Phone Calls After My Uncle’s Death

CN: Suicide, grief, family stuff

My uncle died by suicide, last Monday. Mom called to tell me that night. It wasn’t totally unexpected, though I know Mom and others tried very hard for a long time to help. I was never close with him, haven’t seen him in around 20 years, and we weren’t close while I was growing up. For ME, this isn’t a personal loss.

But for Mom it is clearly a profound loss. She sounded vulnerable and heartbroken on the phone on Monday in a way I don’t think I’ve really heard from her before. It was, I think, the first time she ever really reached out to me for emotional support. She called me before my brother. She didn’t call to pass on information. She called because she needed to hear that I’m safe, that I love her, and that I’m here for her.

I told her I’m so sorry. I told her I love her, and that Spouse and I are safe and well. I told her I’d come to the funeral with her if she wanted (she doesn’t want me to, for complicated but good reasons). I told her to let me know if there is anything else I can do. I told her that I unfortunately know something about going through this kind of loss, and I know it’s particularly hard.

I never want to hear that pain in Mom’s voice again. I wish I could protect her from all of the loss that is likely to come in her life as she ages. But I am also so grateful to have the kind of relationship with her now that she will call me when she needs comfort. I want to be here for her. Mom and I struggled and worked hard to build a good relationship. My childhood was hard and we were adversaries much more often than allies. As time passes we continue to learn and grow, now as more than just allies, but as companions.

I ache for Mom’s loss, and for the pain my uncle must have been in. I am also incredibly grateful that she and I are in a place now where I can be there for her. Families are complicated, but I am glad I have mine.

Phone Calls After My Uncle’s Death
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Just Do Something

I know not everyone is able to participate in every kind of resistance that we are told to do. Our diversity of strengths and abilities is a big part of what makes movements to resist fascism great.

Those of us who can lobby our lawmakers in person should do that. In person lobbying is absolutely the most effective form of telling your representatives what you want.

Those of us who can call should. Write scripts, or use scripts written by others, to help. I believe the people who tell me it’s effective.

Those of us who can’t call should write. I’m told paper letters are better than email. Handwritten apparently better than typed? But fuck no I’m not handwriting a letter because my handwriting sucks. Writing letters, or even emails, is better than no action at all. Just because you can’t do the most effective thing doesn’t mean you don’t do the somewhat effective thing.

Those of us who can protest should. Those of us who can punch Nazis should, if we have a good opportunity. Those of us who can occupy airports today should. Those of us who can sit outside our lawmaker’s offices should. Those of us who can donate money should. Those of us who can write should. Those of us who can create protest art, and songs, and t-shirts, and signs should. Those of us who can feed protesters should. Those of us who can elevate the voices, in real life and online, of those who are most marginalized should. Those of us who can talk to family, friends, and co-workers about resistance should. Those of us who can dig into arguing with conservatives should. Those of us who can troll the comments sections of Brietbart should.

Feed someone’s pets while they’re out of town protesting or occupying. Knit. Paint. Sit and have quiet frank conversations with uncertain family members. Raise socially conscious children. Recycle. Make one phone call to a lawmaker or a thousand. Drive someone to the polls on the next election day. Design an incredible protest sign even if you can’t be the one to carry it. Glitter bomb a fascist. Scream in the face of a racist. Buy a drink for an exhausted lobbyist. Hug an immigration lawyer.

Just do something.

Just Do Something

Not Telling You Who To Be Attracted To

I recently participated in a discussion on Facebook about the word “sapiosexual” and how it is ableist, among other problems. While many responses were good, several people objected, claiming that we were telling them who they should be attracted to or who they should sleep with. I’ve seen this with many other discussions about people’s attractions related to race, weight, and other traits as well. Someone usually comes into those discussions and says “I can’t help who I’m attracted to! I can’t just decide to be attracted to someone!”

I think what isn’t clear to some people is that we’re not asking people to be attracted to people they’re not attracted to. Rather, when someone’s preferences are in line with some axis of oppression, it’s worth examining how society has lead us to those preferences. It is absolutely not true that our desires exist in a vacuum – they’re a product of our culture, and our biases.

In other words, if you find you are only attracted to white people, it would be a good idea to examine your feelings about race. If you find you are only attracted to thin people, you may have underlying negative feelings about fat people. If you only are attracted to people you deem to be “smart enough” it’s likely you need to think hard about your ideas about intelligence. If you defend these preferences aggressively when someone points out you may be coming from a place of prejudice, then you especially need to examine your biases – they’re showing.

In fact, there is evidence that prejudice corresponds with sexual attraction in these cases. Last year an Australian study found “Sexual racism, therefore, is closely associated with generic racist attitudes, which challenges the idea of racial attraction as solely a matter of personal preference.” Body size preferences also seem to be influenced by culture, according to this study which found “The universality of an ideal [waist-to-height ratio] is thus challenged, and historical changes in western societies could have caused these variations in men’s preferences.” In other words, our culture and the biases of that culture influence our sexual preferences.

No one is saying you have to be attracted to people you’re not attracted to. Attraction doesn’t generally work that way. However, since attraction is in part based on our subconscious biases and prejudices, we can use our attractions to help us better recognize in what areas we may be judging people unfairly. Furthermore, I suspect working to become less racist, sizeist, ableist, and otherwise oppressive will likely change our sexual preferences over time. Challenging our own prejudices often changes many things about our views of the world, and I doubt that excludes our sexual outlooks.

Not Telling You Who To Be Attracted To

How I Prepare To Protest

I mentioned in my Beginners Guide to Protesting that it’s a good idea to carry food and water to a protest. This is true, but it’s not really the whole story. There are more things that many people recommend having with you, especially as you get more serious in terms of how long you want to spend out at a protest or how much risk you are willing to take on. I’d like to share here a bit more about what I wear and bring currently to a protest march, and what I’m going to start doing in the future.

I want to be clear here that these are my own choices, and reflect my own risk tolerance. The risks you are willing to take on may be higher or lower than mine. Your financial means may be higher or lower than mine as well.
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How I Prepare To Protest

A Beginners Guide to Protesting

If you have never attended a protest before, doing so for the first time can be kind of daunting. I was lucky enough to start as a teenager, before I was afraid of much, but I definitely sympathize with those who find the idea intimidating. I wanted to put together some of my perspective as a regular participant in, though never leader of, mass protests.

A little about my experience: I have participated in both spontaneous and well planned protests. I have been in big mass marches like the Millennium March on Washington and in many small marches and protests. I have participated in one large-scale occupation, at the Wisconsin Capitol in 2011. Some protests I have been in have been unchallenged by police, while others (especially BLM protests) have been more adversarial, though I have never been in a situation where riot control tactics like tear gas have been used. I have taken one official training on civil disobedience, but have never been arrested. Yet.

In fact, for many people my experience may be exactly what you hope to gain – participation in protests without ending up in dangerous situations. That’s pretty reasonable. While movements sometimes need people who are willing to take more serious risks, they also need boots on the ground, bodies in the crowd, people willing to show up and be heard. Protesting is less dangerous than many people think, and it is absolutely possible to do it and protect yourself at the same time. Once you’re comfortable with the safer parts of protesting you may want to re-assess your risk tolerance and decide if you are willing to take on more risk for greater possible impact, but I want to encourage you to get out there for the first time.

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A Beginners Guide to Protesting

A Reading List On Fascism

Reading about history, and specifically the history Nazi Germany, has been a hobby of mine for several years. A few people have asked me for some suggestions on reading material lately, due to the rise of fascism in the United States, so I decided to put it here. Please consider contributing your own suggestions in the comments!

Books I have already read:

Fascism: A Very Short Introduction is an excellent and quick basic introduction to the primary aspects of fascist movements. It will give a solid understanding of how to define fascism and some of the similarities and differences between the major fascist governments of the World War II era. It’s academic in nature, but actually pretty approachable.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany and The Coming of the Third Reich are both good introductions to the basic history of Nazi Germany. They both have weaknesses and strengths. The first is a complete history through the end of the WWII, while the second is the first in a series. Also, the first was written decades earlier than the second, and therefore more was known by the time Evans wrote his series. Either would give a stronger understanding of the basic history of how the Third Reich developed and gained power.

Nazi Years: A Documentary History provides a lot of first hand sources of writings from the years leading up to and during the Third Reich. The thought of trying to read through a lot of the original texts myself was staggeringly daunting, but this text is an excellently curated sampling that gets right down to the important parts.

Online resources worth reading:

Honestly, the Wikipedia page on German resistance is totally worth a read and a good way to figure out what further you might want to know. While any Wikipedia information is only a start and not the end to research, this article has been built with detail and care. On the other hand, there are areas that require more cited sources and I’d love to see those sources provided.

Technically a listening, rather than reading recommendation, but the Stuff You Missed in History Class has a good episode on the White Rose resistance within Germany. There’s a transcript there too if that is better for you. In general the White Rose resistance movement is something I want to learn a lot more about right now and that podcast is only a start. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum also has an article about the White Rose group, with a resources list I intend to dive into.

My new reading list:

I have just begun reading The Origins of Totalitarianism as it came highly recommended. So far I’m finding it a little dated but I hope to gain some insight from it.

To The Bitter End is a first hand account of the military resistance to Hitler. I can’t wait to read this. Although none of the assassination attempts on Hitler succeeded, I hope this account will provide insight on what else could have been done to stop the Nazi’s at any point before or during their power.

A Reading List On Fascism

Your Vote is Oppressive if The Effects Are Oppressive

Back when the Brexit vote happened I saw a lot of people saying that they voted for Brexit but simultaneously claimed that they are not racist. They argued that their reasons for supporting leaving the European Union were other than xenophobia, and therefore they should not be held responsible for the racial consequences of the voting results. However, many of the arguments for Brexit were overtly racist, leaving the EU may have major ramifications on immigration, and hate crimes have skyrocketed since the vote.

When the effect of an action is increased power for a majority group and negative consequences for oppressed groups, it doesn’t matter what the purported reason for that action is. If your policy, action, or vote has racist, sexist, or ableist impacts then it doesn’t matter what your intention is – you are responsible for the oppressive impacts of that action. It doesn’t matter that pro-Brexit voters think of themselves as not being racist, they supported a racist action with racist impacts and that is what matters.

Tomorrow the United States will finally conclude a long election process. A Donald Trump presidency has the potential to be the most actively oppressive presidency in memory. A vote for Hillary Clinton is the only action that can have the effect of avoiding that future. Any other action – voting third party, refusing to vote, or writing in a candidate – has the effect of increasing the risk of an oppressive future. While Clinton’s policy positions and record may not match yours, or my, preferences perfectly, it is the EFFECT of our votes that matter. A third party vote, for example, may have the effect of putting into power a fascist demagogue no matter what the voter’s intention may be.

Furthermore, this same is true for elections for Senate, Congressional seats, and state and local elections. Our actions in this election matter only insofar as the effect they have. Certain votes will increase the likelihood of a seriously frightening future, while others decrease that risk. I will be voting on Tuesday with all of this in mind. I will vote to block a Donald Trump presidency, and to attempt to deny the GOP control of the Senate. I will vote in my state and local elections for a future that doesn’t uplift the extremists that Trump has emboldened.

Your Vote is Oppressive if The Effects Are Oppressive

The Importance of People

I am taking a class this quarter called Philosophy of God. While covering the work of Sigmund Freud we briefly touched on the question of whether or not humans are important if there is no God. The consensus of my (mostly religious) class was that of course Atheists must see humans as unimportant because God is what makes humans important. I knew that many people think this of Atheists (as well as thinking that we can’t have morals), but it was interesting to sit and listen to people discuss this idea in the context of the work of a non-believer who spent his long career studying the minds of humans. How could Freud have considered people unimportant while simultaneously spending so much ink on the inner workings of the human mind?
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The Importance of People

Missing Niki

When I started playing the Mass Effect series I named my Commander Shepherd “Niki.” Niki Massey was such a geek. She loved those games, especially around the time I played through them, and naming my character for her felt appropriate and I loved and gushing about the game together on Twitter. I was so grateful to her for talking about her love for those games because I would not have gotten to enjoy them without her.

Others have written beautifully about who Niki was, but I knew her best as a geek. Niki and I first met at Convergence, when I was a timid newbie to the Skepchick network, and she was incredibly friendly to me there. Two years later when I returned to Convergence we geeked out about her new costume together and shared in our mix of both loving, and struggling with, the party atmosphere. Niki understood my conflict with that perhaps better than anyone else, but over and over she dressed fabulously (I adored her cool outerspace dress) and turned out to party because she cared so deeply for her community of geeky atheist friends.

When we talked it was about video games and cats. Niki was accepting and welcoming of me and my friendship in an intense way I treasure when I find it. Everyone who knew her knew that Niki accepted no bullshit, but she was also able to see good in people and accepted me without hesitation.

What Niki was able to accept so easily in me and others, she struggled with accepting in herself. It is sometimes harder to deal with our own weaknesses or struggles than those others experience, and she was no exception to this. She could be HARD on herself, and reassuring her of her value didn’t always work. Now, though, all I want is more time to tell her over and over how important she is to me.

But I can’t.

Missing Niki