Wrong Sides of History

I believe in the fundamental goodness of people. I believe that even when people act in a sense of self-preservation for self or family, that they believe they are doing the right thing. I also know that there are individuals and organizations in the world that are fundamentally evil, that are willing to exploit, corrupt, steal, and murder to gain power. I recognize that all individuals are not part of these organizations, yet that these organizations, at times in history, influence public opinion in such dangerous and terrible ways.

As an American citizen in 2016, I sit with a sense of panic about the days ahead. This week, Donald Trump was officially put in place as the President Elect by the Electoral College of the United States. I am not the only person to be outraged and saddened by an election. I am not the first person to see progress seemingly stunted or halted temporarily. I look backwards at some of my heroes, like Gloria Steinem, who fought for the perfectly reasonable Equal Rights Amendment, tirelessly and for years, only to see it ultimately fail. (It still hasn’t passed). Abraham Lincoln had to take the country to war to end slavery, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, yet racism still exists in many forms. Malala Yousafzai only recently became an icon after being shot in the head for being a Muslim girl who wanted the right to learn, yet many Middle Eastern girls are still denied access to education.

Ultimately, we only dwell in the present. In the present moment, we experience and feel, looking backward to the past, while fearing and hoping for the future. And in the present, we justify our actions, our votes, our decisions with our present reality, and can only look back later with hindsight.

We sometimes throw around the phrase “the wrong side of history”. What that fundamentally means is there are a lot of people, looking backwards, who made decisions in their present realities, things that with a slight amount of historical perspective can no longer be understood.

Overlooking for a moment the corrupt organizations referenced above, let’s look at the individuals along the way who have been fundamentally good, who were only dwelling in their present and wanting to do so with as much ease and grace as possible, but who ended up on the wrong side of history.

Look at the bus driver who told Rosa Parks to give up her seat at the back of the bus to a white person, and called the police when she refused to.

Look at the first President of our country, George Washington, who made sure to move his group of slaves South every so often, to make sure they didn’t qualify for freedom by staying the North for too long.

Look at the county clerk in Kentucky who simply refused to give a marriage license to a gay couple, choosing jail over compromising her personal principles.

Look at the German family who turned in their neighbors for harboring a Jewish couple in their basement, afraid for their own lives if they didn’t speak up and were thus held as complicit.

Look at the young black female who turned in her older brother to the plantation owner after hearing her brother’s plans to run away, knowing that her brother would be punished, but not wanting the rest of her family to be punished after he fled.

Look at the early American settler who believed it was more humane to sterilize the Native American population, to force them to become Christians, in an attempt to save them from their own savagery.

Look at the house wife who scoffed at the Suffragettes for fighting for female equality, chanting that these women should know men were better suited for the work outside the home, that women should know their proper place.

Look at the judge who found the young man innocent of savagely stabbing a gay man who had flirted with him, believing that the gay man should have known better and not wanting to ruin a young man’s life for one moment of insane and violent passion.

Look at the woman who served lemonade to her friends and neighbors, smiling and laughing at jokes while the tree branches strained to hold the bodies of two lynched black men above them.

Look at the schoolteacher who told her students to never shake hands with a gay man or they would get AIDS, the disease God sent to punish sinners on Earth.

Look at the father who dropped his pregnant teenage daughter off at the nunnery, crying as he hugged her goodbye forever, unable to forgive her for the unpardonable sin of premarital sex.

Look at the nurse who performed her twentieth clitorectomy of the day on a five year old African child, mutilating her genitals, knowing the girl would heal and develop scar tissue and then save herself for her husband, never enjoying sex as the custom dictated, the same procedure the nurse had undergone as a child.

Look at the young small town man who stood guard at the gates of the internment camp, making sure no Japanese American citizen could escape as they might be a spy and could forever endanger American lives.

Look at the proud father who refused to share his wife’s bed after she had given birth to a third female child, forever shaming him in the eyes of the community around him, now seeking a new and worthier wife who would deign to give him a son.

Look at the teenage girl who carefully watched her classmates for signs they might be a Communist, looking over the checklist of signs given out by her school, scared that one of them might be among her.

 

My politics are not the politics of all good and decent people, I know this. Nor are my morals, my values, my ethics, my beliefs. I will not vilify someone for not wanting change, for wanting peace and security for their family, for voting for someone who stands against the things I hold dear.

But I will dwell in my present and stand firm. I will look backwards at those who sought the easy way for themselves and their families and who ended up being on the wrong side of history. I will learn from them as I view the world around me.

And I will look forward with hope, knowing that the future has yet to be written.

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Trump vs. Hillary: the Feminist Election

In Profile: 100 Years In US Presidential Races

It’s 2016, and we are facing a historical election. It’s Hillary versus Trump, and in many more ways, it is Woman versus Man.

Disagree?

In my small world in Salt Lake City, Utah, I know very few people who will actually say out loud that they are voting for Donald Trump. Instead what they are saying is that they don’t know who they will vote for. They agree, in some sense, that Trump would be a very frightening president, but they like he ‘tells it like it is’. Hillary, they say, they just don’t trust because Benghazi and corporate funding and the Email scandal.

I took time to question a friend recently about this thought pattern. I was, admittedly, passionate and a bit angry in my words and phrasing.

“How could you even consider not voting for Hillary? I understand that you don’t ‘like’ her or consider her trustworthy. I get that, completely, given the many scandals that have surrounded her name.

“But on the other side of things, look at the sheer list of offenses on Trump’s part that are not mere allegations, but are direct quotes delivered to the public directly in speeches or over social media. He has called Mexicans rapists. He has said that he is the only man who can ‘save’ our country or make it ‘great’ again. He has encouraged violence toward those who disagree with him and offered to pay the legal fees of anyone arrested. He has threatened to ban an entire religion from the country’s borders. He has referred to the size of his genitals to the public. He has sent out unflattering photos of his opponent’s wives and implied that his wife is hotter. He has referenced that a female reporter was being unreasonable due to her menstrual cycle. After 50 men and women in a gay club were shot down, he Tweeted out that ‘he was right’ rather than expressing concern and love toward the victims and their families. He has shamed the parents of a fallen soldier. And, most shockingly, he has hinted that men who wield guns should take matters into their own hands in a veiled encouragement of political assassination.

“And those are just moments from the recent presidential run. Trump’s life prior to this was fraught with marital affairs, alleged abuse, failed business dealings, and alleged financial crimes. Hillary has been in politics for decades as a first lady, a governor’s wife, a senator, and a secretary of state, and she has run a presidential campaign prior to this. Before that, she was an attorney with a successful practice, with a long marriage. Trump has been a bizarre real estate mogul who is the very epitome of the rich white man, the one per cent that Bernie Sanders was so passionate about, who has plastered his face on board games, books, and T-shirts, and is most famous for hosting a reality TV show, and who has been married multiple times… to super-models.

“In the past, entire presidential campaigns have been decimated over singular offenses, like Mitt Romney being accused of flip-flopping. And when Bill Clinton had a marital affair and lied about it, the country sought to impeach him. Trump’s offenses are far more excessive in number and in pure extremism on every level, and you are telling me that he calls it like it is and that is why you like him? What does that say about you?”

Because this conversation was with a trusted friend, it ended okay, but she let me know that my feelings on the matter were very apparent, and very passionate.

And I’m completely okay with that. Because when I reflect on this topic a bit more deeply, I realize that this is very much about America’s feelings on women. Historically, our country has treated women abysmally. As property, as targets of rape and violence, as pretty objects that should be devoted to their men and children and belong in the home. The laws have changed, somewhat, but the attitudes have not. I could recite a long list of statistics to back this up, but it can all boil down to a few simple facts, that women are mistreated in business and health care and politics, that they represent a majority of the population and a minority of leadership positions, and that the United States has still never passed a equal rights for women law. In fact, while we require other countries to pass laws regarding protections for women in order to receive our aid, we refuse to pass the same protections for women in our own country. We even refuse to sign the mandates from the United Nations that have been put in place in nearly every country around the world. The law is called CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination  of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and it has been in place since 1979, and has been signed by nearly every U.N.-affiliated country. The only U.N.-affiliated countries that have NOT signed the treaty? There are six: Palau, Somalia, Tonga, Sudan, Iran… and the United States. That means it has been signed by every other one, including China, Afghanistan, and even Iraq.

Many of the largest countries in the world have had female leaders by now, including England, India, Germany, Liberia, Central African Republic, Senegal, South Korea, Haiti, South Africa, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The United States is not on this list either.

And yet here in America, we have a candidate in Hillary Clinton, who was named by Barack Obama as the most qualified presidential candidate in United States history, running against Donald Trump, who has been described as the least qualified candidate in presidential history, and who has zero political experience. The most qualified? A woman. The least qualified? A man.

And if you still aren’t sure who you want to vote for, or if you are considering not voting at all, we can go extreme, and you have to ask yourself who you want with their finger on the button of the nuclear codes.

I understand if you don’t like or even trust Hillary Clinton, I get it, intellectually and emotionally. But if you can stack that up against every piece of the puzzle that makes up Donald Trump and still be not sure who you are voting for, I’m not sure I can call you anything but sexist. Take time to examine your biases and feelings about women in power, and your ability to excuse Trump and hold Hillary accountable.

And if you disagree with that, well, I suggest you do a bit more self-exploration. The fate of the country is at stake.

 

Hillary Clinton as the Bachelorette

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At 6 am in a coffee shop, I overheard one of the best conversations ever, my fingers clacking nonchalantly on my keyboard to keep up.

Okay, picture it. Hillary Clinton. As the Bachelorette.

She’s already married.

No, no, like the show. Like the Bachelor, except when a girl is one it. The Bachelorette. 

Dude, she’s, like, 70.

Duh, I know. Come on, just hear me out. We all know she’s going to win the presidency. I mean, she’ll win the Democratic nomination, that’s what all the polls are saying. It’s gonna be close, but she’ll pull out on top and then everyone will vote for her over any of those Republican buffoons. And I mean, I don’t like Hillary. At all. But she’s gonna win and I’ll vote for her because she’s the least terrible choice.

I know, I know. I swear her whole campaign is like some whiny platform she built. ‘Look at me, I’ll Hillary Clinton, my husband was the president, so I should be the president, too. Oh yeah, I was Secretary of State, too, waaaaah.’ She drives me nuts. 

Yeah, me too. But listen to this, listen to this. After she wins, we hold a Bachelorette competition to figure out who her vice president is going to be. All the current presidential candidates will try to get her vote. And every week, she gives a rose to some guy who will end up crying as his career comes to an end, and they drive him off in some hearse.

That’s dumb. 

It’s brilliant! Hillary gives great facial expressions, she’ll be awesome. Each episode, she’ll go on some date. She can, like, hot air balloon with Ben Carson. They’ll be floating over the Earth and Carson could talk about how the Earth is really flat even though it looks round from the sky because that’s how God wants us to see the world. 

What? That doesn’t make sense.

I know, that’s the point. Carson has some whacked out theories. So Hillary hands him the rose and two guys come and put him in a straitjacket and pull him off to the crazy house.

Okay, yeah, I’d watch that. 

And then Chris Christie would take her to, like–oh! They could go bridge-jumping! In New Jersey! And he would be like non-stop talking about why he shut that bridge down that one time, and Hillary would give a classic look to the camera that’s almost an eye-roll. That guy is annoying as hell. 

Okay, calm down, man. You’re way too excited about this. 

It’s hilarious! Tell me you wouldn’t pay to see Donald Trump and Hillary on a date. 

This show would be way funnier if it was Trump as the Bachelor. That guy is funny.

Yeah, but that would mean we would have to elect Trump president.

No thanks. I’d move to Belgium and laugh at the Americans. 

So Trump and Hillary…

Okay, I’ll play. Trump would sit back over champagne and caviar and talk all about all of the beautiful women he’s been with. He’d be like, ‘I have dated some of the most beautiful women in the world and my daughter is the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen. They like me because I have money. But you can’t even keep your husband away from the interns. That’s why you should choose me, Hillary, because I would make you look good.’

Oh man, that’s golden! And–and they could go wig-shopping!

Okay, yeah, this is a fun idea.

So then… I don’t know, like… horse-back riding on the Bush ranch with Jeb, and–oh! Salsa-dancing with Marco Rubio! That would be awesome!

What about Carly Fiorina? It could be a hot lady candidate date. 

Why not? It’s 2016. Oh my god, they would hate each other so much. 

No one hates Hillary more than Bernie Sanders, though. They all pretend to respect and like each other, but you gotta know that they are just seething with hate. I mean, they both want to be president so effing bad and the other person is the one stopping them the most. So on their date, Bernie would be like ‘Hillary, congratulations on the nomination’ and he would look all happy but on the inside he is like ‘I hate you so much’ and she would be like ‘thank you, Bernie Sanders, you deserved it too’ but on the inside, she would be all ‘hahaha, I won, you crazy old man.’ You just know she and Obama were like that back in 2008. 

But in the end, she would totally pick Sanders as VP. 

That’s because the Republican candidates are all basically comic nook super villains. They are all ridiculous caricatures of humanity. She might as well be running up against Lex Luthor, Skeletor, the Joker, and, like, Dr. Doom. All ‘I’m going to rule the world!’ when really none of them have a chance. At all. 

I can’t think of even one single Democrat candidate besides Bernie and Hillary though. Weird. 

I–wait. Wasn’t there some guy named Chaffee? Oh, Martin O’Malley. What happened to that guy? He just disappeared. 

Yeah, he can’t be on our show. No one knows who he is.

We’ve totally got to pitch this idea. 

Man, we’d make a million. 

And it’d be tax deductible, right? I mean, it’s politics.

HiIlary Rodham Clinton

 

Man in a monkey cage

The sign read:

The African Pigmy, “Ota Benga.”

Age, 23 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches.
Weight, 103 pounds. Brought from the
Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Cen-
tral Africa, by Dr. Samuel P. Verner. Ex-
hibited each afternoon during September

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On September 8, 1906, the Bronx Zoo in New York City added a new exhibit, a small coffee-skinned African man named Ota Benga. Placed with the monkeys, the man had an open cage to sleep in. Delighted visitors came by the thousands, the tens of thousands, bringing their friends and children to see the African man. Many of the spectators believed him to be some sub-species of man, somewhere on the evolutionary scale between monkeys and human children. And the spectators didn’t just want to see the man, they wanted him to perform. They wanted to see him hunt, play with the orangutan, dance and climb trees. If he hid, they threw rocks against his cage to draw him out. If he sat, they yelled racial slurs and insults to spark him into action, something their children could clap over and tell their friends about later. “Dance, monkey, dance,” they seemed to yell as an adult man sat behind bars, listening to their unfamiliar foreign words, yet their intent all too easy to understand.

Word spread quickly, throughout the country and then internationally: the Americans had an African man on exhibit with monkeys. New York had been a free state long before the Civil War, seeing African American citizens as deserving of equality and equal rights. And now, decades after the Emancipation Proclamation, a man was in a cage.

It took them time to figure out what had happened, and language barriers, direct lies, poor record-keeping, and time have kept many of the details hidden.

The man who came to be known as Ota Benga grew up in the Congo, then under Belgian rule. Under harsh sanctions from the Belgian people, the Congolese tribes were exploited and forced into labor. Samuel Verner, who had served as a Christian missionary in the Congo previously, and who had also spent time in a mental institution, was sent to the Congo to acquire willing men to be brought to America to be put on display at the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Benga was among them.

A bizarre series of events led to Benga being placed in the Museum of Natural History before he was placed on exhibit at the zoo, exploited and stared at.

Verner told story after story, each contradicting the others, in an effort to make himself sound heroic. He told how he had rescued Benga from slave traders, how Benga trusted only him, how Benga had asked to come to America and be placed on display. Yet in truth, Verner was a swindler and a liar. Not only had he fathered children with women while he was in Africa, he had racked up debts and exploited money. And Benga was not the first Congolese boy he had brought to the United States.

I learned about Benga only recently, when I chose a book about him at random off of a shelf. I read ravenously, devouring the words and images of this story that I had never heard before, these forgotten horrific moments of American history.

How could this have possibly happened, I wondered, in a country that is founded on Christian principles, equality of all men, and dignity of each person. And then I recalled the very founding of our country, a mix of declaring liberty from foreign powers while asserting our foreign power over the Native Americans with violence and blood; a mixture of welcoming foreigners, while building the country on the backs of foreign slaves.

The violent opposition of it all makes my head spin. We who consider ourselves the great democracy, founded on the principles of free speech and choice and religion, the greatest country in the world with equality and opportunity for all, priding ourselves on the American dream, yet we have entire presidential campaigns running on premises of refuting gay marriage, opposing women’s health care options, restricting immigration by building walls, and banning religious groups.

Ota Benga was a small man, but he was not a child nor did he have limited intellect. He had filed his teeth to fine points not because he was a cannibal or a savage, but because that was a custom among his tribe, a rite of passage for men. He communed with the monkeys in the exhibit not because he considered himself one of them, but because they were his only solace and support as the white Americans jeered.

After Benga was released from the zoo, he was taken in by an educated group of black Americans who gave him companionship and work and taught him the language. Benga lived among these citizens, whose ancestors had been forced from their homes to be slaves, belonging and yet not belonging; they had history in America, he was a refugee. It is believed Benga had lost a wife and children in the Congo, a result of cruel white men, before coming to America. He lived in relative isolation here for years, using an American-ized version of his name, Otto Bingo.

Until, in 1916, Benga found a gun and shot himself through the heart, a poetically tragic end to his story.

As I finish this story, and reflect, I’m left to wonder how we, as an evolving society of Americans… how much have we really changed?

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Women in Hot Water

“A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

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Christopher Columbus sailed around the world with a ship full of men, and hundreds of thousands of men followed, each seeking to stake a claim in a new land. America was founded on the principles of a fresh start, escaping poverty and oppression and building a new life in a new world. Civilization spread over the next two hundred years from coast to coast. Men came, men conquered.

And eventually, an organized civilization formed in the name of revolution. Wanting freedom from other men, these men declared war and, in time, won, declaring independence. These men formalized a government, wrote a Constitution, elected a president, put a court system in place, and began to govern the people. America was a nation of immigrants, unified in the cause of governance.

The land of the free, they called it. The home of the brave, they said, where all men were created equal. Except for the Native Americans, slaughtered, given diseases, and eventually shoved onto small pockets of land to contain them. Except for blacks, gathered on ships and stolen from their homes, then forced into slave labor for generations. Except for Mexicans, killed and manipulated in the need for acquisition of more land. And except for women, who were expected to bear children, serve in the home, and not participate in governance.

It took ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ until 1920 to give women the right to vote. Around 135 years after the formation of the country on the premise that all are created equal, the other fifty per cent of our citizens got their most basic right. (Keeping in mind, this was after we went to war to end slavery, decades before the Civil Rights movement, and nearly 100 years before same-sex couples would be granted the right to marry).

In 2016, population wise, there are more women than men by several million. Men make up most of the prison population, commit nearly all of the violent and sexual crimes (including, obviously, rape and murder). Men run most of the American businesses (around 85 per cent) and are paid more than women in nearly every position, often including fields where women dominate the work place (like social work and nursing). Men run most of the religious organizations in the country, almost exclusively.

And perhaps most shocking, men dominate in nearly every category of elected officials in the United States. A recent study showed that the United States ranks number 69 in the rankings of the world’s democracies in elected positions for women. In fact, Afghanistan has more women in government than the US. As does Pakistan. And Uganda.

In our presidential running this year for the Republican and Democratic primaries, we saw a bit more racial diversity among the candidates, though it was still dominated by white men (though some of them had racially diverse spouses), and one female candidate on each side. One. Carly Fiorina for the Republican party, and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic.

I, personally, am saddened and a bit horrified at the idea that we are still so far from having equal representation in our government. Men have been making mistakes in our government for  a very long time. And the only way women can break in is by playing by the men’s rules in the men’s systems, with men as their peers. And the country is still, by and large, very patriarchal and misogynistic, and makes it very hard for a woman to succeed.

It is with this awareness of history and focus on social justice that I went about researching Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton. Clinton was raised in Chicago by a hard-working father who taught her self-reliance, and a courageous mother who had been abandoned by her parents and abused by her grandparents before staking out life on her own terms. Hillary’s mother raised her to believe in herself, treating Hillary and her two brothers as capable in every capacity. Hillary was raised with an awareness of privilege and social justice, and knew very young that she would make something of herself someday.

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Hillary married the handsome young Bill Clinton and moved to Arkansas, building a life for herself there as a successful attorney as Bill ran for various government positions. Hillary is now nearly 70 years old. During her life span, she has been the First Lady of Arkansas for nearly 15 years, the First Lady of the United States for 8 years, a Senator in New York for 8 years, and the Secretary of State for 4 years. That is a total of 35 years in public, over half of her life. She has also run two Presidential campaigns. She has championed education, women’s rights, children’s rights, LGBT rights, free information rights, and health care. She has survived public scandals and inquisitions, media feeding frenzies, and decades in the public spotlight. She has shown up time and again with courage, clarity, and strength in the face of opposition at every turn. And in my opinion, she has done so with grace, strength, and openness.

As Secretary of State, Hillary traveled the world, interfacing with male world leaders, many times as the only woman in the room. She negotiated with men who weren’t allowed to shake her hand because she was a woman, due to their own customs. She was courageous and strategic in each instance, and she stood for social justice in each encounter. She has a deep sense of history, change, initiative, and responsibility.

I don’t thank that any presidential candidate is spotless. But Hillary Clinton has my vote for three primary reasons: 1. She is simply the most qualified candidate up there. 2. She knows, first hand, what being president entails. She has, quite literally, lived it. 3. It is long past time we had a female in office.

Centuries past time.

It’s time to put more women in hot water so we can see how strong they are. z47