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Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Story of Power and Fear in America

A woman screamed at me yesterday while I was driving.  “You stupid-ass bitch,” as her car passed on my right.  We were approaching a lane closure, forcing traffic to slowly merge.  Perhaps I had failed to let her in ahead of me—I don’t know. I wasn’t aware of whatever it was I had done (or not done) that prompted the angry outburst. The other drivers around me were men, so the “bitch” must have been me.
Duluth from Enger Park

I’m sure it wasn’t only my driving that set the woman off. Maybe she had encountered this same scenario a few times before and was weary of how poorly Duluth drivers were adapting to the road closures. Maybe she needed to get somewhere really fast—-maybe there was someone bleeding in her car. 

Ku Klux Klan history, Little Rock
Historical Society
But what I really thought about was this, “What pile of injustices or abuses had this woman endured in her life? Something or someone had cut her so deeply that she could readily lash out to hurt another.” How have we gotten to this place in our country? I don’t mean JUST the name-calling, although that is certainly part of it. And I definitely do not mean just the road rage. I am talking about that flame of divisiveness that gets fanned into a roaring fire with so little provocation nowadays. 
Chicago neighborhood, 2018

The boundaries that we draw for ourselves, with such rigid determination— boundaries built of values and beliefs and dreams that help me define myself as part of this group vs. that group. I am attracted to people whose world-view aligns closely with mine and in that way I have established a social group that provides me a “safe” place to interact with the world.  

Outside of my group, I observe many whose world view differs so drastically from mine; I admit that that fact makes me nervous sometimes.  I’m sometimes disconcerted by others’ reactions to events—even incredulous and sometimes very angry.  I say things to myself like “You S***head” while watching or listening to news of the day. Sometime I say it out loud. 
Exploding Technology. Enjoy
internet via watch.

Access to social media has opened a worm-hole through which I creep or launch myself into the fray. Conversations that I would not engage in with a person sitting next to me can be undertaken with a stranger 20 states distant through use of a keyboard and the internet. 

Those who agree with my world-view are identified as being part of my “team.” Those who don’t are suspect. ”How could that person think the way they do,” I wonder. “They seem so bright otherwise—how could they believe the lies that are spewed at us these days?”  “How can they go along with the Conservative thinking about our nation, our world?” “How is it that they don’t recognize what seem to me to be crystal clear truths?” 

Memphis historical marker
I feel, in fact, as if the dark and filthy underbelly of our nation has been encouraged to crawl out of the sewer and into the light—only to display its’ depravity proudly. To promote the rights and privileges of those who already possess the most power so that they can guard and keep it. 

Herding cows, main street of Spring Grove,
MN c. 1870. photo: Giants of the Earth.
It has become acceptable in some places and circumstances for people in authority to treat people of color very badly, even to death. Our nation found it acceptable to treat immigrants as one might handle a herd of cattle—separate the young from the old with indifference, without apology. Who apologizes to cattle? 

Weapons loading competition, Minot AFB, ND c. 1978
Somehow, those with the most power have dispensed with even the appearance of caring about the People. The Second Amendment rally cry is said to be synonymous with a cry for freedom. Freedom? To me, it rather seems a symbol of our fears. Instead of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” we have substituted “fight, intolerance and fear of want.”  

Quote: "If the bees all die, we're next."
Ardys Richards
I fear nuclear war. I fear that good education is becoming the privilege of those who have money. I fear that we will reserve health care for those who can afford to pay. People have reason to fear going to public places like schools, churches and theaters. 

I fear that our planet will not sustain our descendants far into the future. If you fear those things, too, I would identify you as a member of my “team.”
The U.S. Capitol at night, May 2018

Yesterday my “team” received a swift kick to the gut. I'm not talking about the woman who cursed me. It’s what I saw, courtesy of social media—a roomful of predominantly white men who wield a great deal of authority in our nation’s Capitol. I saw them fumble clumsily with the task of displaying simple human decency. 
Little Rock, AK Historical Society

The situation required at the very least, a respectful ear for a woman’s history of sexual assault as a young girl. For these rude men, she relived her nightmare of fear, vulnerability, of being grabbed and used, of being “taken” like a prize for the conqueror. The men seemed unable to conceive of the harm done to this woman as a girl. 
Oregon City History Museum.  Brewing after Prohibition.
Or, they saw themselves as the young man in the story? They removed themselves from the reality of her testimony as far as they possibly could by saying,  IF this was done to her, it certainly had nothing to do with my candidate for the SCOTUS.”  
Turtles can tuck their heads inside
to ignore things.

This brave woman relived the ugliness for the edification of these men. She relived it because it was the right thing to do. And for their part, they refused to look at her.  Refused to address her. They sought to make her invisible, an obstacle to their singular goal. In return for the woman’s sacrifice of privacy, her sacrifice of innocence, she has been belittled, discounted, and has had to hide with her family because of threats to their safety. Her life will never return to what it was before this day. 

The future of our country. graduates of Spring
Grove High School, May 2018
As a nation we have learned so little. The collective United States (the big WE) still believe that our nation for which we have fought multiple wars, the nation that has been there to help around the world in the most desperate of times; we still believe that everything, every “thing” is there for the taking, including the women “things.” Have we learned nothing about humanity? 

Girls' Night Out on Beale Street, Memphis. May 2018
Have we not learned that really bad things do happen to people? These are not things that happen just to those other people. And how have we not learned that when bad things happen to the most vulnerable among us, that it is the responsibility, even the honor, of the others to hear them and to protect them from further abuse. 
In honor of the local war dead.

I vigorously dislike labeling women as “vulnerable” for two big reasons: One, because women can be the sexual/powerful aggressor, just as a man can be. But the second reason is because I don’t want to be vulnerable and I don’t want men to see women as vulnerable. But it is the women, not the men, who are taught how to protect themselves. 

Little girls playing in Spring Grove City Park 
“Don’t walk alone in dark places.” “Go to public restrooms in pairs.“ “Car keys held in a fist with the point protruding between the clenched fingers is a weapon.” “Keep mace in your purse,“ “You can’t run wearing high heels,” “If you are grabbed by a man… act bizarrely, scream for all you’re worth, bite him, pee on him, fingers in the eyeballs, kick the groin, become dead weight, and whatever you do, do not get in the car.”  
Portrait of U.S. Presidents, painted during last Bush Administration, displayed
in shop on Annapolis waterfront.  Artist unknown.
If privileged white men are able to discard the testimony of this brave woman, because they think that they are removed from such raw things, or that such events are insignificant; or if they think that they do not know any women in their lives that have been assaulted, they are badly mistaken. 
Photo: Little Rock, AK Historical Society

These women of whom I speak might just be their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, good friends, wives and daughters. And without even understanding what they have done, these men threw aside the most important women in their lives—all of the women who have never told a soul what happened to them. Many if not most women will take their assault stories with them to the grave, and for good reason. 
Grave of Lucy McLean Davis. 
"She hath done what she could"

These powerful white men, if they were to understand the discomfort spared them by the silence of the women they love, would they be glad to be unencumbered by that knowledge? Oh, what a blessing for those with the greatest power in the land. 

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