Saturday, May 20, 2006

from a comment thread at Firedoglake...

angie says: May 20th, 2006 at 4:04 pm

Just saw a bumper sticker WMD– Women Making a Difference.

the grassroots

A slightly rougher version of this little essay originally appeared in my own blog.

I've spent time recently re-reading portions of Howard Zinn's 1995 book, A People's History of the United States. It's quite fascinating, and in my life, quite timely.

The sweet Jeffersonian gloss of "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" notwithstanding, Zinn conceives of all American history as a dialectic, on the one hand, between the self-serving of big government and big money, and on the other, the struggles of every-day people for self-determination. Zinn examines the antislavery, labor, women's, and antiwar movements as examples of "pesky" popular reform efforts that have nevertheless shaped government, and the lives of every-day people, for the better.

The book jibes with my old gut sense that the contributions of the grassroots are marginalized all the time. The existence of the grassroots is rendered invisible, by those whom change threatens, and by those who should know better.

In my teens, my father came upon me reading The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan's best-seller of some twenty years before.

"I tried to read that book once, I thought it was the most boring thing," he sneered. "I had to put it down after a few pages."

I was, maybe, fifteen, sixteen, at the time. I was bright enough, but I was not extraordinary.

"Don't you think the demonstrations by women had something to do with the gains women have made in society?"

He was silent for a couple of seconds.

"No, I think they're unrelated. We'd be in the same place, with women becoming doctors and lawyers and all that, if women had never demonstrated." Then he strode out of the room.

Exactly how his views on women's advancement have affected my father's marriages, or his dealings with his daughters, we won't speculate here. But I wasn't to question his general pronouncement about grassroots self-help for a long time. I didn't question it through the 80s, when 60s-holdover progressive activism I saw on campus struck me as "nutty," did not engage me personally. I didn't question it in the years after college, when I became enveloped in the "recovery movement," a then-popular culture of self-help that actively disparaged involvement in social causes as "trying to save the world."

Outside my personal cocoon, the 80s saw the flowering of the Christian Right, the marriage of authoritarian fundamentalist religion and big politics. The Christian Right instilled a unique brand of despair among progressives, a hangover that still seems to plague the movement.

I have not yet read Michelle Goldberg's new book, Kingdom Coming. I did not even finish her article in Salon, but I did hear her Terri Gross interview. Not doubting the integrity of her journalism, or the value of her research, I worry about Goldberg's cynicism.

Is the influence of the New Right, in fact, "growing," as she asserts? Perhaps, in terms of the arrogance of New-Right-aligned politicians and their appointees, and the grave dangers to American freedoms their reach represents. But in terms of sheer numbers?

When you say the New Right is "growing," it's vital to distinguish between the agenda of big politics, and the will of the masses. I'm not sure Goldberg ever really does. The New Right has appealed to many, who have sought "change," but there are critical signs its influence may indeed be waning among the rank-and-file--making them susceptible to movements that advance their own self-interest.

George W. Bush, who was elected in part because he "speaks for God," is currently being humiliated with presidential approval ratings hardly seen since Watergate. The hard-sell of "free-market capitalism" and "the ownership society" notwithstanding, Americans have rejected his "Social Security reform" in droves, also his failed war on Iraq. They are disgusted by the scandal in his administration.

Americans, a religious lot, aren't liking what they're getting from big politics these days. They're ready to go another way--maybe in the direction of the evangelical Christian conference earlier this year that came out with a statement against global warming. The evangelicals interpret the bible literalistically, they defer to worldly authority--and, on the global warming issue, we saw numbers of them rush in where big politicians had thus far feared to tread.

The evangelical global warming statement is not much, all by itself, but maybe it's a tap on the shoulder progressives would have to be "dogmatically despairing," or blinded, to ignore.

I see it as a portent, like all the others.

The will of big government is one thing. Let's remember the grassroots breathes all on its own, independently, and may have to be heeded and nurtured for the future to turn out better than the present.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Something is stirring in Connecticut-- both anti-war and pro-woman--

...where Ned Lamont, a truly progressive Democrat, has challenged Joe Lieberman successfully enough to be guaranteed a spot on the primary ballot this fall.

Lieberman must be pretty dissatisfied with his own tactics right about now. Borrowing a page from Bush & Co, he tried his hand at creating expectations, but instead of lowering them for himself, he set a pretty high bar for Lamont, twice what he needed to get on the ballot. Ooops! Lamont surpassed even Lieberman's intentionally high expectation of getting 30% of the delegate votes when he garnered 33%! Incredible!

There is a lot of buzz lately, not just in the blogosphere, but also in the MSM, about the Democrats' chances for taking either house of Congress this fall. If tonight's result is any indication, the odds are at least even/steven, if not better for, the Democrats to recapture at least one house; but let's be clear... if it happens, it won't be because of anything done by the consultants advising the Democratic leadership. No, it will happen because of the netroots, and the organizing power of Firedoglake, and MyDD, and Digby, and the Connecticut blogs, among others, because they were able to inform, organize and inspire the troops on the ground.

So, what was it, really, that caused the netroots to swarm, and target Lieberman so fiercely? Was it really all about the war and Lieberman's continually providing cover for the Republican party? Or was it the dissatisfaction at feeling ignored* in small Connecticut towns? Or that Lieberman is simply a primary enabler and appeaser of the GOP? Sure, all of those things. But, Jane Hamsher also attributes it to three words: "a short ride," and I think she's right. Lieberman just doesn't get it, and apparently, neither do his advisors.

Why is it so easy for a man like Lieberman to say something stupid and insensitive like "it shouldn’t take more than a short ride to get to another hospital?" He simply doesn't get what's wrong with suggesting that a Catholic hospital's principle should take precedence over a rape victim's need for standard health care. [Like those pharmacists who want to decide which prescriptions they will fill. Get into another line of work!] With that short sentence, Lieberman demonstrated that he-- and the rest of the lip-service-only liberals on women's rights-- have sorely misunderestimated the fury that is rising in women everywhere... because of the assaults on our autonomy and because of the grossly mistaken decision to let GWB wage war. Among other things.

* "We asked for a visit from Lieberman in February and we’re still waiting for a call back. Southbury proudly casts 5 votes for Ned Lamont." quote from the convention via Firedoglake

the importance of both sports and babies to men: Part One

Since conceiving of this blog, I have been pondering a feasible alternative to withholding sex, since that one doesn't seem likely to work for... so many reasons. Something that would make (organized) men finally pay attention and change what they're doing to the world. Sports? I wondered...

I had thought that Sports might be the key, and tried to imagine what might happen if men all over the world were deprived of their favorite ball games-- golf, baseball, soccer, cricket, football, even handball and squash-- until they had made some substantive changes, beginning with stopping this war, but including changing public policies to be more favorable to women, whatever they choose-- to have children or not, to have jobs or not-- and reversing policies that have adversely affected the environment, education, and health, and lowered (or at least made less secure) the standard of living for so many who were once comfortably within the middle class, as well as increasing the standard of living for those at or below the poverty level. Everywhere.

Of course, in the U.S. they would also have to undo those ridiculous tax breaks and cuts that benefit no one, except a very few at the top. If the truth were known, many members of the financial elite also recognize the important, if intangible, benefits to themselves of improving our infrastructures, and ensuring health care and sufficient educational opportunies for everyone without making them incur mountains of debt.

But how would one even go about starting such a revolution? I've been mulling that over for awhile now...

In the meantime, I happen to have read numerous stories from all over the world about declining population rates in many first world countries, and the consternation it has caused politicians of all stripes, as they try everything from improved family leave benefits, tax breaks, the use of a car, and even offers of outright cash... just to convince women to have more children. Apparently, the way to get men (and the few women in power) to sit up and pay attention to what they think you might want (if not what you actually do want) is to withhold your uterus. Or at least to have fewer than the 2.1 children needed to maintain a stable population.

Which raises the question... Shouldn't it be a given that women do not want to produce cannon fodder? Shouldn't that be a no-brainer? Apparently, it is not. In addition to concern about shifting the financial burden of elder care on to a shrinking younger population, politicians also worry about being able to defend their borders with a shrinking pool from which to recruit their militaries.

However, the most interesting aspect, at least to me, of this dynamic population shift is that those nations with a higher level of gender equality also have a higher birth rate. And, conversely (while still among first world nations), where ever there is less gender equality, birth rates are declining more steeply.

Here I had been trying to think up a revolution that would pick up where the sex strike left off, but that would actually succeed where that one did not, resulting in societal changes that would reflect the real needs of real women... only to discover that such a revolution is already happening right before our eyes. To the degree that they are able, women all over the world are choosing, first, whether they will even have any children, and, if yes, only then are they choosing how many.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Something Beautiful for a Change

All the news has been so bad lately that I went looking for something beautiful and found this, the Shaanxi Opera Research Institute performs traditional chinese opera 16 - 18 May in Hong Kong.

"Seek & ye shall find."

A draft of my letter to Mrs. Bush

This is what I've written so far... in response to my own earlier post.

Dear Mrs. Bush,

I am writing to you as another woman, as a mother, and as one who loves reading and literature and all that it can do to enrich a person’s life… all things that you and I share. However, I am also writing to you as a grandmother, an experience that we do not share, at least not yet. It is a whole new ballgame once you become a grandparent. Your entire perspective on the world shifts, and your feelings as you watch an infant you did not bear, but to whom you feel so deeply connected, grow into a small child, and then start to become a young woman or a young man, are different both in kind and degree from your feelings as a parent.

My own grandson has just celebrated his 11th birthday. He is considered, without a doubt, by everyone who knows him to be smart and sensitive and funny and witty. And he’s compassionate. He surprised me last year when he and I were visiting with my family for a few days and we had the TV turned on to watch something while he settled down on the sofa before going to sleep. He was watching a program on cosmetic surgery that I thought might be too graphic for him, and when I commented on that, he told me, not that he was fascinated by the surgeries, but that that he just felt really sorry for the children who had to go through such things. They were having corrective surgery for cleft palates and other more serious deformities.

I can hardly describe to you my reaction when I think about my grandson, or another child like him, being called to serve in the military. How can it possibly serve the best interests of our nation to put our children (mostly males) through the dehumanizing process required by the military? How can we possibly benefit, especially now, by the return of so many soldiers who have physical injuries that in past wars would not have meant survival? How can we possibly benefit from the return of even more soldiers who have suffered psychological traumas that make them unable to fit themselves once more into our society, or even worse, cause them to commit suicide? How can the deaths and maiming of another ten thousand or more innocent Iraqi civilians, especially the children, not be a price to great for us to bear? How can any of these things possibly be making our nation more secure or more strong? Or, and this is extremely painful… more respected throughout the world?

My own feelings are even more complicated because I come from a family in which nearly all of the males have served in the military, including my father, who would have been appalled by this debacle of a war. As a former military brat, the normality of my own childhood was sacrificed, paradoxically, so that other children could have normal ones. What good there was in that, was supposed to be in knowing that it was for a greater good. But, now, I no longer recognize the country that my father and brothers and uncles felt so proud to serve, and that was supposed to be the justification for my having to attend so many different schools. The civil liberties we had been able to take for granted for so long are now subjected to utilitarian cost/benefit analyses, and anyone who might disagree with a conclusion that was reached in secret, without the counsel of wiser, more experienced public servants, and without the proper oversight of congress, are called traitors. I can tell you that there are an awful lot of people just like me, middle-aged, public-minded, and highly concerned, who resent, and in some cases, almost feel rage, at being so labeled by those who have little risk of their own to fear, i.e., by those whose family members-- their children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews-- lead (or will lead) lives with enough privilege to exempt them from the danger of having to fight in or support a war that from its conception was considered both unnecessary and ill-advised.

Although his father has been in the Air Force since just before he was born, at this point, my grandson has made it clear that he has no interest in future service for himself because he doesn’t “want to get killed.” However, we all know that events happen that can change circumstances, and recruiters can resort to once unimaginable tactics in order to meet their quotas. Nor am I naïve enough, or young enough, to rule out completely the reinstatement of the Draft. It could happen, under the right—or perhaps I should say, the wrong—circumstance: e.g., becoming unnecessarily embroiled in another war in the Middle East, when we already have one that is going very badly.

Mrs. Bush, your own daughters are still very young, and perhaps do not intend to marry and have children of their own any time soon. Once they do, though, you, too, may find yourself vulnerable to a whole new set of feelings and sensations, similar to ones you already have, but more deeply personal. And the Iraq War, or any other wars, might also become more personal to you, if you could imagine that any one of your grandchildren could end up as a casualty. After all, there have been the exceptions in this war, and children with other options have chosen to enlist, out of pride in their country, and a wish to share in the obligation. Pat Tillman's family now suffers because he made such a choice, only to have his life wasted in Afghanistan and his legacy distorted for political purposes. Conceivably, more families of privilege may also suffer similar losses before this war is over. And... even more innocent women and children in Iraq and elsewhere will die or suffer grievous wounds because we have inserted our military where it did not belong, and have kept it there long past the point where it might have done something worthwhile.

I implore you, Mrs. Bush, not just for myself and my family, or even my grandson, but for all of the rest of us, the women whose families do not have the privileges yours has, nor, as you do, the ear of the president, to speak out and join us in saying that we have all had much more than enough. You have a unique opportunity, you and your daughters, and Secretary Rice, and Mrs. Hughes, and Ms. Miers, to use your influence with the president to minimize any further damage to our country and its reputation in the world. It is clear to all of us by now that Mr. Bush does not care to hear other men's opinions, but occasionally will allow himself to be influenced for the better by the women in his life. In that he is not unlike many other men. However, your husband wields, compared with most other men, a nuclear-powered force that once unleashed cannot be called back.


Karen M.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Feminist Dissidence Vietnamese Style

Last week, KQED public radio's "Pacific Time" featured an interview with Vietnamese political dissident Duong Thu Huong who is now living in France, hoping to find some money to support herself there and not have to go back to Vietnam, where she would most likely be arrested again. She has one last book she wants to write and then retire from the world stage to make room for younger Vietnamese dissidents to take up the flag against the government and the Communist party.

As I listened to the dulcet tones of Nguyen Qui Duc, whose accent intrigues me; it seems to be a mixture of Vietnamese, British, American (possibly) and something else I can't quite identify, ... anyway, Nguyen interviewed this 60 year old woman who is now in exile from her home country because of her political beliefs.

To have spent your life fighting a political regime that is so wrong, so harmful; speaking up and writing repeatedly about the wrongs in the hopes that others will join you in that call and work with you to bring about change. To speak up with honesty and dignity against what you know to be wrong, that is a high calling. To pay the price of prison and exile so that others will be called into action, that's a noble calling.

Let us all hope that it won't come to this in America but I fear in many ways it's been happening for quite some time and isn't about to stop. Let us bind together in our determination to work to bring about change and equality for all people on this planet. Let us look to people like Duong Thu Huong who speak the truth and let them inspire us to greater things.

Iroquois Lysistrata

A quote from Ohitika Woman by Mary Brave Bird
Centuries ago, Iroquois women had become sick and tired of the eternal warfare between the tribes and went on strike, refusing to sleep with the men, or bear children until peace was made. And they won. (p. 184)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Mothers Day Meditation

Medea Benjamin correctly points out that Julia Ward Howe intended Mothers Day to be a protest against war. In that spirit, I am offering the following Mothers Day meditation.

It may be that there is one issue the women of this country can agree on, including feminists, stay-at-home moms, soccer moms, NASCAR moms, evangelical moms, single mothers, and women in general: That it is time to acknowledge that the Cold War is no more, and it is high time the men got over it! Sixty years of institutional paranoia have curdled our spirit to the point that we can no longer live without a threat, and it is imperative that we learn how to do so if America will ever again be a decent place to live.

We must vigorously oppose all attempts by our leaders to replace the fear of Communism with a fear of terrorism or a fear of China. Fear rots the soul; courage builds it.

There is no War on Terror! Terrorism is a crime best handled by intelligence services and law enforcement. It is not necessary to erode our civil liberties to deal with it.

We must get over this idea of spreading democracy to the world and concentrate on restoring it at home.

China is not a threat! Just because it will give our corporate elite a run for their money is no reason to spend billions trying to contain her.

With no Cold War and no War on Terror, we no longer need a bloated defense establishment. Send the Pentagon to the end of the line when money is handed out. Only when every child in this country goes to bed with a full stomach, only when every citizen has access to adequate health care, only when every school is fully funded, only when every family earns a living wage, then and only then will we considering allocating funds to the Department of Defense. We must resurrect our traditional distrust of a large standing army.

For sixty years we have tried to be the fastest gun in the West, and we have paid dearly for it. The Swiss have the right idea—be the slowest gun in the West and make a fortune selling pocketknives.

That is my Mothers Day meditation. If I have one prayer for the mothers of this country it is that they will rise as one and refuse to sacrifice their children for the fulfillment of a Neocon wet dream.