a political post–almost

a link actually, to a piece about the slaughter in gaza by little light. think the Palestinians are the irrational violence-inciting party here? you might think again. whence the impulse towards violent overreaction based on past trauma? I don’t know. we might think about our own 3000 dead in 2001 compared to the tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths we’ve caused as a response since 2003. where did it begin? probably before memory begins. where will it end?


With enemies like these

Well I was not expecting to go on vacation right after NaBloPoMo started when I first signed up, and I have a few things to say about the idea that by missing a couple of days I have “blown it”–especially since my own motives for undertaking this challenge boil down very simply to “make myself write.” But first let me tell you about this:

In case you have not heard, a transgendered woman named Duanna Johnson was shot and killed in Memphis TN last Sunday, November 9. Yes another transgendered woman murdered. So what? Well, besides the obvious so what–that The Targeting of Transgendered People for Abuse and Murder Must Stop–Duanna Johnson, if you will remember, was the same woman whose abuse at the hands of the Memphis Police was caught on tape last June. The two officers involved, the one who beat her and the one who held her down for the beating, had been fired, and at the time of her murder, she was in the process of suing the City of Memphis for $1.3 million.

If you, like myself, suspect that there might be some nasty retribution motivating this murder, or worse, that the city and the police department might have actively facilitated this murder, we are not alone. Monica Roberts at TransGriot and Autumn Sandeen at Pam’s House Blend are reporting developments in the case and in their posts and subsequent comment threads you will find many misgivings about the propriety of the Memphis Police Department’s investigating the case on their own. What’s more, none other than the trans-if-they-do, trans-if-they-don’t double agents at the Human Rights Campaign, featuring Joe “Stop Crashing Our Party” Solmonese himself, is calling for a federal investigation of the murder, which was my own first thought on hearing the news.

Whether you think it is overly-sensitive trans- paranoia to suspect that the City and/or Police Department of Memphis might have had some hand in Johnson’s murder, it seems obvious to me that they cannot be objective investigators in this case, given the dismissal of the police officers for beating Johnson–something that never would have happened had the tape not leaked out into the blogosphere–and Johnson’s pending lawsuit against the city. Personally I think the City and Police Department are logical suspects in the murder, and I have no problem whatsoever imagining–as one commenter conjectures in one of the above blogs (forgive me if I cannot find the link to the specific comment. Since I cannot put post-it stickies on the internet, I frequently move too quickly through several pages to remember my way back to the right ones where I read something I want to quote–but so in this case the idea is not my own but does not seem out of the realm of the possible to me)–a hit arranged so that a handful of black males may take the fall, probably with “drugs and prostitution” stirred into the mix so that all this seems the fault of the multiple victims there would be in such a setup.

But no matter whether your level of suspicion goes that far, it seems to me obvious that this murder needs to be investigated from outside and higher up, and probably by the FBI–not because they are necessarily the most sensitive agency to violence against trans- folk, but because they are charged with upholding hate crimes law and also simply because this case demands high priority: we cannot sit by while trans- people are silenced in this way for coming forward with the charges that Johnson’s assailants faced and that the City of Memphis itself faced. This case in particular must be picked up as emblematic of how we are going to allow our own government to treat us: as citizens worthy of the same protections as other citizens, or as marginal creatures whose rights to live and to live unmolested are suspended by virtue of our own need to be true to ourselves–and at no harm to anyone else!

I hesitate to endorse anything the HRC is involved with, but if they truly want to throw their muscle behind demanding a federal investigation of Johnson’s death, then I think that it might be worth our while to employ them in that regard. Who knows why they are doing this–to make up for certain, um, colossal political betrayals and disingenuous efforts to rewrite queer history without gender variant individuals in the center of it all, where they actually stood for decades–but you know? If they want to make up for all that, I am willing to suspend disbelief for now.

I think, though, that it might be helpful to do some organizing of our own, in case the HRC cannot see this one through whatever obstacles the feds might throw up in their unwillingness to protect the lives of trans- individuals. In a Pam’s House Blend comment I can actually find the URL for, Kathleen suggests that we demand an FBI investigation ourselves as well: anyone can file “a civil rights complaint with the FBI ‘Under Color of Law'”. It is not clear to me whether multiple complaints involving a single incident will encourage the FBI to investigate or have the unwanted effect of making them less likely to do so. I do think, though, that as a community, however you might conceive of it in relation to yourself, we need to find a voice in this case that is separate from or “back-up” for that being offered by the Human Rights Campaign, who have proven themselves extremely untrustworthy in speaking for us. Watch the above blogs for further organizing efforts–I myself cannot promise to keep abreast of all developments but wanted to put this out there for whatever limited audience I have to keep in mind and to monitor.

We cannot allow Memphis to investigate this crime without oversight from higher up; to do so would be to abandon Duanna Johnson and any trans- person who might find themselves staring at the wrong end of police officers’ assumptions and prejudices, facilitated as they are by the surrounding culture. We need to let Memphis and the rest of the nation know that we are not going to be their punching bags to use for working out their own insecurities about gender–which is what drives this literal policing of gender boundaries to begin with. Send ’em to therapy to cure them of hate. Leave us the fuck alone.

I know I said to wake me when it was over, but..

It is Friday for me although the clock says Saturday and Saturday is streaking across the Pacific Ocean towards the International Date Line where it will turn into Sunday streaking across the Pacific Ocean towards Asia and eventually back through here again and then it will be Sunday but right now it is Friday and I can tell because I’m working.

What a week.

A friend of mine, someone I’ve known for many years online but have only met face to face once but who is still a very good friend (still? There is no reason why online friends have to take a back seat to “real life” friendships and the whole split between online and real life has of course by now been refuted many times but there remains a widespread belief that online life still cannot quite compete with face-to-face life but I will beg to differ until I am too old and infirm to sit at my computer although by the time I am old and infirm we probably won’t have to sit at our computers but they will be ubiquitous and integrated more seamlessly with our bodies so that the interface is no longer way out there at arm’s length. That is just a guess and sure it is informed by cyber sci-fi but I think that this one is a good bet so I suppose I will be doing this until I am so close to death that I cannot really think or talk or interface with anyone except–I do not know whom I will be trying to interface with at that point. I hesitate to think about it as it is quite possible that I will outlive everyone I love. Note: find very young friends) mentioned earlier today that they were feeling quite depressed this week and felt as if they had just lived through something rather harrowing and now that it is over it is as though one looks out upon a decimated landscape and wonders whether it is enough to start planting new seeds or do we need to detoxify the soil first or abandon the land for someplace new and start over.

OK that was my metaphor. This friend used a different one but since about Wednesday evening I have been feeling oddly similar to how they reported they were doing. Tuesday night I danced in the streets with everyone else. Well, that is a lie. I did not dance so much as run around high-fiving and fist-bumping and occasionally receiving the random hug here in the city between about 9 and 11pm. The party continued after I was out of energy but although I eventually went to bed that night–i.e., the next morning–I found myself quite unable to do much productive really until I would say about fifteen minutes ago. Oh, actually I did some paying work earlier this morning before I went to bed so lets say about 14 hours ago was when I was able to stop reading post-election coverage and turn my attention back to normal life.

The thing is, though, I have not been having a great time reading the post-election coverage, or not after I had been up for a little while on Wednesday night.

Today’s post is about what happens when you live through a national political nightmare, wake up when you think it might be over, and then cannot seem to shake a sense of emptiness and vague dread. I hope that is ok. I will not be talking about broad political issues except to the degree that they have created this funk. I am curious to know who else is feeling this way–besides those who voted Republican or people who still support George W Bush (they are said to be out there), for I assume that you all have something to be upset about now. To which I can only say nyeah although it does not really make me feel all that good to say it but I am relieved as fuck that you all will not be leading the country for the next four years but I have time to talk about why that is and probably will, later.

So I am trying to figure this out. The nightmare image: I do not know about any of you, but when I wake up after a particularly virulent nightmare I am of course relieved, but especially if it was my last dream of the day/night, I do not spend subsequent waking hours exulting that I am no longer in the middle of my nightmare. Instead, I will often feel like utter shit, wondering why my unconscious chose to take us there, and why now, and what it is I am supposed to do with the horrifying imagery that then haunts me all day long. I do not necessarily think dreams are the key to great psychological questions but they can certainly provide jumping off points for interpretation and it seems to me that even if dreams are a mechanical process whereby our brains figure, order and store memories, it can be useful to take a look at what memories are being processed in what ways at any particular time.

So what can this metaphor do for me now. The only other one I have is that of trauma, and although it might be stretching things to say that the last eight years have been personally traumatic–sure, things changed in my life, but mostly having nothing to do with anything the Bush administration did; however, it was angering, frustrating and, actually, at times psychologically harrowing to watch them do the things they did do, seemingly without restraint or any kind of oversight from anyone anywhere.

It may be that in order to figure this out I have to take into account that I was raised by a fundamentalist, Southern Baptist family who took me to fundamentalist, Southern Baptist churches, which, although the Southern Baptist Convention had not yet been “steeplejacked” by Christian Dominionist ideologues, were certainly already “ripe for the harvest.” I was taught, from a very young age, that until I “made my decision for Christ,” that when I died I was going to burn forever. Or rather, I was going to burn forever after the Final Judgment, and that sometime in between and probably very soon, like any day now, I was going to be Left Behind to face the tribulation when my entire immediate family was taken up in the Rapture. Now, I grew up 3000 miles away from the closest relative, so my parents and my brother were all the family I had. Their closest friends were church friends, so they would all be gone too (although chances are I would have been pleasantly surprised by who did not actually go–er, I mean, were that whole mythology real and the rapture actually did occur). I came to understand this, at least in these stark heaven vs hell terms, by the time I was about seven or eight years old. It took me till I was, I think, about 12 before I “walked the aisle”–something which terrified me all the more being introverted to so great a degree that I believe I operated then and now under a social disability.

Anyway. I do not mean to be inviting you into my therapist’s office with me, but I thought the background might make it a little more clear how and why a so-called Christian for US President, with nothing between his ears but ego and brutality, doing the sorts of things he and those orchestrating his policy did and for the reasons often stated, might flip my shit on a regular basis. I will write about this again without a doubt: the psychological casualties of fundamentalism are more numerous than our relative silence in public life might lead one to believe. We are starting to talk, now, and starting to find others like ourselves with much help from the internet, but up until recently very few ex-fundamentalists had much of a voice in the public sphere.

Well, when you have a bunch of self-proclaimed “Christian” bullies running the nation, and you are an ex-fundamentalist with, say, a raging case of PTSD–and I am serious as a hemmorrhaging artery about that: mine comes complete with psychotic breaks–a large part of national life starts to take on the choir robes and baptismal vestments that still lurk in the most self-destructive parts of your psyche. Or, that is, it can, it may. In my case, it did.

I have not watched a mainstream newscast since September 11, 2001. When someone in my house turns the tv on and anything about national politics is being said, I turn up the volume on iTunes and try not to try to make out the words that float mumbling under the music during the quiet parts.

So now, it seems, I might be able to watch the news again. But I am telling you, I am depressed as fuck about the last eight years, and bewildered as to what to do about it. If I were Barack Obama, I would be sweating like crazy just how I was going to propose to put the country back together and try to create order where we instigated chaos across the globe. My friends and I often talk about how we felt in 2000, after GWB was handed the office of President, and most of us were thinking well I sure did not want him to win but I guess we will just have to hold our noses and lay low for four years but then the World Trade Center was destroyed, which was bad enough, but then all these other horrible things started happening and Would. Not. Stop.

I guess I am in shock. It is weird, because materially, the only thing that changed for me between 2000 and 2008 was that in 2007 I finally finished grad school. Well, other things changed too, but I am not going to go into great psychiatric detail here on the intarwebs. I still live in the same place and although making ends meet is actually harder since I graduated, my economic status has not shifted a great deal one way or the other. But I still feel a little like something terrible just happened, now it is over, and I have no idea what should happen next. I do not even know if there is anything for me to do–national politics were machinating along before I got here and will probably continue to do so for some time after I die–but still I cannot quite seem to get a grip on myself.

So. I am taking suggestions if anyone has any.

Now it is over

OK so today is November 4 even though this post is dated November 5 and if you find this puzzling, consult the first few sentences of yesterday’s post, which was the post for November 3. This may happen regularly throughout the month, but in the end I will be awake for approximately 30 longish periods and I will post in each one of them until I wake up on December 1, probably around 8pm. I probably will not explain this again, but anyone arriving late to the party is probably not going to notice that I started the month an apparent day behind.

What can I say. Last night I was walking around the chilly streets of San Francisco, where winter moves in on the first of November, supplanting the late, October-only summer that we get every single year–and every single year, people say “it wasn’t this hot last October” but of course it was and they are just annoyed that it is hot now. But so after McCain gave his concession speech I could hear people shouting joyfully in the streets, honking horns and setting off fireworks and so I, a little stunned at the rapidity of the results and the concession and the declaration of the winner, all of which practically coincided with the closing of the polls here on the West Coast, decided to go take a walk to let off a great deal of anticipatory anxiety that hadn’t yet found a way to breathe in the relief of a political nightmare now over.

Some say Obama is not that exciting of a president-elect, and that Democrats and Republicans are so much alike that it no longer matters who takes the White House, but I just want to say a little bit about why it does matter, and very much so: the unholy alliance between the Religious Right and the Neo-Conservative movement, which is now, apparently, in a shambles.

But if the Republicans had taken the White House, that alliance would have taken on yet another incarnation, this time with an actual Dominionist Christian in the White House and, as they say, a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Now, I think Barack Obama has a lot going for him: he has withstood the pressures of being a black man in America and made it to the top political office in the land without once losing his composure in the face of what, to most black Americans, is an unrelenting onslaught of racist inferences, insinuations, and assumptions, as well as explicit epithets and insults, as it buffets them from a dominantly racist white culture. I will not go into great detail right now in describing how it is in fact embarrassingly obvious that America is still deeply racist and deeply divided along racial lines–or “racialized” lines, given that “race” itself is a white supremacist construct that we cannot seem to give up. I might talk about this at some length later, but for now I will just say that for people of color the racism in our culture is flagrant, excessive, and so deeply rooted within white institutions and discourse that white Americans on the other hand can almost never see it until it is pointed out to them in a way that hits home.

Obama’s grace under this sort of relentless cultural antagonism is nothing short of remarkable, and a testament to his integrity and dignity as a public figure. He won this election mainly on charisma, which is not a superfluous quality in a president. Quite the contrary: it is the sort of personality that makes building alliances and healing rifts in ideology much easier than they are in the hands of someone with less grace, and right now the US is in great need of just that sort of social and cultural reintegration, to the degree that it is possible at all. Unlike the current resident of the White House, Obama conducts himself with impeccable restraint and sensibility in the face of insult. Do we really doubt that this in itself could greatly improve the bearing of the face America turns to the rest of the world? George Bush has made us laughable in the eyes of the rest of the world; the Neo-Conservative agenda has made us into a law-shirking rogue nation. I think that an Obama administration has the potential to repair not only our public image on the world stage, but to back it up with empathy and discernment, rather than relying on reactionary displays of machismo to bluster our way through our relationship with the rest of humanity.

But this is not the source of my biggest sigh of relief this evening. The thing that I am truly thankful for is that the party that has openly courted the forces of conservative Christian theocratic ideology is now out of power. Democrats have taken Congress and the Presidency, leading us back away from what I believe was a dangerous precipice: that American fascism that would rule according to simplistic, distorted, and cruel interpretation of the Christian faith. I have lived within those beliefs, and I can say unreservedly that they rely on cult-like techniques to subdue followers into accepting just about anything that one could construct a Biblical argument to support, and they browbeat people into despising life on Earth as a sinful, evil realm. The casualties from these churches are numerous, and if right-wing Christians are ever allowed back into the most powerful office in the country, anyone who is not a “real” Christian–according to their strict criteria–is at risk of the same harsh, inhumane treatment that they give to all things “worldly”: including anyone who cannot or will not march lockstep with their strict ideology.

We find it so easy to spot the immorality of Islamic fundamentalism, but we seem to have a curious blind spot for the same sort of worldview as it is espoused in Christian fundamentalism. Neither movement would be friendly to those who dare to act and believe in ways that diverge from the approved dogma; either would be happy to see the world destroyed in order to hurry the advent of god’s kingdom as they perceive it.

This is why I and many others feel they have awakened from a long political nightmare. There are other reasons as well, but this has been the most compelling one for me: it is time to stop believing that god is on our side no matter what we decide to do, and to stop believing that war and violence are sanctioned by heaven, so long as we are fighting “evil.”

Evil is not a cosmic force. Humans invented it and perpetrate it on each other endlessly, each faction more often than not believing that theirs is the righteous cause. This is a cultural myth that needs to die, to be demystified and faced as what it is: human fallibility, greed, and aggression. Until we can see it at our own level, we cannot take proper responsibility for it, and the atrocities that we visit on ourselves in the name of Good will continue unabated.

Any step we can take away from this particular abyss is a positive step. Tonight we managed to inch our way back from a flirtation with theocracy that many of us did not realize we were engaging in, for reasons that are unclear to me, but that seem to stem from a denial that anything we are familiar with could be dangerous to us. But vigilance over the destructive forces within us may be more important to securing our freedom than we realize. For now, at least, we have eluded a particularly tenacious one.

On crowd control, post-2008 election

Day two of NaBloPoMo: Erik rifles through his anxiety-clotted thought processes for a topic for today’s post, realizing that the US Presidential Election is but a little more than 36 hours away and that everyone is sick unto death of hearing about this or that pet issue but that he has been fairly quiet through the whole campaign, posting only several PSA’s on LiveJournal for the benefit of whoever could find them useful.

I had thought about going into the subject of Palin’s relationship to the Dominionist ideals of the Assembly of God denomination and its spin-off churches but you know? I really do not want to go there right now. At this point, other people have said it as well as I could: Palin’s association with End Times fanatics should be clear to anyone who can read by now.

But I still have my paranoia hat on. I think I mentioned yesterday that I do not watch or read major news outlets if I can help it. Sometimes I read the New York Times, but for the most part, the rest of the mainstream media is so unreliably sensationalistic that they are completely incapable of delivering any substantial information. The reason I do not pay attention to them is because I find using mainstream media to follow current events to be extremely anxiety-provoking and depressing, partially because I am susceptible to appeals to pathos and to apocalyptic rhetoric, having been exposed to fundamentalist preachers, parents, and Sunday School teachers for the better part–or “worst part,” to be more psychologically accurate–of my formative years. One of these days I will tell you about the extremely tenacious PTSD that I began to develop by the time I was in elementary school, in response to the spiritual barnstorming I experienced all while growing up.

In the meantime, though: I do glean a fair amount of information about what is going on from various friends and carefully chosen sources on the internet. So I found this one piece of news entirely by accident, as it arose in the comment threads to a post that bore little relation to the comment itself: the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade has been deployed in the US since October 1st, according to the armytimes.com website.

Now, I am not a law scholar, but I have been told that this sort of thing was illegal until very recently. Google “posse comitatus” for more information on what used to be “strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement,” which were loosened considerably in the little-publicized John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, signed by our favorite president of all time, George W Bush. Read about it, think about it, and then take a look at at the armytimes.com article.

This new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities.

ArmyTimes paints a fairly benign picture–mostly. The headline says the Brigade is deployed to “help people at home”; but somewhat troubling is exactly what they might be helping with. The article emphasizes “response” to disasters as the Brigade’s main mission. With some added detail: “They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological [attack],” etc etc.

Interesting choice of priorities in that statement; nevermind how one might imagine that military troops would work to restore order in case of natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina or Rita, a job for which a combat team seems a sobering pick, but not unsurprising these days. Using combat troops for civil unrest or “crowd control”–especially “crowd control”–seems something akin to declaring martial law. Does it not? What, exactly, are the military and the administration expecting to happen in the near future? And what will be the nature of the military response?

The following passage lends both clarity and confusion to this question:

The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.

The package is for use only in war-zone operations, not for any domestic purpose.

“It’s a new modular package of nonlethal capabilities that they’re fielding. They’ve been using pieces of it in Iraq, but this is the first time that these modules were consolidated and this package fielded, and because of this mission we’re undertaking we were the first to get it.”

The package includes equipment to stand up a hasty road block; spike strips for slowing, stopping or controlling traffic; shields and batons; and, beanbag bullets.

“I was the first guy in the brigade to get Tasered,” said Cloutier, describing the experience as “your worst muscle cramp ever — times 10 throughout your whole body.

“I’m not a small guy, I weigh 230 pounds … it put me on my knees in seconds.”

Subduing unruly individuals. Like whom? And with what, exactly? The “package” contents list does not include Tasers, but we are given a description of what it feels like to be “shot”/shocked with one. And the one line disclaimer, that the package is for use only in war-zone operations, seems somehow incredible. And I do not think that is simply my paranoia or PTSD talking–why would such a long passage about this package appear in a short article about the deployment of the Brigade within the US if it were an entirely different topic from that deployment?

Forgive me for being somewhat skeptical. And a little perturbed: more than one person has told me that they will be out on the streets if the McCain/Palin ticket manages to steal this election. I know I will be. In the original comment thread where I caught wind of this news, one respondent noted that a single brigade for the entire country seems inadequate, in case of widespread disturbances, and that is true. But how long would it take to mobilize more units in addition to this one, and what excuse would the current administration need?

I will not venture answers to these questions, because I do not know what they are. But I think that it is important that we be aware of what is happening around us, which is why I still go information seeking even though the mainstream media makes me twitch so hard that they are more than useless to me.

Of course, no one you know will actually ever experience whatever it means to have the military “restore normalcy”:

“I can’t think of a more noble mission than this,” said Cloutier, who took command in July. “We’ve been all over the world during this time of conflict, but now our mission is to take care of citizens at home … and depending on where an event occurred, you’re going home to take care of your home town, your loved ones.”

Yeah. They certainly would not taser crowd-control real Americans. Would they?