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Puerto Ricans are Americans

Issues, OrganizingTalking Trash

The president of Puerto Rico seems incoherent, irrational, and emotionally unstable. He also doesn't know who that is. Yes, we are in the most dire leadership circumstances in our nation's history. 

We are being led by a man personally advised by well-known white supremacists. There is no pretense to be had about this. Plausible deniability has turned into willful ignorance.  Despite these readily apparent issues, which are eloquently written and discussed among rational people, there is far less discussion about what to do about it. Appeals tend to rely on pleas to the cabinet to act using the 25th Amendment, or calls for impeachment by the president's own party. These are unlikely avenues for repairing the damage being done.  Instead, Americans need to look to themselves. They need to be educated and trained to defend themselves against dictatorial leaders. Institutions and legal structures are not enough.

The norms that keep us safe are not matters that can be left to politicians. Even as we deal with gun violence and threats of war, our safety depends on more than formal agreements and Constitutional declarations. What keeps us safe and what puts us in danger, are mirror images of a society that understands what is good, what is honorable, decent, and fair.  When we stray from those norms, we invite trouble.  No claim to a right can withstand a culture where a privileged few can run amok without restraint. We need to understand that, make it part of our identity in the same way that we often claim membership in our religions. The civic virtues cannot be ignored or allowed to deteriorate.

Those virtues require us to think, to understand the dangers of rash decisions, of emotions, of impulses that would lead to even more trouble if they are unleashed. We need maturity, character, and reflection in our leaders. We need to understand the problems with self-interest, with a lack of understanding about the common good, communities, and practices that allow us to live our lives the best way we can, with the support of friends and neighbors.

To that end, we need to educate a new generation of leaders, of followers committed to selecting leaders worthy of being followed. Awareness of our history, an honest perspective on our culture, the values that we hold dear, and the circumstances of our people are necessary for the formation of such a citizenry. This means that we must put the bar higher, work harder, and lift our aspirations for our country in ways that we seem to have forgotten. One of those things is that our country works best when we recognize that we are all Americans and deserve to be treated as fellow Americans, even in Puerto Rico.

These books provide a glimpse of what such a citizenry might be like and the things we need to fix:

Our Daughters Deserve Better: We Owe them More

Issues, Strategy & Tactics, OrganizingTalking Trash

The tragedy in Charlottesville was the predictable result of our president encouraging the radical right, a band of white males whose sense of entitlement and racist attitudes and hatred of other people has been nurtured by a poisonous political party intent on wielding total control. There is no excuse for what happened in Charlottesville, a crime committed by Nazis and white supremacists. There is also no excuse for creating circumstances in which white supremacists and Nazis feel comfortable enough to march into an American city and threaten people. These same racists were instrumental in assisting the rise of a leaders who is trying to strip our daughters of healthcare, of access to educational opportunities, and other benefit that have resulted from decades of struggle. Allowing them to be subverted by these perverts needs to stop. Making that happen may mean that we need to step up, to make an effort to resist at times and places where people have turned a blind eye to these events. We may need to make influential people uncomfortable.

Polite People Gassed Millions of other People

We need to understand who we are dealing with. According to Vanity Fair, Stephen Millerdescribed himself this way: “I will say and I will do things that no one else in their right mind would do,” he admitted in a 2002 speech to his Santa Monica High School classmates. In the same speech, to a chorus of boos, he said, “Am I the only one who is sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us?”

This is a man who was mentored by Richard Spencer at Duke University, and has worked for Michele Bachmann, Jeff Sessions, and now Steve Bannon and Donald J. Trump. It no accident that the most virulent, most malignant policies have emanated from his vicinity. These are the men who believe that they should determine the policies for our daughters, who think that they own the world and should decide how our daughters will live. 

These men are led by a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, yet his favor is sought by every Republican candidate. These are people who frequent country clubs, attend galas for charities, and sponsor internships for young people. These are the same people who need to be uncomfortable with the way things are going. The challenge for all of us is to figure out how to apply the appropriate social and political sanctions on people who feel compelled to do the same to our daughters, when they are not supporting those who would run them down with a car.

Recommended Readings & Current Events (And #sheetcake t-shirt):

Vanity Fair
By Condé Nast
The Atlantic
Atlantic Monthly

Don’t normalize fear, intimidation and self-censorship

Organizing, IssuesTalking Trash

Repeated pleas to accommodate atrocious policies that embody hatred and fear will accompany a milder, reasonable sounding tone. It is critical that we not forget that the policies themselves have not changed. The administration is still intent on focusing on voter suppression and my have a large domestic police force to send into polling places in future elections. The employment of a vast army of immigration police can easily be assigned to "monitor" the voting booths in places where the administration claims that there might be "voter fraud."  These issues need to be mentioned in light of the actions and expressed intentions of the ruling party.  It would be true to the character of the people involved.

Questions should be asked in open town hall meetings, to put lawmakers on notice that we are watching. Control of the political agenda is still up for grabs. That agenda can be defined in part by the questions that are being asked. That is why is is so important not to self-censor, to resist fear and intimidation.

Avoiding self-censorship includes making an issue out of showing papers on internal flights, on harassment by immigration officials that serve no purpose.  Records of travelers can be inspected through the airlines.  There is no reason to interview the son of Muhammad Ali any more than a middle-aged French history professor.  These outrages should not be tolerated and there should be accountability for officials who do these things. Names, titles, and other identification should be made so that they are not as willing to conduct illegal searches and detentions.

Challenging these kinds of abuses requires that we organize to be effective in addressing the practices that are emerging.  The ACLU and other well-established organizations need your support. We have to provide the resources for professionals to engage in resisting actions that are clearly designed to create fear and intimidation.  We need to remember the struggles that provided the freedoms we have enjoyed and the way those freedoms were secured.  The struggle may never stop.  #Resist

Invisible or Indivisible?

Organizing, Strategy & TacticsTalking Trash

Over 50 years ago two political scientists noticed something profound about the policy agendas in America, the things that are missing (along with those issues are the people who have them).  Since then, that observation had become pedestrian. We talk about people who are forgotten, who don't make the news, and who don't get any attention from politicians. Often, they are marginalized populations with little power.

Some pundits argued that the people who have been forgotten are the white, lower-to-middle income people who were left behind in the economic expansion. Globalization is not the first instance of economic changes leaving people behind. They are often invisible to the wider society, languishing in their misery in private, without opportunities or choices. It's worth know about those struggles, which have re-emerged in our last election. Resistance is sometimes subtle, sometimes not.


Don't React, Read, Debate, Act

Strategy & Tactics, Issues, OrganizingTalking Trash

There are several serious thinkers writing about what to do, what not to do.  There are lists of do's and don'ts about the way to resist the administration. There are several common themes. 

First, don't react. Being mindful and well-measured earns respect. Control the impulse to respond immediately. Let the dust settle so you can see more clearly. There will be a constant stream of nonsense, idiocy, and outrages to endure. Don't spend your time and energy on chasing the rabbits down the holes.  Don't engage the trolls. Block and delete them. They're not worth the time and they're being deployed to waste yours. Stop it. But stay informed.

Second, don't contribute to the noise, be the signal. Check the facts and sources before you share information. Use reliable sources, check the URL's, know who you're citing and what their evidence is for what you're sharing. Take stuff down when you're wrong.  We all are sometimes. There's enough bullshit in the world without contributing to it.

Third, remember to focus on the policies that you care about, where you are willing to invest your time. Make sure that you know the pros and cons of the debates. No idea is completely perfect. Reality is messy and nothing is 100 percent accurate, not ever. Accept that truth. Acknowledge the things that are uncertain and be honest about what you know and what you don't know. Make the best case you can with the information you have. Keep learning. Know things.

Finally, stay civil, peaceful, but be persistent Lean in. Don't give them a reason to escalate. They have a real army now. Don't ignore the opposition's argument. Carefully unwrap it and tear it into little tiny pieces. Then feed it back to them with a spoon. Learn the art of rhetoric, read Aristotle, but don't stop with him. Keep going and you'll discover something important.  It's hard to debate without referring to specifics. You'll need to understand how things work in government, in specific areas of public policy, and how those policies impact real people in their lives.  We have a lot of books on a variety of issues.

One last thing, remember that it's not about one thing, it's about a lot of things. Don't lose sight of the needs of others in sharing support and trust in one another.  Give your support, your time, your attention, and whatever resources you can afford. We're in this together.


Fear Itself: We will fight on the beaches

Mission, Organizing, Strategy & TacticsTalking Trash

The use of intimidation is nothing new in politics or social interactions.  The widespread use of fear is almost always part of an attempt to manipulate people to do things that they would otherwise not do.  That is the power of fear.

But fear dies in the face of laughter.  It dies in the light of day and loves the darkness.  Don't let fear overwhelm you.  We are the majority, we are determined, and we are resilient.  Remember to shine the light, stand up, be counted, be brave, and know that a majority of Americans have your back.  We won't stop and we won't give up.

Remember the defeat at Dunkirk and Winston Churchill's famous speech.  Read it out loud to yourself when you're up against the wall: We Shall Fight on the Beaches.