November 19, 2016

WE ARE FAMILY

A post-election open letter to anyone who 
has family or friends:

In the current political situation as I see my President-Elect embracing people into
his cabinet who have not only been open obstructionists of civil rights but have
suppressed voting rights of minorities, equated every person of Muslim faith with
evil, loudly spread ideas of white supremacism and anti-Semitism, called for the
imprisonment of LBGT people, and promoted torture as a form of truth-seeking, I
have found myself trying to wrap my brain around the fact that it hurts so much
more to hear these ideas or apathy to these ideas supported by friends or family 
members than it is to hear them from angry and non-compassionate strangers that 
I always knew existed out there and would run into from time to time in my daily life.

Why does it feel so much more of a betrayal to have a cousin post something on
Facebook about the evils of gay marriage than to see it painted anonymously on a
wall? Why does it disturb me so much more if a member of my extended family
feels there is nothing wrong with requiring Muslims to register their religion with
the Federal Government than when I hear it on CNN? Why does it break my heart
when someone I have held in my arms as a child or whose lap I sat on when I was
young cannot see the dangers of isolationism, white nationalism, and a lack of
compassion for those who are “Other” while I am able to read about it
somewhere in a pocket of rural conservatism with more calmness?

A gay pride march in Belfast.
I suspect it is because I feel these reactions as betrayals of values I once thought
we had in common. You hugged me. You said nice things to me, in some cases helped raise me or babysat me and showed me love. You laughed at my jokes. You sent me birthday cards. So how is it that I know as an out member of a gay minority that one form of oppression leads to others but you don’t take that
seriously—why would you choose to endanger me and people I love with your words? Why would you choose to endanger anyone who is merely different from you? I don’t understand how it is that people who know history cannot see how disparagement of one out group leads to disparagement of all out groups. People whose opinions I have previously valued who now espouse fear and increasing anger against Others leave me feeling moments of despair almost daily.





These are not dangerous people. They have been good role models and a caring
network. I know them. I have loved them. I forgive them for supporting
dangerous ideas, but forgiveness does not bring back that old feeling of security
that we had in each others’ support—that we had each others’ backs. How do I
separate the soul I know within such friends with the words that seem sometimes
ill thought out and reactionary? I have to confess, it is very difficult and for
someone who is perhaps too introspective, what hurts me most about the current
conflicts in politics is not as much about letting go of my idealism about
America but releasing the idealism I felt about people I once considered to be tolerant 
and compassionate.

I am trying very hard to understand the other point of view. I get the motivation
behind the anger (at least some of it), and the frustration. I have been frustrated
and angry too. I just find it so hard to accept the reaction--the support of wrong
and misdirected “solutions” that will only drive further wedges between the
populations of a divided country and create graver problems.

I want to understand you, but my first priority now is to serve in the effort to
uphold civil rights for all people, because, for me, American civil liberties are in
emergency mode. We’ve been here before. Perhaps we’ve always been here.
Privilege, racism, greed, dishonesty, the me-first attitudes of powerful people like
Trump, Bannon, the Koch brothers have been there all along, and we have not
dealt with it effectively, whether Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent,
or none of the above. But things are spiraling now at a very fast speed toward the
narrowing of human liberties, not as Trump would have us believe, toward a
greater America. It is a closed-off America, a wealth-focused America, a hardline
take-no-prisoners America and frankly I am scared.

I am working to understand you, but I am also working to protect what for me has
always been the American Way—a way of tolerance, caring, and help-your-fellow brothers
and sisters compassion and time is running out. I may be guilty of the sin
of idealism. But I know myself well enough to know I cannot change that about
myself. I can listen. Try to understand. Try to be sympathetic. But I cannot not
fight. Many lives depend on it. You will, some of you, see that as fatalism, overreaction,
or a Cassandra complex. That is your right. But please try to understand
me as well. I was first introduced to films of the aftermath of the Holocaust in the
early seventies in a history class. I became so upset that I had to leave and the
teacher called my mother at home to find out if I was okay. I was not. But I had
learned something that would affect my heart for the rest of my life and I thank
him for that. I was a tiny preschooler when I watched black and white civil rights
marchers in the south sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs 
on the nightly news merely for asking for equal rights and equivalent respect. 
Even then I knew this was messed up. And I had nightmares where that footage 
replayed in my sleep for years. Don’t tell me I’m a cupcake or a snowflake or a 
whiny little bitch, and in return I will not call you an idiot or uneducated. 

Please understand, intolerance has affected my life daily. My belief that bias 
can be overcome with time has been the (I admit it, idealistic) north star of 
my life. Working for NOW in the 80s to ratify the equal rights amendment to 
never see it happen hurt. Attending gay pride parades where bystanders threw 
any available objects at the marchers hurt. Attending a women’s march in 
Washington and having posters of fetuses shoved in my face with angry accusations 
when at the time I had not even yet decided how I felt about abortion*, hurt. Sitting 
on a tour bus in San Francisco beside an elderly couple who were clearly homophobic 
and having to listen to them loudly declare as we went through the Castro 
district that these people didn’t have jobs, probably didn’t even have homes 
because they were too lazy to work, and probably took shifts sleeping in the 
same bed hurt. Just last week sitting in a restaurant across from a couple 
disparaging Hillary as an evil bitch, describing Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani 
and Mike Flynn as American heroes and talking about how it was time to go 
“visit their lady friend who has all the guns” makes my life still a living practice 
in patience and a constant search for hope; it felt scary. Last night 4 drunk men
in my usually quiet neighborhood were arguing and shouting and pushing
one another about. Another man stopped his van at the side of the road beside me 
a block away, got out of the vehicle and stood there staring at me for a moment, then went 
to his trunk. I wondered if he was getting a a rifle. It turns out he just wanted his 
jacket, but that is the edge these events have put us on. My heart was racing. 
I felt a sense of doom. I knew this was crazy, but there is a psychology to this.

I hope to figure this hurt out. To let people have their opinions and still respect
them as good people. But I do not hope that they will not change their views. We
can agree to disagree, but we will end up having fewer conversations. That
saddens me. But those of us who want a more tolerant world have to conserve our
energy for the arguments in the public sphere that will make a difference for the
next generation.

Forgive us for pulling back. I have lived long enough to know that people come
around to a better understanding of each other and each other’s viewpoints with
time. Not always. But often enough. In the meantime I will look for our
commonalities and celebrate those. But I will not be silent. I am learning to talk
about these things without anger. I am truly working at it. Respect me for that
and I will respect you for the same.

Kaitlin Hanger
Nov 19 2016

*The aggression of those anti-abortion protesters at the first Women's March on Washington did, in fact, help me make up my mind about the issue. It seemed clear to me that any movement whose members shows such hatred, who verbally attacked me without stopping to ask me my views, who were so obviously motivated by rage, decided my mind for me. If that represented the anti-abortion side, I wanted nothing to do with it. It was abnormal, displaced hatred. That, plus a friend's boyfriend cornering me in a bar and insisting it was my duty as a woman to have children and offering his services to get the job done finally decided me. Hatred of people who believe differently than you does not motivate them to change their minds.

POSTSCRIPT: 

Since Donald Trump won the Republican primary I have found myself nearly every day thinking about my dear friend and adopted little sister Priscilla Meddaugh who died two Christmas Eve's ago unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage. Priscilla dedicated her life to Civil Liberties and wrote respected articles on White Supremacism and hate speech as it was proliferating on the Internet. So many times I have thought that I was almost glad Priscilla--a true progressive--wasn't here to see this election as it unfolded. It would have broken her heart. But now, I miss her more than ever and can't help but think what an inspiration she would have been to her students and her friends today and how she would have organized us to action.


Priscilla, in honor of your friendship, I promise to do everything I can to keep the gadfly in me buzzing. I miss you. And to Dr. Jack Kay, Priscilla's mentor, who died just a few months after her, you are still an inspiration. Jack infiltrated the KKK as a young, Jewish graduate student, posing as a member under great danger to himself, to complete a profound ethnography on their practices and persuasive rhetoric. May there be more Priscillas and Dr. Kays in our lives in these difficult times.


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