The Single Story

21 01 2010

Yikes!  My husband was NOT happy with me for writing yesterday that Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin love America as much as we do.  He explained that people like them were in it more for the money and power.  Of course, I explained that he had just described 75% of Washington DC’s residents and 98% of the media, but….still.  Maybe it wasn’t the best way to make an important point.

A point that I, increasingly, believe is the #1 challenge we face in this country.  So, I’ll try again and, as often happens in life, I’ll turn to someone else who makes the point far better than I did!  Her name is Chimamanda Adichie and her point is “the danger of the single story”.

A Nigerian author, she draws from her own experience to observe that, too often, we all have but a single story of each other.  And that “single story” approach always will lead to misperceptions…and missed opportunities.  She talks about, how when she attended college in the States her roommate “already felt sorry for me before she even met me.”  In their first conversation, the roommate–an American–asked Chimamanda, who had just arrived from Nigeria, if she could hear some of her “tribal music”.  The roommate was shocked when Chimamanda pulled out a Mariah Carey CD!

Here’s a link of Chimamanda talking about “The Danger of the Single Story”  (it’s from a great website, btw, called

It’s worth the watch…and, then, try to see where you paint people into Single Stories.  Where you have a single story for all Democrats…or all Republicans.  All feminists..or all gay marriage opponents.  For a parent who you’re still punishing for wrongs done a lifetime ago…or a coworker who you dismiss because their skills are oil to your water.  Then, try to see beyond the Single Story (note use of the word “beyond”…vs, say, “ignore”).  Don’t hurt yourself (or your ego!), maybe just start be seeing Two Stories…and, then, as Chimamanda explains, see how your vision of others..and yourself…changes!


Why Martha Coakley lost..and what we can gain

20 01 2010

If you live in Massachusetts and have a pulse, you have an opinion about yesterday’s special election to fill the remaining two years of Ted Kennedy’s term.   Here’s mine.

First, to my Democratic friends across the country, don’t jump off the ledge yet.  Martha Coakley will go down in history as running one of the absolute worse political campaigns…ever.  She (and all her consultants who now need to be unemployed by Dems running in November) is trying to spin her way out of things by saying she worked “hard”.  Well, yes she did.  But she also worked “stupid”.  And that is at least 50% of why she lost.  You do not win campaigns by being so entitled that you select your Senate staff BEFORE Ted Kennedy even died.  You do not win campaigns by adamantly insisting on Monday that in no way would you ever back a health care bill that penalized those seeking abortion and then, one week later say, well of course you would.  And you do not win campaigns by saying that it makes much more sense to meet w/ union bosses, lobbyists and fund raisers than “stand outside Fenway Park…in the cold..and actually shake hands with people.”

So, yes, when Martha Coakley looked in the mirror this morning, she had to know that she was looking at the person who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory..not only of an election, but–perhaps–of broader health care access.

So, yes, it’s not time for Dems to jump off that ledge (besides, it’s only January..that’s a lifetime away from November..esp coming off an election when Coakley was up 10+ points 2 weeks ago).  But they should at least come out of the back-rooms they’re increasingly comfortable in and crawl out on that ledge for a dose of reality.

Here’s what they’d see:

1.  A party that is playing with an old playbook…that doesn’t fit the times.  Massachusetts has been a majority independent/unenrolled state for at least a decade (it’s, btw, why Ted Kennedy was in danger of losing in 1994).  Unions make up only 13% of the American public today..and only 7% of the private sector.  Barack Obama won by NOT making his race an issue in the campaign.  And the web has made facts and figures available to everyone-not just a select few.  THAT’s the world today.  Yet, in this race, MA Democrats acted as if their party was in the majority and that union support would carry an election.  Martha Coakley ripped not just a page but the entire book from Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign by initially arguing that her primary qualification was that she was a woman and that it was time to have a woman senator.  Finally, the Dem spin-meisters forgot that the average voter now is much more aware of what’s actually going on in DC.  So, when you try to say that gay rights will stall with a Brown win, many folks asked “but how do you stall that which already is stalled?”  When the D’s tried to say that Brown would reward Wall St, voters asked “But isn’t that what Chuck Schumer, Larry Summers, et al already are doing?”  Democrats, meet reality.

2.  A party that has lost its soul.  Forget rhetorical flourishes and fund raising events, Democrats now OPERATE pretty much the same way as Republicans.  The Obama Admin has added $1 trillion to the deficit–in one year.  It has escalated a war it promised to end.  When it comes to health care reform, it and Congress have welcomed the health care foxes into the public’s henhouse.  And they have tried to convince everyone that America’s economic recovery is largely dependent on Wall Street’s success..which works unless you happen to be un/underemployed—which 25 million Americans are. 25..MILLION.   I know many, many good Dems–in and out of Washington–who wonder if their party’s courage died with Ted Kennedy.  Especially when you see folks as politically divergent as Barney Frank and Jim Webb start today by saying yesterday’s defeat means we should hold off on health care.  Hmmm..what about the 47 million uninsured Americans?  The 22,000 who die every year because they don’t have health care?  Are we waiting for the day when it’s safe to enact health care reform?  America’s blacks should be very grateful JFK and LBJ didn’t take that strategy in the 60s.

3. A country that has lost its civility.  While all of the above contributed to Coakley’s defeat yesterday, I believe the fundamental reason is that we, the people, have lost our civility.  People are scared in this country right now.  We all heard it in the hysteria of the health care town hall meetings this summer.  And how did the Democrats react?  By calling people un-American.   Here in Massachusetts, good friends dismissed all Brown supporters as anti-gay, anti-choice bigots/imbeciles/assholes and worse. Name-calling and dismissal rather than trying to see the common humanity we all share. Trying to empathize with the terror you must feel if, like my almost 70 yr old mother, you have seen 30+% of your retirement vanish.  Trying to motivate people to vote based on that which unites us vs what divides us.  As election day neared, it is this that made me most distressed about a party I used to fiercely believe in.  This knee-jerk divisive reaction that is every bit as ignorant, prejudicial and harmful as the Republican’s. Coming from Democrats.

And it made me wonder if those who kept talking about the need to beat the imbeciles/haters, etc in memory of Ted really knew Ted Kennedy.  If they did, they’d remember what I do:  that one of his guiding beliefs–so strong that it was what Teddy Jr highlighted at his father’s funeral–was that your opponents love your country just as much as you do.  That Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Scott Brown, Newt Gingrich et al love America.  That, while you may disagree w/ them on most things, you should never forget that fact–even if they do.

So, to all those on both sides–whether you’re a lefty who thinks the bigots have taken over our country or a Tea Bagger who suggested Martha Coakley get creative with a curling iron (a taunt that is as familiar as an old shirt to those of us who campaigned in the old days for gay electeds), look across the political spectrum and see the “opposition” as your brother or sister.  Remember that–just like the health care bill languishing in DC–we most likely agree on far more fundamentals than disagree.  And, see what happens.  It may take a few deep breaths.  Hell, it may even take some martinis and illict substances (the Democrats, of course…never the Republicans!)  But, over time, you might actually see–and believe in–those similarities.  And, then, we can get to work in–together–rebuilding this country.

An Olympic pitch…IN Chicago, not just FOR Chicago

2 10 2009

The big news this morning is that the President and First Lady knocked it out of the park in pitching Chicago as the 2016 Olympic site.  “They were rock stars” gushed a Today show reporter (of course, that’s about all the Today show does these days…gush…but I digress).

I’m thrilled that the Obamas made the pitch.  It’s great to see a president have fun touting all that is wonderful and positive and promising about our country and one of our best cities.

At the same time, I wish President and Mrs. Obama would make the 1.5 hour flight from DC to Chicago to tell school kids there that they’re as passionate about them as they are the Olympics. That their future is just as important to America as one week in the summer of 2016.

I wish they’d do it for Corey McLaurin.

I wish they’d do it for Corey Harris.

I wish they’d do it for Derrion Albert.

Who are these guys?

They’re the three young Chicago students who have been murdered since school started less than a month ago.

Three kids.  One month.

And this isn’t a flukey spike in crime.  Last year, almost 40 Chicago school kids were killed…that more than one per week.  Right here.  In America.  In our President’s hometown.  In the city that, hopefully and in so many ways justifiably, the whole world will be watching 6 summers from now.

The President and Mrs. Obama could fly to Chicago, give a speech and be back home—with their two children–in less than the time it took for them to fly ONE-WAY to Copenhagen.

Don’t you think that would be time well-spent?

Mrs. Obama said the other day that she would “take no prisoners” in her bid to secure the Olympic nod for Chicago.  What do you think would happen if she brought that same attitude to Chicago schools?

Or urban schools across the country for that matter?  As I write this, Boston has just announced that 5 more of our city’s high schools will have metal detectors.  Meaning that 35 of our 39 schools have them.

It’s all part of a federal program called “Secure Our Schools.”  Is that where we are as a country today?  That we “secure our schools” with metal detectors….instead of values?  Instead of leadership?  Instead of community?

Hours ago, President Obama wrapped up his pitch with these words:  “If we walk this path together, then I promise you this:  The City of Chicago and the United States of America will do the world proud.”

Imagine if he said those words–not via video, by the way–to the kids of Chicago. If he told them that he and the First Lady have their backs.  That they will take no prisoners in making sure kids go to school to learn, not to be killed.  That he would walk with them…to do their city, their country…and themselves proud.

Now, THAT would be worthy of a gold medal.

Of fathers, sons, Michael Jackson and Farrah

29 06 2009

Last Sunday, in honor of Father’s Day, I posted a blog about father figures…specifically, the two men who had been father figures in my life.  And who i honored earlier this year by shedding the names of my birth father and putting on their names instead.  Five days later, I got a call that my birth father, whose name I no longer wear, had been placed on Hospice.  Most likely, he will be dead in a matter of weeks, if not days or hours.

That jolt has left me sifting through the weaves of our relationship–physical, emotional and karmic.  It’s also sharpened my awareness of the labels we carry with us.  Labels that we put on or, in many cases, allow others to put on. Masks that, by the weight of their illusion, either suppress or, worse yet, extinguish our true self.

What do the labels of “father” and “son” mean?  Does the father you are born to always win out over the fathers who raised you?  And what does the label of “son” require in the final days, moments of a father who was never there?

Looking outside my own life, I see friends and family members who refuse to wear labels…society be damned.  As they’ve aged, the frenetic rebellion of youth has settled into a beautiful groove of peaceful power.

And then there are the friends and family members who have spent lifetimes feverishly collecting all the labels society demands we wear. Yet, over time, the youthful exuberance of raw ambition weathers into a hardened resignation that, once you hit a certain point, you simply accept life for what is familiar vs what is true.  Convinced that it’s too late to change, they put themselves on a psychic Hospice if you will.  Seeking whatever will ease the pain of missed opportunities and numb their soul while they wait for their body to die.

Just look at Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson seems to be someone who always was trying to come back to past glory rather than participate–warts and all–in the here and now. His eccentricities seemed to be more a reaction to society’s demands than a response to his true self.  Even in death, people refused to let him go. Pumping his dead body for hours to bring him back…to bring them back…to what once was.

And then there’s Farrah Fawcett.  Someone who accepted that others wanted to see her as an “angel”, but who never let that illusion cloud who she really was.  She used that illusion to lure folks in to see real truths–be it about rape, domestic violence or cancer.  Where Michael Jackson saw the ability of masks or labels to conceal, Farrah Fawcett saw their potential to reveal.

If that is, you took the time to look beyond the mask, beyond the illusion, to see the truth…to live in the moment of what is vs what was or, perhaps, what never was.

Obama’s Stonewall (re-)gift to the gay community

17 06 2009

With the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots coming up, I am sure that President Obama has been asking himself:  What do you get a community who has, well, pretty much nothing?    Today, we get his answer:  You give them a tiny sliver of rights.

This afternoon he is expected to sign a memorandum in the Oval Office (no cameras, please!) granting federal benefits (but not all health care benefits, apparently)….to partners…..of federal employees.  GLBT community, welcome to Animal Farm where some of us are now more equal than others! And even the “more equal” aren’t AS equal as their straight counterparts.  UPDATE:  Apparently, Obama’s “re-gifting” the limited rights already granted to federal employees and their partners some years ago.  Classy!

Really, Mr. President, you shouldn’t have.

Now, listen, this indeed is good news for the small percentage of glb and t’ers who actually work for the federal government AND have a partner (who doesn’t need full health care coverage)  I really am happy for them.  They now can add new meaning to their Manhunt profiles promising “friends with benefits”.

And, look, my mom always taught me to say thank you when given a gift.  So, “thank you, Mr. President.”

But Mom also taught me that it’s the thought that counts behind a gift.  And, the thought behind this gift looks to be pretty cynical.  Obama seems to be doing this to salvage a chi-chi DNC fund raiser honoring Vice President Biden and bankrolled by extremely wealthy gays.  I get it: Give rights to a sliver of the community so you can collect checks from the wealthiest sliver.  (It’s at Washington’s Mandarin Hotel on June 25, tickets start at $1,000/person…a bargain for equal rights…for some.)

The whole thing leaves me feeling a bit like Oliver Twist this morning.  I’ve got my nearly empty bowl of rights.  I take it into the room (at the Mandarin no less!) where the gay federal employees and the wealthy gays are savoring a lavish spread and say to the president, “Please, sir, I want some more, sir”….because, at least where my community is concerned, size DOES matter!

What I learned from Adam Lambert

16 06 2009

I’m always amazed at how our very human tendency to judge keeps us from learning and growing.  Case in point:  Adam Lambert.  For days, my husband has been on my ass about reading the Rolling Stone cover story in which runner-up American Idol Lambert comes out. Now, I can’t stand American Idol (glorified karaoke just isn’t my thing) and I’ve read more than my fair share of “Yup, I’m gay” cover stories. So, I judged…and I resisted.

Now, you can’t resist a Bulgarian husband for very long, so last night, I gave in and read the story.  Most of it was what you’d expect, but one line–one line–jumped out at me as a great gift for our times.  Lambert was describing an “epiphany” he had at Burning Man, a moment where he realized “…we all have our own power, and that whatever I wanted to do, I had to make happen.”

To Lambert, that line meant he should audition for American Idol.  For the rest of us, it suggests a refreshingly clear lens with which to view the challenges we face today–individually and collectively.  An alternative to the very submissive way Americans view just about everything:

  • “Let me hire a trainer to get me in shape” OR “Let me take a pill to lower my cholesterol”
  • “Let me turn on the TV so Oprah can tell me how to be who I really am” OR, better yet, “Let me turn on the TV so it can live reality for me!”
  • “Let me bitch about how corrupt the Massachusetts legislature is” OR “Let me demand the President and Congress give me my rights”.

Well, that’s one way to live.  Wait for others to make something happen.  No, not wait, somehow buy into the illusion that you simply can’t have what you want until others give it to you.

As a friend of mine likes to say, that’s just AFU.

You want to get in shape?  Get your ass in gear and go to the gym on your own.  They’re not that tough to figure out and, really, do you need to pay someone to cut your food for you?  And, while you’re at it, give that money you pay your trainer to a non-profit that serves people who have real problems.

You have a dream?  Live it. Period.  Billions–yes billions– of people have lived their dreams just fine without Oprah, Dr. Phil, Suze Orman and the like.  Maybe it’s time to stop padding their dreams and start creating our own.

And, finally, frustrated with the political system (as I most certainly am).  Easy.  DEFEAT–or at least give a credible THREAT to defeat–those who are pissing you off (even Massachusetts has stopped screwing around with corruption at the voting box).  Mad that Beacon Hill won’t pass true ethics reform?  Easy.  Rally opposition–not Republican, but Democrat and unenrolled opposition in the Speaker and Senate President’s home districts.  The smell of defeat to a politician is like a whiff of garlic to a vampire.  It gets their attention.  Pissed about gay marriage and Obama?  Easy.  Organize in Pennsylvania and Ohio–two states he MUST win in order to be re-elected.  Show him that we’re exercising our power to (potentially) defeat him and I just bet he’ll do more than “file” legislation.

We still live in a democracy.  Unfortunately, many of us have been willing to cede the power that keeps a democracy alive.

As Adam Lambert–that most glam man–reminded us, we have the power to change that.

Questions raised by Obama’s DOMA defense

15 06 2009

“The greatest thing…is just to love and be loved in return.”  I have thought about those words (from Eden Abhez’s 1947  song “Nature Boy”) again and again the last few days.  Because, while love indeed IS the greatest thing, it is NOT all you need when you choose to live in a governed society (a choice I’m reconsidering with great intensity since President Obama defended DOMA last week).

If you don’t know:  the President’s Department of Justice argued in favor of DOMA last week in a California case.  In their argument, President Obama’s team compared gay marriage to incest, to sex with minors.  And, my personal favorite, they argued that–in these tough economic times, the President has an obligation to protect our country’s scarce resources and, thus, can’t support granting of equal rights that carry a price tag.   As my friend David Mixner said, it was as if Pat Robertson snuck into DOJ and wrote the brief.

I’ll leave it to the lawyers to argue the “case” against DOMA.

For me, the Administration’s actions have raised some very basic questions.

Questions for you, Mr. President:

  • How does it feel to be the first president who could not have held office if prior presidents had not signed laws granting you equality?
  • How can you, a man who 140 years ago would have been viewed as property, not a president, how can you give an economic excuse for denying civil rights?
  • And, Mr. President, when you tuck Sasha and Malia in at night, how does it feel to know that your legacy to them very well could be that you took that man-given right and used it to prevent others from having the same rights?
  • When they ask why you, Mr. President, the man who won an office on the words “yes, we can”, turned around and told millions of Americans, “no, you can’t”?

Of course, you are not just a father, Mr. President. You are the President of the United States.  A man who is a quite public student of his predecessors.

So, I ask you to look to President Johnston and recall the Civil Rights Act of 1964–the act that granted you equal access to employment and education, Mr. President.  An act that was passed in the midst of the Vietnam War.  An act that Johnson readily acknowledged “will cost us (as in Democrats) the South” for at least a generation.

  • When you recall that Act and its consequences, ask yourself, was it worth it for you and your fellow African-Americans, Mr. President?
  • Was Johnson right to tirelessly work the phones for the Acts passage–in the midst of a war?
  • Was he right to stand up to Democratic leaders who said, “No you can’t” and say, “Yes, we can…because we must”? Was it worth the sacrifice of lost political power to ensure your equality, Mr. President?

If the answer is “yes”, then why can’t you be a little more like LBJ, Mr. President, and a little less like Bill Clinton?

Because it was Bill Clinton who gave us DOMA in the first place.  Probably while Monica Lewinsky was on her knees blowing his…marriage vows.  That he felt compelled to protect with a federal law.  Guilt’s a funny thing, huh?

Now, I have some questions for our community, too:

  • Are we Democrats first and g,l, b or t second?  Why else would we willingly drink the partisan Kool-Aid that tells us it’s because of the Republican that we don’t have equal rights?  See Bill Clinton above.  See how the Democrats control the White House AND the Senate AND the House.  And, yet, Nancy Pelosi said as recently as April that repeal of DOMA was not a priority.  If Newt Gingrich had said that, what would our response have been?  Would we have gladly given him millions upon millions of dollars to keep fighting the good fight?
  • Why is our community—lovers of instant gratification–so content with postponed gratification when it comes to our rights?  When Barney Frank et al tell us that the time’s not right to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, why do we say “OK, no problem.  Please let us know when it’s convenient”?
  • And, when our friends, co-workers, and family members tell us to cut President Obama some slack, why don’t we ask them to replace “gay” with “woman”, “Jew”,  or “Black”?  Why don’t we say, “OK.  so if the issue wasn’t gay rights, but Israel, would you still argue that the President has more important issues on his plate?”  OR “If  Obama’s first Supreme Court nomination had been a white guy instead of a Latina, would women’s groups and Latinos have cautioned their communities to be patient, because they president’s a busy man?” ” Would the media outlets have ignored such a move…as they have ignored the President’s DOMA arguments?”

Which raises two, final questions:

  • Why do gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transgenders allow those who SAY they are our friends to ACT as our enemies?
  • How long are we going to take it?