My Commitment to Civil Rights is Not Identitarian: Thoughts on Strategy Following the U.S. Presidential Election

Standing up vocally for people’s civil rights is not “identity politics,” uplifting voices of people who long ago would have gotten due credit had they met the identity requirements of the hegemonic power structure (which is now violently trying to maintain ground before its eventual demise) is not identity politics.

The left should stop adopting the same language the right has spent decades using to describe us. No, Hillary did not say “I’m a woman, vote for me.” She said “I’m the most qualified person to ever run for this position, vote for me.” That she and some of us (including myself) celebrated that this was also a milestone for women is not identity politics.

Tonight, the last children’s hospital in Aleppo was bombed, and we have no one to turn to to lead us to a solution in this crisis. I do not know what to do.

Last night water protectors fighting to save our life sustaining environment from extractive industry had their lives threatened by plumes of freezing water, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and toxic chemicals shot at their bodies. I do not know what to do.

And today a person continues to flounder at trying to figure out how he is supposed to do a job he lacks the skills to do, and in the process he surrounds himself with people known to promote the idea that some people as a result of their ethnicity are lacking in humanity. I do not know what to do.

But I do know that standing up for civil rights is not identity politics. I do know that uplifting the voices of the marginalized is not identity politics. I do know that celebrating our peacemakers is not identity politics.

My allies will define themselves; the names they are called will not prevent them from lifting their voices and sharing their beautiful agenda.

The right can keep its identity politics, its name calling, its labeling, its reducing of the speaker to her race, her sex, her religion, her audacity to envision a future where civil rights are respected and yes where diversity is honored and given the space and reverence this requires (nature shows us this is so critical, yet so many remain unconverted by that miraculous system even when our lives depend on it).

Friends, please, do not yet again get suckered into believing the names they call you. Do not abandon those who need you because their immutable characteristics make them a target for being dismissed as identitarian any time they speak. Please, be allies. I am trying. Please try.


(Header Image from a page in Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts)

Safety Pins

I have heard a lot of criticism about the safety-pin solidarity action, and I fully agree that a safety-pin in and of itself is not enough. But I wanted to share an experience I had last night.

For those who are close to me, you may know I am currently going through the Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (if you want to tell me how this is a terrible decision, please, go ahead, have at it, but I’d respectfully ask we have this conversation by email or phone because it requires individual attention and nuance to communicate effectively regarding a complex and personal decision such as this).

Last night, I attended one of our meetings, where we ask questions, and pray and reflect. Honestly, I did not want to go to that meeting last night. I felt like I didn’t want to see all the symbolic actions of Catholics, I did not want to hear about “tradition” in a Church that has brought such violence on so many people, I thought I would die if I had to hear someone describe God as “the Father,” I did not want to try to relate to people who for all I know voted for Trump because of a single issue: abortion.

But for some reason I went. And it was a wonderful, nourishing conversation last night, and I felt deeply connected to and happy to be conversing with the people sitting in that room with me. I felt my commitment to non violence and standing up for the oppressed and the marginalized fortified and supported by community, but also I felt a renewal of strength within my own spirit.

But the first thing that happened when I walked into the room, with my grouchy attitude, was I sat down feeling somewhat alienated and alone and distrusting, and then I looked up to listen to the person speaking.

And he was wearing a safety pin, big and awkward and shiny silver on his black shirt.

The priest was sitting there with his safety pin on, the woman who leads the group and who works for the church and who is a cradle Catholic, was sitting there with her safety pin on.

I was not expecting the exhale that came from seeing those two people sitting there, people who had decided they wished to give a signal to the people in that room for whom they are spiritual and community leaders, a signal to say this is not okay, these election results are not ok, we stand with our muslim brothers and sisters, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, people of color, Jewish people, immigrants, we as Catholic leaders want you to know we stand against what just happened and we stand for you.

The exhale was a release of my fear, my fear that human connection is futile within the context of oppressive and archaic structures. Honest human connection is never futile. Structures change. We build, dismantle, and rebuild them. We being the word this all hinges on.

One could say the priest would be a better ally by leaving his post than by wearing a safety pin (which I do not agree with but am happy to discuss again in email or over the phone), but we all work within our communities, as they are given to us, or as we have created them.

I cannot be certain what caused me to be unafraid to share my opinions and questions last night (some of which, as you can imagine, may be controversial in such a setting), but I do know the safety pin did to some degree make me at least willing to trust that I was in a space where I could give true connection a shot, where I needn’t hold my breath and write folks off and give up on the idea that maybe we had important things to share and learn form one another.

Creating a Climate of Support

Some thoughts about my own experience and the current dialogue around abortion in America:

1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime. I have always been a committed advocate for choice, but my unplanned pregnancy has strengthened my commitment to advocating for reproductive choice. When I found out I was pregnant, a mere 4 days before I was to sit for the New York bar exam, I knew with every cell of my being that I wanted to move forward with that pregnancy and give birth to what was to become my child. I do not question women whose bodies, minds, spirits, and hearts told them the exact opposite. The message they received of “no this cannot be,” “this is not meant to be,” “this must end,” is no less legitimate than the message I experienced, and we must know women are fully capable of making the best decision based on the information and knowledge available to them. We must TRUST them.

But I wanted to share my second thought after finding out I was pregnant. That thought was: is this an acceptable thing to do as a young woman at the beginning of her career with 6 figures of student debt and no assets to her name? This is how my world answered that question for me:

1. My family, friends, and partner consistently demonstrated and verbally expressed they would support my decision to terminate my pregnancy or to move forward with it
2. Professional women took the time to speak with me about how my decision would impact my life, my career, and my ability to financially support myself and my family
3. Medical professionals explained to me with scientific accuracy how either decision would play out
4. MY STATE actively held policies that made CHOICE a reality by offering:
a. A state-supported PLANNED PARENTHOOD
b. Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women at 219% of the federal poverty line
c. A state-funded home health nurse available through the Nurse-Family Partnership who met with me weekly throughout my pregnancy and postpartum period
d. A Washington County Mental Health-provided prenatal and postpartum doula free of charge who also met with me weekly throughout my postpartum period and provided childbirth education classes
e. Medicaid that covered a homebirth midwife team
5. My boss and other staff at my place of work expressed and demonstrated that my pregnancy was welcome in our workplace and that I would have access to any accommodations I might need.
6. I was consistently treated with respect and dignity, including utmost respect for my autonomy and privacy

This is to say, my world mirrored back to me that I had true support and freedom of choice. But the reality is, a situation like the one I experienced is basically unheard of in the U.S. Vermont does an exceptional job at caring for pregnant women. I also was just downright lucky in terms of my work environment and my family and friends. And even with this dream of a situation, pregnancy and motherhood are still unbelievably demanding and challenging every single day.

But I want to highlight, the data is in and it clearly shows those states with the most laws restricting access to abortion are the same states scoring the lowest on maternal and infant health metrics and with the fewest policies in place to support and improve infant and maternal health.

Let women make their own decisions. Trust them to know what is best for themselves and their families. And if you are going to politically involve yourselves in the lives of pregnant women, let it be to support the resources they need to have a healthy pregnancy.

If you are anti-choice and you feel like you just can’t be heard, here are some things you can do that will truly save fetuses and help those women who want to carry their pregnancies to term but doubt if they have the resources to do so:

1. advocate for fact-based sex education
2. advocate for affordable, accessible long-acting birth control like the copper IUD
3. advocate for paid maternity leave
4. advocate for safe, affordable child care
5. advocate against domestic violence
6. advocate for a living wage
7. advocate for in-home health education programs
8. advocate for accessible, affordable midwife care
9. advocate for Medicaid expansion
10. advocate for breastfeeding accommodations
11. advocate for flexible work schedules and environments

This list is by no means exhaustive. There is so much we can do as a country to make this land a safe place for pregnant women and their families. I encourage everyone to do the work. Leave women to their choices. These are their bodies and their decisions. It is our job to love one another and make this world as safe and supportive and kind as we can. Next time you come across someone claiming to be pro-life with an anti-choice agenda, I encourage you all to shift the conversation to these policy goals and to point out that every resource spent trying to control women’s choices is a resource taken away from supporting pregnant women and infants. #trustwomen