Solidarity and Sisterhood

by  Christian A. Brown  |  January 22, 2017  |     No Comments

The US has officially enthroned a new leader, and what a tumultuous path to inauguration that’s been. The world’s a bit crazy at the moment. Peoples’ passions and experiences with and without marginalization have driven them to either side of a divided and at times hyperbolic argument. As one of the voices of the moderate-left, the Women’s March on Washington was a powerful and inspiring movement to witness. It’s an event in which my mother would have marched, so I am glad that I made it to the sister-march in Toronto, where she walked with me in spirit.

Warning: this is a partisan piece, though one not without its criticisms of the Left’s behavior. I believe we all benefit from hearing heartfelt viewpoints, though if you’re weary of politics, now’s the time to bow out. 

On the subject of labelling, while I understand the need and cause of polarizing the issue around women’s rights, it was in fact a “Peoples’ March”, with every disparaged minority standing together as a sea of sexes, sexualities, beliefs and colors. Still, it’s important to remember, constantly, that unlike #blacklivesmatter where specific attention needs to be applied to a minority group, women are not the only minority under threat from a Trump/ fascist administration. Ironically, Trump’s platform of divisiveness appears to be having the opposite effect, and his grotesque behavior has rallied minorities, pushing them into alliances they’d have otherwise been too entangled in identity politics to consider. Although, and yet, in the last few weeks we’ve seen verbal-attacks against persons like Zoe Saldana, for her critiquing of leftist faults. Her embarrassing choice of words made for vicious sound-bytes, though she wasn’t wrong in that the Left’s echo chamber and indulgent-cynicism was partly responsible for Trump’s win. We must also dismiss the notion that all Trump voters are uniformed, racist or dumb: some of these women voted for Obama last time and such sweeping judgments are insulting to people at large and only contribute to greater divisions.

Which brings us to intersectionality: the distinction and discussion of minority experiences based on race, class and privilege. Intersectionality has become a buzzphrase at feminist events and I expected to hear the word more than once at the Toronto rally. In concept and execution it’s a strange precedent, and understandably off-putting to some women to ask them upfront to: “check their privilege.” I believe that the conversations born from intersectionality are enlightening and necessary. I also believe that a certain amount of discomfort is inherent in teaching ourselves empathy. Alas, with intersectionality, we of the Left have also given ourselves countless opportunities to trip over our obsession with identity politics, and their predication over inclusiveness. I feel that inclusiveness should always come first. Get the ‘buy in’ to the movement, then start ironing out the nasty wrinkles in one’s mindset. Indeed, in the right atmosphere (a unified, pink-hatted army of women, men and non-binary beings, for example), the nuances of identity politics are evident and self-learned. Surround a white woman with compassionate minorities all sharing their stories, and I guarantee she will “check her privilege” at some point without the explicit instruction to do so. At Toronto’s rally when chatting with folks, it was easy to see that intersectionality is an organic effect. In the right conditions it doesn’t need to be enforced.

I was not the only person to photograph these ladies and their daughters–they were a popular sight for news broadcasters, too. And while the most jaded feminists might dismiss them as being another example of white-privilege casting a shadow over feminism, these girls listened to five speakers, none of whom were white, all of whom crossed spectrums of experience in sexuality, sexual abuse, and discrimination. They learned by being in the presence of admirable women, in an environment conducive to unity.

 

With that in mind, I was immensely pleased with the messaging of the rally in Toronto: speakers, energy and crowd. One speaker talked about the collage of persons she saw–white, black, rich, poor, muslim, trans, male, female, children and native elders–and how our collective of differences was the way forward. At one point, we were asked to look to the stranger beside us, then thank them and vow to walk with and support them. We generally don’t do that: offer our support and faith to strangers. Unless you were present what I’ve described might seem corny. If you were there and smiling at a total stranger with genuine compassion, then you’d know it was a moving, meaningful exchange of trust. From the clips of the Washington march, I see that the messages of intersectionality and community were fluidly, frequently discussed, too.

Tolerance, to me, does not mean an authoritarian, progressive doctrine that is enforced at all costs: I believe this is where the Left lost some of the undecided-middle and non-fundamentalist Christian vote. There must remain room for critical thinking, evolution of principles and further dismantling of what we’ve taken as gospel. Tolerance, is just that: the ability to endure something; in this case a world filled with differing beliefs. Naturally, there are limits to what can be endured: murder, theft, rape, hate speech, oppression, all have a universal no tolerance policy. I am in no way tone policing and suggesting that the anger toward Trump should stop, diminish, or be chalked up to “women and queers being hysterical”. Many who are minorities are hysterical about his position. Hysteria is warranted when a man like him holds so much power. I would be furious and terrified if he was my leader. I’m angry enough that I got off my ass and went out to protest. Ashley Judd’s rage (the words gifted to her by a young poet, I believe) was incandescent.

And yet, as a liberal, I’ve felt a bit lost in this era. Until yesterday, I didn’t have many spaces that preached inclusion as I envisioned it. These rallies have given me hope, though. Prior to #womensmarch I think Emma Watson came nearest with her #HeforShe movement, which I still carry on to this day even if it’s lost most of its steam. It’s message: in order to change misogyny you need to involve the persons most responsible for patriarchal abuse and dominance (men). I’m not suggesting a one size fits all feminism, either, and that should be apparent from my above opinions on intersectionality. However, I am suggesting more of what we saw with #womensmarch: a basic set of engaging principles–friendliness, sisterhood and brotherhood, compassion, artistry, a dash of rage–under which intersectionality and the more academic aspects of feminism/ equality can naturally flourish. I think that’s what Emma was aiming for, too. For the longest time I’ve felt as if feminism was preaching to the choir, and too many messages at that. It’s been a shambling, infighting, disorganized movement, and shambling things fall apart.

I’ve talked many times about how we (leftists) need to come out of the ivory towers we’ve created; for even with good intentions, insularity of any kind breeds elitism, narrow-mindedness, and bigotry. We’re coming out of them now, because the towers have been set on fire, and at last we’re finding the right notes with which to unite everyone who suffers from oppression; #womensmarch seems to have shifted the narrative. Don’t stop now, we need to further that narrative and continue to be less entrenched in identity battles as we capitalize on that momentum.

Part of what empowers Trump and leaders like him, is that he uses social issues as lightning rods that summon the most fulminous and self-righteous defenders. A single tweet and we divide ourselves–both sides, Left and Right–and he conquers. The clamor and clash of idealists act as a smokescreen for his faults and make it harder to pin him down with factual accountability. And he’s proven himself immune to personal deprecation. If his opponents truly want to undermine him, if women (and minorities) hope to make a concussive blow against his regime and others like it, then these attacks need to be done with calculated, organized and cold efficiency: attack the laws, dismantle his policies, police everything he says with what he does. You won’t impeach the man by proving he’s a philanderer and misogynist, as it’s well documented behavior and he wears those badges with pride. Making him into a caricature doesn’t work, since he already is one, and he adores the attention that comes with the part.

Impassioned marches are necessary for the spirit of a movement, they are powerful for the people involved and for the people who see them. I think what we did in Toronto and what was done in Washington and across the globe were necessary starts. Be wary, though, as our actions were only that: a start. Any momentum will fizzle without the follow through of tactical, legal assault and scrutiny (as an artist and friend to many artists, I’ll add ‘decolonial and creative art’ to the list, too). Leftists, feminists, outcasts, minorities of all shades, need to consider the long and less-dynamic battles that are to come next. We need to change our approach, leave our ivory towers to burn, and check every second that our message of tolerance and privilege holds personally and universally true. I’ve seen a humbled shift in the media’s coverage of Trump, which reflects their learning that their voice is not absolute and that people are less influenced by the broad truth–which is nebulous and ever-evolving anyway–and more influenced by the truths that affect them in their own lives. Activists need to communicate on those smaller issues, not only the larger ones, and continue to reach out to those whom they would usually never approach. We must continue to connect and grow new bodies of thought outside our selected, safe circles. We cannot become stagnant or hubristic again.

Well, those are my thoughts. As you can see, it’s not a complete picture of events or solution that I’ve proposed. The same formula that has always changed mankind will likely do so again: harnessed anger and activism tempered with compassion and hope. In my ideal universe, Michelle Obama, transported back from 2024 after eight intensive years of monastic tutelage under Bernie Sanders, Oprah Winfey, Joan of Arc, Virginia Woolf, Dr. Strange (cause he’s my favorite childhood superhero) and the Dalai Lama, would be the POTUS in the Oval Office today. Oh, and she would’ve run as third or Green Party. Why not, since we’re playing make-believe? But that’s the purest of fantasy, and the reality is the chaos in which we find ourselves. The challenge for the US now is to create a country that doesn’t destabilize itself and its partners from its own zealotry.

All my love,

–C

P.S. Given the crazy news-cycle and my activities this weekend, I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to delve into responses for Roadside Reader’s bookcast. The week after next, I’ll do a deeper dive, and I’ll be chatting with Roadside Reader shortly after they’ve finished the novel. (On the 29th, we have our first Creative Collective post.) So…we’re still Bookclubbn’, on part two of Feast of Fates with Roadside Reader, and you can listen to their latest discussion here:

Feast of Fates Bookcast, Part II

On the subject of leaders, and since they were discussed today and on the podcast, I recommend checking out the pieces I’ve written on the characterization and motives of Magnus and Brutus (the bolded words are clickable links).

P.S.S. At first, the relevance of art used in today’s post might not be obvious. It’s a portrait of Amara, the exceedingly wise, comfortable-in-her-own-skin and patient Keeper of Gorgonath who we meet in Feast of Dreams. I’ve been holding onto this piece for a while and I think she suits the spirit of the discussion.

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