A Plea for Decorum and Civility

Since the Presidential debates of 2008, I have been a believer in the potential of the Internet and social networking tools to be productive tools of public discourse. It was so exciting to come home from work every day and watch the news or the debates and connect online with people all over the country about issues.

I am decidedly left of center politically, a proud liberal dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and I am guilty of conversing with others who more often than not share my convictions. It is not that I don’t want to debate the issues, with people on the right, but I will admit that I don’t relish the conflict.

I would be interested in civil public discourse, but I have to say that the extreme views of the Tea Party led by Rush Limbaugh and the Fox Network are not conducive to such constructive discourse. And now it seems that some social networkers on the right are interested in public discourse, but only anonymously and only to be personally insulting and abusive to individuals who oppose them. At least that has been my experience.

It is natural for debate about important issues to make people angry, but if we can’t commit to treat each other with respect, and only resort to trying to intimidate each other by yelling down people with insults at town halls or tweeting cruel insults anonymously at people we disagree with, we’re never going to be able to find sustainable solutions to major problems.

I have invited conservatives to productive and respectful dialog here before, and I am doing it again. I continue to believe that finding common ground is possible, but this is a two way street, and people on both sides have to be willing to meet in the middle. Clinging to opposite extremes is only going to keep us stuck where are instead of moving productively forward.

Counting Our Blessings

This week has been a doozie for my family; a death in the family; a divorce; a lost job; and many serious health problems.

In response to all of this, Dad sent out an email to all of us this week asking us all to share good news, he being the first to collect some really choice pieces:

  • Noah had a successful piano recital
  • Alex won an important prize at art school
  • Max got a sports casting internship
  • Phoebe will be in an ice skating show this May
  • Faye is having an art exhibit in New York
  • Sarah (my niece) was elected Student Body Vice President at her college
  • Rick received an Eagle Scout award
  • Elizabeth was recently reacquainted with an old family friend who has published a book
  • Elise got a part in the school play
  • Dad recently celebrated his 77th birthday, where Rachel helped him unwrap his presents. Daughter Sarah (me) was also there from out of town to help celebrate.
  • Martin learned how to whistle (his dad still can’t)
  • Andrew read a poem at the MLK celebration at his school
  • Robyn and Charlie finally replace the 20-year-old linoleum in their home
  • Margaret and Sarah (me) both had positive reviews at their jobs
  • Sarah (niece) won some sort of spaghetti wrestling competition at college

You can probably tell that these are mostly grand kids and young nephews and nieces. Children most certainly are a blessing and a joy, and I think that we grownups need to learn from them to look within us and around us and count all of our blessings. It makes me realize that it is the small things that are bringing me joy and satisfaction, as well as appreciating the larger things that I take for granted.

Last week, my new friend Jean made me aware of a gratitude meme on Twitter, asking people to participate in an online and real life dialog about all the things they are grateful for. I have been thinking about all that I’m grateful for ever since, so when Dad sent out the email calling on us to share everything positive that is happening in our lives, it really resonated with me. Even the small things that seem mundane can make a difference in the right direction. Here are some things that I am grateful for:

  • A job and career that provides for my family and gives me personal satisfaction
  • An exceptionally strange and wonderful family that I adore, whether they realize it or not
  • Getting acquainted with old friends through social networking tools, many of whom I wouldn’t have any idea how to reach
  • Five years of marriage to the love of my life, and the community that supports our relationship
  • My yoga practice that is making me increasingly mindful, open-hearted, and grounded
  • My beautiful home in my favorite city
  • Watching the drama of the change of seasons
  • Challenges, past and present, that make me stronger, and life lessons that I continue to learn from years later
  • The incredible generosity of my parents who provided me with everything that I need (and then some) to lead a meaningful life

So when the stress of my job rears its ugly head, making me cranky and moody and blue, or when personal drama threatens to bring me down, I now react by taking a step back, breathe deeply, and think of all of these the wonderful things in my life. This is not to deny the reality of the things that are hard, and sometimes suck, but to simply look at the good stuff along side of those challenges recognize the opportunities.

What are you grateful for?

A Place at the Table

Like my queer sisters and brothers, I am very disappointed in the choice of Rick Warren to lead the invocation at the  presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. Indeed, he has said things about us that are extremely ignorant, hurtful, and prejudiced. For our civil rights agenda, Warren was the absolutely wrong choice. But I disagree with those who claim that Obama’s choice of Warren is any sort of signal to us that he isn’t leaving a place at the table for us.

Indeed, he has, more than anyone who has come close to holding the Office of the President, sent signals to the gay community that we do have a place at the table. It may not be exactly in the way that we want it, but we have an opportunity to move our civil rights agenda forward in a way that we never have before.

Now I learned today that Geoff Kors, the Executive Director of Equality California, is literally giving up his place at Obama’s table. In a purely symbolic gesture to protest Warren’s invitation, Kors is giving up an opportunity to represent queers and the #1 civil rights issue of our time at one of the most historically significant events ever. This accomplishes nothing positive for us.

We have every reason to be outraged at Obama’s choice, and it is right to point out Obama’s flawed decision. But, it is a mistake for us to squander any of our precious resources on a futile effort to convince Obama to rescind the invitation.

We have been fighting for a place at the table for so long, and now that we finally have one, Geoff Kors is trying to make his attendance conditional with nothing to leverage. The only ones who lose out by his decision to turn down this opportunity is the LGBT community. We can get the message of our disapproval, hurt and anger across without sacrificing this opportunity to represent ourselves and our cause.

Finally, I urge Geoff Kors to ask himself what Jesus would do. The answer is that he would make a place at the table for everyone, including the likes of Rick Warren. We need to do the same.

Protesting True Ugliness

I woke up this morning to find an email on Facebook regarding an action here in Chicago. Fred Phelps was in town to protest the Center on Halstead, and local LGBT activists were organizing to show our strength in numbers. The sign-making was already under way by the time I read my email, so I decided to get down to the Center in time for the protest.

We all kind of waited around for a while, and I ended up making awkward small talk with strangers. The organizers weren’t entirely certain whether or not Phelps was actually going to show up. Regardless, they decided we were going to make a show of force, sending a message to Phelps and the world that hate isn’t welcome here.

We all filed outside to stand infront of the building. Because it was pretty cold out, we walked in a loop in the sidewalk infront of the Center, many of us holding signs or rainbow flags, chanting alternately “Hey hey! Ho ho! Homophobia’s got to go!”, or “Gay! Straight! Black! White! Marriage is a civil right!, or “Gay! Straight! Black! White! Same struggle, same fight!”

Eventually, someone spotted the Phelps clan in front of the police station down the street, so people strated moving towards them. No one was sure where we were going until we got there. There were at least 200 of us, and there couldn’t have been more than four of them in the Phelps group. I was standing towards the back of the crowd, and I could hardly see them. But I couldn’t mistake their signs: something ugly about “Fags”, and a picture of Obama with horns with the word “antichrist.” One of them was holding a very young child who looked terrified.

They were clearly intimidated. I almost felt bad for them. People in the crowd were really angry, and I think the message was conveyed: Hate is not welcome here.

My fear about this action is that there were many in the crowd who have as much hate in their hearts as Fred Phelps does. As I watched the goings on (and yes, I was glad to see them retreat), what kept running through my mind and heart is “God loves everyone.” I hope that my LGBT brothers and sisters, while they express their anger and their pain at the acts of hate perpetrated by Phelps and his ilk, can find enough room in their hearts to love, forgive, and feel compassion for these most misguided people.

Passive Resistance: Buy Nothing Day

Each year the tradition of International Buy Nothing Day seems to grow, and this year is no exception. Unfortunately, more attention to this movement may be greater this year because of the growing economic crisis. While it is difficult not to get caught up in the anxiety inducing news reports of the growing likelihood of us entering a depression, much less a recession, I think that this may be a good thing, an opportunity for more people to realize that our capitalist consumer economy as it exists now is not sustainable, and perhaps people will be more apt to change their ways. Buy Nothing Day is one of the trends growing in popularity that shows that people may indeed be looking for healthier economic alternatives.

When I hear news about a Wal-Mart employee getting trampled on Black Friday, or Evangelical Christians laying hands on the Wall Street Bull in a misguided and idolotrous petition to God to save our economy, I have to wonder how things got to these insane extremes.

As part of the movement towards building a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and spiritually healthy economy, people around the world reclaiming Black Friday as International Buy Nothing Day. Last year, instead of drawing names and exchanging gifts, my family agreed to draw names and give gifts to charity in each other’s honor. And we are not alone.

Here are some of the many resources availble to support the International Buy Nothing Day movement (these may or may not be directly related to BND, but they are all in the same spirit):

After today’s tragic news about the Wal-Mart employee getting trampled, and the fact that people are still swarming at the malls, it is clear that people are slow to learn and we still have a long way to go. However, the growth each year of the BND tradition gives me hope that people can indeed change their ways.