Undemocratic Institutions

When we think about democracy, we usually think of a model for the government, how a country is run. Maybe that’s a mistake. Maybe this is partly why the U.S. experiment is now being tested in a way it has never before.

At the core of the existing democratic states are two undemocratic institutions, especially in the United States: The family and corporations. Traditionally, the family is run by a father who “knows best,” which is a euphemism for authoritarianism. Questioning the authority of the father is akin to sin – it is immoral. Although many families are more egalitarian now – with mothers and fathers running them – they still follow the nuclear family model, which gives adults more leverage. Additionally, we only consider certain types of families as the true family creating a hierarchy of types that are more or less supported by society depending on where they fall on that hierarchy. Corporations are headed by a CEO who is often white and male and who sets the direction for the company with the power to hire and fire people who don’t comply. As George Lakoff stresses, corporations “are metaphorical strict fathers.”

Most of us spend far more time experiencing the family and corporations, so their top-down, authoritarian style becomes familiar. We transfer what we learn in those contexts to politics, expecting a strong leader to change things. Note that this was even the expectation of progressives, liberals, and Democrats when we elected Obama. Maybe if the outpouring of activism that has happened since the November election had supported his administration, they could have enacted much more.

So, what do we do if we want to test democracy in more depth? We need to design a society that is thoroughly democratic. I suggested some ideas, building on John Dewey, in my thesis. In particular, I presented a family model that I called intentional family that brings together adults and children in an environment that is designed to teach democracy through living it. Decisions are made collectively, including by the children whose voices are amplified because there are more of them.

I didn’t tackle business structures in my thesis, however, there are already some well-functioning democratic models available: Co-ops. Both of these ideas probably need fleshing out, especially intentional families. However, before I do that, I want to tackle the argument for democracy since it implies that the nurturant parent (to stick with Lakoff’s terminology) is morally superior to the strict father. I will try to take this on in my next post.

Survivor Activist

My life changed November 8th. It was as if the election result pulled out the rug from under me. I’ve been struggling with understanding its impact and how I want to respond ever since.

The past couple of months have been hard on many of us – those of us who care about respecting other people, honoring other cultures, and valuing plain human decency. Since January 20th, activism has moved into high gear as we defend values that are now under open attack. Many of us are not only learning tools of activism but also how to balance it with our lives.

For those of us who have survived intimate relationship violence, there is another layer to this – and that is the layer that seems to be impacting me the most. A man who bragged about sexually assaulting women was elected. A man whose is bullying people through legal action and his Tweets, whose physical demeanor during a debate was meant to intimidate his opponent, a woman became the most powerful man in the world (and prevented a woman who was far more qualified than he is from obtaining that office). His chief strategist was accused of domestic violence. Then just this week, a man who voted against the Violence Against Women Act multiple times and who dismissed sexual assault just became attorney general.

On top of that are the familiar behavioral tactics. The speed and chaotic roll-out of a slew of policies by decree seems so similar to the environment in unhealthy relationships. You never know what’ll happen next, when the next blow will come. You never know when you’re safe to rest or when you need to be ready for another confusing event. Even the threats are similar. “Lock her up!” always reminded me of my ex-husband’s similarly baseless wish to “throw your ass in jail.” A Tweet with “SEE YOU IN COURT” reminded me of the many times this was hurled at me in an equally angry manner as a threat. (And having at least one other activist, a white male, not understand how DJT’s tweeted threat is different from the ACLU’s promise was also not helpful. In addition to dealing with a trigger, I have to explain why it is one.)

The exhaustion from dealing with all this also has a familiar impact on my life: I often run out of energy for the things I love. I don’t sleep well. I react to what is going on rather than being pro-active in living my life. What I focus on, where I spend my energy is dictated by an outside force.

There might be one area, though, where there is a difference. I can take breaks knowing that there are millions of others out there who are also fighting back. There is so much to do, we can chose the topics we want to work on, allowing individualized activism. Most importantly, for now at least, my home remains a sanctuary. I can go offline and I am away from the chaos and the assaults. That privilege is overshadowed by the knowledge that for many people even this has already been taken away (if they ever had it) as raids against immigrants and hate-crimes have increased.

I am curious how other activists who have experienced intimate relationship violence balance all this. What self-care are you finding helpful? Have you figured out a way to a new balance that is sustainable?

Property Damage and Egos

There’s been some discussion on social media about what happened at UC Berkeley last week. What I saw ranged from condemnation to support and warning the other side that they’ll play “into the hands of the fascists.” The discussions I am talking about here are those going on among people on the left, not the incitement of murder we’ve seen from some in the GOP. I don’t want to go into the actual topic here – untangling what is violence, whether property damage is violence, etc – because I have a sense that there’s already a rich literature on this discussion from the 1960s. I want to learn before I contribute directly. Instead I want to share some observations about what might be behind at least some of the discussions.

Ultimately, I suspect liberals and anarchists (setting aside, at least for now, how broad-stroke those labels are) want the same thing: Prevent the United States from further declining into an authoritarian, fascist state. We’re all scared as we watch it happening. We disagree on tactics and probably also end points. There might be more common ground than we realize. A lot of rhetoric is getting in the way of seeing our commonalities. And egos.

I noticed that first on the other side: Property damage is perceived as violence because so many of us define ourselves through what we own. Our clothes, our cars, our houses are expressions of ourselves. So, breaking windows and ATMs must hurt someone because somehow they are part of someone. (The break-down of this perception is clearer to see when we’re talking about property of companies…)

As I got more involved in the discussions, I started to notice my own reactions. I don’t like to be accused of collaborating with Nazis. And I don’t like it when someone uses “liberal” as an insult. That’s attachment. I am attached to being seen a certain way: as anti-fascist and open-minded. When that is questioned, indirectly in this case, I have a sense of being personally attacked, become defensive and react. Ironically, I ended up accusing “the other side” of exactly that they were accusing people like me of: Playing into the hands of fascists. When I really was playing into the hands of my ego, something that is probably facilitated on social media because many people we interact there don’t bother to learn who we really are. We react to snippets and ignore context. Again, I had seen this in others. Now, I was doing it myself.

When this happens – when we identify with labels – we are not able to fully engage in a discussion because we’ve become defensive. What can help in situations like this, which I find so challenging to do in the thick of it, is to step away, to take a break, to sort out what’s going on internally. These issues are complicated enough we don’t need to make them more so by defending against (imaginary) threats: The threat against who we are.

Withholding Consent

I sent the following letter to my Senators and the Senate minority leader.

Please withhold consent from the Trump administration! As Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff to Sen. Harry Reid, pointed out in an article in the Washington Post on Friday, withholding consent is a tactic that the Democratic Senators and their Republican allies (the few that there are) can use to stop Trump’s unqualified nominees and his immoral policy agenda.

The Republicans who are not our allies have used this tactic successfully against Obama. Using it now is not revenge but rather using their effective strategy for morally superior ends, including stopping the systematic undermining of our Constitution that Trump has begun by refusing to deal with his conflicts of interest and he is continuing in a deeply disturbing way with the Muslim Ban.

Senator Schumer, I was born and raised in Germany. I came to the US to work toward the reconciliation of the crimes of the Third Reich. I stayed in the US and became a US citizen. Until recently, I thought that comparisons of our times to Hitler and the Nazis were far-fetched. Not any more. The Muslim Ban removed any remaining doubts – and not only because it was released on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This is not the time to stand back and hope that this will pass. It did not in Germany. Let us learn from that gruesome history and fight the rise of similar forces with every tool we have! Please create a coalition of resisters in the Senate, led by all Democrats, that withholds consent from this march toward unAmerican places!

Remembering the Holocaust

Seventy-two years today, Auschwitz was liberated. Two years ago, I visited the memorial sites in Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. The images from that visit are haunting me during this time of a resurgence of the fascist populism that ended up with the murder of 9 million people.

It was quite an emotional visit back in 2015 – and little did I know then that something like we’re facing now was brewing. It is mind-boggling to me that we have forgotten history so quickly that we’re in the midst of repeating it. And I am even more determined to fight this repetition to honor those people who lost their lives in the Holocaust and fighting it back then.

The Ugly Face of Patriarchy

A picture speaks a thousand words, they say, though I will still write my words. First, the picture, though:

It is a photo of white men smirking while they are signing away the lives of women, most of them women of color.

As too often before, these men have gotten into power through lies and deception – and a big dose of religious peddling. Maybe that is the only way they can get into power. Maybe if they didn’t bully their way in, nobody would vote for them. The only way an unfair and brutal status quo can be maintained is through more brutality and injustice.