July 17, 2017

Allies and alienation

Posted in Marginalization, Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:29 pm by chavisory

The last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time baffled and confused about many of the ways that activist communities talk to and about allies.

Until I realized that what “ally” means now…isn’t really what it meant, or what I took it to mean, when I was younger.

Around 10-15 years ago, in the contexts in which I was involved, “ally” had more of a connotation—or at least, I thought it did—of people or communities who were similarly marginalized making common cause, out of recognition that the prejudices against us worked similarly and had similar effects and implications, and that no one was truly free while anyone was not.

When I started having more contact with communities of activists again a few years ago, I was very shocked, for a while, to hear allies consistently spoken of with such disdain because that wasn’t my experience of the concept at all. I don’t know when things changed and “ally” came to mean something rather different.

Finally I started to suspect that this difference in experience as to the concept of allies may underlie a lot of miscommunication and strife, at least in part…

I see things like this, and I think…we may be talking about different things.

allies

Because when one group of people says “don’t alienate allies,” they mean,

Don’t show any anger or resentment that might be difficult or unpalatable to clueless privileged people. Don’t be abrasive. Don’t raise your voice. Be unfailingly non-confrontational at all times. Never tell me I’m wrong.

And people who claim the identity of “ally,” but behave like that, exist. They do.

But when another group of people says “don’t alienate allies,” they mean,

Don’t perpetrate the same forms of mistreatment, psychological abuse, and bigotry against other vulnerable people as both of you have already been injured by. Don’t recycle those very same dynamics into your own communities and belief structures. You can only hurt and alienate people that way who are already hurt and alienated.

 

I am not an ally*, but yes, I am alienated.

I mean, of course, you shouldn’t be able to alienate allies from their beliefs or support for your cause by not being nice enough because deeply-held beliefs about human rights shouldn’t be based on whether or not an arbitrary group of people is nice enough to you. It should be a matter of right and wrong. If a position on the human rights of a group of people is that easily shaken, it’s not a conviction, it’s just expedient.

So no, you should be able to alienate allies from their positions by not being “nice enough.”

But you can absolutely alienate people from wanting anything to do with you by being addicted to cruelty, by celebrating hatred, by re-enacting highly recognizable patterns of emotional abuse and coercion, by pursuing an agenda of upsetting people for the sheer sake of it, and by an alarming dedication to ends-justify-the-means reasoning.

These are the things that have alienated me from communities that I, at least in theory, belong to. I’ve been alienated by being told that other people know better than me what I think and what I feel and that I need to simply accept that. I’ve been alienated by demands not to use my own critical thinking or judgment or conscience, or to lie about my own life because that would make it more convenient to someone else’s politics. I’ve been alienated by gossip and smear campaigns and hypocrisy. I’ve been alienated by unwillingness to distinguish between missteps and malice and by embrace of the social control tactics of evangelical fundamentalism and outright abuser logic (“the fact that you’re defensive means you’re wrong so just admit it and apologize”).

I’ve been alienated by rules for allies that I can neither follow, nor expect anyone else to, not as an ally but as a human.

If I see women saying they hate men or that men are trash (and garnering social media accolades for it), that doesn’t make me any less dedicated to the equal rights of women. It just makes me profoundly sad. Because I thought we were supposed to be the people who didn’t devalue people for their gender or their bodies. I thought we were the people who didn’t celebrate hatred.

So when I hear you say those things, it doesn’t make me less committed to justice, it just makes me think your values are crap.

These are not issues of niceness to me, but of ethics and integrity and core values.

I don’t actually think I’m a particularly nice person and “niceness” doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. But civility does. Kindness does. Intellectual honesty does. Ethical consistency does. Freedom of conscience and of self-reflection does.

My values are not shaken. But yes, I am alienated.

So I can only imagine how people on the outside, looking at how we treat people and wondering whether they dare wade into engaging seriously with activism or issues of social justice, may feel.

I’m not “worried” about alienating “allies.” I know that the way we treat people has consequences.

I do not believe that the fact of fighting back against oppression, of being angry, of calling injustice what it is, makes us “just as bad” as our oppressors, but I am worried about how we undermine our own supposed values, when our communities turn out to be very, very willing to engage in the exact same modes of abuse and anti-individualism and authoritarian thinking as our oppressors. I think that what we are and are not willing to do matters.

I don’t believe that our rightful anger is hatred, but I see actual hatred being valorized and yes, I worry.

I am not worried about people who only want to be “allies” if it gets them enough brownie points; I am worried about vulnerable people seeking a social justice-oriented community and being told that the price of admission to being a decent person is to accept being treated appallingly.

I worry about who we become when we accept that.

That’s what worries me.

That’s why I’m alienated.

*Yes, of course I believe in working to understand intersectionality and standing against injustice and battling oppression in all its forms, but the designation has acquired too many terms and conditions that I can’t consent to, so I will not use it for myself.

July 7, 2017

Because Medicaid is Investment in Freedom

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:21 am by chavisory

Hi everyone–I’m having a wild summer with not so much time for writing; I’ll be back very soon, but in the meantime, this is an absolute must-read post by Cal Montgomery about what Medicaid means to the lives and freedom of disabled people, and why we must defend it.

Watch Well

People are asking why disabled people are suddenly protesting. It’s not new. The disability rights movement grew out of other movements of people labelled “unable” so it’s hard to date its beginning, but it was well underway at least by the Congress of Milan nearly 140 years ago, when hearing people decided that to be equal you needed to speak and to understand speech and set about stamping out Deaf language and culture.  Although a great many Deaf people reject the label “disabled” that many other groups accept and even take pride in, their critique of “ability” is echoed by every other strand of the movement.

But I’ll tell you why disabled people are protesting right now.  It’s because Medicaid is an investment in freedom.

Filmmaker and activist Dominick Evans said this morning, “I am terrified of the health care bill…. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to…

View original post 2,640 more words

May 18, 2017

Love one another.

Posted in City life, Uncategorized tagged at 2:39 pm by chavisory

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[Image description:  Sidewalk chalk art reads “Love one another.  #HHNY” in pink, blue, and orange block lettering.]

April 17, 2017

Wandering cloud

Posted in City life, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:09 pm by chavisory

FullSizeRender 5Easter evening in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, for a friend’s birthday.

April 11, 2017

Dear rally organizers,

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:55 pm by chavisory

We need to talk.

Last week, I attended the Rally to Save the Arts in front of City Hall in NYC.

It was a really lovely rally in a lot of ways.  I’d been feeling not great the night before and considered not going, but David Byrne was supposed to speak.  I couldn’t miss that.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day outside, I met up with a friend waiting in line to get in, and I got to wear my “Noncompliance is a social skill” t-shirt.  The crowd was not large, but not bad for the middle of a week day, and there was even a little marching band, complete with drums and fifes, that showed up.

The memorial statue of Nathan Hale looked out over it all.

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We were all gathered on the City Hall steps flanking the podium where city council members and union representatives spoke.

And no one there could hear a damn thing.

There was no amplification for the assembled crowd.  There was a whole bouquet of microphones, but they seemed to only be there to feed sound to the television cameras–there was absolutely no amplification for those of us there in person.

We cheered and clapped when it seemed like we were supposed to.  Somebody tried to get a chant going, but no one could hear well enough to pick it up.  Somebody tried to start a sing-a-long of “Over the Rainbow,” but no one could hear well enough to follow and it fizzled out.

I stood less than 20 feet from David Byrne, but I did not get to hear him speak.

It was particularly, painfully ironic given that this was a Rally to Save the Arts.  At least half the people in the crowd, which included stage managers, musicians, and sound engineers, could probably have set up a sound system for them.

You absolutely need to consult a professional to set up appropriate amplification at your event.  Particularly when we’re talking about the importance of support for the arts, respect for the arts, and how Arts = Jobs (at least, I presume so, but I couldn’t really hear), it’s really…telling, when it’s obvious that you didn’t think to hire one to make sure your event goes the way it’s supposed to.  It’s also a matter of respect for your audience and rally participants.  We took time out of our days, we took off work, we made signs, we went waaaaay downtown.  Which is fine!  Everybody wants to do our part right now.  If it’s important that a lot of bodies show up for the TV cameras, you can say that!  But when we cannot so much as hear what’s going on at an event we came out to support, it kind of looks like you just see us as props.

This is 100% avoidable.

The other thing that happens is somebody did set up a sound system, but super obviously didn’t soundcheck, or doesn’t know how to prevent things like popping and feedback, leading to scenes like the Rally for Planned Parenthood in Washington Square Park earlier this winter, where virtually every time somebody moved on stage, I wound up huddled on the ground clutching my ears in pain while the people I was with asked if I was okay.  Yes, I have more-than-typical hearing for neurological reasons, but I also work in the performing arts, I attend rock concerts on a semi-regular basis without any problem, and I know this is not inevitable.

There are people who do this professionally.  Please find one.  Make sure the message  you worked so hard at crafting can actually be heard.

March 28, 2017

Restoration

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 12:51 am by chavisory

Got to see something incredibly cool this past week.  I’ve been working on a staged reading of a new musical that did a presentation up in Binghamton/Johnson City, NY, at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage.  Next door is the Goodwill Theatre, which will eventually, when restored, be part of a four-venue performing arts complex.  Our technical director was kind enough to take us on a guided tour.

It was a vaudeville house before it became a movie theater, one of the first in the country to show X-rated films before abandonment in the 1970’s or early ’80’s.

IMG_2216View of the stage from back of the house.  The un-amplified sound from the stage is almost unbelievable.

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Domed ceiling.

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Fly space.

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Old note from the stage manager!

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View from stage.

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Second floor passageway to balcony seating and restrooms.

I feel incredibly privileged to get to do the job I do a lot of the time, but especially when I get to have experiences like this.

March 16, 2017

Coping with the world–yeah, we get it.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:58 am by chavisory

{This post references the comments made here.}

Once, when I was still a stage management intern, I was assistant stage managing a show on which I was having a lot of trouble and just generally felt like I couldn’t keep up. Some of the reasons why I was having such a hard time under those particular circumstances are much more clear to me in retrospect, and some are honestly still a mystery. There were blind spots and skill deficits on my part involved. There were certain ways in which I was ill-prepared that both were and weren’t my fault. There were other factors at play that didn’t originate with me at all. But it certainly wasn’t that I was just being lazy or not trying or didn’t care enough.

I was having a talk about it with the production stage manager one day—I could see well enough even then that she was overwhelmed and unhappy herself—about why I was having so much difficulty doing the job she expected from me, and she said to me something along the lines of:

“You know, you’re going to have to take jobs sometimes that you don’t love just to pay the bills.”

I have possibly never wanted to hit someone in the face so badly as I did right then.

Not just because that was so not the issue. Not just because she was displaying no comprehension at all of how hard I was trying but just hitting some kind of internal brick wall that I couldn’t fully comprehend. Although both of those things were true.

But because… doing what I had to do just to get by, pushing myself into things that I didn’t really want to do because I didn’t think I had a choice… had been my whole entire fucking life for almost as long as I could even remember.

She said it the same way that people had always tended to say painfully obvious things about my own life to me as if they were concepts I’d just never been presented with before:

“Emily, you have to understand that not everyone is like you.”

“Emily, you’re going to have to learn to work with people different from you.”

“Emily, you have to realize that not everyone can do what you do.”

With all due respect: No shit, Sherlock.

I was rather overly familiar with the concept that I was going to have to do things I didn’t love to get by. I’d done a lot of jobs I didn’t love, and I would do a lot more. I’d done a lot of things that were hard and unpleasant and violating just to prove I could or would do anything I had to do. I had done awful things to myself.

And she had decided I was just being snotty and spoiled instead, when actually she just had no idea.

The way I felt in that moment—that violently sinking, helpless, unspeakably sad feeling of hearing your whole life erased in a single instant, in a single arrogant comment, and knowing that nothing you can say to defend yourself will matter—is about the same way I feel when we write intricately and agonizingly about both the internal and external obstacles we face as autistic people, about the injustice and damage of being erased from our own lives, about our rights and choices being made contingent on how well we can just pretend not to be disabled, and someone says something like

“It’s about ability to cope in the world.”

Let me ask you something.

What on earth makes you think that we don’t know that our ability to cope in the world is at issue here?

Literally everything and everyone tells us, without ceasing, that our disabilities are going to affect our ability to be successful, and that we’re just making things harder for ourselves by being different, and that “you have to be able to cope with the world!”

We didn’t just not think of that.

We didn’t just not notice.

We get told every day how much our inability to cope with the world is a problem.

We get told every day how much the things we can’t do are a problem.

We get told every day how we’ll “never be able to make it in the real world if you can’t [whatever arbitrary thing is the issue today].” That “the world isn’t going to change for you.”

We know.

We notice that everything is harder for us.

We notice that we can’t do things that other people take for granted.

We notice that you look down on us for this.

We notice that we have far fewer chances to succeed, and that we have our choices and autonomy constrained because of other people’s estimation of our ability to cope with the world.

We notice when people decide that it’s their place to make things as hard and unfair for us as they think they should be, and the excuse is always that it’s about our ability to cope with the world.

We are the ones who bear all the consequences of what it becomes okay to do to us in the name of our “ability to cope with the world.”  Like deciding that you’re justified in whatever it takes to make us successful in the world in the ways you think we should be …and if that means making us as normal as you can figure out how to, then so be it.

People treat us this way all the time, and we notice.

We get it. We get it like you cannot even fathom.

February 20, 2017

Through the trees

Posted in My neighborhood, Uncategorized tagged , , at 12:54 pm by chavisory

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February 16, 2017

Sometimes it’s not me. It’s you.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:32 pm by chavisory

I have a new post up at We Are Like Your Child today:  http://wearelikeyourchild.blogspot.com/2017/02/sometimes-its-not-me-its-you.html

(Spoiler alert:  I had a bad day.)

January 26, 2017

Distraction

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:16 am by chavisory

In the aftermath of Mike Pence’s attendance of Hamilton at which the cast delivered a harsh but courteous address to him personally, Trump unleashed a series of tweets bemoaning that the theater should be a “safe and special place” that attracted a storm of media and social networking attention.

The same week, Trump settled the fraud case against Trump University for $25 million.

“It’s just a distraction!” people yelled about the Hamilton debacle.

And though it may have been intended that way, the then president-elect’s tweets actually conveyed an entirely real message about how he views the proper role of the performing arts, free speech, and dissent in American society, and it was not benign or trivial at all.

On the day that we celebrated the collapse of Republican efforts to undermine the Office of Congressional Ethics, Merrick Garland’s chances of being confirmed to the Supreme Court were rapidly running out, and, lacking any evidence whatsoever that those events were connected or that the attempt to hobble the OCE was anything but a rushed, arrogant, disorganized power play, I saw another Facebook denizen declare:

“I knew it!  This was just planned to distract us.”

(Never mind that Merrick Garland’s nomination had languished for most of a year; it was not news.  It was not unexpected at all that it was going to expire without action from Congress.)

A few Republican legislators dared to rebuke Trump for his tweets mocking John Lewis; I note this is an interesting piece of information regarding who in the GOP might be more willing to openly oppose him on other matters.  I’m told “pay attention if you want, but know that it’s just a distraction.”

 

I’m just gonna throw this out there:

There are a lot of bad things happening all at once right now. Some of them are really big deals and some of them are less so. That doesn’t necessarily make any one of them a “distraction” from any of the others.

We’re also going to have things go right, and just because something goes right in the midst of other things going wrong, doesn’t make it a distraction.

We might not be able to control very much right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t meaningfully influence outcomes, and when we manage to do that, even if our victory was relatively minor in scale, does not make it a distraction. It makes it a lesson in what we did right and how much further we should reach.

Seizing on the issues that we can influence strongly and immediately does not mean that we were “distracted” from something that meant more. Sometimes that may be true, but it’s not just automatically true that if we saw a chance and took it, that we were “distracted.”

There’s no shortage of things that need doing right now.  There’s no shortage of things that need attention.  Very few of them are inconsequential. Sometimes we’re going to benefit from unity of purpose and sometimes from diversity. I’m not saying not to be conscious of how we’re using energy, but just because something isn’t everything, doesn’t make it nothing.

That bad things will keep happening doesn’t make good ones not count.

 

One of the ironies is just how distracted they really are.

Trump is not on the same page with his Secretary of Defense about the value and legacy of NATO.

Trump is not on the same page with his Republican congress about the actual content of the ACA’s supposed eventual replacement.

The Republican congress was not on the same page with Trump or their constituents about the OCE.

Trump has to have his television time restricted like an impulsive child.

Trump is distracted by the hijinks of National Parks Service employees on Twitter.

Trump is distracted by dissent over the size of his fandom.

Trump is upset that protests and marches have disturbed his ability to “enjoy” the White House in the way he feels he should be able to.

We are not distracted.  There are 63 million of us and one of him.  Our resulting ability to pay attention to more than one bad thing at a time is not distraction.

Let’s not give undue time or energy to Twitter drama, but the fact that there are people paying attention to the content and implications of what he says directly to the American public on a media platform used by millions, is not distraction.

There was a time not that long ago at all when I thought that he was frighteningly good at derailment and distraction, but I’m not so sure of that anymore.

He is distracted.

I say keep him that way.

 

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