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.