It should go without saying, but to be clear: none of the views expressed in this blog represent the view of anyone I’m affiliated with – those funding me through the Fulbright program, those I work with, etc. These are all my own thoughts. And my thoughts recently have been filled with a lot of politics.
Let me be open in saying that I’m a pretty liberal person. Maybe talking about the environment incessantly and low-key talking about progressive lifestyles gave that away already. I’m watching things in the States unfold from afar, so it has been difficult to distinguish reality from sensationalism. But here is what I know and think, after a little bit of research (representative sources linked, I wouldn’t let you down):
People Are Being and will Continue to be Victimized
First: women. This isn’t actually all that new. In fact, if you’ve been paying attention to the news since you were old enough to read, you would know that violence against women is a thing. Minority, low-income, and young women are disproportionately victimized in particular. This is worldwide, mind you. But focusing for a moment on the United States and certain potential political actions, you can perhaps see my distress.
Let’s start with the potential cut of the Office of Violence Against Women. This group provides grants to organizations – like police districts – to perform training to aid women who are victims of violence. Pair this with the cuts to Civil Rights, Community Policing, and other federal agencies, and you’re looking at a pretty clear message that protecting the most victimized peoples in America (of which women make up a number) is really not on the agenda.
Then, you look at the response to the Women’s March on Washington – “they should have voted.” Yikes. Just real quick: dude is literally sitting in the Oval Office still being worried about the popular vote – not in the way we are, you know, with the rumors of hacking and jazz, but in the way that he’s sad he didn’t win it…pretty freaky.
Digressing – I shouldn’t forget to talk about the ongoing hate-fest against Planned Parenthood, and in particular pro-choice folks. Listen, I really wish abortions didn’t have to be a thing. I really don’t. But let’s all agree that the viral photo of only men in the room of the signing of an executive order that deals with lady parts is a little weird, right?
Women aren’t the only ones to worry about here. LGBTQIA+ communities are also being called out. Our new VP has been a pretty vocal heteronormative policymaker. While the verdict is still out on whether or not he actually supports conversion therapy (that’s when people’s demons are zapped out of them, because that makes sense) it is beyond clear that he’s no advocate for the rights of humans who happen to choose a bedmate that he himself would not have selected. To be fair, most of those bedmates probably don’t want Pence either…
Then there are minorities in the US – long persecuted and subject to institutionalized bigotry. And immigrants, legal or illegal it doesn’t matter. Then there are the poor. The working middle class….I could keep going to name almost every group. When one group suffers, we all suffer. That much is known. When so many are about to continue to be victimized, or about to be re-victimized by certain policy repeal (like the Affordable Care Act), there is a problem.
I’ve seen a non-trivial number of responses to the Women’s March from women stating that they’ve never felt “othered” as a woman, and that since we [women] have it better here in the US versus other countries, we should be thankful rather than active. First, I’m thrilled to hear that they’ve never felt othered as a woman – and I wish I could share that sentiment. And I’m sure all the strong ladies who put the policies in place with that goal in mind would also be thrilled – we really are in a pretty good place. But just because we’re in a good place, or at least a better place to some of our international sisters, doesn’t mean we can’t demand greater things. It probably means that we should demand greater things not only for ourselves, but for our sisters.
Thankful shouldn’t mean complacent.
Intellectuals Will Not be Silenced Peacefully
Speaking of which, the fact that Twitter has become a place for intellectual protest really reminds me that it’s the year 2017: a myriad of wonderful technologies at our fingertips, same draconian fear of knowledge.
The federal hiring freeze, while troublesome to us outsiders, is not unprecedented. This federal hiring freeze, coupled with gag orders on federal agencies, particularly the EPA…now that’s getting a little suspicious. Couple that with the timing of the go-ahead on the midwest pipelines that people are literally laying down their lives to prevent, and you might be seeing a pattern here. Then you’ve got the sensationalized removal of “climate change” from the White House pages, the sensationalized EPA claim that they were ordered to take down “climate change” pages, and the not so sensational but pretty terrifying possibility that all published works may need political review and I’m fairly comfortable in saying that there is a problem.
Science is not political. Or it is really not supposed to be. It is meant to be “the truth.” Apolitical. Just a statement of “the facts” – whether or not they’re good news or bad news or fulfilling some sort of agenda. When science and scientists come under fire for literally doing their jobs, you’re looking a the stuff we see super villains do in movies in which they trick the general populace into loving them through misinformation while the world burns.
And the world is burning. Climate change is real. Ocean acidification is real. And we are legitimately in trouble. These aren’t “alternative facts” – there are the “fact facts.”
So when I read about how policies like the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S., are “burdensome” and need to be removed, I get a little worried. Because those policies, in a way, are meant to be a bit burdensome – to inspire us to innovate so we can both be better in business and better in health/environment. So that we have to THINK about our capitalistic intentions before acting on them. (sidenote here, in the America First plan, we want to get rid of the Waters of the US rule…ironic). So that when we grow our businesses, we can continue growing the beauty of our nation. If for some reason keeping our water and air clean is keeping America from “being great again,” then I’m not really sure what “great” means.
On a more personal note, I’m pretty terrified about where I’m going to end up in all of this. The whole reason I’m in this field, you know, other than because I think the ocean is amazing, is because I want to get the truth out to people in order to influence policies which will help to protect our planet. That is apparently a pretty radical thing to do. And I’m down for the fight, but there shouldn’t need to be one in the first place.
Foreign Relations Are Going to be Strained
I mean, with a slogan like “America First” it probably doesn’t give other countries the warm-fuzzies.
Well, there is the wall. That he still wants Mexico to pay for. I’m pretty sure that Trump missed the part where Tom Sawyer got the other kids to paint the fence was because he was clever and made it fun, not because he demanded it. Not saying that Trump should have tricked Mexico into paying for it, but you know, at least attempted tact. Or, perhaps cracked down on corruption at the border. Or, you know, actually thought about investing in Mexico so that people are less likely to leave in the first place…
Then there is the ban on refugees and peoples of certain descent from entering the country. Look…we’re all terrified of being terrorized. That’s the point of terrorism (logical). Refugees are not thinking about committing acts of terror – they’re thinking about escaping it. We should be honored that they think that America is safe enough, caring enough, and strong enough to be a place free of terror. And we should not make the same mistakes of the past (remember Anne Frank and her family, as just one story of the many people turned away during the crimes of that time).
Then there is Russia, the cold reception of the NATO alliance, and the ever unclear relationship between these powerful leaders. Now living in Estonia, I can assure you people are worried. Tallinn is not eager to be the next Crimea. And I’m not super excited to potentially be here when it happens.
Then, there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership backout. I’m going to be honest when I say I don’t know a whole lot about economics, and whether this is good or bad. But the countries involve in the agreement are no doubt a bit upset. And China is no doubt a bit excited. And there is also little doubt that global economics impact…well…everyone…by its very nature, so certainly there are some ramifications that we’ll feel.
Being Angry and Active is Exhausting
If the Women’s March is any indication, and the soon-coming Scientist March, and the small demonstrations throughout the nation and globally – then there are some angry people out there. But unlike the armchair activism of the past, these angry people are willing to be physically present in their activism.
This is exciting. And I hope the momentum continues, because the health of our democracy has literally been downgraded to “flawed” and the only thing I can seen improving it is an active constituency that gets stuff done politically.
But it will be exhausting. And complacency is so easy. Just look at the struggle of the Black Rights Matter movement to gain momentum and support from privileged groups. Privilege allows someone to brush off the indignities of others in favor of keeping themselves comfortable. We can’t allow ourselves to be comfortable anymore. We should have never allowed it in the first place.
As activists continue to flood the streets, and phones, and media, we do need to consider a lot: inclusivity, intersectionalism, and sensitivity to the other side. We need bipartisan movements, because then we win. We have to be willing to compromise. We have to be willing to be wrong. We have to listen – and not just listen to respond, but listen to understand.
The infamous apocalypse clock was moved forward to 2.5 minutes until midnight (being the fabled moment of humanity’s downfall). Today. Only 1953 has seen a “time” closer to “the end.”
One could take this as a sign that times are literally at the precipice of something catastrophic, or one of humanities greatest “come together” moments in modern history.
I’m a big fan of those completely campy action flicks in which everyone puts aside their differences in order to defeat evil alien invaders and world peace is known. I’m not asking for that here. But, I am hoping that the side on which every member of humanity is treated with the dignity of being human, is on the winning front.
A few months ago I had the honor of speaking on behalf of my graduating class at Olin. Among my cheeky references to events in Ferguson, the transgender bathroom debates, and *gasp* climate change, I said then to the class of graduating engineers:
“Among so many other things, Olin has taught us the importance of collaboration. And we, together, will be agents of change. The support we have for one another doesn’t end when we walk across this stage, and we will build our network even broader in pursuit of our passions and values. We will use our rebellious nature to remold “the man” – not just stand against it.
At this critical moment – this time in which we will be handed diplomas and drive off to whatever we have planned next – let’s celebrate our achievement and give thanks for the privilege of going to this school, at this time, with these people.
Tomorrow, let’s get back to work.“
I stood by those words then, as I stand by them now. My place is in the rebellion – I hope you’ll join me. I could use your help.