Wednesday, June 25, 2014

An Open Letter to Texas Democrats

One year ago today, I stood in the rotunda of the Texas Capitol among a sea of orange, speckled here and there with huddled clusters of blue.  I saw my friend Nakia, and she said to me, "you won't get into the gallery.  No one's leaving.  Come to the auditorium, we're watching it stream live downstairs."

So we herded in, and I saw more friends and familiar faces.  Hello, oh you're here, I'm so glad, isn't it exciting?  What's happening, who's that, what did he just say, isn't Donna Campbell just awful?  We held our breath, watching Senator Wendy Davis filibuster.  Occasionally we explained pieces of parliamentary procedure to one another.  We made note of those who stopped her, to ask long-winded procedural questions (and then to ask for those questions to be repeated and clarified) and extend her time -- just as we made note of her opponents.  Come next November, we said, we will remember all of you.

When Senator van de Putte entered the chamber, having driven from her father's funeral, a whisper went through the auditorium, rising to a righteous cheer.  We could do this, we thought.  They have to listen to us, we said to one another.  Older activists, those of us who recall the so-called Summer of Mercy in 1991, said, "This won't stop the law, it won't stop them from trying, but we are being heard.  We have risen, and we will not return to quiescence easily."

At one point, a woman near the center called out for a doctor, for EMS; someone had collapsed.  We made way for the paramedics, and dozens of women called reassurance to our fallen sister.  We assured her we would hold faith in her stead, we would stand for her as she was wheeled away.

As midnight approached, the other side became desperate, and then they began to break rules and to make them up, to ignore questions and speakers and procedure.  You could have heard a pin drop as Senator van de Putte stood and asked her now-famous question:  "At what point must a female Senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues in the room?"

And that was the signal, the trigger.

I remember very little about the next couple of hours, so much as that NOISE.  It had a weight, a mass of its own, compressed and vibrating against the walls.  We watched an ineffectual little man slam his hand and his gavel, shouting his mistake:  "This vote will not proceed until we have order!"  Order was nowhere to be found, and midnight passed, the session closed and the vote unrecorded.  Thanks to Senator Hinojosa, we still have record of the Republicans' attempt to record the vote illegally, and then pretend they had not.  And still the noise went on.  Chanting shouting screaming clapping laughing cheering crying, that wall of sound began to build a house where women could live safely.

That week, I was being treated for severe anemia, unable to stand for very long or walk very far, and that noise knocked me literally off my feet.  I faintly remember my friend, who had called me into the auditorium, telling me that troopers might be called to remove us, so we removed ourselves, filing out into the hallway and up the stairs into the rotunda.  And over our noise...THEIRS.  A rolling thunder cascading from the gallery, a roar of defiance and a thing of beauty.  I felt the world move, and begin to change beneath my feet.  In that moment, we were power incarnate.

So why, now, do I feel sad, unmotivated, disillusioned?

On this historic day, I've received seven e-mails from Texas Democrats.  Some are from the Davis campaign, some are from the van de Putte campaign, and some are from other Democrats on behalf of the campaigns.  I don't even read them any more.  I keep unsubscribing and still more come, from a new committee, campaign, or public figure each day.

Every day for the last year, I've received them.  Senator Davis runs to me to lay each fresh offense from the Republicans at my feet, and ask me for money to fight them.  Senator van de Putte tells me how we will beat them if only I will stand with her, and give her money.  Just five dollars.  Do I know about this woman who can't afford to give ten dollars a month, so she gives just seven-fifty?  How much can I be like her?  Have I heard the latest thing to be outraged about, and does it motivate me to open my wallet?

Senator Davis, Senator van de Putte, Texas Democrats, please listen to me.

Stop.  Just, stop.

Stop asking me for money, stop pointing at outrages, stop telling me at every turn about the newest mean thing the GOP has said.  I never heard about Abortion Barbie but from you, and you told me five times.  Stop telling me that we're going to fight them, we're not going to let them win, we're going to throw it all back in their faces.  You cannot light the fire of my heart with anger or indignation.

Tell me, instead, how qualified you are to lead.  Tell me what your vision *is* for my beloved adoptive state of Texas.  How will you draw green industry?  How will you manage the fracking concerns?  How will you improve children's healthcare options?  What will your energy policy be?  What on earth are you going to do about the schools, the roads, the trees, the fires?  Tell me, because you have not bothered to do so yet, what moves you besides fighting anti-choice advocates.

If I am willing to look, sure I can find platforms and positions and stated goals; I have to seek them out, though, take the initiative and do the work for them.  By contrast, every single day, Senators Davis and van de Putte bring their hurts, their angers, their resentments and their outrages to my inbox, hand-feeding me with them so that I'll be groomed to provide the funding they so desperately need.  I cannot live on this diet.

In 2008, I joined Barack Obama's primary campaign, and donated all I could afford in time and money to help him get to the White House.  I did it because, undecided and unsure he could even win, I went to hear him speak and he spoke to me of what he wanted to do, to achieve, to accomplish.  He spoke un-ironically of hope, of the belief in civic duty, of a sincere and specifically articulated vision for America.

I doubt they will ever read my words, but I have to say them nonetheless.  Senator Davis, Senator van de Putte, I want women of vision and purpose in government, and I believe you are women of vision and purpose.  I have faith in you, I want to support you.  As it stands right now, I will vote for you.  But I am not moved to anything more by what I have thus far seen.

I want to feel, rising through my chest, that roar that shook the nation a year ago today.  I want to feel the steps of the Capitol shake beneath my feet again, to weep with joy at the solidarity, the beauty of motivated women and men united not in hate or fear or anger, but in hope and love and fierce passion for one another's freedoms.

Senators, I am a woman of power and passion and prodigious vocabulary, all of which I would put at your disposal.  The fires that burn inside of me are strong enough to light the world, and I will add them to your own.  I will give you more than my vote and my money; I will give you my loyalty and my heart.

I will walk through flood and fire and righteous fury to follow you.

But you must lead me.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meandering Through Maslow

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs outlines the journey from 'survival' to 'self-actualization'.  It's based in the premise that before you can deal with emotional needs, introspection, or personal growth, you have to begin by ensuring the simpler needs, and that once the simpler needs are addressed, you are able to turn your focus to meeting other, more social and philosophical needs.

Mostly, I think that Maslow's hierarchy appeals to me because it's in direct opposition to the idea that there's this inherent nobility in being poor, an idea I think people embrace rather than address the systemic inequality and injustice that cause poverty, but that's not what I'm really thinking on today.

What I am thinking about is how Maslow's idea seems to be based in the idea of evolving hungers.  When my body is fed, and rested, and my pure physical needs are met, then I can start thinking about safety.  Once I am in a secure place, then I can begin building relationships and community.  It continues on, with each need met introducing another need to meet.  We are, perhaps, destined to be perpetually unfulfilled, and in seeking fulfillment we do our most amazing work.

When I look at that pyramid of needs, at every level I see the same thing: find what feeds you.  On a deeper level, it makes me fully aware that a life well-lived isn't measured by how much you earned, or owned.  It's not determined by either the quality or the number of your relationships.  I don't even call how you changed the world an effective measure of a well-lived life.  For me, it's all in the answer to this question:

How much of what you do feeds you?

How much of your life fuels you?  When you consume, do you consume selectively, choosing things and ideas you can use as beneficial resources and building blocks, or do you consume emptily, just to fill a space?  When you create, do you light up your work with the active fire of a joyful spirit?  Are your relationships productive, nurturing, supportive and fun, or do you fill your time with people you don't hate, because it's better than being alone?  When you give your energy, your name, your focus, your love to a thing, does the end result nourish you in some way?

Last week I asked the question, "If there are things in your life that don't bring you joy, why do you do them?  Do you have a plan for replacing them with things that do?"  So many people cited "I have to pay the bills" and "I am obligated to do them," but they missed the larger question, one I've been asking myself a lot lately.  If there are large chunks of your life (for a lot of folks, they seem to occupy, oh, about eight hours a day...) that are just place holders, marking time until retirement, or death, or even just the weekend, then that's a third of your life you're giving up each workday without even fighting for it.  If there are relationships you maintain because you're afraid ending them will mean you failed or because you just can't bring yourself to walk away, then you're giving love to people who don't value it, or you, as they should.

So I find myself asking, what am I going to do to replace the parts of my life that don't feed me with things that do?  I certainly can't quit my job tomorrow and run away to...

Well, now, that's the problem, isn't it?  What is it, exactly, that feeds me, that would fill my life with purpose, excitement, and joy?  I have no idea.  When I was younger, I agonized over potential career paths, because I was certain that somewhere, on one of them, was the key to that soul-deep sense of a fulfilling life of purpose.  I never found it, or even got any indication where I should look.  I know on the small scale, the things that bring me joy.  Good friends.  Good food.  Reading until the wee hours of the morning.  A great glass of wine.  Writing, hiking, taking pictures.  Serving my community.  Helping my loved ones in ways that make them stronger and happier in the long run.

On the larger scale, what I really don't have is an idea of how to bend the larger arc of my life.  I can't think of a vocation or a career change that would fulfill me, I don't see a path I should be walking.  I have fed all the obvious hungers, with food or sex or sleep or creature comforts or friendships, and now I am faced with the hunger for a joyful life, and I find it significantly more complicated to meet that appetite.

I can't make a whiplash life shift, and I don't believe that's the answer in any case.  What I can do is stop feeding what doesn't feed me, and look for ways to replace the things in my life that don't contribute to my overall happiness and greater joy with things that do.  I just have to give up on the idea that I'm going to suddenly discover some grand and magnificent purpose that will click into place and turn my ambling, meandering life path into a clear trajectory towards a coherent and defined goal.