It’s been a tough election season, and to say that I’m glad it’s over is a huge understatement. I don’t fit into a political box. My fiscal views are Republican, My personal view are Democratic, and all the quizzes I take tell me I’m a Libertarian. I’m a political hot mess, and because of that fact, and because I try to surround myself with strong people who differ from me, It seems like for the past few months I’ve just been pissing everybody off. Don’t get me wrong, I’m Ok with that. I’m OK with pissing someone off. But what I can not stand is the thought of hurting someone’s soul. So when my friend, whom I adore, asked me how I could possibly vote for Romney and claim to support her rights, I answered her. The Response, and The Response, part 2 were my letters to her. This is her letter back to me, reprinted in it’s entirety with permission.
After reading it, I cried. I called her to apologize. I took a good hard look into my soul and asked myself if I could still support Mitt Romney. I discovered that I can’t. But I can’t support the current President either, although he will get my state’s Electoral votes. That means that my presidential vote won’t change a thing.
Maybe in four years, I will have a chance to vote for a candidate that I can support. Maybe sometime in the next four years we can end the two-party system, the electoral college, or at least not have candidates on such extreme ends of the spectrum. In the meantime, I will work harder to educate myself and to look through as many different lenses as I can so that I can become a better human being. In the meantime, I share these powerful words with you, Dear Reader. My only intention is to show you the world through someone elses eyes. No matter the outcome, that can only make you better. (What follows is her response. Text from MY original letters are in italics Test from her response is not.)
My original question was about how you can vote for a party that seeks to marginalize me (and my community) and still call me your friend. In the process you brought up a lot of other issues, and so I’ll address those too.
Healthcare. The economy. Jobs. Military. All important. OF course. A million ways we could agree or disagree. And so many valid positions all along the spectrum. But I asked about one issue. And my question stands. I think to vote this way represents a tremendous disconnect, and I do feel strongly that it makes you complicit in discrimination and prejudice.
Let me ask you this: What if Romney was vocally prejudiced against the African-American community. Even if you agreed with everything else he said. If (now or in 1950) your candidate of choice spoke out against job protection, marriage, immigration rights for African American’s. If he and his party stated that ‘it’s not right on paper or in fact’ for interracial couples to have children or any of things he has said…could you vote for him and still have the right to call yourself Maisha’s friend? Really – ask yourself that? And then ask yourself how this is different? Because my otherness is invisible? Because it’s not as big a deal? Because you think it’s just marriage? I’m seriously asking you – and I don’t need an answer, I want you to answer yourself, in the deepest part of your heart – and see if you can’t see the disconnect between what you are saying and what you are doing.
I’ll address your points as you raised them. I’m not editing or filtering or trying to be gentle. This does not feel gentle to me. This is personal. So deeply, deeply personal.
“The general policy of the Republican party is that LESS government involvement is better than MORE government involvement. I firmly believe that sentiment. The more that the government interferes with our personal lives, the worse it is for everyone.
See, here in your argument you’ve lost me already. Looking even at the surface of the republican talking points, rhetoric and platform – it is deeply entrenched and deeply committed to interfere with personal lives. How on earth is the legislation of marriage, sexuality, contraception, women’s health and the like an example of staying out of personal lives?
“I believe that the number one priority for the President of The United States is to ensure that America continues to be a free country. I do not think that the fiscal policies of President Obama support this priority. I do not think that increasing the deficit the way that he has is responsible.”
I believe that Obama inherited a deep mess created by Republican economic policies. I think he’s done a fucking brilliant job with what he was given. The same year Obama was elected I left Sam. I had to borrow and borrow and borrow to survive because I had nothing. I am only beginning to dig myself out of the mess and start chunking down the debt. It will take me the next ten to fifteen years of hard work and sacrifice if nothing changes. I’ll have to do a lot of juggling and switching in the meantime to make it afloat. My finances are going to look rough for a while. If I can’t move forward – as one person – and get myself out of a financial mess in four years, how on earth do we expect our government to do the same to a country and economy that was left decimated under George Bush?
“But I don’t think that he has made our country stronger, or put us in a position that guarantees that we will remain the force for freedom that we are today. If our country is not strong, we are vulnerable.”
I’m going to say this, not with any intention of being condescending – but I think that very few American’s have a sense of how America is really viewed internationally. It’s very arrogance is it’s most vulnerable point. America is not a force for freedom, not by it’s deepest measures. None of us is free if even one of us is chained.
“I see myself first as an American citizen”
And there is where I differ. And differ on a core level.
I see myself first as a human being. As a citizen of no country. With responsibility to all humanity. My votes will always come from this deepest question – what is the most HUMAN choice? Which is the way that will respect humanity at its deepest level? And so equality, universal healthcare, and true personal liberty (not the personal liberty of the republican party but true freedom to be and look and love exactly as you are) are what drives me in writing, in love, in parenting and in living. What is the most human choice?
One of my greatest teachers, Patti Digh, asks us to ask ourselves, “What would love do”. In any situation. If love was an entity that could make a choice – what would it do? What would drive it to make a choice or action or impact.
What would love do?
What would love do?
What would love do?
What would love do in this election?
“Because the freedoms that I enjoy,(or don’t) in this country should NOT be based on my gender any more than they should be based on my sexuality. I should have rights as a citizen first, and have a country that recognizes and protects those rights. For the most part, it does.”
I’m going to ask you to take a step back here, and not to get defensive. But I’m going to ask you to take a deep, deep, deep look at the privilege from which you make that statement. I’m going to ask you because five years ago I lived and breathed that privilege and knew nothing but. I was a white, heterosexual, upper middle class woman. I had no understanding of what it means to be other. What it means to be hated for who I am. I still don’t, not for the most part. Because I still look like what I once was. But in the past five years I have absorbed hatred and violence into the deepest reaches of my soul. Outward violence – inheriting the history of Matthew Sheppard and Stonewall and Harvey Milk. Of hearing of stories of bashing and job loss and hatred experienced by people I know and love. Of suicides and devastation. And the smaller, even perhaps more insidious violence of words and policy and the knowledge that there are people who devote their lives to fighting against me, against my family. Against my humanity.
I have been other. I am other. It means I can deeper enter conversations of race, and feminism and ethnic violence all over the world. I have more to bring to this now. Five years ago it was intellectual, academic. I still believed the things I believed, but I knew them as an outsider. And that is a deeply, deeply different experience to have. I still don’t know what it is to be a racial minority. To have that history in my DNA. I don’t know what it is to be truly, really poor in America. I don’t know what it is to suffer real religious persecution. But I do know what other feels like – and that changed me, deeply.
Now – every gay bashing is mine. Every bullying suicide is mine. Every partner not permitted by her dying wife’s bedside is me. Every child who is taunted and teased because she has two moms is my child. Every woman who is deported because she loves an American woman who cannot sponsor her to remain in this country is me. Every time my daughter looks at me in pain and confusion after catching Republican talking point commentary on why gay people should not be allowed to adopt and asks ‘why mom? Why do they think our family is bad?’ I get to hold it and own it and carry it inside me.
You can only say ‘for the most part it does’ because for you, for the most part it does. Your privilege is as deeply entrenched in you as this hatred has been absorbed in me. I believe we have to start every single conversation with the most exquisite knowledge of every ounce of privilege we carry. Only then can we enter a conversation aware of our shared humanity and aware of everything that joins us, and all the forces at work that try to keep us separate.
When compared to the rest of the world, we do a pretty good job when it comes to women’s rights.
I disagree. As a woman. As a mother of little girls – pretty good will never be good enough. This is not the world I want for my daughters. The policies and deep personal beliefs of the Republican policy makers reflect a misogyny that I find not only morally reprehensible but also personally frightening. And this is so much bigger than abortion.
Unfortunately though, If I claim to champion the idea of “women’s rights” I seems that I also have to agree with abortion.
No. You don’t. Joe Biden does not, and I would consider him more of a feminist than the vast majority of the Republican party. He personally agrees with his church. And he personally feels that it is not his place to create policy that decrees with others should believe. I respect that from the deepest part of my being. I also believe the discussion of Abortion is also one of privilege, perhaps even more than the one concerning sexuality
(note; 48 percent of women who have abortions fall below the poverty line. It is easy to say what one would or would not do from the pedestal of economic and personal security).
I believe you can fundamentally believe exactly what you believe, and also fight with all of your heart and soul for women who do not have the life and experience and opportunities that you do. For those who are raped. For those who are drug addicted. For those for whom mental or physical illness would make pregnancy dangerous or childhood a clusterfuck of pain for the child who might result. For those who have been born into such extreme poverty beyond your ability to fathom. For women for whom violence is the only home they have ever known. For the 13 year old who has such low self-esteem that she let that boy do what he did. For the loving mother of four who just cannot, for reasons you will never understand and will never need to know. She will carry the pain of this forever and she does not need you to tell her that you know better than she does. You do not. You can not.
I believe it is the point of ultimate humility to say that I can know for myself that something is deeply, deeply true, but to say that you have no idea, not even the slightest, what takes a woman to that point, and to trust and know and love her enough to she is doing what needs to be done. And to have that be enough. That’s what it comes down to. I trust the women making this choice. That they know what is best, for them, for the world they would choose not to bring that child into. I trust my fellow women not to need me to make that decision for them.
Not only that, I love her enough to want her access to abortion to be safe and legal. And loving and protected and guaranteed. Because she is my sister and my daughter and my lover and my friend. And she deserves this. Because if she needs an abortion she will find a way to get one – women always have. And I don’t want my sister, or my daughter or my lover or my friend to seek this out in danger or secrecy or shame. I want far more for her, for her heart, for her womb, for her strong, pulsing, electric soul. She will get what she needs. It is my sacred responsibility as her fellow woman to make that as safe as possible.
“Can you, you who stand up to defend the personal rights of women, say that her right, as a woman, to live, didn’t matter?”
Can you say, with 100% certainty that in every case, of every abortion performed in this country, that her life is of greater importance than that of her mother, who may have once been the fetus someone fought to protect from abortion?
Lets leave this aside. I never intended to debate abortion. I don’t need to. I know that I will fiercely, with everything in me, fight for a woman’s right to choose – even if I think I would never personally. And even saying that, knowing that I can never know what I would or wouldn’t do. And if I can’t know it for me, because I do not know the totality of life or experiences that come my way, how can I ever know it for another woman? How can I know this for my daughters? Or my granddaughters? How could I possibly know it for a girl from the projects who wakes up to gun fire and falls asleep to the weight of the only comfort she knows – the warm body who makes her feel alive and makes her forget the emptiness of her cupboards and her wallet and her children’s bellies? How could I know it for the popular girl from the fancy suburb in Dallas who looks perfect from the outside but who lives in fear of her stepfather and the things he does to her when no one is home?
But the republican war on woman goes so much deeper than this issue. It’s contraception. It’s healthcare. It’s sex education. It’s equal pay. It’s STD testing. It’s cancer screenings. It’s the culture of misogyny that can lead to Sandra Fluke being called a slut on national air. It’s the asprin between the knees, legitimate rape, forcible rape…. This is the men behind the republican party. I have had something taken from me that should only ever have been freely given. I have watched from the ceiling and felt myself bleed into my best pair of pink lace panties. I have daughters. I will NEVER vote for a party that would elect representatives who would say those things. FUCK that. Never.
It’s a platform that focuses so heavily on the fetus but then tells mothers and families that after birth they are on their own. A party that wants to remove healthcare access that is enjoyed universally in almost every other developed nation. A party that wants to decimate social programs. A pull yourself up by your bootstraps party that refuses to see the fallacy at the center of that argument, and the deep-seated privilege it even takes to make it in the first place. A party that will fight to remove the option of safe, legal abortion and then in the next breath argue also against contraceptive coverage or comprehensive sex education that would prevent those unwanted pregnancies in the first place. NO. It goes against the very core of me. Of who I am. No.
“Can you be pro-life and vote to cut funding that supports the life of a child? Paul Ryan’s cut-at-all-costs budget and philosophy, which 100 percent of the pro-life Republicans voted for, would gut the funding that supports at-risk babies and children: food stamps, temporary assistance to needy families, day care, Head Start, early childhood education, children’s health care. At the state level GOP governors are cutting the child protection workers who handle child abuse and neglect cases — you know, those awful public employees who must have caused the financial crisis. Programs that would benefit at-risk children outside the womb are all on the chopping block.”
“I can disagree with his views on the definition of marriage. I can say that he’s wrong, and I wish that he had a different opinion. I can say that I think it sucks that his personal views on marriage are even considered relevant, because I don’t think they should be. I don’t think that who anyone wants to marry should be the government’s business.”
You can say you think it merely ‘sucks’ because it won’t impact your life at all. You can vote for a party that is deeply committed to making sure that who someone wants to marry is ALWAYS the business of the federal government. A party that will fight to maintain DOMA. A party that wants to codify the ‘one man, one woman’ argument into the constitution forever and ever. A man who has stated very specifically his intention to do so. FEDERALLY.
And though it would be GREAT if the president alone had the power to change that, he doesn’t. If he did, I am sure that President Obama would have already done so
Do you have any idea how much Obama has done for my community in four years? Do you have any idea what merely not defending DOMA means? Do you have any idea what he will do in the next if given a chance? Do you know what it meant to me the day he went on TV to say that life had changed his opinion, and that he believed in same-sex marriage? Do you know how that made me cry? Made me feel seen and known and maybe a little less other? Do you know how it mattered to my daughters? Do you have any idea how much he has done for us? Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Visitation rights. Coverage for partners of federal employees.
This is what one man, and his party – despite the opposition of Republicans and right-wing Christian Conservatives – has managed to do in four years. Don’t you dare try to convince me that this does not matter. Don’t convince yourself that your vote for his opposition is not an incredibly big deal. You don’t get a pass on this. Some of these things will go away under a Republican presidency. Some will never advance. Some will be repealed and we will go backwards in time. It ‘sucks’ for you. It changes life for me. You need to know that.
“The President alone doesn’t have the power to change the laws of the country.”
No – he needs people, like you, who stand up with him and fight for what is right for humanity. And then laws do get changed. You ask gay service members if Obama had the power to utterly and completely change their lives in ways you and I can’t even comprehend. Just find one and ask them?
“And that’s OK, because I don’t think that defining marriage should be in the job description of the Commander In Chief of this country.
No it shouldn’t. No group should have their personal life subjected to vote or legislation. But you are voting for a man who has said again and again, and who represents a party that has said again and again – that they will fight to do exactly that. Mitt Romney supports a federal marriage amendment, Jennifer. And your vote will be cast against a man who has stated his intention to do the exact opposite.
That cuts me to my fucking core. Because it’s not just marriage. It has never just been marriage. It’s not even the thousands of other benefits that marriage occurs. It’s my humanity. It’s my equality. It’s my family. This is my LIFE.
“Yes, that is the President’s job as well, but it has to start with local, and state laws. And to do that we need to work from the bottom up, not the top down.”
Slavery. Interracial marriage. Segregation. Women and minorities voting. Are these things that all needed to be fought from the bottom up? Did we need to slog away in the trenches and change things on state and local level. And then slog away for longer to bring the changes upwards federally. Did we need to risk the violence or the oppression or the hatred along the way? Or are these things that our shared humanity should have made us know, from the very beginning, were wrong, deeply – profoundly, clearly wrong. And that they needed to be changed. Needed to be stopped. In one broad, sweeping stroke. From the very top of the highest power. Should we have fought for these things with everything we had in us?
We don’t need to work for change from the bottom up or the top down. We need to work from the center out and the edges in. With our blood and guts and heart and soul. We need to work with all of everything we have.
“It has always been the responsibility of the people of this country to fight discrimination and injustice.”
Perhaps. But how many have? How many do? How have you? Can i even truly say that I have? That’s a small statement that gives us personal comfort. How many of us take the second step and get uncomfortable in order to make change happen?
“You have said that I can’t care about you because of my political beliefs, but you base that statement on ONE of the many choices I will make come election day.”
Yes, because I believe strongly that it is the most important one. Your vote for president is the one that sets your intention for what matters. The one that sets the tone and temperature for the entire country. And I don’t mean for the LGBT community on this one issue, I mean for humanity. You are voting for a party that has shown again and again that their version of humanity is limited to a select few. I want no part of that. None.
“A vote cast on the State Level, because if ALL the states recognize same-sex marriage, then it won’t
matter what the President thinks or doesn’t think.”
You are wrong. It does matter. Read up on immigration equality. Remember I am Canadian. Don’t tell me that states rights are going to fix this. It won’t change a damn thing for me or anyone in my position. Only a federal change will. It’s a complete cop-out to say otherwise. It’s a way for you not to own the ways this vote does make you complicit in discrimination.
“A battle won on this level can’t waver with the beliefs of one man, and that’s how it SHOULD BE.”
This should not depend on the beliefs of any man or woman. Not one. Not many. But it does. Because my humanity is subject to your vote. Because I am minority and other. Because the republican party is committed to keeping it so.
Do you know what that feels like? Do you know what it felt like in 2008 in Arizona? To walk around the day after the election and know that over half the people I saw that day - In the line at the grocery store. At my kid’s school. At the post office. Over half of them felt strongly enough about my otherness, by moral lack, that they would cast a vote against my right to marry. Which is a vote against over a thousand other rights. A vote AGAINST our shared humanity. Do you know what that feels like? To even know it is subject to vote. That my humanity is subject to popular opinion? That I have to ask you for equal rights? Pretty please.
What if it were your children, Jen? What if it were Grace? What if she grew up, and she fell in love with a woman? And she was brave and strong and beautiful and she cut her hair and wore men’s clothing and was judged everywhere she went because of who she loved and how she looked. Even when she went to a public restroom she risked judgement and scorn and personal danger. And she knew that whenever she wanted to hold her lovers had in public or give her a kiss she had to look around and gauge the people around her to be sure it was safe. And her children were picked on and teased and scorned.
And what if her partner was from France. And she was the one who carried and birthed the children. And then they broke up and it was nasty and hard. And Grace was broken, because the children were going to be living in France with their real mother – because she had no choice but to leave, because of a federal marriage amendment that prevented her partner from ever becoming a citizen. And your daughter had no legal right to those children because it was decided that gay people were not suitable parents. And your grandchildren one day asked you how this happened? How this world was created where their moms could not get married? Why Grace could not keep them with her? Why they hardly got to see you now when they used to see you every weekend?
Or what if the love of her life was sick. And grace was not allowed to be with her in the hospital. Not allowed to hold her hand as she died. And your grandchildren were taken away, her children were taken away – because Grace had never been legally allowed to adopt them even though they had been together when they were conceived and together when they were born and Grace had stayed home with them for ten years. Because children needed a man and a woman and your daughter was not good enough. Because her partners parents were conservative Christians who believed that same-sex attractions were the work of the devil. Because when it didn’t matter personally, people like you didn’t fight as hard as they could have.
What would you say then? Would this vote be okay then? Answer me that. And then tell me if the economy is just as important to you. If it is, well then – we agree to disagree. I don’t need to un-friend you. I respect your right to believe differently than I do. But I give myself fully in friendship, and I want friends who not only accept and tolerate me, but who will do battle with me, just as I would go to battle for them. That’s what it comes down to, for me.
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
― Audre Lorde