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Can We Dialogue?

Here is a facebook conversation I had with my cousin. I welcome your feedback on my approach for trying to learn more and also share my own perspective. May we find ways to dialogue across our differences. May we be open to hearing each other. May we be open to allowing our own perspectives to change. May the goodness in our hearts be the compass that guides us forward.

Ashley posted: Students walking out in NYC… Because their country just walked out on them by voting in Betsy DeVos?

Cousin: From what I have heard and understood over the last few years, people r screaming for a change in the school system. Now a change has been offered. I don’t get it.

Ashley:  As someone who has been very active in cultivating change in schools, I deeply value people who have experience with those directly impacted being the ones leading change. Someone who has not been an educator, has not attended or sent her own children to public schools, has not worked with the populations of students that are most impacted within our public school systems is not someone who I trust to lead change.

Cousin: Maybe someone outside the box is necessary to lead the change. Have the experienced leaders in the past done anything to help the schools? Not from what I’m hearing.

Ashley: Besides the fact that she is outside the box, what makes you think that she is a good choice for this role?

Cousin: She’s been an advocate for charter schools, school choice and voucher programs in Detroit. She’s on the board of Alliance for school choice. She heads the All children matter pac. She’s on the board of Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Ashley: I realize that these are her credentials and affiliations. I’m wondering what specific things that she’s done in any of those roles do you think will influence positive change in public education for all children?

Cousin: Ashley we will have to wait and see what the plans are. It can’t be any worse than it now. Everyone wants change. Give her a shot and see. Obama had no government experience at all. Just a community organizer. And the majority of the US have him a chance and all his supporters think he did a fantastic job.

Ashley: Cousin, one of the things that you and I have in common is that we both want to see change. As I’ve mentioned to you many times, I don’t fit within the box you try to place me in that is about Democrats or Republicans. I’m not someone who thinks Obama did a fantastic job in everything nor was I a die-hard Hillary fan. I work every single day to actively be a part of creating change in my community and country to bring about more awareness and understanding about our differences and to work towards a future that is actually fair, just, respectful, compassionate for all people. I don’t believe government was doing a great job in public schools leading up to this moment. And I don’t believe that someone like DeVos is the change that will actually make public schools start working. What I believe in more than any of these billionaires being appointed or politicians who are die-hards for their party line rather than thoughtful to the issues is PEOPLE. When it boils down to it, the question is how many decent hearted people will go out of their comfortable life to care about those that are most vulnerable, most impacted by public schools loosing huge amounts of funding, disabled students not being protected, immigrant students not being adequately taught and protected, and Black students being tracked to prison? For me, I can’t just wait and see and let more people suffer. I feel a responsibility to care for and be a part of this change. I don’t trust someone like DeVos whose family has given millions of dollars to politicians. And I very much do trust the community organizers in the world. They are the ones that have historically been responsible for influencing the most social change. If you’re not familiar with the impact community organizers have had on our country, I highly encourage some reading in that realm.

Ashley: A post from a friend of mine: I’ve been holding my tongue, but Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education was a never-taught-in-a-classroom, privatizing education, high stakes testing champion*. Betsy is just more of the same… that appointment is actually the least troubling since it continues the trajectory Bush and Obama put us on since NCLB. So, I gotta say for all those who threw their everything into opposing DeVos, I hope you call your Senators to oppose Sessions this morning, an avowed white supremacist racist who may become our next Attorney General. Now THAT is terrifying and unprecedented.

Cousin: I appreciate and respect u for fighting for what u feel strongly for and against. I just get the feeling that anyone who didn’t vote for trump will be unhappy with whomever he chooses to fill his cabinet. As your friend stated above, Arnie Duncan had no experience but yet he served as secretary. I’m sure there was opposition from the republicans but not in the way it’s happening now. People who voted for trump wanted big change and that’s what’s happening. I can tell u that the Milwaukee public schools need massive change. But then talking to teachers who have taught there say it’s very hard to keep the students going because they get no help or encouragement from home. I’m not saying this is happening to all kids, but it is a large percentage here. The graduation rate is very low in the inner city. We can’t expect the teachers to raise our children. We r the ones who have to be the advocates for the children which I am doing for my kids. And which u r doing for the children who have no voice and I respect u for that.

Ashley: People who voted for Obama wanted big change as well. And many feel discouraged at the end of 8 years as the kind of change we hoped for didn’t happen. Many of those people chose not to vote at all this election because neither Trump nor Clinton provided evidence of that change. I believe that folks who want change have a lot in common with each other and what we need to be doing is critically thinking for ourselves, asking ourselves and our peers hard questions about what will really bring about the change we want, and finding ways to work together outside of political affiliation to make that change happen.

I don’t support protesting because its popular, nor do I support accepting what Trump and his people say is true just because they say it. I think that what we are seeing in the protests and resistance is many people who are done believing politicians who make big promises that they will solve our problems but really they are acting for their own benefit and in the best interests of those who pay for their political career. Folks are realizing that the system isn’t working. What Trump is proposing and the people he is appointing to lead change have a track record of being Nationalist, discriminatory, racist and sexist. They have a long history of using corporate money to garner profit over supporting the rights of people. I think that those of us who want change don’t want to see this kind of abuse from the elite with power. That is what Trump supporters voted against. Absolutely, there are serious problems in inner city public schools and the solutions are complex. Understanding the home lives of children is definitely a big part of solutions. It’d be a whole nother post for me to talk about schools and change in that realm. Thank you for the dialogue here, cousin.

Ashley: Hey Cousin, One more thing keeps circling around my head. I believe you and I had a conversation about choosing the lesser of 2 evils prior to election. On my end, that meant voting for Clinton and preparing what my plan of action was going to be to resist and push back against her policies that I heavily disagreed with. I would love to see where there are Republicans who voted for the lesser of two evils in Trump and are pushing against aspects of this administrations decisions that they don’t agree with. If you see this, are living this, please share things with me. I heard so many people make that statement during the election and I’m so curious how those folks are navigating now.

Also, a year or 2 or 3 or 4 from now, I am totally willing to recognize and celebrate if our country has undergone positive changes and the majority of public schools are getting quality education that matches their needs, the people I see being violated against and discriminated against are feeling protected and included in our governance and law enforcement, the inequities in access to jobs and healthcare are dramatically limited, etc. And I pray with all my heart, that folks like you who support Trump and his administration will be equally as open to recognizing and resisting if we actually are moving into a fascist regime. I have a very diverse community of friends and I see when people are being targeted by law enforcement and legal attacks. I pray that people who don’t have as diverse of communities will listen when folks are calling out for help and will not stand by when rights are being taken away. I pray that our country won’t repeat a Nazi Germany era. From the research I have done myself, I do see it as a possibility. On that note, if you or friends of yours have links to articles that you respect about Bannon, I welcome those as well. He is one of the people I am most concerned about his influence on the direction our country is headed.

Cousin: Yes I know a lot of people who voted for trump because they didn’t want to vote for hillary and he was the only option. I also know a lot of people who voted for trump because they liked his ideas, policies etc. I will have chats with these folks and let u know what their thoughts r about him and what is going on so far with the admin. I’m glad to hear u say that u will recognize good things that could come from this president. And I hope that the sweeping changes enacted do help all people of this country. I am absolutely against fascism and would stand up against it. I will keep an eye on Bannon too. I am finding it difficult to keep an open mind towards democrats with all the anti trump protests and riots. It’s clouding my judgement. Sorry to say.

Ashley: Thank you cousin. I invite you to be careful about where you get your media from and who is telling you the stories of what is behind the protests. I know very few people who are only anti-Trump protesting. Most I know are standing up for specific causes and actions that they are for or against. Part of fascist techniques is to pit sides against one another and create a media narrative that is stated as absolute truth. If we can’t think for ourselves and talk to each other, then people are much easier to control and rule. If folks are made to think that Democrats are protesting violently and for no reason, then it helps to make sure that those of us who really want change and want it to happen in legal and just ways won’t talk to each other or work together.

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From My Perspective…

From my perspective…

BubblesThe majority of us live in bubbles.

We mostly connect with people who are like us. Our contact with folks who are different primarily comes through media — television, movies, books, social media — or through interactions that revolve around commerce — at a store, restaurant, service station. There are a few anomalies within our bubbles, but mostly we gather with people like us. We’ve been living in this way since we were born. Some of us have expanded or diversified our bubbles and others hop between different bubbles.

Most of us hold preconceived ideas about what folks who live in different bubbles are like. We develop these ideas from the personal experiences we have with people who are different. Our ideas of others are also shaped by what we’ve been taught by our parents, in schools, through the media and from our peers. These preconceived ideas can become dangerous and lead to stereotypes, discrimination, hatred, and ultimately violence. On top of all of that, people in some bubbles are granted access to things that people in other bubbles are denied, such as healthcare, healthy food, jobs, housing, quality education, etc.

I think that there are many people who are living so deeply inside our own bubbles, intentionally or unintentionally, that we are missing a lot of what is happening at this time in history. We are blind to life in other bubbles. We can’t see the ways we are affecting each other. And the bigger picture is absent to us. There are also plenty who straight-up hate people in other bubbles. This intentional and accidental ignorance keeps us from working towards a future that is good for all of us. I believe it is fueling a divisiveness that is present and growing.

politicsMeanwhile… from a systemic perspective… there are individuals with the power to make decisions that impact the lives of the masses (most of the bubbles). As I understand it, in the United States, we have a government system that says, ‘the people’ can influence those decisions by electing leadership and providing input to how the elected officials govern.

I believe that if our system worked well, we would live in a country where ALL the people living on and contributing to this land and its people would be treated with dignity and respect. We would have leadership that represented our most shared values. Everyone would be able to live as their authentic self, free to contribute their gifts and be fairly rewarded for their contributions. Everyone would be able to express their love and culture with pride. And when there is conflict or violence in the system, we would be able to address it in just and humane ways.

I don’t believe our system works well, and yet I am still living under its dominance. Therefore, I believe in voting and in doing everything I can to influence the leadership that has the ability to make decisions that impact the masses. I want for our country’s leadership to be as intelligent, compassionate, honest, and just as possible. I want for that leadership to genuinely strive to serve all of the people living on and contributing to this land and its people, not just a select few.

I am currently deeply troubled by our governing systems and especially alert to the political climate we are in right now. I pray that the kind-hearted, compassionate and courageous people (the masses from many different bubbles) will find the collective strength to influence the decisions that influence our lives. This includes the lives of people that are inside our own bubbles and people in other bubbles. From the long view, I believe that it will be the compassion and actions of these good people that will shift the political climate and demand movement towards a system or systems that work better for all, towards leadership that leads effectively and compassionately.

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Given all this, I attended a Trump rally on September 12th in Asheville, NC in efforts to better understand the folks that feel that Trump would make a good president of this country. I also wanted to feel the tone of his rally’s now, beyond clips and soundbites. I watched a full rally during the primaries in March and was extremely alarmed by what I saw. In the 6 months since then, I perceive that there has been an escalation of violence and hatred felt by many across the country. The divides between people are growing extreme. And I believe that Trump and his rallies have contributed to this escalation.

People asked me to share about my experience at the rally. I’m not accustomed to political commentary. I didn’t imagine it was going to be so hard to write or that I’d need to use so many words!

My perceptions of the rally sit within the context of all these other beliefs I’ve just shared. I can only see through my bubble, wrapped in the filters of my identity and all the lenses I wear, some consciously and many unconsciously.

Here are a few components of my bubble that feel relevant to how I perceived this rally:

  • Me-Me-Me-1-ssvq0pI come from, grew up in, and live in a middle class household. I was raised by two working parents in a divorced home. During my childhood, we didn’t live luxuriously, but our basic needs were more than taken care of. We had money for leisure. At college age, some of my family experienced financial wealth. People close to me have and currently do live in poverty, but I have never had that experience myself.
  • I have been fortunate in my ability to find work since I was 15 years old. People who live in bubbles similar to mine, hired me and gave me opportunities. I have also been able to take professional and entrepreneurial risks because I had financial support from family. Access to generational wealth and connections have provided me with opportunities.
  • I am White. I come from 2 generations of White family members on both sides who have been able to access quality education, take out loans to buy homes, cars and businesses. They have been able to purchase houses in the neighborhoods they want to live in (I think*). While all of these folks faced obstacles, as a whole, if they worked hard they were able to achieve their dreams and/or some prosperity. Many of these opportunities that my family experienced, Southerners with White skin, were privileges not available to others whose family members have also been in the United states for 2 generations, but whose skin is Black or Brown. *It is possible my grandparents experienced religious discrimination that I am not aware of.
  • I am Jewish. Since childhood, I felt culturally Jewish more than religiously Jewish. Woven into my cultural identity is a sense of responsibility to work towards making the world a better place and to do so by questioning the way things are, and fiercely standing up for truth and justice. I was taught to root for the underdog, stand up for those that are being mistreated, and don’t turn away when I see people doing horrible things to themselves or others. I feel these attributes are sourced in my Jewish roots.
  • I am disillusioned by our government. I do not understand our government structures and how dishonest, corrupt and ineffective they are in serving the people. 
    I would prefer that we strip the system down and start over as I can’t see a legitimate way out of the mess we are currently in, using a system that is rooted in so much systemic and structural bias, discrimination, and ineffectiveness.

SeeTheWorld

What are the lenses you wear or bubbles you live in that influence how you perceive this political climate, this election season, the presidential candidates, the potential impact of their policies and their respective followers? What will influence how you read my words?

 

My experience of the rally

To begin with, I must note that I felt safe wearing my White skin to the Trump Rally. When I was discerning whether or not to attend, I spoke to a handful of friends of Color who said that they wished they could go for similar reasons. However, they did not feel safe going with their Black or Brown skin. I knew that I could blend in and potentially avoid conflict thanks to my Whiteness. My friends did not have the same disguise and feared for their own safety if they attended this rally. This is the climate that has been cultivated around Trump. This is precisely the climate that I fear intensifying if he becomes president.

As a whole, very little surprised me. The room was packed with 6000 or so, predominantly White, of varying ages, people. The tone was definitely a rally — from the stage, lots of energy was put into stirring people up and not too much was substantially said. Trump’s comments were rather straightforward and polished compared to what I’ve experienced in the past. It definitely felt like he is trying to speak to people in the middle now, no longer stirring up his base with extreme statements, but softening, offering a more mild and compassionate story with the tone of, we got this together and I can lead us ALL there. The crowd broke into chant at the expected moments, he mentions the US and the room erupts chanting USA. Mentions Mexico and “Build the Wall” fills the room. Trump asks, “Who’s going to build it?” and the room yells “MEXICO” and goes wild. Mentions Hillary’s name and people shout a litany of sexist comments and swear words. When a protester is escorted out, they heckle with derogatory slurs. Trump pauses for the spectacles and makes comments about what bad people Hillary the protesters are and the good people that he and his supporters are.

While Trump’s words were not as piercingly discriminatory this time, his crowd was a different story. There was definitely hate palpable in the room. While I didn’t perceive directly any physical violence around me, it was very clear that the energy in the room was hot and I am certain that if the right provocation happened, if Trump had made more extreme comments, or someone around me had spoken descent, many folks in the room were ready to let that aggression out. The clips you see from media all happened here too (including a violent assault by a Trump supporter towards 3 protesters inside the rally and a  Trump supporter who supposedly punched a 69 year old protester on oxygen outside the rally. Both of these I did not see personally, but have since seen video and news accounts of).

jobsgraphic

There was also another group of people. These are the ones who touched my heart in the most empathic ways. I felt that there were a lot of working class people who are genuinely scared about the lack of jobs that they and their children have access to. They are worried about their future and looking for hope. Every time that Trump made a promise that “I will create jobs for you”, I felt a genuine cheer of relief and gratitude from the crowd, a desperate, we need this. It felt like Trump was representing this father-protector persona with his many ways of saying “I will take care of you and protect you.” He repeated many times about how he cares about people and will take care of them. On an energetic level, it felt to me like a room full of all ages and all genders, collapsing in his arms, giving him their worry, fear, and turning over a trust that “He will make this all better for us and our children.” I felt sighs of relief expressed in wild cheers when he addressed the room as “Hard working American patriots.” A sense of yes, this is us! I perceived it as people saying, “He sees us and recognizes how hard we are actually working. He will make life better and less hard for us.” One way he addressed the young people present was, “Your parents are trying to work hard to save your country and make it better for you.” My sadness, however, is that I do not feel him genuinely making these promises to ALL Americans.

It is possible that he will create opportunities for this White, homogeneous group. For those inside that bubble who are unable or unwilling to empathize with folks in different bubbles who are Latin American, Latinos, Muslim American or Muslims, I can understand voting for him. Trump could make their world better and they don’t feel a responsibility to people in different bubbles. And yes, Trump might provide those folks with a sense of safety and security, and since they only care about the well-being of people in their own bubble, they may not be concerned with the lives of innocent people such as the family members of terrorists who Trump says he will have killed or using illegal torture techniques with his expanded and modernized military.

So as far as Trump’s supporters and the tone of the rally… I felt hate and violence in the room and I felt fear, desperation, and hope in the room. I also felt a lot of people whose presence was pretty neutral. I didn’t feel much life or passion from them in any direction.

Some of the core things I heard Trump speak to were:

    • Insulting Hillary Clinton prolifically, saying that she is a corrupt politician, all she cares about is representing people with money, and she’s running a hate campaign filled with bigotry, no policy and no solutions.
    • Building up people’s egos by telling them how smart and accomplished they are, “Anyone in here xenophobic? I didn’t think so. You are lawyers, doctors, teachers. You all were at the top of your class, the smartest in your class. You are everyone. And above all you are Americans.”
    • Assuring people that he loves them, cares about them and will take care of them by providing them with jobs, education, and security. He will change foreign policy, defeat the Islamic State and protect the 2nd amendment. He guarantees them that he will make their lives better.
    • Proving that African Americans are voting for him and they love him. The conditions that inner city communities are currently facing are such a mess, so just give him a chance and trust that it can’t get worse and he can fix it. “What do you have to lose?” 3 or 4 African Americans shared their support for Trump from the podium. To me, it felt like they were hired help, paid well for an easy gig, traveling around and saying 2 sentences from stage and that’s it. I also wondered who he was talking to when he kept promoting his Black supporters — is he really trying to get the Black vote? It also felt like he’s trying to convince White folks that he really does support and care about Black people. It didn’t feel authentic to me.
    • Calling out that the liberal establishment has disrespected their voters, they have taken them for granted — saying they will do things for votes and then not doing those things.
    • Assuring folks that he has very extensive and detailed plans for everything, just read his website.
    • Painting a picture that:
      • Every American deserves to be treated with dignity and respect
      • He will restore honesty in the government
      • Under him, our country can actually “start working together as 1 people, under 1 God, supporting 1 country.”

I wish I could believe him with this last one. Instead, I perceive that his definition of the word “American” is the many people in that room that he called the real Americans… it’s only people in certain bubbles.

Leaving the rally, we had to walk the gauntlet through a confronting sea of anti-Trump protesters. There was a thin line for us to walk through as the crowd chanted “Love trumps Hate” and many people yelled at us. To be honest, there was nothing that I experienced leaving the rally that made me stop and pause and listen to what the protesters were saying. No signs caught my attention, nobody did or said anything that made me want to feel them as a human. In my role of trying to empathize with being a Trump supporter, I found myself more inclined to stick with my decision to vote for Trump as the experience he offered seemed much more civil than the experience from the protesters outside.

I have since read many accounts of what happened in the streets before, during and after the rally. You’ll have to research that yourself or let me know if you want some links.

In the end, I still feel that a vote for Trump promotes a future that puts the lives of many Black and Brown people at serious risk and could strip many Americans of freedoms of safety and speech. There is much more I could say, but I have to stop trying to assign words to my complex and impassioned internal experiences. I’ll end this with a prayer.

prayer

I pray for systems of governance and power that are built upon compassion, justice, and collaboration. I have faith in human beings. I pray that we can take care of each other and make life better for ourselves, one another and future generations. I know that there are leaders walking this Earth right now who can lead us. They are fierce protectors of that which is holy, sacred, and essential for life. They are courageous and willing to face their enemies and move towards solutions. They are paying attention to and in relationship with the most vulnerable amongst us. They are leading the way out of oppression and are wildly innovative. They are divinely guided. May we recognize and follow their leadership.

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What’s on the inside? What’s in your heart?


Rosa sat, so Martin could walk.
Martin walked, so Obama could run.
Obama ran, so our children can fly.

~ Author Unknown

It’s an honor to be alive at this time. . .

Breathing ~ Smiling ~ Inspired ~ Curious ~ Ready

May we continue to truly celebrate and savor the hope and potential that is alive right now for many around the world. And may we move forward together, using this spirit to energize and activate the change we’ve dreamed of, forming unexpected relationships, continuing to make history and hopefully bringing into reality more than we even knew to dream for.

P.S. If you didn’t see the pre-election Ron Clark Academy performance and early interviews. Watch them!

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