Saturday, September 4, 2021

States of Confusion

Every now and then, one of those profile surveys will circulate on Facebook that asks people to check off items from a virtual bucket list of experiences and places. Have you ever broken a bone or gotten a tattoo or have you ever had chess pie? One such list that seems appropriate to mention today involves checking off the number of states one has visited. Because my family went on a cross-country trip when I was seven years old (so exactly 40 years ago), I can definitely check off more than half of the states on the map. In my travels over the years, I have had the opportunity to add a few more. Recently a friend declared her intent to visit all 50 states by her 50th birthday, and I thought that was a novel idea until I realized that such an undertaking would require crossing the borders of several states that have essentially become vast sundown towns.

In Georgia, it is illegal to give bottled water to voters while they wait on line. In Texas, you can be sued by anyone who suspects you even read the word abortion in the newspaper after six weeks of pregnancy. In Idaho, where 90% of the residents are white, it is illegal to notice that fact. In Wisconsin, poor kids don't need to be spoiled by free tater tots and square pizza slices. In Florida, you can't force anyone to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID or possess less than 20 grams of marijuana, but you can take veterinary drugs with the Governor's blessing. In California, your Governor can be recalled if he pisses off enough people.

In these yet to be United States, we appear to be in the full throes of another culture war and in typical righteously indignant social media fashion, there have already been calls for boycotts. Let's not spend any of our hard earned money in that state until the laws get changed (blah, blah, blah), which means business as usual until Hell freezes over or until WalMart declares bankruptcy. Because no one is boycotting anything as long it took the NFL to give Colin Kaepernick a job...

This week I have seen a lot of overwrought emotion expressed in reaction to this latest authoritarian edict which only continues to prove what we already know, yet folks still seem utterly surprised. Y'all are big mad that Texas enacted the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation even though they were pretty open that was their intent. They were also very intentional about calling a special session of the legislature to enact more draconian laws to restrict voter engagement and that allow wannabe cowboys to walk around armed and unencumbered, but you were thinking those were aimed at controlling only certain people? When they banned critical race theory from being taught, as if Texas barely even teaches standard American History, no one thought to look at what other insanity this Governor might have already signed into law? That when Sen. Ted Cruz hopped on a plane to Cancun during an ice storm and left his dog Snowflake behind to fend for itself, these people give one hot damn about our feelings?

These same people who issued death threats against their own (Dixie) Chicks?

I could list every hypocritical point of divergence, but to what good? None of these folks are ashamed or moved by compassion for anything that doesn't comport with their ideological leanings. They will call for the resignation of one President because he stutters but will storm the Capitol for the one who tells outright lies. They will regard a foreign-born former First Lady as an American dream but will call the first woman to be elected Vice President an opportunistic whore. The former President who dragged us into Afghanistan 20 years ago doesn't bear responsibility for the lives of the American soldiers who were killed on his watch, but the former Secretary of State is unqualified for higher office because of a raid on an embassy in a country where we were not actively engaged in conflict. Ashli Babbitt was a martyr but Breonna Taylor was just another dead Black woman. 

I'm outraged by the state of things too. I've reached the point where expressing any form of frustration or disillusionment feels like an exercise in futility. (Of course, that is exactly what I am doing, but keep reading.)

I shared an emotional story on the Facebook page, aspects of which I have shared in the past about my own pregnancy to illustrate the abject cruelty of the Texas law. The thing is, anecdotal experiences don't sway people who are intent to believe what they believe. I debated the issue of abortion years ago with a student who was adamant that the regret she felt about her own choice meant that she would support the prosecution of other women, knowing full well that she would never face such consequences. And I didn't fully process the disconnect of her position until now, but it does explain why appeals for compassion fall short. Some people really don't give a fuck.

We keep thinking that cruelty is an overt act of malice. We only denounce racism when certain words are used. We excuse sexism if the culprit is someone we admire or need. We know that there are absolutes in this world, and that there are myriad shades of gray. But there are also various shades of black and white that are not gray such as ivory, eggshell, ebony, and soot.

The struggle to retain our humanity isn't won easily. There are people that go to great lengths to justify being on the wrong side of history because their culpability was less than someone else's. In a lynch mob, the onlookers are less guilty than those who bought the rope, tied it, and actually killed the person. But they did pack a lunch, spread out a blanket, and chatted with their neighbors in the meadow while the grisly deed was taking place. And no amount of moralizing after the fact will change that.

That's why the romanticized Antebellum fantasies of a heroic Confederacy are so pernicious and dangerous. Scarlett O'Hara is and always was a Karen, but so was her sister-in-law Miss Mellie! The only difference between the two of them was in their temperament. Melanie Hamilton Wilkes is every nice white lady who claims not to see color, even as she enjoys every privilege and perk of whiteness. She believes in feminism until it impacts her son's scholarship or her husband's job. She claims to be a Christian, but she never offered to pay Mammy or reward Big Sam. She knowingly sent her husband off to defend white Southern womanhood dressed in her best bed sheets, so how is it that people are still fooled into believing she can be persuaded to vote against her best interests? She can't. So stop trying to appeal to her sense of justice. 

Miss Mellie and 'nem are unmoved by the growing number of casualties to COVID even as several outspoken mask and vaccine opponents have themselves died. Those people were poor, unfortunate souls, losers. Similar to every other crisis that must penetrate her exclusive circle of intimates, Miss Mellie's freedom to spread pestilence and disease is paramount to your desire to live. Now you put on that mask and get on back to work, ya' hear?

She doesn't concern herself with the hardships caused by voter engagement restrictions because she never stands in long lines to vote at her precinct and she renewed her drivers' license online with no problems just last week. If she's still waiting on her identification, no worries because the election judge is that nice lady from church that makes Bundt cakes and crochets baby afghans. She knows Miss Mellie and forgives the oversight, so there is no need to challenge her integrity or make her lose her place in line. If the people in Harris County don't understand how these things work in the suburbs, Miss Mellie didn't make up the rules.

When she got into trouble in high school, her future husband Mr. Ashley Wilkes did the honorable thing and drove her across state lines so that no one could report back to her Aunt PittyPat. Years later, when they were married and Miss Mellie gave birth to their only healthy child, it was because Mr. Ashley's private health insurance provided comprehensive prenatal and neonatal care. And Prissy, who didn't know nothing about birthing no babies, needed a job so she did a stint as The Help so that Miss Mellie didn't have to quit her bridge club before young Master Beau was old enough for school. As he grew into a strapping young man, Mr. Ashley made sure that his son spent plenty of time at the gun range where he learned the necessity of having an adequate stockpile of assault rifles in case he didn't have enough time to grab the right set of white bed sheets in an emergency.

This is why our anecdotes don't work on these people. We are not like them. If you had to work through this pandemic, Miss Mellie thinks that her part was to add a little extra to the tip on her take-out tacos and weekly booze deliveries. But once she decided to re-open her small business (selling Old Uncle Pete's craft brew from the secret recipe he sold to help pay off some of his medical bills), that was the end of her patience. She got her PPP loans, so now the government has to cut off your unemployment. She pays decent minimum wages, so what makes these workers think they deserve an extra $3 an hour? Hasn't she always been good to you people?

(Yeah, I know. But I needed to make sure you were paying attention.)

You are wasting your time with all of these common sense comparisons, such as mask-wearing to seat belt mandates. That took nearly 30 years to catch on, many avoidable deaths, and finally attaching criminal sanctions to make people comply. I know this because I lived through it, having grown up in the 70s and 80s. I lost a classmate in high school in the late 80s to a car accident because she was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown through the window. My parents even had a child safety seat before those became mandatory. People considered it cruel to lock a baby in a car seat that faced backwards (he can't see out the window). My Dad insisted that everyone in our cars had to wear seat belts because of a near-death experience he had as a college student in the 60s. Not even that convinced my Grandfather to wear his own seat belt, despite his own scary incident, and it was only not to hear it from my father that he made us wear them in his station wagon.  

Let me get back to the point of this, which was to emphasize that we won't persuade these people through emotion, Christian siblinghood, reason, or logic. So we have to employ other tactics. Y'all won't be boycotting Texas, not because it isn't a good idea, but it isn't sustainable. Boycotting Texas means I can't visit Houston to try out one of these stuffed turkey legs, but more importantly, a boycott of the entire State of Texas means that when the next big storm threatens the Gulf Coast, where do we expect people to go? All the way through to Oklahoma, where they've also banned the teaching of critical race theory and can't decide if reparations are appropriate for Tulsa Massacre survivors? Or to Arkansas, where critical race theory has also been banned and there is a current challenge to its abortion restriction that begins at 20 weeks? There are marginalized people that live throughout this country who face more than just the loss of reproductive freedom. 

(So umm, thank you Bette Midler, for the suggestion, but maybe let's come up with something that can liberate all of us, okay?)

Students of history will remind you that there were various kinds of protests, and depending on the circumstances, some were more effective than others. Thus, the push for change did not depend on protest, but worked through a combination of tactics that included litigation, lobbying, boycotts, civil disobedience, and nonviolent resistance. Every year, the Rev. Al Sharpton revives the March on Washington because he knows that it will get media attention and he'll get a primetime speaking slot; meanwhile, Stacey Abrams is on the ground in Georgia registering voters and recruiting candidates. Her strategy resulted in sending two Democrats to the U.S. Senate which is why they were so quick to change the voting laws. With respect to Rev. Al and MLK III, we need more than inspirational speeches to stay in this fight.

So let's think this through. If Texas is now a permit-free open carry state, then where are the Black gun clubs? How many of you are willing to organize efforts to patrol the polls where Black and Latinx voters are likely to face intimidation? BeyoncĂ© is a Texan married to a Yankee billionaire, so let's get her and Jay to back a bail fund in case that becomes necessary (which it will). If these white actresses are so convinced of their allyship, then instead of teasing a run for office, support the candidacies of the local activists who could use their name recognition to reach potential voters. Since a boycott of the state isn't feasible, a coordinated economic boycott of certain companies can move the needle towards change. Several major companies are headquartered in Texas including Southwest Airlines, FedEx, and most major oil and gas companies. Through discipline, we can pull off a boycott, just as we did back in the 80s to force divestment from South Africa. 

In every state that bans public schools from teaching critical race theory, we need to revive the Freedom Schools that popped up during the Civil Rights Movement to teach Black voters how to pass the literacy tests. The late great Robert Moses initially went to Mississippi by himself for that very purpose. We can sponsor a new kind of Freedom Rides for women that live in these states where the abortion laws have changed, underwritten by these celebrities who are so vocal about sex strikes (of course, it would not be a terrible idea if the mistresses of every one of these reactionary politicians tried that.) All of these young idealistic college graduates can use some experience, so let's find ways to support them by forgiving their loans and/or sponsoring fellowships for them to work pro bono.

Pick a state, any state and there is plenty to do. And I will close with my reminder that voting is the easiest statement of defiance and act of resistance you will make if you cannot do anything else. All of these restrictions are recognition that your vote has power, so not voting is what they are counting on, especially on the local level. These folks have no shame, so fight back! Demographic changes in Texas are what gave a two-term Congressman named Beto O'Rourke the mediocre while male confidence to run for Senate and President. If we want to beat back tyranny, then we need the same energy y'all have for driving hours across the state for turkey legs, brisket, and tailgating.

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