After passing through the horrible fire of battling Amendment One here in North Carolina, I felt drained, not just because of the results, but the battle on this front and many others shows just how far we have to go in addressing society’s myriad problems with racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, misogyny, etc.
It makes me sad and weary. If only we could harness all of the energy put into hate- and fear-based thoughts and actions and turn it into positive action for everyone’s benefit.
I don’t know how full-time activists do it; my online and offline activism has to be fit in between a day job and the rest of my crazy life, so I always feel I can do more, even as my health fails me. I’ve never been part of the LGBT establishment, never held a movement job, or had access to — or actual — power, so anything I’ve accomplished is just by using my voice through writing and engaging with people in virtual and real space as an accidental activist.
I just want to leave this earth with some sense that it’s in a better place than when I was brought into it. Maybe that’s foolish and hopeless; I don’t know if I have any impact at all, really. For all the gains in human rights we’ve made in this country since I was born in 1963, sometimes I wonder where we are heading, where do we really want to go as a society.
It always comes back to a question — why do so many of our fellow human beings spend so much time and energy in the pursuit of demeaning and devaluing people, gleefully earning paychecks to strategize how to take away, abuse or deny civil rights of fellow human beings? What is wrong with people? Is everything related to treating one another as equals too difficult a concept to address?
The answer is of course it is; there’s always a game of one ups-manship, of protecting privilege and wealth through denial and manipulation, with fear the most essential ingredient feeding the discrimination and bigotry. The masses fall for fear almost every single time. We’re so much more comfortable at making snap judgments about anyone different from ourselves in an attempt to feel superior, to gain an edge of some kind. I’ve seen way too many petulant adults behave more like children when their sense of entitlement is threatened by nothing more than their lack of understanding. When paired with a lack of any intellectual curiosity, you get a real winner.
Of course to move past these barriers, a person has to have some sense of self-reflection, the ability to see (and admit and address) their own flaws. For instance, in the laundry list of “isms” I mentioned at the top, I need to add ableism, based on my own observations (and unexplored biases) as I’ve become increasingly disabled because of rheumatoid arthritis. Able-bodied people don’t know how lucky they are in basic navigation in society (I definitely took it for granted). You don’t know what you have until it is gone. Example: when I went to the Protect NC campaign HQ to report on Amendment One on election day, there was no elevator, just stairs (and I had a rolling bag to carry my laptop). I was SOL. Even worse, when I moved over to the Equality NC HQ, again, no elevator and flights of stairs to climb. Folks bounded up thinking nothing of doing it (which in years past, wouldn’t have fazed me either). We often “other” the disabled. And yes, for most of us it’s hard to think about walking in someone else’s shoes until they are your shoes.
For amazing insight on this, I recommend reading activist David Mixner’s ”Hell’s Kitchen Journal: My View From A Wheelchair.” He chronicles how differently he was treated by people he knew well while he was temporarily confined to a wheelchair.
What an eye opener for me concerning some of the challenges people face in wheel chairs. I knew most of these people and that made it even more disappointing. They weren’t about to move and lose their spot except that all they had to do was take a few steps backward. There were some other observations I noticed. When I was without the wheelchair, people would come up and chat and engage in conversation. When I was in the wheel chair few would engage and many felt uncomfortable. People would nod or wave at me across the hall but few approached. Nothing had changed about me except my position.
And these are people without hostile intent. Our brains are clearly wired to feel uncomfortable about others in situations/conditions that we don’t identify with. Knowing that, shouldn’t we know better than to fall prey to our default reactions? As (allegedly) advanced members of the animal kingdom, are we reduced to excusing natural impulses of fear/difference to “I can’t help it?” Please.
I think sometimes we’re just lazy in the end. Some of us will never question ourselves when we have a fear reaction, without direct evidence to support it, someone approaching us who is black or brown (hoodie or not), or why some men feel uncomfortable working for a woman in the supervisory position reflexively, or why some people somehow feel the value of their marriage is in jeopardy because two men or two women down the street want the right to marry, or any other judgment call of that nature. We’re not prisoners to these feelings, yet we see people ruled by them, stoked by others to respond to them.
When will the madness stop? Probably never.