Tag Archives: protest

On the Usefulness of Anger During Social Distancing

There’s a real temptation during social distancing to cut out negative emotions. What happens when so much around us deserve these “negative” emotions, though? What happens when abuses by the Trump Administration deserve your anger, but you’ve taught yourself not to be angry? Anger is useful, and it can be positive. Understand first that I’m talking about this as an activist, and someone who’s worked in politics. I’m not a psychiatrist, and this doesn’t engage anger problems. It is worth it to engage the everyday, earned anger that should not be chased out or numbed away during this time.

Anger and Politics

People can’t go about engaging in politics with only part of themselves. They can’t have their hearts break at something and then turn around and always try to rationally engage political offices that are gaslighting them. Anger is useful for communicating that such offices need to cut the shit. It’s useful for communicating: we both know what you’re doing, so I’m going to move past that and you’re going to listen to me.

Like anything else, anger can be taken to places where it’s counterproductive or useless, and it can’t be the sole contributing emotion for actions or community. It can be taken advantage of and gaslit in its own ways, just like any other emotion. Yet I deeply believe that many people can’t just operate on hope alone. Some days you communicate through hope, some through sadness, some through anger.

Some of the “positive” productive feelings get worn thin. Some days you just need to continue angry, and those angry feelings need to fuel you. There are still rules to that, so that you can be angry in a productive way, and so that you can protect yourself.

Emotions are fuels that we can harness to continue actions. Those fuels run out. Anger’s very useful as a bridge – maybe not the main emotion we operate out of, but certainly one that can reliably serve in a pinch to get actions done when the other emotions tire out. It’s not a replacement for self-care. Neither is it a solution for people who can’t handle their anger. Even people who can will begin to lose their grip on keeping it productive when they burn out. So it’s not for everyone, but if you can be productive out of it and you do the work to know when you’re hitting a point of diminishing returns with it, and you’re responsible about self-care and responsibility to others in relation to it, it’s fine. Anger comes with responsibility, but if you take care with that responsibility, it’s like any other emotion.

I’ve never thought we should chase our anger out. I don’t want to know how not to be angry because I genuinely fear not being angry. I fear the disillusion of comfort or the introduction of numbness. Self-care, taking breaks from it, processing in healthy ways – those are all things I believe in. But I don’t want to know how not to be angry. We should be angry. Not being angry is a privilege. I want to know how to use my anger effectively in activism. I want to create action out of my anger, out of my sadness, out of every emotion.

Social Distancing with Anger

I still feel heartbroken or exhausted sometimes. The Trump Administration is wearying. But I don’t feel powerless. Anger is only unhealthy if you use it in a toxic or harmful way. It can be a coping mechanism. It can help you still feel everything else, instead of going numb to it. It can help give you energy and motivate you to still take actions – big activist actions that create change, and modest actions that rely on thousands each contributing their voice to turn a tide.

Some of you may want your anger at everything that’s happening to go away. And that may be the right thing for a time; I can’t speak for everyone and especially not for those who have lost someone. But I see many asking how they can make their anger go away. There’s a temptation toward numbness during social distancing. We don’t want to be cooped up with negative emotions.

I know for myself, there are only two ways I can make it go away. I can harness it in a productive way so that I’m doing something to change the things that make me angry, or I can dive into a disillusioned fugue of numbness and isolation – which wouldn’t change anything and would simply transpose the anger into a resentment that loses perspective.

Maybe for some the anger’s overwhelming or debilitating. Maybe for others it’s toxic or harmful. Not everyone processes or finds motivation the same way, and that’s OK. They’re strong in other ways and may process emotions in ways in which I’m less practiced. For many who know how to harness your anger into action, for whom this is a coping mechanism or a motivation, for whom taking healthy actions from it helps you process it, who need to do something just to be able to start processing, that’s all legitimate.

Strive Toward Consistent Action

You might see something this administration is doing in the current crisis that makes you angry. Then you go about the rest of your day angry, but not knowing what to do with it. What can you possibly do to change this moment? Did you call about it? Call about it. Senators, representatives, governors, state legislators, whoever needs to hear you being angry about it. Still angry? Ask a friend to call about it, too. Call again tomorrow. Set up a time every day where you both call and then talk about how the calls went, and help each other process that anger through action.

There’s no purpose to getting angry about this stuff if you then fail to do something about it. And you can’t avoid getting angry, because this administration, its corruption and abuses, it all deserves your anger. Who would you be if you didn’t get angry at mistreatment and abuse? You’re going to get angry about it, which is legitimate. So take action with that anger to make sure that it’s heard, and to make sure that it goes toward changing something, that it goes toward someone you know helping you to make that change, doubling your voice.

Where you see abuse and mistreatment, get in its way. Put a wrench in its works. You don’t have enough wrenches? That’s not a reason to do nothing; that’s a reason to get your friends to call and throw their wrenches in. Still not enough? Then you keep going, cause this administration isn’t going to stop doing things that make you angry, and you’re right to fear the person you’d be if you failed to get angry – I fear that person in me. So I keep on getting in their way, keep on asking for help from my friends to get in this administration’s way. Even when we’re cooped up, we can still pick up the phone every day.

Sometimes things change quickly, sometimes they change so gradually, slowed bit by bit, gummed up over time until they reverse course, that it’s hard to tell if we’ve made a difference. It does make a difference, so long as your community keeps at it. Don’t measure it by days. Measure it by your norms – by still getting angry at the things that used to make you angry, by still taking action instead of growing numb to it, by still asking what helps people today, by still making sure others are joining your actions. This administration can move policies and shift norms, but if they can’t move people away from those policies and norms then they can’t do so for long. They can’t sustain it. Make sure you can sustain it, and make sure you do sustain it.

This administration can’t meet all our communities fighting them on so many fronts, and that means all our communities need to stay fighting this on every front. If they can’t move you off your anger at their abuse, they can’t normalize their abuse. Keep on going. Don’t measure it by how things look – they can make the situation look like anything in a given moment. Measure it by the fact that you still keep on going, that your community still keeps on going, that you keep on getting angry, calling, fighting, helping people. That’s what they want you to lose sight of, so make sure you carry it with you every day.

Anger Isn’t Impolite if It’s Earned

I’ve worked as a legislative aide. Those offices need to hear from people coming from multiple perspectives and emotions. If you pick up the phone and you hear everyone with the same script, same wording, etc., you go numb to it, you don’t really take it as seriously. If people are calling you with hope that you’ll listen, sadness that you haven’t, anger that you aren’t, you’ve got to start to pay more attention. You can’t just have the same reaction – in terms of words or your own emotions – as an aide anymore. You have to pay attention and engage actively, even with voicemails. Anger is dangerous because it can quickly make someone else defensive and opposed. There are more effective ways to use it, and I do think it needs to hit policy and specifics really fast off the bat to be useful in political communication.

From a more organizational perspective, anger is a quick way to galvanize into action. It needs substance backing it up, though. It needs direction and education as to why that direction is useful in some way, or else all you’re doing is getting people riled up and then failing to direct that emotion toward a useful action. Anger pretty explicitly requires knowledge and education on a topic to be useful. It should always serve something and get to a point, rather than have the action or the policy point serve it.

Some people think there’s some sort of ethic to political communication that requires we set certain emotions aside. I don’t see a use in that. Any emotion – positive or negative – can be abused, taken advantage of, and misdirected. Any emotion can be used to replace information and de-prioritize fact. Cutting out only the “negative” or impolite ones means that we’re really teaching ourselves to police part of our reaction on behalf of someone else and normalize the idea of numbing those feelings even in the face of policy that deserves those feelings.

Anger in politics is useless when someone can’t make it serve a point that helps someone – when it gets out of control. Yet I’ve encountered plenty of people who have hope that something will get done, and so don’t take the actions to do it themselves – when that gets out of control. Same with sadness, happiness, any emotion that’s prioritized over taking useful, helpful actions.

Anger is just an emotion that we can more readily recognize when it’s out of control. We don’t mind out of control hope that debilitates someone into inaction and causes help to be denied because we believe that hope is good, anger is bad. Either can be useful, either can be useless. Different people know how to harness and modulate each responsibly because they’ve done the work on different parts of themselves, and what politics needs is for people to become better aware of which in them serves them doing the work that changes things and taking the actions that help people.

Negative” and “Positive” are What You Do With Them

Anger can be a clarifier. I don’t always like writing that way, and certainly I’ve written my share of hopeful, reassuring things – I couldn’t write criticism angry; I have to write that out of a place of hope. But anger connects and translates, too – any emotion someone’s done the work to understand better in themselves is useful for translating, clarifying, motivating, communicating, the whole bit.

Whatever emotion it is can’t be the end goal, though. It always needs to serve communicating or acting on policy or an action that helps someone. That’s the rule, I think, for any emotional communication in politics, regardless of the emotion. The goal shouldn’t be to justify anger, it should be to use the anger to communicate a policy that will help someone, or to stop an abuse that’s harming someone. The goal shouldn’t be to justify hope either, it should be to use that hope to communicate policy or stop abuse. In politics and activism, our emotions keep us going, but if the goal is to elicit a specific emotion in ourselves, then the approach is self-serving. Being cooped up, I get it. We want to chase what’s “negative” out. Yet if what’s negative is earned, it’s legitimate. It needs to be heard.

Whatever emotion helps get you to take actions in a consistent and responsible way that stops harm and enables help – those are the right emotions. Chasing them out won’t do anything but numb you to the things that deserve your anger. Who would you be then? As I said, I fear that person in me. Take responsible, helpful actions instead. Anger is only negative if you use it for harm. And that includes harming yourself with it by carving out chunks of your emotional whole. Hope and happiness can be negative if you use them for harm or to ignore harm, too.

Action is a form of processing emotions. Use those emotions to take actions that help people, and you’ve turned them positive. That’s it. No feeling is inherently negative or positive. The actions that arise from them are. You can’t decide your feelings, but your actions? Those you can decide, and they can help people. Decide them.

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After Trump’s “Acquittal” — What Do You Do?

Donald Trump was “acquitted” Wednesday on the two counts the House had passed to the Senate. Every Republican except Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Mitt Romney had voted against hearing witnesses in the trial, breaking hundreds of years of precedent. Every Republican except Romney voted to acquit Trump on the count of Abuse of Power. Every Republican including Romney voted to acquit Trump on Obstruction of Congress.

To cover up so many witnesses is unthinkable. Is democracy broken? To hear many, it’s a death blow that democracy can never recover from. To hear many, the fight is all but over.

This is only a death blow to democracy if you allow it to be. Months back, we were wondering if we could even get an impeachment process off the ground. We were trying to pressure Democrats to instigate something long delayed. Now we’re trying to pressure Republicans to simply do their jobs. That’s a distance traveled.

Does it mean we succeeded? No. Does it mean we failed? No. It means there’s more work to do. It means we succeed if we do that work and get others to do it with us. It means we fail if we don’t. That’s always been the equation. It hasn’t changed.

Democracy is no less intact or damaged because you’re the democracy. Stop pretending these fools are. They’re a system built to represent that democracy. If they fuck up, the democracy itself is still intact unless it decides it’s too dejected to be.

Our job is to get in their works, and slow them, and frustrate them, and expose them. They sand us out, replace a part, ignore the problem, we get right back in there and fuck up the works and slow them and frustrate them all over again.

They disconnect Congressional phone lines when they get overwhelmed. They stop answering phones as often and let voicemails stay full so no one can leave more messages. Those aren’t the acts of people in control, unburdened. Those are the acts of the overwhelmed, of desperate people clinging to waning power in the face of the people who they know really control it. They want to avoid you and their accountability to you because they fear it.

Democracy isn’t dead or broken. It’s simply in your hands instead of theirs for once. How do you mistake that as dead or broken? That’s you mistaking your power for something useless. That’s you mistaking their desperate fatigue for your own. Why would you do that to yourself? Why would you envision us as so incapable?

Republicans in government are the ones who are acting out of cowardice. They’re the ones who hid from you. Democracy isn’t dead or broken. It’s simply been abandoned by cowards who hope you don’t find where they left it. Pick it the fuck up and use it.

When they try to hide, call them out. When they forego accountability, keep asking the questions you need answered. Do it consistently, publicly, and keep yourself capable of doing it consistently. Most importantly, get others to do the work consistently by your side. Get the vote out. Register voters. Arrange carpools to voting locations for those with decreased access. Participate in phone banks. Write letters to the editor. Call the offices of elected officials. March.

This has always been a war of attrition and Republicans’ only strategy from the beginning has been convincing you that we aren’t strong enough. They wouldn’t spend so much time trying to convince us of that and then hiding from accountability to us unless we fucking were. This is one more battle among so many that we’ve forgotten half of them.

Republicans in government are overwhelmed and desperate. Treat them that way. Keep pressing. They have less and less ground every day because we’ve been taking it day after day for three years. They’re fading, retiring, negotiating shreds of cover where once they had systems of it.

Keep doing the work. The work is democracy. Getting others to do it with you is democracy. Keep doing it, and democracy will eventually fuck these cowards up. You do the work, and democracy is fine because it’s yours and not theirs anymore.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

It’s Easy to Lose Hope — Good Thing You Have Other Emotions

“I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day, and then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

-climate activist Greta Thunberg

“Hope is not something that you have. Hope is something you create with your actions.”

-Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

How can you be useful in activism when you’ve lost hope? In all the same ways you’re useful in activism when you have it. Hope is an emotion, like any other. It comes and goes. The work of protest, activism, resistance – it can’t depend on the presence of a single emotion. That denies you being able to be a real person within that work, and that will burn you out much faster than simply being hopeless for a time will.

Don’t despair that you can’t find hope; do the work to change things.

Despair can be its own convenience. Despair is a tool Trump, Pence, and Republicans sell you to convince yourself the endpoint you fear is inevitable. Despair can quickly become a comfort in powerlessness.

If you don’t feel hopeful, that’s OK. Hope isn’t the goal. Hope isn’t an accomplishment. The work to change things is.

There are days when I’ve called or researched threats or protested when I had a great deal of hope. There are days when I’ve had none.

You’re told always to hope, and that’s good if you can have it. Some days you don’t, and that’s OK. Still do the work. If you’ve done the work and need self-care to get yourself back up to doing the work again, that’s one thing.

If you refrain from doing the work to change things because you have no hope, hope is not always the fuel for that work. It can be. So can other things. Often, hope is manufactured by the work you do. Despair is chased out by standing up for yourself and others. Hope is a byproduct as well as a source.

If you give up hope, that’s OK. It’s tough to come by sometimes. If you give up the work to change things, that’s not OK. That produces hope for yourself and others, bolsters the work of others, encourages others to do that work.

We’re often told the opposite of fear and despair is hope. It can be. That’s legitimate. It’s not your only resource, though. You wouldn’t need resilience if you always had hope. You wouldn’t need persistence if you always had hope. You wouldn’t need the twinning of empathy and anger on its behalf if you always had hope.

You cannot work just from hope. You cannot expect hope to be your only fuel. You have to be a full person to do this work. You have to be a full person to do your best to help others. You have to be a full person to keep hold of your norms.

It’s OK to feel hopeless some days. It’s OK to get knocked down, take a minute to stand again, and then stand again because if they have to knock you down again they can’t do it to someone else. It’s OK to build your hope up again through other emotions.

Bring everything that you are to the work of activism and creating change. Some people aren’t strong in hope. You may be strong in resilience, or fortitude, or consistency, or translating needs between communities, or empathizing, or the anger that bridges empathy to action, or logistics, or you may be a range of talents and emotions that you don’t know how to wrangle together. Each of those can make change even when hope runs low.

Trust yourself to do the work that makes change. Trust the strengths that you have to make change even if they don’t match a quote or memes or whatever it is. You’re not an inspirational quote, and you can’t do the work as if you are. That would be exhausting.

You’re a human being, inherently uneven, strong in some ways, weak in others. Even when you’re impacted by horrors every day, that full human can be resilient, can call upon hope for action one day, anger for effort the next, communicate and self-care the day after, resilience to do the work again, whatever beautiful combination in you works because it’s the way you work.

The work to change things needs effort from different people, with different backgrounds, with different combinations of strengths, some optimistic, some pessimistic, some reassuring, others needing reassurance, but all doing that work to apply the pressure needed to change what is happening.

Hope alone does not accomplish a goal. It needs to be fused to the work of change, as a thousand other emotions can be. It is OK if hope has escaped you for the moment. It is OK if you’re a person who doesn’t feel hope in the first place. There are so many valid emotions that can help people. Make sure you can sustain yourself, and then help others regardless of whether you do so out of hope or empathy or anger or whatever emotion allows you to translate what is happening and act on helping people.

Be a part of a community that can supply some of what you’re drained on in a healthy way, but never feel bad if you can’t meet the standard of an inspirational quote about hope. The quotes about effort and work and anger have a tendency not to survive or get shared or be prized in the ways quotes about hope can be.

Hope is important. It’s not the only important thing. If it’s missing from you, that means you’re human and reacting to what’s going on. Sometimes it’s missing from me, too. Sometimes it’s so hard to find. I still do the work of activism in the ways I can, and sometimes that produces more hope in me, and sometimes it doesn’t.

One thing it does do, though – it keeps me from buying into the illusion that we’re powerless. It shows me the ways in which we’ve eroded Trump, Pence, and Republicans, the ways we’ve given them less ground to stand on, the ways we’ve clarified their barbarity to a larger public. It makes the ways we’ve slowed them down clearer, the people who are safer because of someone’s work clearer, the routes toward helping people clearer.

We wouldn’t need resistance, resilience, persistence, or any of the other things we celebrate if we were hopeful all the time. We wouldn’t need self-care if we were hopeful all the time. We wouldn’t need to reach out and do this with wider communities if we were hopeful all the time. Hope is one thing, important and inspiring. It is not essential all the time. If you lost it, it is OK. Bring the rest of yourself to bear, and witness that the rest of who you are can be effective, can create change, can even restore your hope or allow it to be restored by others.

Don’t despair. Just do whatever step is next in the work to change things.

If what you read on this site is useful, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

Everyday Protest: What if You Can’t Organize a March?

What if you don’t know how to organize a march or write a calling campaign? What if you don’t know how to do the big things?

Here’s what’s important: that march and those calling campaigns would be nowhere without people taking actions to show up and do the daily work.

Call a Congressional office every day. It takes a few minutes, tops.

Get someone new to call with you. Encourage them, and stand by them if they’re nervous.

Change isn’t created by people doing large things. Those large actions are simply ways to harness and focus the daily actions. Those daily actions are a foundation that can shift governments. Those daily actions reinforce and reclaim norms. Large actions cannot exist without that foundation.

Scale is simply a matter of access, community, resources, organization. You can’t scale something up if it doesn’t exist to begin with. You need to make it exist to begin with. You need to take those daily actions. They are more important.

Trump and Republicans can defeat a single large action. Winning those is important, too, but what they can’t defeat is millions performing daily actions. They want to make you think you’re powerless and alone. They want to make you think your fate relies on one or two people.

They can defeat those people. What they can’t defeat is you, every day. And your friend, every day. And a family member, every day. And more and more every day.

If you put your expectations in a handful of people, Trump and his cronies can defeat and change your expectations if they defeat those people. If you put your expectations in yourself and your community, then they can’t defeat those expectations or change them. They can never escape those expectations then, and their being accountable to those expectations is only a matter of daily work and time.

They won’t win because they have power. They’ll only win if you don’t practice yours.

Whether you can organize a march or make a call, whether you can write a calling campaign or visit an office, whether you can speak publicly to hundreds or get one person you know to call, it’s just as important. There’s no difference between all those things. Scale can only be increased when there’s something consistent to increase.

Defeat Trump and Republicans every day, and they’ll be defeated in the big moments.

Only defeat them in the big moments, and we’ll fail to defeat them every day.

The daily, consistent work you do is what decides this. Decide it.

If what you read on this site is useful, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

Don’t Want War with Iran? Call Your Congresspeople

I’m getting through to Congressional offices today. Call, please. There is a window to de-rail war with Iran, and it relies on pressure applied to Congress to avoid normalizing it.

Make it a priority. Don’t call as an afterthought. Mark it as something you do every day. It is important. Treat it as important.

Know what you want out of the conversation. Don’t call timidly. Have expectations. It’s their job to meet your expectations, not yours to lower them.

When they tell you they have no answers and can just take a message, remind them that Trump has talked about this for years, escalated the situation with Iran for months, and there’s an international incident that’s days old now. How is it that their office has no response from the Congressperson, let alone a plan of action to stop war? How much time do they need to do their job?

Ask them how they plan on paying for this. Charging it to future generations who will suffer the consequences is not a plan. Millennials already know that all this does is torpedo the opportunities of a generation.

Remind them that they’ve failed to win the other wars we’re engaged in. We retreated from Syria. Iraq is voting to kick American troops out. We have no long-lasting victory in Afghanistan. Iran is more powerful than those three countries put together.

Remind them that military families are exhausted. It’s been more than 15 years of countless tours. Remind them they haven’t taken care of the veterans from those 15+ years of war. They haven’t earned the right to declare another one.

Ask them if they know anything about Iran. Do they know its population? It’s 81 million people. That’s more than Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya put together at the times we became engaged with them.

Do they know Iran’s size? It’s 636,000 square miles. That’s more than three-and-a-half Iraqs put together.

Do they know the strength of its military? Iran’s military is ranked 13th in the world. That’s more powerful than Brazil, Israel, Australia, or North Korea.

Do they have a plan for how much worse this would make things in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan? Or is that the plan?

Do they have a plan beyond missile strikes and then see what happens?

How is it that Congressional offices don’t know the first thing about a war we might be diving into? It’s their job.

How is it the Congressperson has no response about escalations with Iran? Why are they failing to do their job?

Stop worrying about being polite. Call them out. Have expectations and do not allow them to be moved because someone is nice on the phone. They’re going to nice-on-the-phone us into a war, refugee crisis, and economic depression that will make the last 18 years of nonstop war feel like a relaxing breather. Be pissed. Demand answers to your questions. Ask why they fail to have those answers. Make it a priority. Get others to call with you. You only stop a war by stopping it, not by hoping someone else will.

Make Trump, Pence, and Republicans retreat on their make-believe, wannabe dictatorship and holy war playtime that would have real, inescapable repercussions. You can. It’s just a matter of whether you do.

Have You Heard… Marvin Gaye?

“What’s Going On”

by Gabriel Valdez

“Have you heard Marvin Gaye?” is a silly question. Of course you have. His songs are on the radio all the time. But have you sought him out lately, not to listen to in passing when tuning the radio or on the overhead speakers at a mall?

In the wake of Ferguson… “wake” isn’t even the right word because it pretends the moment has passed. In light of Ferguson, in its shadow, however you want to put it…please seek out Marvin Gaye.

His 1971 song “What’s Going On” talks about poverty, striking workers, violence in the streets, and a war in its second decade that no one wanted to be a part of in the first place. Whether the quality of Marvin’s musicianship or the quality of our country at the moment, the song is as relevant and compelling today as the day it was recorded.

“What’s Going On” was conceived by Four Tops member Obie Benson. He had witnessed an anti-war protest in which police had senselessly and violently beaten protestors. Al Cleveland wrote the song with Benson, and it was revised by Gaye, who wanted to infuse it with the emotion he felt when exchanging letters with his brother Frankie, a soldier trapped in the Vietnam War.

Once his brother returned home, Marvin reportedly told him, “I didn’t know how to fight before, but now I think I do. I just have to do it my way. I’m not a painter. I’m not a poet. But I can do it with music.”

“What’s Going On” may be about a moment in time, but it captures a struggle that surpasses that moment. It reminds us to each find our own way to fight. It’s a song that does the rarest thing – it recognizes the desperation in its listener, however deeply it’s hidden. It acknowledges that desperation and commiserates with it, and then asks, “What now?”

Ferguson Sacrificed Itself to Give Us an Opportunity

Ferguson flames 3

by Gabriel Valdez

Protestors setting their community alight in acts of brazen defiance? I’m so glad people are supportive of these acts of frustrated protest. That such civil disobedience can raise $121 million in our country over a weekend is remarkable. Truly, we understand our long history of protest against a justice system established to find the poor and downtrodden guilty of being poor and downtrodden, that ghettoizes minorities, and reports on those less fortunate as if they were animals.

Those successful riots and acts of defiance were in The Hunger Games, though. Why do we find those acts compelling on a movie screen and, days later, turn around and condemn them in Ferguson, Missouri?

We just had our hearts moved by the struggle of a people who feel oppressed and must violently rebel. We saw the sacrifices they had to make in order to do so, sacrifices that most of us have never had to face and might not be willing to make. We just saw it in a movie, now it’s happening in real life, and we have the gall as a people to feel more empathy for the characters who are made up with names like Katniss and Peeta?

We look on in horror at buildings burning, at tear gas in the streets, at injured being loaded into cars and rushed to the hospital. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I don’t want anyone’s livelihood to be ruined. Yet in many ways I am thankful this is happening. I was worried this would fizzle out, that people would shrug and go back home and there would be protests but they would have lost their heart. Instead, people who were willing to risk life and limb in order to display their frustration with a broken justice system forced this conversation to be front and center. Today, we cannot ignore it.

They did it using the very tools we so often cheer on screen. Why can’t we cheer them the same way here?

When any of us don’t get what we feel we deserve in our lives, sometimes we get angry. On a city-wide (or nation-wide) scale, when what you want is justice, equal treatment, and a fair trial according to the rule of our land, getting angry is going to mean fires and rocks and lord knows what else. But you know what? Every ethnicity – Irish, Germans, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, African-Americans, every single ethnicity – has had to get monumentally angry at some point in our history in order to get heard. To say your ethnicity’s moment of anger was somehow more warranted than this one doesn’t leave the door open behind you.

When the system so clearly breaks, moments of such widespread anger are the only thing capable of causing change over time. To pretend as if the residents of Ferguson are doing anything different than what every race has a long history of doing in the United States is, to put it quite simply, insanely racist.

Is Ferguson’s reaction too violent? Is it too destructive? You know what? I’m not going through what they’re going through. I am not qualified to be their judge. If you’re sitting at home, watching news anchors call them traitors or field reporters trespass to shove cameras in the faces of those suffering, then chances are you are not qualified to be their judges either. Whether they intend to or not, Ferguson burned down their city last night for so many other cities that face the same struggle. That their city burned down last night means other cities might not. If we cheer their cause. If we pay attention.

You want to be exactly like your heroes on screen, like Katniss and Peeta and Luke and Han and Leia and Maleficent and Captain America? You cheer on this cause. You don’t avert your eyes. You witness it. You let it burn into you so that you remember how damaging and painful injustice is. This moment can be a memory that changes something, that makes all that pain worth it. Or it can be a moment that happens again and again and again.

There is no difference between what happens on-screen in a movie and what happens in real life, except this: You can change what happens in real life. You can be the hero. All a hero is made of is the willingness to help. Don’t waste this opportunity to make your voice known. Don’t waste this opportunity to stand up for people who are suffering. A city burned. How much pain do you have to feel to burn your city? Do something about that pain. Be brave, make mistakes, but do something about that pain.

End of the Open Internet? End of the Creative Economy.

Tele Operator

I’m pushing Wednesday Collective by a day to talk about something more important: the creative economy.

Specifically in regards to an open internet. Let’s not pretend I don’t have a horse in the race. I’m pursuing making a career out of being a writer on film. That requires readers be able to access my site at the same speed they could access Comcast’s in-house critics (whose love for anything associated with Comcast is, I’m sure, totally objective).

I know independent filmmakers whose core audience is based in online communities, DIY-ers who sell fashion on Etsy, models and actors who find their contracts through low-overhead sites online, thrifters whose entire life is based in refurbishing and online re-sale, painters who rely on internet commissions, bands who sell their songs through BandCamp and other community sites, and game developers whose independent sites are their lives. Each of these people has worked to build a community and a following, and has put years of research and effort into fostering their networks and connections. You don’t just hop on the internet and suddenly thousands of people are following and buying from you. You work at it.

The sprouting of these online DIY communities is based in two things – a downright awful economy that’s refused many the kind of middle class careers that were once available; and the accessibility of connecting with like-minded individuals online.

In a cable-styled, pay-for-package internet, creatives will be forced to make themselves subsidiary to specific hosts. That means painters and costume designers and developers who see 90% of their revenue back will suddenly have to pay overhead for an “online housing.”

What that usually means on today’s fairly open internet is a 30-to-70% cut of revenue is taken by the platform that hosts you. To pretend it won’t be more when people have no other choice is naive. Creatives could be seeing less than 30% of their revenue back. Compare that with the costs many put into their work, and that’s the bankrupting of the very DIY economy that has, essentially, created the livelihoods of countless of my closest friends.

It’s even worse if you run an independent website that’s crucial to your business. Think about Cable TV for a second. Could you pay to have your own channel as part of a Comcast or DirectTV package? If you can, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you can’t, proceed to freak out.

Writers may be facing the worst drop off a cliff. If independent voices are squeezed out, who will we work for? Huffington Post? You get paid with exposure, not money. IndieWire? Paid with exposure. SlashFilm? Paid with exposure.

Look, the end of net neutrality and the open internet will effect the political voices and breadth of reporting to which we’re exposed, yes – that’s a whole other argument. But it will annihilate the creative industry that has essentially saved a large portion of my generation.

I like my generation. I think we work our asses off to introduce art into the world in a way no other American generation has. That’s our point of pride. We didn’t have to go through the Great Depression. We’re just going through a fairly sizable one. We didn’t have to sacrifice everything for a World War. We just had to sacrifice a lot of things for two ill-advised ones. Yet we’re the generation that’s introduced specialized, self-sustained, niche economies of mutual interest and artistic expression into the world at a time of increasing globalism and decreasing means to create. I will not see that taken away from us. No one should see that taken away from them.

The FCC has already ruled against the open internet, despite the objections of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and every other major and minor player out there. The only ones in favor of it are the service providers who are already paid for that service, and who will now get paid doubly – Comcast, Sprint and the like.

To think that’s the end of the fight, instead of the very beginning, doesn’t reflect the reality of this generation. We’re a stubborn bunch of jackasses when we need to be. When you call the FCC, they have an automatic recording telling you that – if you’re calling about the open internet – you should send them an e-mail instead. What a bunch of ironic dipshits.

And I’ll bet on a bunch of jackasses before a bunch of dipshits any day of the week. When’s the last time you did what an automated recording told you to do? For instance, I like to punch numbers through to the operator for any other branch of the FCC and complain there. They’ll tell me I’m in the wrong department and should send an e-mail. I’ll tell them that, before I do, let me tell them what I really think. Can I speak to a manager? Can I speak to a manager’s manager?

Call the FCC, call your congressman, call Comcast. If someone doesn’t want to call, borrow their phone, pretend to be a southern, upset, elderly Republican who’s thinking of voting Democrat for the first time in his 80-year life (I do this to John McCain’s legislative office at least twice a year, usually after a stressful day. Pairs lovely with a Chianti.) Be a newly immigrated Irish youth who imagined America as the land of opportunity but is now rethinking that image. Be an amateur-circuit racecar driver with a contract on the table for Comcast to put their name on his car – what an opportunity, but how will my moral inhibitions about the open internet effect my racing? Open internet is how my ma and pa sell their homemade jam! Call Comcast and decline the management position they offered you. What? I’m in the wrong department? Let me tell you why I can’t work for such a company anyway. Mention it to your manager.

Believe me, there’s no better way to pass the time while waiting for a train or bus or walking home. (And there’s absolutely no better way to practice for auditions or try a character out in different situations.) Be yourself and then be a dozen other people, and bother the shit out of them and tell your friends to bother the shit out of them, because I know hundreds of people whose livelihoods rely on an open internet, and I’m sure you know hundreds of people whose livelihoods rely on an open internet. It’s the secret to the sustainability of our generation through a time when our country can’t get its ass up off the ground. More importantly, I know for many of you, it is your future success at what you love that’s at stake.

Call the FCC: 1-888-225-5322 (or 1-888-CALL-FCC)
Call your Congressman
Call Comcast: 1-800-934-6489

The Most Dangerous Meme

Prescott Bush fake photo

Above is a photo of Prescott Bush with Adolf Hitler. Prescott Bush was the grandfather of George W. and Jeb Bush. It is proof irrefutable that the Bushes have been associated with evil since the dawn of time, right? Evil must just be in their DNA.

But if you root through the musty, sopping archives of the Internet, you’ll also find Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Roseanne, and Dora the Explorer posing with the icon of all things evil in the 20th century. Dig around some more, and you’ll find a version of that Prescott Bush photo that Prescott Bush isn’t even in, involving British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain looking so unhappy to be in his place that his mustache seems to be trying to get away.

Occupy Portland and some other websites posted the Prescott Bush photo as their proof irrefutable that evil is just evil and needs to be fought tooth and nail. This is wrong. It’s not just wrong because it’s historically make-believe. It’s not just wrong because it does more to harm Occupy’s stance than endorse it. It’s wrong because it boils down a complicated moment in history that required the complicity of entire nations to: “Hitler did it.”

As official blog sister Ariela Valdez puts it, “What always bothers me is that while Hitler was a very bad man, he did not act alone. He got a lot of other people to follow him. Then those people got a lot of other people to look the other way. To me, that is more terrifying. One bad man can only do so much. Each time we say ‘as bad as Hitler,’ I feel like we do more than just exaggerate. I feel like we simplify history until all the evil is stored in the memory we have of one horrible man instead of a more comprehensive memory of how one evil man brought out the evil in others.”

Here’s the real photo over which the Prescott Bush version was photoshopped:

Real version of fake photo

You’ll notice this version is much better quality. An earlier version of the Prescott Bush fake betrays that Prescott’s photographic overlay shows a finer photographic grain than Hitler’s – this means that the photo from which Prescott was taken had gone through fewer reproductions than the photo in which Hitler stands.

It makes the forgery of the thing stand out, which is why the version at the top has been intentionally blurred – it hides these details. There’s some cleverness to the fake, however. While the background has been reversed, it preserves Hitler’s original orientation. Why go to that much trouble? Anyone who’s researched World War II knows that Hitler’s signature look was combing his hair over his left eye, with the part on the right. Reversing this would be a dead giveaway that the photo had been retouched. Compare the early fake below to the late fake at the top and the middle original.

Earlier version of fake

This took less than 10 minutes of research to uncover. Look, I long called myself a Democrat. I’m now more generally liberal, because I have issues with too many Democrats thinking the way to negotiate is to run away while shouting, “Please don’t hurt me.” You may be a conservative or you may not be, but you know how much being a Democrat or being a Republican or Libertarian or Green Partier or anything matters to this kind of meme? It doesn’t. I’m of half a mind to start my own party – the Research Party.

There are claims that Prescott Bush funded the Nazi party. The world was still pretty global, even in the 1930s, and Prescott was one of seven co-directors of the bank UBC, which had investments in Nazi Germany. Most major American businesses – like GM – had similar investments, just like they had investments in every other major Western power. UBC divested from Germany after Kristallnacht (“The Night of Shattered Glass”) in 1938, during which Nazi supporters destroyed the storefronts of and looted from businesses owned by Jews in Germany. UBC was later investigated for these investments and found not guilty of anything. If anything, UBC divested from Germany much more quickly than many major American banks and investors.

Prescott Bush had himself fought against Germany in World War I. As for political involvement, he was a Republican. His position as a treasurer with Planned Parenthood lost him his first election to the Senate in Connecticut. He served as one of the chairmen of the United Negro College Fund, which still fights today for African-Americans to get scholarships to go to college. Prescott was also a key ally of Democratic president Harry Truman. Once he became a senator, Prescott Bush was a leading voice in censuring Joseph McCarthy, he became an important ally in passing civil rights legislation, and he helped establish the Peace Corps.

So what does this fake photo do? It takes someone who was a good person, who risked his life fighting for our country, who bridged the gap between his own Republican party and the Democrats, who helped us pass civil rights and establish one of the most useful and enduring diplomatic avenues for peace the world has ever seen, and it throws him under the bus by posing him with Hitler, simply because his grandson betrayed many of the ideals he himself championed.

It seeks to inaccurately portray the Bush family as generationally evil, to apply a Darth Vader-styled origin story to them. It puts the onus on some impossible recognition of “evil in men,” as if somehow we liberals are qualified to make that judgment, as if it’s our campaign poster to become the Internet’s Thought Police. It blames a system that’s gone off the rails on villains that don’t really exist and casts them all with Alan Rickman, rather than on flaws and faults in our government and economic system themselves. It takes our eye off the ball, liberal and conservative alike.

Furthermore, it’s insulting. It removes the complex story reality has to tell about Nazi Germany, about how evil really evolves to not just inhabit one man, but an entire country, an entire region, half a continent.

Even if you’re just looking for effect, to rally the troops, you know who reacts to these photos? The ones you don’t really have to work to get any more riled up, that’s who. People on the fence are repulsed. People whose politics lie in the middle, who you might have convinced to support your ideals, are now less likely to do so, especially once they discover your propaganda is fake. It preaches to a choir that doesn’t need any more preaching, and chases the curious and those willing to learn more – the very future of your cause – straight out.

I’ve always said, for a real protest – one that changes things – I’d rather have 10 people who know the material, who have done their research, who know the history of protest and the art of it, the positive and negative effects different types of protest risk. I’d rather have those 10 people than 100 or 1,000 protestors who don’t know why they’re there or what they’re doing or the history of a movement. You can always rally masses of people, after all, especially in this day and age, but when rallying people becomes easier and easier, doing it effectively becomes so much more difficult.

Occupy Portland may have seen a photo that paints a picture of politics as they see them, but so many others aside from myself will see a photo that ignores historical and political fact in order to further drive a wedge between people who face the same problems, and really aren’t as different as they’re led to believe by people who make up photos like this.

That’s what I mean by the negative risks of protest. People think any act of protest drives their cause forward. This is as false an idea as that photo. This post on Occupy Portland’s page is rife with people calling foul, with those citing the forgery. That photo didn’t strengthen Occupy Portland’s position or galvanize their supporters. It created doubt. It weakened the effect of anything else they have to say. Now, even if they say something truthful, more people won’t interpret it that way. Now, when they need people to show up and rally, it won’t be the curious and those willing to learn more – the future of their cause. It will be the ones who don’t analyze, who don’t research, the ones least effective in ever causing anything to change.

Protest can be a beautiful thing, but it’s useless without knowing what type of protest will cause what type of change. It’s useless without knowing how it can help your cause and how it can hurt your cause. If you go into it with no knowledge of what you’re doing, you may as well join the side you’re protesting against, because you’ll cause less damage that way. In an age of meme and quickly replicated information taking the place of real, researched fact, one of the most effective tactics corporations and politicians employ in fighting protest is introducing photos like the one above. There’s no quicker way to illegitimize a movement than to associate it with forgery and lies.

So, for the sake of still being able to change the world going forward, I beg you: do a few minutes of research before you post a meme. Please make sure that the piece of information you’re about to pass along is worth being represented alongside your image.