of weapons over the last 8 years.
  3. We have seen the development of a branch of media which devotes serious time to explaining why people should distrust, fear and flat out hate libraturds, feminazis, black power movements, intellectuals, the media, educators, lgbt people, immigrants, scientists and other sorts of people otherwise known as your neighbors and fellow countrymen.

There is such a thing as evil. And in other places when evil has shown its face, this is what it showed up looking like. Lots of weapons, hostility towards “the other” and a media campaign which stoked hatred and fear of “the other” has lead to massive blood shed more than once. I keep trying to think of examples where the above ingredients lead to something else, but none come to mind. Feel free to give me ideas in the comments, because there’s a lot of stuff to know and I can’t know everything. But my concern is that we already know the worst case scenerio and it’s ugly.

Now, this is certainly a dangerous situation – too dangerous to sit back and hope for the best about. There’s a very good reason the bible says to avoid the appearances of all kinds of evil; people aren’t required to wait until it’s too late to respond to the appearance of evil. We have to be realistic about the fact that within living memory open white supremacists were in charge of the country. It’s foolish to think that their will to power disappeared so quickly or that they have developed morals and a respect for fair play over the last few decades.

While all of that is genuinely scary if we let ourselves think about it, we do have advantages that people in places where things have gone way south under these conditions didn’t have. Probably first and foremost, we have a history of freedom in this country. Even the most oppressed American feels free to say what the fuck they want on a regular basis. So we have voices. And not just one voice, but many different voices. The upside of our individualistic culture. Which means diversity, which is going to serve us well.

We also have a solid contingent of people who are committed to love, peace, non-violent resistance, organizing, solidarity and the like who are already activated and networking owing to the BLM and Standing Rock movements. I am consistently impressed with the quality of leadership behind BLM. They have studied the history of various protest movements through out history and have been learning from what worked and what didn’t. The fact that the movement’s still a movement even after everything that’s happened ought to tell you something.

And the Standing Rock movement is not just tapping into, but grounding itself in a deep, deep spirituality. I have friends who have been to the Oceti Sakowin Camp and they say there is just prayer room after prayer room after prayer gathering going on. These people are praying without ceasing. Literally. And I don’t care if you’re a believer or not, religion is a powerful, driving force in human affairs. And the people involved in both of these movements are training people constantly.  So there’s this network under the surface already of people committed to activism and resistance.

And we have technology. Social media. I have a friend who actually marched with Dr. King against the wishes of her very racist family. She was active for years in social justice issues and has been disappointed to see that we’re apparently not nearly as far from where we started as we ought to be by now. But when I asked her what sort of difference it would have made to have had access to today’s technology and she got excited at the very idea of it.

Now, it would be wonderful if Trump turns out to be merely incompetent and not the president who tries to unleash the wrath of hell on us. But those three basic facts mean we need to be fighting now, before things have a chance to start going south fast like they have in other places. I truly believe that whatever happens, we the people of the United States of America and our friends around the world can make it better. And we can do it without returning hate for hate or violence for violence. I’ll talk more about all of this over the next few days and I hope that if you’re reading this, you’re brainstorming about what you can do from where you are and with the voice you have. Because I’m just having a hard time seeing a path forward that isn’t going to require us to fight. And, while I hate to be an I told you so, this situation is exactly what I was warning was coming way back in 2014. So don’t be too quick to write me off here, k? This is not a drill, peeps.