This letter is a long time coming. I’ve been afraid to speak to you, mostly because, while I care deeply about you, I can’t bear to hear some of what I know you believe. I see it on your social media: the memes, the posts, the snide remarks. They all strike deeply into my heart. And now, I can’t sit idly by any longer.
The mainstream media, which most of you hate and where I’ve spent most of my adult career, tells me I should spend more time listening to your concerns, but I disagree. I’ve been silently listening to you all my life. I understand your concerns. I know them well. I agree with many of them, even if I disagree with you on the solutions.
And I don’t think you’ve ever taken the time to hear me, and people like me. You see us as some kind of caricature, a stereotype wildly distorted from the reality. Much like you say we see you. Remember, though: I know you. I grew up with you. I know who you really are. I love you. And, I hope, you love me too.
Let’s get a couple things out in the open right up front. First, if you didn’t already know, I am a big ole lesbian. That’s right. While it’s not the whole of who I am, it does color how I see the world. For example, here in Georgia, where I live, I can be fired from jobs, denied the right to live where I want, denied a hotel room, and several other things if the proprietors of those businesses choose to do so. That can make me feel somewhat … I don’t know … second class. Unworthy. If I choose to let it. I don’t, generally. I feel sad for people who would do such a thing, although the fact of my lesbianity can certainly mess with the ease with which I’d rather live my life. That can make me grumpy. Instead of sitting at home stewing, or feeling sorry for myself, though, I tend to write letters, make phone calls, and, if necessary, march in the streets for the right to be treated as a human being. I’ll bet you would too if it was officially OK for those things to happen to you because you’re heterosexual … oh, wait. It is OK for those things to happen, actually. The same laws that make it possible to discriminate against me also make it possible to discriminate against you, except that doesn’t happen. None of the gay business owners, hotel owners, restaurant owners or apartment owners I know would dream of doing that, and not just because you are the majority. Because it’s the right thing to do.
Now, let me be clear. I don’t care what you think about homosexuality. I really don’t. It makes me sad, but in general, unless you’re using your personal feeling about it to discriminate against us in some way, I don’t care. You don’t like homosexuality? Don’t be one. And unfriend me if you must, but I’ve got to tell you, that would be your loss. And it would be sad, because both of us would be missing the opportunity to learn from one another.
This brings me to the issue of trans folk. Look, I don’t wholly understand it either, but then I’ve never had any feeling inside that I am anything other than a woman. I’ve known, and still know, plenty of folk who do have different feelings about gender identity, though, and I’ve come to understand that regardless of our physical attributes, gender just isn’t an either/or thing. It’s kinda fluid. We use man/woman as a shorthand, but honestly, even physical attributes aren’t always clear. So it’s become obvious – to me anyway – that it really doesn’t matter in the long run, only if we decide we want to make it matter.
Let me tell you a little story. I’m sure you’ve heard about the “bathroom bills” – the ones that allow a person to use the restroom labeled for the binary gender they identify with. You’ve been told that that’s scary because predators can then disguise themselves and prey on innocent people. Really, think about that. Can you not see how ridiculous that is? If a predator wanted to do that, that predator can already do it. These “bathroom bills” don’t make it possible, and the truth is, it just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t, despite what you may have been told. These are scare tactics, aimed at making you fear something so you won’t accidentally do the right thing.
Anyway, here’s the story. Back last fall, I delayed a visit to my ancestral home in East Tennessee because of the backlash about these bills. If you know me, you know what I look like. I don’t wear makeup, put on dresses, or bat my false eyelashes at the boys. I’m perfectly happy with the way I look, and perfectly happy being a woman. But I have been mistaken for a man, despite my large breasts, many times, including in public restrooms. I realized last summer, while on an outing in north Georgia, that I was kinda scared to go into the women’s room, lest someone with a baseball bat be waiting outside when I was done. My drive to Tennessee includes a stint through North Carolina, where I normally stop on my way to see my dad and sister, and quite frankly, I couldn’t make myself get in the car and make that drive. I eventually did, but I no longer stop for a break on the route. I can’t do it. I don’t trust the people who, like you, have been warned about predators in women’s bathrooms, not to do me harm on sight. You can’t know what that feels like, but you know me. You know I mean no harm. And you know people around you who would do exactly what I fear. Don’t deny it. Can you really make that ok in your minds? Or is it possible you could just let people be who they are and not fear them?
Speaking of fear, many of you have told me how the crime rate is so high these days. Except it isn’t. You keep hearing that from the news sources you choose to listen to, but it is not true. Check this: The FBI says that the number – not the percentage – the number of homicides in 2015 was 4,000 LOWER than it was in 1996, despite the population being up by 70 million. Now, it’s true that homicides were higher in 2015 than they were in 2014 – on the strength of a jump in four major cities – but it’s still significantly lower than it was. And this is true across the board.
Sticking with the fear thing, terrorism. Here’s a statistic: Your chance of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist in the US is about 3.6 billion to 1. Your chance of being struck by lightning is 750,000 to 1. Now that doesn’t mean much if you are the one. But we are making mountains out of tiny piles of dirt kicked up by a raindrop. We live our lives mitigating risk every day – being hit by a car, having a tree fall on our bedroom while we’re sleeping, a random robbery, anything … the fact is we cannot live risk free lives. We have to make decisions, though, about what risks are acceptable. And maybe 3.6 billion to 1 is unacceptable to you. It doesn’t worry me, especially not enough to denigrate an entire religion. Speaking of which, you never see in this country the millions of Muslims who demonstrate against their more radical brethren almost every day. I do, because, as most of you know, I’m a journalist. The truth is, it’s just not as scary a world out there as you have been led to believe. Seriously, I’m more frightened of a white Christian lunatic who thinks going to, say, a gay bar and setting off a bomb is a good thing than I am of an Islamist extremist. Or the one who went into a liberal church in Knoxville a couple years ago and started shooting. Those people are as much an anathema to you as Muslim extremists are to most Muslims. But you don’t hear about it. You just hear the scare tactics, and you believe them. I understand that.
And speaking of foreign-born, the last administration deported 2.5 million people, about a half million more than George W Bush, and that actually doesn’t include the last year of Obama’s administration. It earned him the nickname in some parts of “deporter in chief.” Illegal immigration, in fact, has been declining since 2007. You don’t hear that. You hear the opposite, and, sadly, you choose to believe it, I’m guessing because you’re seeing more immigrants in your areas than you had before. But it’s the truth. The real, unvarnished truth.
There are a million things I’d love to talk with you about – healthcare, the military, the environment, education, jobs … because I hear you talk about them and I know that a lot of what you believe just isn’t true. It’s not supported by anything, other than the false prophets you’ve been listening too. It hurts me, because I know that you are enabling the very worst of humanity when you do this. It hurts me for you.
I’m asking you now, please, despite your fears, open your hearts. Do you really think I would say this stuff because …. because what? What do you think when you actually hear someone saying these things? We’re lying? No, we’re not. Could you, please, take a moment, hear what I’m saying, consider it.
I know there are worrisome things going on in your lives. Industries are changing. Health care is difficult, sometimes impossible. That’s happening in my life too. We can, in the spirit of love, kindness, and cooperation, talk about these issues, find solutions to them together, not as some either/or, zero sum game, but as living human beings, maneuvering in this unwieldy and confusing thing called life. Being respectful of my life does not mean disrespect for yours. Being respectful of any other human being and the choices they make in their lives, or the facts of their births, does not mean disrespect for yours. Yes, there are some for whom that’s true, but I’m begging you, here and now, with all my heart, don’t be one of them. I pledge to you I won’t be.
Please, join me.
I really can’t take much more of the ignorance and arrogance around the 2016 election. But before I completely lose my mind, let me tell you why I support Bernie Sanders. And Hillary Clinton.
In short, it’s because both of them on a bad day are far more human than anyone on the Republican side, and that’s what I look for first and foremost in a candidate. Humanity.
The long version starts there, makes note of the reality of the political system we use in this country (two parties, electoral college, primary delegates, caucuses, money), and sorts through a bunch of issues before coming to a conclusion.
Our political system worked fairly well in the 18th Century. There were parties, but nothing like what we have now. Sure, voting was limited to land-owning white men, but at least the president was generally someone who could be counted on to think. Up maybe until Andrew Jackson, that son of a bitch, but that’s another story. And I’m not really interested right now in what it was like in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
The 20th Century is another story and, by extension, the 21st. The reality of what we’re left with now isn’t pretty, and it isn’t good. Thanks to Citizens United, it’s even worse than it was before. Bernie Sanders has practically based his entire campaign for president on the money aspect of our system, which is a really big deal, because our entire economic system is tied to how money works in politics, to that entire money=power thing.
Bernie’s position on this is a BIG plus. He’s ahead of Hillary on that regard, but Hillary is not back on the Republican end. Yes, she’s given speeches to banks. Yes, she raises a lot of money from rich people. So? That is how our political system works, unfortunately, and I’m not gonna fault her for that. She opposes Citizens United, and she called for reform of the banking system while she was a senator and BEFORE the recession got really bad.
You can call Hillary a corporate schill, or, as a Bernie surrogate did just today, a corporate whore, but you’d be wrong. Still, she is not as good as Bernie here.
Score: Bernie 10, Hillary 5, any Republican 0
And, prior to his presidential campaign, Bernie did the same thing. He attended big fundraisers, he courted big donors, and he gave speeches. That’s what politicians do, and despite what some of you think, Bernie Sanders is a politician. Interestingly, Bernie Sanders might not even be in Congress if it weren’t for the Democratic Party, which doesn’t back candidates against him in Vermont, by design. Minus one point for both candidates, just for being politicians.
Score Bernie 9, Hillary 4, any Republican 0
On gay rights, Bernie and Hillary are pretty even. I know a lot of you like to say that Hillary only recently came on board, but that’s not true. It is true that she more recently backed same-sex marriage, which is also true of Bernie – he backed civil unions and said that the matter should be left up to the states. Both of them have backed non-discrimination for a looooong time. Ten points for both.
Score: Bernie 19, Hillary 14, any Republican 0
I am utterly opposed to war. Utterly. I cannot think of a good reason to kill anyone. I’m not saying there isn’t one, but I can’t think of it. Maybe self-defense, although there are ways around that too. But war, that’s what we’re on about here. Bernie voted against the Iraq war. Plus 10. Hillary voted for it. Minus 10. Bernie voted for funding the war every single time it came up. Minus 10 (and please don’t start with the “he was voting to support the troops thing. He voted to fund killing people. If he’s so principled he can’t vote for the auto industry bailout that saved thousands of American jobs, he shouldn’t vote to fund war. Dennis Kucinich didn’t). Hillary admitted her vote for the war was a mistake and apologized. Plus 10. Hillary and Libya, Minus 5. Bernie and Saudi Arabia, minus 5. Syria: Minus 5 for both. Veterans issues: Plus 5 for Bernie, plus 3 for Hillary, and the Republicans get 3.
Score: Bernie 14, Hillary 7, any Republican 3
Women’s issues: Hillary has been on this for a very long time. She gets a plus 10. Bernie has been good on these issues, but they’ve never been a priority. Plus 9. Any Republican gets minus 10.
Score: Bernie 23, Hillary 17, any Republican 0
Civil Rights: Bernie got arrested. Plus 5. Hillary’s been working more quietly in civil rights for decades. Plus 5. Bernie spoke against Bill’s crime bill, but voted for it. 0 points. He campaigned on it until the mid-2000s. Minus 5. Hillary spoke out in favor of it. Minus 5. She admitted it was a bad bill. Plus 5. Neither candidate are good enough demilitarizing our police, although Bernie slightly better. Minus 3 Hillary, minus 1 Bernie.
Bernie 17, Hillary 19, any Republican 0
Guns: Ten points each for supporting sane gun laws, minus 3 for Bernie for supporting the lawsuit exemption.
Bernie 24, Hillary 29, any Republican 0
Workers: Plus 10 for Bernie. He is an old school socialist. Plus 5 for Hillary for being mostly good but sometimes a corporate schill.
Bernie 34, Hillary 34, any Republican 0
Healthcare: Plus 10 for Bernie for pushing for single payer. Plus 5 for Hillary.
Bernie 44, Hillary 39, any Republican 0
Education: I like the tuition free thing a lot but Hillary’s proposals are good too. Hard choice here. Plus 10 for Bernie, plus 7 for Hillary.
Bernie 54, Hillary 46, any Republican 0
Working on the downticket: Bernie, Bernie, Bernie. Bad, dude. Minus 5. Hillary plus ten. Bernie gets a point back for supporting three candidates for the House. But only 3, and because they support him.
Bernie 50, Hillary 56, any Republican 0
National Security: Bernie a big no on the Patriot Act and all its ridiculousness, Hillary votes for, a few times, but is concerned about the NSA. Bernie plus 10, Hillary plus 2.
Bernie 60, Hillary 58, any Republican 0
Bernie loses two more points for too much “us v them” in his stump speeches, as if the world were just black and white, and his myopic focus on economic issues. They’re important, but so are a lot of other things.
Bernie 58, Hillary 58, any Republican 0
And a late breaking one, Honduras: Clinton minus 5.
Bernie 58, Hillary 53, any Republican 0
So there it is. Final score, Bernie 58, Hillary 53, any of the Republican candidates, off the chart.
There are tons of other positions, with very little difference on any of them and none that would really affect the final scoring. They’re pretty close, as you can see, over all. You may believe there’s a huge difference, and you have a right to believe what you want. You may give weight to some positions more than others. I do too, but not so much that any one of these positions would trump any other one. The only one that might do that is one not listed here, and that’s the Supreme Court. Obviously, Hillary and Bernie come out equal on that. If I allowed scores to go below zero, Republicans would probably get minus 1,000,000 on that one. But the real bottom line is that if a Republican gets in the White House this year, the Supreme Court will remain conservative for the foreseeable future, and decisions like Citizens United will not only remain in place, they’ll be bolstered by more foolishness. You may think that would engender a revolution, but it won’t. We don’t live in the 18th Century. We live in the 21st.
I’ve left out all the trust bullshit. It’s ridiculous, on both sides, and in the case against Clinton, largely Republican talking points updated from the mid-1990s, when, incidentally, Elizabeth Warren was an actual Republican. Email, not a scandal. Benghazi, not a scandal. Whitewater, not a scandal. Etc.
What this all boils down to is that, while I believe idealism is a great thing for keeping in mind what’s possible, it has little place in the realities of an election, so giving Bernie extra points for promising unicorn ponies would be silly. I’m not gonna take away from him for that either, though, nor am I giving points or taking away points for Hillary’s pragmatism.
I’m also not fond of hyperbole, for example, those who think this is our “last chance” to something something something. It’s not. We’ll have another one in two years, or less if you live somewhere that votes on odd years. It’s critical, yes, but we’re not going to implode if Bernie Sanders loses in November. Here’s what’s not hyperbole: If a Republican wins, it will take at least a generation to regain the ground we lose, and in that time, we move closer to an implosion. If a Democrat wins – any Democrat – we survive to fight another day.
My primary is over. I voted for Bernie. Hillary won, handily. I encourage everyone who hasn’t voted yet to vote for Bernie. I also encourage everyone to get over your self-righteousness and make sure we don’t get a Trump, Cruz, Kasich, Ryan or whoever the Republicans put up – because there are no moderates in that party anymore – in the White House come next January. If you think letting the Republicans have the White House is “what America deserves,” then get out. Go somewhere more to your liking, because the America I live in doesn’t deserve that. An apocalypse is an apocalypse. It’s not good for anybody, and nobody deserves it.
So start working at your local, state and congressional level to reform the electoral process, because it needs it badly, from the primaries to the general election. Work to make sure no one can gerrymander Congressional districts. Don’t wait until the next presidential election. 2014 was a bad, bad year, because a lot of you didn’t vote. Now you’re voting. Good. Don’t stop. Learn how the process works and what we need to do to change it.
Never stop dreaming, but temper those dreams with reality, and never, ever lose sight of the humanity of all of us.
That means listen. Talk with instead of to. Never assume you understand anything more than what’s right in front of you, and question that.
Stand firm, but not rigid. You could be wrong, and those who disagree with you aren’t deluded, evil, stupid, or corporate whores. Avoid extremes. It’s too easy to slip into either/or from there, and very little can be safely classified like that. Look for allies instead of enemies. You may be surprised where they are. Look to the big picture first, then the bigger picture, then come back to the path to get there.
We can do this, and we don’t have to do it with vitriol. We can do it with our humanity.