Who Gets to Speak for You?
Playtime is over. Here’s how to go about flexing your civic muscle.
In a progressive city in Western Massachusetts, where an individual’s sexual and gender sovereignty has long been a source of pride, a bedsheet hangs between two trees. This sheet has been hand painted with the words, “Equal Rights for All Does Not Mean Fewer Rights for You” and it hangs at the bend of a busy street, coincidentally named Bridge Street.
Bridges are the literal and figurative spans between two sides, between two notions, and bridges can offer breathtaking natural perspectives — particularly on those grand constructions over our beloved nation’s rivers. They can also bring anxiety to those among us with gephyrophobia (fear of bridges) or acrophobia (fear of heights) — particularly during constipated high traffic rush hours. Bridges have held us in our vehicles, including bicycles, and have safely transitioned our bodies from one place to another for centuries; and bridges have held pinnacle moments of movements — like the march for civil rights in Montgomery and the occupation of Wall Street in Brooklyn.
These movements from one place to another, literally and figuratively, are transitional and transformational moments in our collective consciousness — foundations of what we know, what we think and feel, what we believe, and what we are willing to engage our bodies and minds in conversations and actions about.
While 2020 has been an incredibly intense year for every being on the planet due to the global pandemic of the Coronavirus with insufferable deaths and illness, as well as the global crisis of climate instability with unbelievable fires, storms, and the loss of a new sheet of the Arctic shelf the size of Manhattan, it is the global crisis of leadership which lies at the very heart of our collective hope for right action and mature, carefully reasoned, empathetic — versus pathetic — solutions.
A report offered by a university professor emeritus, delivered on a community supported radio station on the airwaves of this same progress-minded city in Western Massachusetts, included this man’s opinion that when Black women get angry enough to stand up and say what’s what — to put their collective feet down and tell the children, and men, that playtime is over — problems get solved. Similar statements can be said about people like the artist who painted and hung the sheet about equal rights for all. It is much harder for a beleaguered Black woman or an artist who has prioritized their creative pursuits over their economic ones — a choice rendered by virtue of the dominant paradigm that rarely gets questioned, like a qualified immunity — to rise up. But when they do, it is most definitely time to listen.
Play time is indeed over people. It is time to work out the muscles that may have atrophied a bit over these last few years; like our civic muscles and perhaps even our critical thinking muscles. It is remarkable how easy muscles can weaken, especially as we age and find our lives growing richer with overwhelming responsibilities. But a nation “of the people and by the people” is measured by how well its “many hands make light work.”
Nothing is easy about deciding to roll up one’s sleeves and get to work, until others who have also overcome degrees of apathy and anxiety join in to roll up their sleeves alongside you. The challenge lies in defining and prioritizing values; a process which can truly only occur when we employ our critical thinking and civic muscles.
Do we care that movements of organized women have been fighting for equal rights for a full 172 years yet have yet to win legal recognition for women as equal human beings to men — which perpetuates the subjugation and silencing of FIFTY PERCENT of the voice of America?
Do we care about the consequences of our nation’s past actions in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, where gang violence planted there decades ago by the Reagan Administration is so brutal that parents risk their and their childrens’ lives for an ungodly faint hope of asylum?
Do we care that journalists are increasingly under intense personal threat and are imprisoned and even murdered for telling the truth about corrupt leaders who lie to the citizens, the constituents, they represent?
Values are arguably personal despite the fact that many values are shared and unite whole nations of people. Truth is also personal. But where does truth come from?
Truth is like warm sunshine filling the heart and flowing throughout the body peacefully, leaving one in a relaxed state that feels safe, secure and assured. It is not like the bitter cold sarcasm, hate-filled vitriol that often clogs our airwaves like smog choking our lungs, tensing up our muscles with division and discord, fear and anxiety.
Before technology brought prepared foods to our door and packaged news to our minds with the click of a button, we depended on members of our community for resources and feedback about the physical world. Now we make choices about which media to trust — with increasingly smaller shreds of evidence provided to earn or deserve that trust.
But remember, we make the choice about what to consume. Even hard truths like pain and suffering in the world can radiate through the body — and through the body politic — like an urgent clarion call, once the tears subside.
You can’t spell Truth without Ruth. This is a phrase coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to celebrate the Notorious Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Flags are flying at half-mast, remembrance ceremonies and stories about RBG are flooding the airwaves as this story is being written. And it is good for Americans to be reminded of the unparalleled achievements Justice Ginsberg made for women, even if some of these came through the fight for men to receive government benefits.
Truth and trust are sensations and choices that define our lives, for better or worse. RBG was able to trust the United States’ judicial process to fairly measure her arguments for equal rights for women and men. Can America continue to trust institutions as they change, as they grow too powerful?
We know absolute power corrupts absolutely. We no longer trust Facebook or Google because they’ve made it a practice to profit from and exploit us through psychographic profiling (this includes our precious young children). And, given our isolation through this pandemic, it can feel as if we have few choices in the matter for staying connected and aware. But we can think outside the box. Like the bumper sticker says, “Think, it’s not illegal yet.”
Creativity is a feeling of joy and it is the muscle flexed by every artist, including the one who painted and hung a sheet in public to advocate for equal rights. Fear and anger are feelings that lead us to further isolate ourselves or take actions that leave us grinding our teeth at night. Let’s get creative and neutralize the rampant fear and righteous anger simmering and boiling across America.
Let’s learn from the actions others have taken in fear and anger and not make these same mistakes. If women holding fears — of eternal damnation or of spousal retribution — were able to have spoken open heartedly with women holding convictions — of the truth of justice and of the strength of community — we may very well have earned our right to equality in the “eyes” of the law in the first wave of the women’s movement, or in the second wave 50 years ago.
Let’s question our fears and convictions together. It is easy to confuse a fear with a conviction when the need for affiliation is so strong. A truth feels like warm sunshine drying your tears, not like holding a fire hose (or worse) on a stranger who doesn’t look like you.
What truths are you holding? Do they live in your body as tense and righteous anger or do these truths live in your body as honest as warm sunshine? Of course both exist in all of us, but which ones do you act on? Which truths have you waving banners and flexing your civic muscles?