Archive for the ‘Expanding Community’ Category

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What Is It about Savannah?

2009.February.18

[apologies for the delays in getting the last few out… they’re just as important, I assure you!]

I had been to Savannah once before, on a business trip with the now-defunct Leadership for a Changing World program. I remember being sucked in because it was my first Southern city to explore as an adult and by that time, I was already beginning to miss my roots (non-progressive though they were). We had stayed in a supposedly four-star hotel downtown, where the garish decorations could not disguise a bug problem and blatant segregation on the staff. I got the feeling on that first trip that Savannah was a beautiful town in its own right but that it had a bit of an identity crisis going on. It was hung (possibly for a long time) on the precipice of choosing an identity, like a beautiful cheerleader who is too compassionate to let the jocks pick on the nerds, but too popular to intervene. At one time, Savannah was one of the richest cities in the world, but of course with that wealth came the injustice and indignities of slavery. Especially after I took a ghost tour, which (White-) washed all of Savannah’s rougher history in favor of stories of lost (White) love and bitter (White) family disputes, I got the sense that Savannah was in denial of a history they could not ignore. That first visit was in 2005, and I hadn’t even seen Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil yet.

Sights: Tybee Island Lighthouse, exhibits at the Savannah College of Art and Design (including a graphic narrative display that featured The Devil’s Panties among others), Gallery Espresso Coffee Shop.

Topics: lots of picture-taking, love of lighthouses, the ill-likelihood of finding the perfect book for my research in a lighthouse gift shop, that book when I found it, the exhilaration of being around artists, how segregated River Street seemed, how un-segregated everywhere else seemed (compared to 2005 especially), getting lost on the two US80’s, art in the bathroom, was mayonnaise crossing the line in the sexy-woman-objectifies-self-with-food paintings for sale, the concept of “meta” and the likelihood of its inherent pretentiousness, how well we do or do not learn American History in school and elsewhere, Whiteness of SCAD, Jennifer Leigh Dunlap.

Soundtrack: just talking, navigating, and the radio.

We got around to watching Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (thank you Netflix) that night, which just confused us all the more…

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Who Else Is Blogging?

2009.January.2

I don’t have a lot of blogs linked to the side there, but I have a long list of political blogs to check out… you know, when I have time.

But blogging is an artform of outliers. There are very few people out there who can blog about one sphere of life without it getting rabid, wonkish, repetetive, boring, self-righteous, or repetitive. Even the good ones have their ups and their downs (a few years back, I would read Tom Tomorrow’s blog on a daily basis, but lately even his comic fails to offer much amusement).

Sometimes you find the rarest gems in unlikely (web)spaces. So rather than try to throw together some half-thought-out entry about my ambivalence toward Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State (reaching out to Dem opponents and Iraq War supporters is good, but their foreign policy differences are significant), or the distinct differences in which Republicans and Democrats deal with political and sex scandals within their own parties (the Democrats can’t shun their members fast enough, while the Republicans will profess “innocent until proven guilty” as long as possibleunless your sex crime was same-sex, of course), or the sizable gamble of symbolism Obama took on by inviting Rich Warren to deliver his inaugural invocation… rather than discuss any of those topics, I thought I’d toss you a few gems from off the blogosphere radar:

The Sanctity of the Commercial Holiday Season” by Kadair: In this entry, a non-Christian presents a different take on what Bill O’Reilly (and few others) might call “The War on Christmas”. Too bad she wrote it before she learned that these days, you, too, can purchase your very own aluminum (well, wire and plastic) reproduction of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

Untitled” by J: A rebuttal to Bush’s recent statement on KWANZAA and, more importantly, the knee-jerk reactions of commentators to online media articles. Apparently all those snot-nosed kids from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back have grown up and gotten real jobs where they have to bum around the Internet on professionally appropriate sites.

DTMFA-a-Thon” from Savage Love: Sex columnist Dan Savage cleared space on his popular and irreverent weekly to digress directly into political commentary. He cross references two studies on teen sexuality to show how ass-backwards (dare I say, literally?) abstinence-only sex education has made your children. Added bonus: it’s hilarious.

Happy reading and Happy New Year!

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What Makes Evolution a Theory?

2008.November.26

[What follows began as an unsolicited response to another blog; the blogger was discussing education in Texas and her openness to creationism being taught in classrooms on the basis that Evolution was a theory. It’s not so much about politics as it is about science, and it may be a bit dry.]

It’s fine to be skeptical of evolution based on the data you have seen, but “theory” as it is used by the scientific community does not mean quite the same thing as a “theory” on prime time cop dramas. A “theory” in science is often a pattern that, no matter how sound, cannot be directly observed within the human experience. In fact, the word’s connotation in science is no weaker or stronger than terms such as “law” or “principle”.

In today’s scientific community, a theory is regarded as a very serious and credible structure, whose scope is beyond our reach for irrefutable proof. Established theories are never so much disproven as they are re-interpreted. For most of human history, light seemed to be instant and straight, but we now believe it simply moves faster than we can notice and bends for great amounts of force (i.e., the gravity of a planet).

Calling something a theory can simply mean that the phenomena described are either too small in scale (such as gravity, which occurs at the sub-atomic level) or too great in scale (such as might occur over eons, like evolution) to be observed first-hand. These types of theories are “proven”* in the sense that they exist as whole and complete systems that feature consistent behaviors and structures as best we can observe – and, yes, theorize; what makes them seem less sound is that their scope usually gives them limited scientific predictability (but improvements in weather prediction over the last few decades imply that with enough data, even the least predictable phenomena could one day become predictable; maybe that is Google’s true goal).

(*Since language itself is only an approximation of our perception of what we define as reality, “proven” science is constantly being honed and modified in its own terms.)

I don’t want to rock your world or anything, but most every scientific discovery since Einstein began with theorization: thought experiments were developed and their answers were tested using observable apparatus. The ones that were found consistent with theory went on to become microwaves and cell phones and laptop computers, but they can never be called “true” because our human senses cannot directly observe the waves that heat water molecules, the radio waves that transmit our voices, or the microprocessors that translate key-punching flurries into wordy and unsolicited scientific lectures.

Think of the Theory of Evolution as a law that cannot be demonstrated before our eyes. The data supporting it might be re-interpreted, explained in a different light, but the logic that exists there is unlikely to ever be entirely disproven.

What I find alternately amusing and frustrating is that fundamentalists on both side of the issue refuse to see the gaping holes in their own beliefs that allow for a distinct possibility of overlap. My best friend, a fairly fundamentalist Christian for as long as I’ve known him, was a whiz at biology in high school and saw potential everywhere for biological phenomena to be the methods God uses to implement His will. He observed that the creation of the Old Testament fairly accurately described the sequence of Earth’s development and life thereupon (especially if, as my friend supposed, those seven days were seven of God’s days, rather than days of men) and he saw potential for evolution to be God’s method of influence.

Coming from the opposite end of the belief spectrum, I have my own theory (as in hypothesis) about how evolutionary study could one day trace all life on Earth back far enough to actually pinpoint a moment of creation (and perhaps, therefor, a creator?).

But in this country, we aren’t really fond of finding common ground with those who question our view of the world.

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Why Protest?

2008.November.17

I know a lot of people who attended Proposition 8 protests last weekend. Time will tell how effective they were, but I think it would be helpful to remember what could or could not be accomplished by them.

No protests outside of California (and arguably, not even there) were going to undo the initiative there, and certainly not directly. It’s not like the legislature can renege a public initiative based on out-of-state rally turnout. The first goal of protesters, I think, should be to show solidarity with Californian activists and encourage them for what will be a prolonged fight. Events like Saturday’s protests increase connections, brainstorming, and a sense of community, and you can be sure new plans emerged from the day.

Secondly, U.S. protesters may have been flexing their numbers in each locality, reminding their lawmakers that the issue is not dead and (depending on the state) either discouraging lawmakers from passing similar initiatives or standing in defiance of initiatives that had already passed. A distant third possibility I can’t overlook is the gathering of information. Information is just as important for political movements as it is for marketers and militaries; if and when nationwide action is needed, Saturday provided an excellent dry run AND sizable contact lists.

Compare this with the Iraq War protests in 2002 and 2003; the threat of an invasion of Iraq triggered the largest international protest ever, with one European city alone surpassing 3 million in attendance. The cities with the highest attendance were those participating in the invasion coalition and many supporting nations have reduced their participation since – but none pulled out immediately after the protests. As for the US, despite several huge rallies in Washington and other major US cities, the protests did not seem to slow the march toward war.

A colleague of mine is of the opinion that the Vietnam War might have actually ended a little sooner if protests in that era had not been so fractious and antagonizing. He is a trainer of activists and has always stressed that when the goal is to be seen and convince a national audience that you have the moral high ground, your message must be simple and consistent and your messengers must be perfectly behaved.

Of course the most effective use of rallies and protests in US history came during the Civil Rights Era, but they did not come overnight. Marches during the 60’s were only the latest steps in a long, gradual climb dating back to Rosa Parks’ bus defiance in 1955. Direct actions from sit-ins and boycotts helped spark outrage because of the violence police often used against nonviolent protesters. Doing the right thing wasn’t enough reason for many Americans until they saw the consequences on their TVs. While it would be a bit much to say organizers wished for the violence, they did plan for it rather than planning around it. In contrast, violence and suppression at marches over the last ten years or so have been much more sporadic and less extreme.

In the 60’s, boycotts were very effective locally – but again, it didn’t happen overnight. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted just over twelve months – no small duration for a service many people counted upon daily.

With Prop 8, there is discussion of boycott as well, but so far nothing definitive. Individual merchants have been targeted, but the scope of corporate power has altered the landscape of business since the 60’s. While a handful of household names will stick their necks out to support progress, none will allow themselves to be caught opposing it.

So would you boycott a particular company, large or small, over the politics of its founder, even if those politics are not directly related to the business at hand? Here’s a nice, juicy, complicated example:

Although the extent of the support has at times been overstated, the founder and CEO of Curves International (one Gary Heavin, with some credit also given to his wife Diane) is an outspoken ally and financial supporter of pro-life organizations. Yet his company has provided a service, helping women to live healthier lives and even develop camaraderie along the way. Kind of sticky, isn’t it? Is he all evil? All good? Somewhere in-between?

OK, so most men are off the hook on the boycott question, because most of the gyms are women-only, but here’s a further complication to keep you involved: Curves is allied with General Mills to produce cereal bars and possibly other food products bearing the Curves name.

If you are a pro-choice voter, how would/does this color your business with Curves and/or General Mills?

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When Is Sex Not Personal?

2008.November.11

First, check this out. If you or anyone you know has been in this situation, congratulations, you live in a world of postmodern sexuality.

Perhaps the only union more awkward than politics and religion is that of politics and sexuality. And wouldn’t you know, it’s tied to those convenient wedge issues the Dems and Reps love to throw at us: if you have a friend or family member who is gay, you have to vote Democratic or you’re forcing them back into the closet. If you have any hesitations about abortion, you have to vote Republican or they’ll become mandatory and paid for with taxes on your fingernail clippings.

Nope, there couldn’t possibly be such aberrations as pro-life Democrats, or gay Republicans.

The difficulty with sexuality as a political issue is that, like religion, it is next to impossible to divorce from the personal experience of each and every voter. Say you had a homoerotic dream one time, does that make you a Democrat? Say you heard about someone who’s had four abortions and you think that’s just too many, does that make you a Republican? Of course not, but because sexuality is so personal, it inspires intense reactions in both extremes, leaving little room for gray on the issues.

To me, one of the funniest things is how sexual politics doesn’t necessarily correspond to one’s sexual proclivities. The most ardent supporters of abortion rights use protection so as not to need them. Most of the gay men I know struggle with their identity not only because their love is forbidden, but because they don’t feel like they have a complete choice in forming that identity. Do I identify as an athlete first? An artist? A father? Or am I relegated to always being a gay athlete, a gay artist, or a gay father? I recently mentioned how Black Americans are struggling over whether to identify gay rights with civil rights, but both peoples have been forced to experience how one piece of individual identity can so easily overshadow all others – regardless of whether it is your preferred identifier.

Wedge issues cause polarization within the broader American community, but they can even polarize the communities FORMED by the division, by forcing members to fight for mainstream recognition by going mainstream or fight for the fringe since that’s the only place you can be yourself. As gay men have come to a more prominent visibility, they have to struggle to develop individual or even community identities beyond stereotypes and pavlovian associations. Admit it, when you think of gay men, you think of pink clothing, musicals, interior decorating, and BUTT SEX. Where is there room for a personal or political identity beyond that?

Does sex ever get to be personal for those whose own American identity is designated for them based on one dimension of lives that are otherwise no more or less complicated than anyone else’s?

If I may offer a conjecture, it is not solely the responsibility of these individuals to ask such questions. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must each (not in spite of our individual proclivities but in celebration of them) recognize that any sexual act is pissing someone off somewhere, and therefor embrace love itself as an act of rebellion.

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Don’t Take It Personally

2008.November.3

Campaign work is not for the faint of heart.

Most politicos grow a pretty thick skin to it. When, with stinging eyes, I told our campaign manager today about Barack Obama’s grandmother passing away, he commiserated for about two seconds before saying, “I hate to admit it, but this will probably help him.” He’s great at this stuff, and has all the callouses he needs to go from one campaign to the next in quick succession.

Me, I get by through mitigated intensity. I made sure my contract said I would only be working part time, knowing that it would reach full time and beyond by late October, because it is important to me to maintain an equally intense personal life. I can spare a few weeks without much rest at the height of the campaign, but I couldn’t function at that level for months or years. Wednesday morning, win or lose, I wake up free of obligations.

The wheel-greaser of our office is young; this is her first political campaign and her first job out of college. She often has it the hardest, because while she is the least prepared for the barbs and arrows of campaigning, she receives them most often and most directly. Today, it was a bullying phone call blaming her for something that was 99% likely to not be her fault or even the fault of anyone at our campaign.

I believe she has great potential as a campaigner, if that’s what she really wants. She’s passionate and hard-working, but the unspoken third component one needs is balance. Either you learn to build the walls, like the campaign manager, or you learn to control the spigot, like me. To paraphrase an aphorism, you can give all of your energy some of the time, or you can give some of your energy all of the time, but you can’t give all of your energy all of the time.

But you don’t have to work on a campaign to give too much, and we would all do well to remember that (and remind our friends).

I’ve been the guy who checks the latest polls four times a day, whose office brings in lunch to talk about the election on the day after, then who goes home and talks about it with roommates and family members and friends near and far. Whatever energy you have left on Election Day gets squandered on whining when you lose.

If you follow local elections the way you should, you have a high chance that at least one of your votes is going toward a loss, but I’m not broaching the topic of burnout because I think my guy is going to lose. Like any unnatural high, there will always be a crash after an election, whether or not your candidate wins. You’ve had this siphon of energy and thought you’ve been feeding on a daily basis for weeks, months, years, and suddenly it’s not there any longer.

If your candidate loses, you wonder if it was worth the effort, and feel alienated from your fellow citizens, who voted another way. If your candidate wins, you lose an outlet just when things peaked. If you’ve just given a little, you find yourself wondering whether it was enough – was your sliver of dedication enough to claim credit or too little to avoid blame? If you give everything, you’re left to wonder what is left for yourself as your candidate fades away or forges ahead (and, I don’t know, starts picking a Cabinet).

Politics is both personal and impersonal. We are expected to vote for the candidate most like us, the one we want as a pal, the one who has our best interests at heart. Yet we will likely never meet the candidates or receive a more personal thak you than an email blast with our names pasted in at the top, and it is easy to find your power insignificant when your vote is literally one of millions. The candidate who wins with your vote could not have done it without you and people like you, but does that make it your victory?

Yes and no. You could just as easily ask, could your vote have mattered as much if the candidate had been less charismatic, knowledgeable, or effective at campaigning? Don’t you owe them a little thanks for helping you breathe a little easier over the next two, four, or six years?

The way to keep perspective is to distinguish what is the act of the individual and what is the act of the group. The individual registered to vote, conducted research, possibly volunteered, and cast a ballot. Of these things, the individual can take pride in him or herself. But it was the group that turned out in record numbers, the group that launched a movement, and the group (even if not all of it) that elected the victor. For these things, the individual must take pride in his or her community.

It is with one’s community that victory, defeat, and progress itself must be measured, acknowledged, and learned from (and if you can’t learn from a victory, defeat will find you soon enough). That community doesn’t evaporate after November 5th. Like a long courtship that has reached marriage, that’s when the real work begins.

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