Ten Things

I won’t say that this week has been the deepest pain I’ve ever felt, or the most shaken I’ve ever been. It’s hard to compare, because I’ve felt some pretty intense pain and disorientation in my life before. But I will say that it’s the most macro-pain and macro-disequilibrium I’ve experienced. It’s the largest scale, most all-encompassing. I’ve felt broken before. I’ve been part of groups that felt broken before. But I’ve never been part of such a large group that felt so deeply broken. It’s going to take time to wrap my head around what a possible path of repair could even look like.

Right now, I want to respond to some of the frequently seen comments on facebook. These are comments I’ve been itching to respond to all week, but mostly haven’t, because 1) I wasn’t ready, and 2) I didn’t want to direct my words at any one person in particular, where it could feel like an attack. This blog is a better forum for me. So, here we go…

1. It’s just politics. Set it aside. Stop thinking about it, and let’s drink milkshakes. Everybody likes milkshakes.

I still don’t really have the words for how tone deaf I find it to label all of this “just politics.” The effects of this election have been so real, so concrete, so personal, for many people long before the actual election night. Now that the election is decided, the promised effects are even worse. This isn’t like when your football team loses, and you throw a fit, but it doesn’t actually affect your life in any way, shape, or form. This isn’t a game.

The tone that’s been set, that’s been deemed acceptable month after month, has made many of our people more vulnerable than ever. Personal attacks are more vicious than ever.

How will it affect my job to have a president that’s anti- public education? How will it affect my life as a disabled person to have a president that belittles me? How will it affect my life as a woman to have a misogynist president? I don’t know. I can’t spend too much time even thinking about those questions.

But I can’t not think about how it’s affecting my students. They fully believe that they won’t have a home in this country much longer. If it’s not their own home that they’re worried about, it’s their family or friend’s. And I can’t promise them that they’re wrong. It’s completely within the realm of possibilities that they’ll be ripped away from the only home many of them have ever known, with nowhere safe to go, and that their American Dream will be declared officially dead.

You can’t just set this stuff aside in the “politics” compartment of your brain and move forward unscathed. If it doesn’t feel personal to you, then it’s an immense level of privilege that’s protecting you. And it’s ok to have privilege; it’s not ok to have privilege without working hard at empathy.

2. He was elected by our democratic process. You have to respect the office of president.

Of course I respect the office of president. I’m not the one who just helped elect a man who, at best, is easily compared to a fascist. I’m not the one who just helped elect a man who disrespects (disdains?) a long list of other Americans, the Constitution, the military, the environment, and all of the things that make America great. It’s out of my respect for the office of president, that I will continue to vocally oppose the man making a mockery of that office.

Respecting the office of president should never mean “shut up and unconditionally support the person in that office.” Respecting the office needs to mean carefully vetting the people we put there, and holding them to a high standard of accountability. The office has been disrespected in an unprecedented way, but I’m going to plead “not guilty” on that accusation.

3. Stop the riots. Stop the violence. Violence won’t solve anything.

This one’s more nuanced, because really, it’s true. You’re not wrong. I’m anti-violence pretty much across the board. So let’s put this in context.

We just listened to an entire campaign that provoked, encouraged, and overlooked violence at every turn. That campaign was a winning campaign. Our country said yes to violence. And now we continue to watch violence begetting more violence. Wow, what a surprise, who could have possibly seen that coming?

Did you speak out against the violence and violent rhetoric all along our president-elect’s campaign trail? Did you use both your voice and your vote to say “No, we don’t tolerate violence”? If so, then go ahead and critique today’s violent rioters. I ask you only to do so thoughtfully, recognizing that those who treat a peaceful protest as an opportunity for violence and chaos, don’t represent even a significant minority of the whole. But go ahead and promote peace. We need peace promoters. Thank you for your voices.

For those who accepted these months of violence without a word, for those who used your vote to say, at best, “I’ll allow it,” this is not your moment to suddenly start speaking up for peace, blaming others for disturbing the peace that wasn’t there. This is the time to take care of that beam in your eye.

4. Don’t call me a racist/misogynist/bigot.

I see a lot of people speaking out against racism/misogyny/bigotry right now. I hope to always see people speaking out against racism/misogyny/bigotry. If you see yourself reflected in these posts where your name was never mentioned, what would you like me to do about it? If you don’t want to be associated with racism/misogyny/bigotry, then I suggest that you stop aligning yourself with racists/misogynists/bigots.

There’s no need for me to review the lists of racist/misogynistic/bigoted remarks from that campaign, or the proposed policies that fall under those umbrellas. It’s already out there ad nauseam. It was never a secret that a Trump presidency was opposed by every living former president, regardless of party, and supported by the KKK. We all knew what team he was leading. Every eligible voter made a choice. We either drew a line in the sand that said “this is unacceptable,” or we didn’t. Many jumped on the Trump train because of the racist/misogynistic/bigoted ideology, and others accepted it as a bitter pill they were willing to swallow. Some didn’t vote at all, because they didn’t like it, but they also weren’t willing to stand against it. The average person might not actively wish anyone harm, but they’re willing to allow it. Something else was prioritized above the equal rights and well-being of fellow Americans. Many of us are feeling the deep burn and sharp sting of those choices.

If your choices have helped prop up racism/misogyny/bigotry and you don’t like it, I can’t undo that for you. I can only suggest that you move forward with an anti-racism, anti-misogyny, anti-bigotry focus. There are plenty of things in this world that we can afford to be apathetic about. You don’t need to have or voice an opinion about Taylor Swift, the Seahawks, or double-stuffed Oreos. Prejudice isn’t one of those things. Silence is consent. Apathy is consent.

Also, calling yourself anti-racism/misogyny/bigotry doesn’t make it so. If you haven’t done a meaningful study of the subject, then you aren’t prepared to be part of the solution. You need to understand a movement in order for it to mean anything when you claim the descriptor. I’m not inviting you to read one article. I’m not inviting you to make a black friend. I’m inviting you to deeply educate yourself. Take your own voice out of the equation temporarily, and immerse yourself in learning.

5. All condescending comments about “educated coastal elites.”

This one’s hard to respond to… I’m not sure at what point I entered a world where “educated” became an insult, a word spoken with derision. I was taught all my life that if I wanted to understand the world around me, and have the skills and depth/breadth of knowledge to contribute and make the world a little better, I needed an education. I was taught to always keep learning. If it was taught, I certainly didn’t internalize any kind of attachment to educational hierarchy. It’s never been important to me whether a person’s education came from the Ivy League, or from a state school, or from a vocational program, or from books at the library. I’m highly in favor everyone pursuing the path that’s right for them. And no matter what that path is, I’m in favor of continual learning.

I do highly value my own education, formal and informal. I’ve also been taught all my life that the real value to an education isn’t the knowledge in your own head, but what you do with it. Call me cheesy, but I take BYU’s motto of “enter to learn; go forth to serve” pretty seriously. That’s how I try to live my life in general, and how I’ve tried to live through the election season. I always have room to be more well-informed, but I try to take in lots of information from lots of sources, read the arguments and the counter-arguments, view everything with a critical eye, and fact-check, fact-check, fact-check. I try to learn about my own culture and others’.  I’m always looking for better answers, and those answers generally have little to do with personal gain. I’m looking for answers that offer open arms and hands-up to the marginalized and disenfranchised. I’m looking towards the greater good. I don’t always get the details right, but that’s always what I’m going for.

And then I get mocked for it? Because there’s something wrong with having an education? Because learning about the world somehow means that I don’t really understand the world? Because trying to apply my learning and make the world more inclusive is out of touch? I’ve known for a long time that my country doesn’t value education very highly; my paycheck as an educator tells me that. But using my education to insult me? This is new…

6. Read a history book.

This one might be my favorite. It tends to be the same people who just made a mocking jab at the “educated elite,” who then tell us in the next breath to “read a history book.” What do they think “educated” means?? If I were more ignorant of history, maybe I’d be feeling more optimistic about the future. But historical patterns tell me that nothing good is on the horizon. By and large, our experts with the most education in history have been the most vocal opponents of the president-elect. In a way, this might be the moment they’ve dreamed of since they first had the inkling of going to college and majoring in history. The moment when they could recognize the next Big Bad, and raise the flag of warning! Of course, as is the tradition, it did no good. But I give the historians an A for effort….

7. The president doesn’t really do that much. Checks and balances, yadda yadda. And they never do what they promise anyway.

The President of the United States doesn’t do much? The commander-in-chief? The leader of the free world? You’re telling me that job doesn’t have much power? You just spent eight years blaming Obama every time you got a paper cut, but now you want me to believe that the president doesn’t have a meaningful impact on our lives? Am I hearing this right?? I could take some time to write out a list of ways previous presidents have impacted us for better or worse, but that seems like a poor use of time. I’m just going to assume people are saying that in the spirit of thoughtless reassurance, and don’t really mean it.

The new administration will be neither checked nor balanced. When one party is controlling all branches of government, that’s badly out of balance. I’ve listened to many voices from all ends of the political spectrum this year bemoaning the two-party system we’ve developed and can’t seem to shake. But do you know what’s worse than a two-party system? A one-party system. And do you know what’s worse than a one-party system? A one-party system headed by a man famous for not playing well with others.

A vague hope that “maybe he didn’t really mean all those things he kept saying” isn’t enough to soothe anyone’s fears. There’s nothing in his 70 years of life history to lead me to believe this is a giant “Gotcha! Every day was opposite day. Now I’m going to do a full 180 and govern like a decent human.”

8. He’s just one man. How can one man upset you so much?

This is the part I’ve been saying for ages. It’s not about one man. If this were just one man, he’d be nobody. I couldn’t care less about him as an individual. But 60 million people voted for him. 109 million people didn’t vote against him. Our culture has become toxic. It didn’t become toxic on Tuesday. It’s been building for a long time, and then hit an epic spike on Tuesday. Or, more probably, it didn’t just become toxic. The toxicity that’s always been there is just coming out into the open. And it’s hard to breathe.

9. This is the time to unite. Unity above all.

Of course I’m pro-unity. That’s why I spent the campaign season speaking out against the candidate who preached divisiveness. The candidate who preached intolerance and hate. The candidate who drew clear lines about who he considered American, who he considered worthy of respect, and who was “other.” He and his followers just dedicated all those months to stirring people up and turning them against each other. That was the time to unite. We missed our moment. We epically missed our moment.

So when you ask me now to work for unity, please be careful about what you’re asking. Do you want me to unite with the oppressor, or the oppressed? Because I’ve been taught since I was a little kid to stand for what’s right, even if I’m standing alone. I’ve been taught to stand with those who’ve been bullied and mistreated, no matter what the popular kids think. I want unity, but I won’t sacrifice my values or the well-being of my neighbor to obtain the appearance of unity.

So, come, join us! Unite over here. There’s always room for more. 🙂

10. What am I supposed to say to my kids?

This one, of course, comes from the people in my own camp. It’s come out of my own mouth. I don’t have perfect answers, and I probably never will. But this is what I said to my kids on Wednesday….

First, I didn’t say anything. I just let them talk as much as they liked, pretty much uncensored. I knew that in their other classes, there would likely be students with more varied opinions about the election outcome. In my ESL classroom, it was a pretty safe bet that we were on close to the same page with each other. If there was going to be a safe space to come together and process thoughts and feelings, that felt like it. So I tried to provide that space if they wanted it. And most classes did. They talked, and they talked, and they felt, and they talked, and they cried, and they talked, and they laughed, and they talked…. When they ran out of words, they asked me what I was thinking and feeling.

So I told them. I admitted that I’m sad and hurt and angry and confused too, right along with them. There’s a time for putting on the game face, and there’s a time for emotional authenticity. This was the latter. (I couldn’t have lied about my feelings in those moments if I’d wanted to. iMDB might think I’m an actress, but nobody’s that good.) I reminded them that we don’t actually know what’s going to happen next. Nobody does. Right now, all we can do is hope for the best, and take care of each other. We can’t control the country, but we can control our small community. We can respect and protect each other. We can be kind.

I told the kids that they’re my reason for pushing forward no matter what. They give me hope. I trust them. I believe in them. There are so many things that we don’t know right now, but we know one thing for sure–in four years, there will be another election, and some of them will be able to vote in it. Most of them will be able to vote in the election after that. A lot of responsibility comes with the privilege of voting. I told them that I know it’s hard sometimes to be a kid and feel like you don’t have very much power. But that’s why we work hard in school every day–so one day, in not that many years, they can be adults who both have some level of power, and have the ability to use that power wisely. I told them that I love being their language teacher. We get to work on reading and listening skills, so that they can consume information and figure out for themselves what’s going on in the world. So they can find answers to their questions, and so they can decide for themselves what they think. We get to work on writing and speaking skills, so that when they use their voices, they can do it in a way that makes people listen. So they can powerfully communicate what’s in their hearts. Because I know they have such good hearts.

And then we got back to our regularly scheduled learning activities. Because no matter what happens, we won’t stop pushing forward, working hard, and bettering ourselves.

Wait, I lied, there’s actually one more thing….

11. You’re just upset because your team lost. It’s the same thing for one side or the other every election.

No, I’m not, and it’s not. I can handle losing an election to someone who thinks differently and uses different methods than I would, but is still a decent human working for the good of all Americans. We just elected someone without basic decency. Without any record or spirit of public service. Someone who wouldn’t be fit to serve in the local PTA, much less in the White House.

Believe it or not, I do want there to be a strong, respectable Republican party. It’s highly unlikely, but not impossible, that I’d ever personally vote for a Republican candidate. But I still want them at the table. Those leading the party are, to use one of our president-elect’s favorite words, a “disaster” right now. But there are a number of decent, intelligent, reasonable, moderate Republicans in my personal circles, and I want their voices to have a place. Even though we don’t always agree, I need them to check and balance my own party. When reasonable people with diverse opinions work together, that’s when “the magic” happens. That’s how a checked and balanced government is intended to work.

Dear Unbreakable Student,

I’ve never been into poetry. I definitely don’t write it, and I don’t really read it. But this came tumbling out of my head, and I think it’s a poem. It’s the product of lots of thoughts and conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks. Or the last ten years, depending  how you count it. I wish I could show you the faces of all the students that were floating through my head while I wrote… Anyway, I want to share.

 

Dear Unbreakable Student,
Can I tell you what I love about you?
I love that you’re loud.
I love that I can’t get through a lesson plan, because you
have something to say about everything, and you
have a question about everything.
And every question leads to another question.
My answers are never enough for you—
Your curiosity never satisfied.

I love that your words tumble out
louder and faster
than even you can keep up with.
I love your lack of filters.
You say what you mean,
and you don’t wait for permission.

I love that you don’t walk, but run.
You’ve got places to go,
Paths to follow,
Things to do and try and experience.
Even if you don’t know exactly where you’re going,
You know you want to get there
Right now.
Can’t stop
Can’t wait
Can’t sit still.
Energy and passion
rushing and buzzing
through your body
Plowing past anything and anyone
that gets in your way.

I love that you put on a tough front,
A strong face, a fight face,
a face that can’t be messed with;
Without ever losing your soft center,
Your kind heart, your gentle heart,
your heart that cares so deeply, it hurts.

I love that you can’t be lied to.
You don’t have time for the easy, comfortable answers;
You’re here for the ugly, naked truth.
You can take it.
The only thing that will make you flinch
is insincerity.
You can see right through it.

I love that you challenge me.
I love that you make me think,
make me laugh,
make me cry
Sometimes all at once.

And I worry.

I worry that when you come to school,
We all tell you to
Sit down, and
Shut up.
Don’t be so difficult,
Get back in line, just
Sit down, and
Shut up.
Stop interrupting, and
Listen to me. Just
Sit down, and
Shut up.

I promise you
that it comes from a good place.
Because we care,
we tell you to
Sit down, and
Shut up.
We want nothing more than your success
in school
in life.
So we keep telling to you to
Sit down, and
Shut up.

And I worry.
I worry that we’re wrong.
That isn’t what I want for you.

I don’t want you to sit down.
I want you to stand up!
Rise up!
Stand out!
I want you to stand, and
Stand for something
Stand for what’s good, and true.
Stand for others
Stand for you
Stand for the things you know
Will make our world better.

I want you to stand up.
Stand up against the status quo
Stand up against oppression
Stand up against oppressors
Stand up against the darkness that clouds so many eyes,
but not yours.
Stand up to those who would have you
Sit down, and
Shut up.

I don’t want you to shut up.
I want you to speak up!
Speak out!
Shout out!
I want you to yell so loud,
they have to listen.
I want you to scream so long,
they can’t block you out.
You thoughts matter.
Your ideas matter.
Your feelings matter.
Your story matters.
And the whole world should hear—
make them hear.
Go ahead and holler in the ears
of those who would have you
Sit down, and
Shut up.

I don’t want you to sit down. Not really.
But when you do,
Sit with your eyes open
Sit with your ears open
Sit at full attention
So you don’t miss anything.
Sit to listen and read and learn.
Take everything in.
Make some of it, part of you.
But not everything.
You’ve got to figure out
What to accept,
What to reject,
What to push back,
So that you’ll know when it’s time to
Stand up.

I don’t want you to shut up. Not really.
But when you do,
Listen carefully,
so carefully,
to what others are saying
and how they say it.
How do they get people to listen?
How do they get people to care?
What are they really saying, and
Not saying?
Pay attention to other voices,
because you too have a voice.
And when you use that voice,
When you speak up,
You had better have something to say.
People won’t keep listening all day.
So when you speak up,
You had better make it count.
When you speak up,
You had better give everyone else
Something to talk about.

Dear, Unbreakable Student,
I don’t want to change you
Not now, not ever.
I’d rather stand by your side,
On your team, and
Have your back
While you claim your power.
Our world needs
You and your power.

Dear, Unbreakable Student,
Don’t ever let them break you.
Don’t ever let us break you.
But if there’s a time when you feel
like you might be broken,
Just take a breath,
A slow, healing breath,
And come back better than ever—
Refusing to stay broken.
Refusing to ever
Sit down, and
Shut up.