Thinking through and writing about issues that rouse
Defending the Democratic Party
I used to write letters to the editor of my local paper when I was a teacher. I called myself an education activist. When I retired, I retired from being an activist too, disillusioned. But, as you know, I started up again recently. We must do what we can. Here's a letter I wrote that was published today. Follow the link or read here.
Black Lives Matter TOO!
Outrage Leads to Numbness
So hard to write these days. Numb. Pulled to the news and to Facebook and reading post after post about the recent racist outrages culminating in the murder of George Floyd. My usual Trump-supporting friends seem to have taken a break and are silent. Oh, now there’s one claiming that the Minnesota protests are being funded by Soros to create chaos. That is your first and only post relating to the murder? To further a conspiracy theory? Really? (Note: It has been borne out that the violent property-damaging participants are outsiders. I hope this will be further investigated but at this point, who is behind it is speculation. Facts please!)
Okay, write. Thesis. Evidence. Conclusion. Can’t do it that way. Form follows function. My form is that I am numb. The function of this piece is to attempt to emerge from this numbness. My medicine is to write. I know there is an end — a goal — clarity. So bear with me, walk with me.
Thinking back on other senseless murders of black people and I don’t want to know whether or not justice was served. I suspect that will cause even more outrage and subsequent numbness. I take a peak. Here’s the Eric Garner murder in New York who also said “I can’t breathe” as he was dying at the hands of a police officer. Oh, the cop was terminated. Looks like a civil lawsuit granted the family money. But the cop got away with murder. Other stories are similar to this, and you can see why this Chauvin brute may have believed he was invulnerable. He could get away with murder because that is the norm in these cases. Outrage. Numbness. That seems to be my pattern. I think the numbness must be a self-protection tactic. You can’t live in a state of outrage. But numbness is also not right. It is deadening. Is there another choice?
A Thread to the Little Bits of Hope for Change
I can rail all day about what a terrible president our current POTUS is. But I don’t because enough other people do and I can’t live in a perpetual state of anger. He disturbs me but he wouldn’t be in this highest office except for: 1) more electoral votes; 2) the Republican majority in the Senate, who were elected by a majority of their electorate. Trump wouldn’t be where he is without the people who voted for him. This is why I am fixated on my relationships with Trump supporters. To be honest, I would love to change their minds, but I know it probably won’t happen. By maintaining a connection, my hope is that they will hesitate in their attempts to demonize me and people like me — the libs. I make a conscious effort to not demonize them, to actually keep loving them. I may not be able to change their vote (yet I hope I do), but to find any connection point gives me hope, just enough to not become cynical. So I am starting a file for “points of connection”. It is a very small file.
Entry 1: When one of my friends posted that it was perfectly fine for Trump to call this virus the Chinese virus, because that’s where it came from. I responded to her that the result of him labeling it that way may have provoked racist attacks on Asians in the U.S. She replied to me, that’s dumb. I said, yes, racism is dumb. I think she “thumb-upped” my comment. This is a victory to me. This friend is not white, but a very conservative Trump-supporting Christian evangelical who has a fervor about spreading one conspiracy theory after another. We disagree on everything, but alas! We can agree that racism is dumb and that it is wrong for Asians in the US to be blamed for the virus.
My second entry has to do with the George Floyd murder. Every day, I try to do something creative. I am learning watercolor botanicals and calligraphy. Last night, I was looking to do my daily art practice, which is to find a quote and do a calligraphy piece of it, then decorate it with a botanical of some kind. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot having to do with saving the planet. But, that seemed so much less important than addressing the huge raging elephant in the room of the American consciousness — Black Lives Matter.
I used to be on Facebook a lot, especially when I was a union activist teacher. I had not been posting much on Facebook in recent months, ever since Zuckerberg took a position in December that they would not do anything about political ads that contain false information. I tried to withdraw completely, but the reasons why I am on Facebook (babies, family, friends) kept pulling me back in. I actually had pulled back on activism in my retirement, trying to be more peaceful, more into myself, into travel, into art. I guess I had grown cynical and numb as my stint in activism in the world of education did not amount to much. So, there I was, wondering what to do for my daily art making. But all day, I had been seeing posts and news about the George Floyd murder.
I decided to make that my art project for the day. It starts out with the word empathy. Getting my toes wet. Empathy, Of course. Non-threatening. Then I decided to describe what that meant. Put yourself in his place, in his shoes, in his skin. And then I decided I had to say it, that statement that triggers so many of my conservative friends — Black Lives Matter. There’s always someone who thinks they are being righteous by saying “All Lives Matter”. So, my dears, if all lives matter, shouldn’t black lives matter too?
Which leads me back to my connections collection. I posted this and one of my Trump-supporting friends said “Book em Dano. Charge him for murder. All Lives Matter.” This response was the inspiration for this essay. As I said, I honor any degree of connection, and we agreed on the need for a murder charge (which hadn’t happened yet at that point). I replied to him: Yep, black lives too.” He replied back in capital letters — (which I won’t do) “All lives matter. It goes without saying.” So I reply: You have to say it, because if you really believed that all lives matter, you would say that black lives matter too. He responded right away. “You overthink this. Fuck yes, Black Lives Matter. If you knew me better, you would already know this. I am so pissed at that asshole cop that murdered that guy.” He is a white man who claims he is not a racist. We agree on the horror here. But he sure hung tight to that empty “all lives matter” phrase as if it meant something. But I will file this in my points of connection folder.
If All Lives Matter, Then Please Say it — Black Lives Matter Too
When I posted my calligraphy, I briefly explained why I had to write that particular phrase — Black Lives Matter. I challenged anyone reading it whose impulse it is to say All Lives Matter, to be on board with Black Lives Matter because if All Lives Matter, then Black Lives Matter TOO! A friend who shared my post, had this comment on her feed, that all lives matter. As if we don’t know that all lives matter. They are so missing the point of what happened to George Floyd and so many other black men and women — that in so many instances their lives did NOT matter. If you really believe that all lives matter — then be on board with this movement, recognize the injustice, stand with your black brothers and sisters and say the words — Black Lives Matter TOO!
A Story of Hope in the Midst of the Darkness
I wish I had a third entry in my “points of connection” folder. Stories always work better in threes. I have been touched by the many stories people are sharing. Oh my gosh, there’s one about the black man who has to take his daughter with him when he goes for a walk in his suburban neighborhood because without her, he’d be a scary black man. And there’s the one about the college professor who got stopped by a cop because he looked like a man they were looking for although the only thing similar about him to the description was that he was black. Stories like these crossed my feed all day. Will the abundance of these stories change anyone’s mind? Get them to stop saying “all lives matter”? Stop it. If all lives matter, then you would see that some lives are more vulnerable than others, are more targeted than others.
I think I will change my file into “stories of hope in the midst of the darkness of systemic racism.” There was this beautiful story about a white cop, Aaron Ostachuk, in Chinatown in Honolulu. He was sitting in his squad car, thinking about 2 cops who had been killed in the line of duty at that time. A little African American boy tapped on his window and asked if he could take a picture with him. This HPD cop was so touched by the trust this boy had in him. His mom was looking on and he could tell she was tearing up, likely thinking the same thing he was. Here is an excerpt of his reflection: “I picked him up as seen in the picture and he wasn’t even afraid. A young African American boy not afraid of the Police because he doesn’t look at us with anger or disappointment. Because he is to (sic) young to see hate, racism and or that some Police can actually be bad and dishonor their badge.”
We are not perfect in Hawaii. But we do try more often than not to live aloha, which speaks to treating one another with kindness and compassion. There was a solidarity protest in the capital. An African American woman being interviewed said something to that effect. She noticed that the Hawaii police officers did their job by standing back and allowing a citizen protest, free of intimidation. She suggested that we could be the example for the country. I am not the only eternal optimist in Hawaii. Actually, I think she is more hopeful than I am. I am just thankful that I got my “all lives matter” friend to say ‘black lives matter.”
And I continue to make art statements about Justice.
Recently posted on Medium, an internet platform for writers. Check it out there or read here.
The wisdom of knowing your enemy
I am a pacifist. But it is wise to understand world events through the lens of war. It is crucial, especially from an environmental and social justice point of view, to know what the sides are and which side you are on.
I have a fascination with Trump supporters on Facebook. I don’t “enjoy” their posts, but I am interested to know what they post. It’s like an itch I have to scratch. When I see something outrageous, I fact check it if I have time (and lately I’ve had lots of it). Most of it is untrue, in varying degrees. I don’t bother to tell them of the “facts” because I know they don’t give credence to factcheck sites (leftist, funded by Soros, etc.), but I learn something in the process, something of their perspective, what makes them tick. I engage once in a while, try to find a way to have a civil exchange. But it eventually ends with intransigence, on both our sides.
So why do I do it? Primarily, I don’t think it’s healthy or wise to live in a bubble, an echo chamber, bounce-backs of my own thoughts and values. I am worried about the ever-deepening divide in this country and it doesn’t help for us to stay in our bubbles. In this time of isolation we are in our bubbles physically, but in the world, the divisions continue and fester. Yet, I cannot stand to spend time watching Fox or any other right-wing media. Facebook posts affords me that glimpse outside my bubble and into theirs. It’s enough.
If not for money, what motivates?
I am a writer, not as hustler
I am lucky to be financially stable and debt-free. I am not rich, but I have resources. Unless the country completely collapses, including pension funds, the stock market, and the banks, I will be okay for a while. In this time of the pandemic, I count my blessings and thank all the essential workers, especially those working in the hospitals. Because I don’t have to, it is hard for me to do anything that requires hustle. I had been spending a lot of time and energy grueling over Medium articles about how to make money on this platform, and am glad I came across this one, that advised me not to worry about that. I needed to read it. It reminded me that this is a community of writers. So, I follow his advice: I write for me, for the reasons that serve me.
Published on Medium. Or you can read it here.
Facing my inner wimp
“It’s not autobiographical,” I say slyly when I share the plays that I have written (wink wink). Japanese-American dancer hungering for approval from her emotionally distant father. Artist from Guam living in Los Angeles with artist who is using her as a model for his erotic paintings of islander women. Single Okinawan-American mom of a mixed-race millennial caring for an elderly mother. Not autobiographical.
Because they’re plays, and presumably fiction, it gives me cover so that I am not naked to the world. But in non-fiction opinion essays, the only cover from exposure is to wimp out and not go to those scary, controversial places. Am I am a (wo)man or a mouse? A writer or a wimp?
There is a pervasive sense of death in the air. In Hawaii, today there have been three fatalities, and last count was less than twenty positive diagnoses on my island. Those small numbers don’t give me comfort. I feel the pain from all over the world. It’s heartbreaking. Our inner Pooh wants to tell our inner Eeyore to look at the silver lining. We feel guilty and cheesy for the Pooh-ness of our impulse. But there it is. My silver lining is that I decided to face my inner wimp.
I was once a union activist. I used writing and speaking to advocate for educational justice. In the beginning of the current president’s term, I participated in the Women’s March, and later, the March for Science. I shared Nina Simone’s quote about An Artist’s Duty to reflect the times, believing that I would step up and do my part. But instead, I became dispassionate and numb. What happened to me? I think it was a combination of despair, futility, and escapism that doused my fire.
Underlying uneasiness leads to plant medicine
But for the purposes of this article, another of the insights was that I needed to visit Mauna Kea. So I did. You can read about that here.
Connecting to the bigger picture
Standing in solidarity with the protesters means standing in solidarity with our planet, with Mother Earth, with Nature. In doing this, I stand with native indigenous people whose wisdom and power is deeply entwined with their connection to the land and the spirits therein. I stand as a feminist calling for an end of male dominion over women, including Mother Earth. The era of exploitation of the earth must end. This is not an easy lift, particularly under the current anti-earth president. The list of attacks on the environment under this administration goes on and on. Besides his handling of the pandemic (shameful) this is this president’s legacy — environmental abuse! The gall he has to gut the clean car standards amid the pandemic exemplifies his destructive priorities. My mama bear instinct is provoked to protect our planet. When I read that the the president’s“pastor” preaches that environmentalism is evil, that was fuel on the hellfire. Their anti-earth (anti-life) hypocrisy and evil must be challenged. There’s a lot of work to do!
Anything worth fighting for will offend
This is where the bravery comes in. I am not a brazen bitch, I am not a tita (in Hawaii, a tough girl). I am an introvert. I am reserved. I am awkward around men. I struggle with self-consciousness. I don’t want you to be mad at me. If I wrote something I thought would offend, I didn’t share openly and proudly. I have been a wimp. And here I am at a crossroads. I either continue to be a wimp, or I learn to write bravely and share openly.
Given the divisiveness that defines the current era, I expect that I will offend someone. If we’re being honest, a writer’s fantasy is that you can write so convincingly that you inspire the Hallelujah moment in someone on the other side. But if bringing people over to my side was my motivation, I wouldn’t be able to keep writing. Rather, connecting with others, even if it’s preaching to the choir, or better yet, guest-preaching to a different choir, is compelling to me. I reach out to you with my truth. You can reach back and we can have a conversation or you can spit on my outstretched hand. If there was no risk that I could get spit on, bravery wouldn’t be required. I hope you don’t. I hope that even if you disagree with me, you will be civil. Elbow bump, okay? But if you do spit on my truth with your condemnations, I will wash well for more than twenty seconds. And keep writing. It is life or death in these pandemic times, but even after it’s over, it’s life and death for the survival of the planet.
End of the wimp era
Going forward, I will write to be in touch with my truth, to understand other perspectives, to do research so that I inform my writing with facts, to drive my feminist-environmental perspective even if it may offend. I will wrest the wimp out. I will channel my inner Nina Simone. I will write bravely and share openly.
By their fruit you will know false prophets
Published in Medium recently
I have a journal in which I’ve been collecting quotes for decades. I came across this one recently — “Pray to God but row away from the rocks,” attributed as a Native American proverb. That seemed appropriate today. I am particularly bedeviled (thesaurus find that also seems apt — you’ll see why) by a sequence of articles about Christian folly that came to my attention on the news and via my feed.
Since I am a believer in context, I’ll quickly give you my “testimony.” (I crack myself up. In Jesus circles, this is a thing, sharing testimony on how you were saved.) I grew up a Christian, from being Southern Baptist in my teens, in my young adulthood I flirted with New Age Christianity and Unity, and then became a very active Episcopalian. I eventually left that church too, over a leadership issue. I have always been a seeker and a questioner — which is why I disavowed my first church when I started thinking for myself. I could never stand hypocrisy and man’s inhumanity to man. When my Sunday school teacher at the Baptist church refused to extend equality to blacks saying that the Bible was only referring to Jews and Gentiles, not to “negroes”, I knew at fourteen, that there was something wrong with that. I am skeptical and critical of any religious leader who spews hate and spreads fear, as I believe in a God of love. That’s my context, in a nutshell.
Don’t be mad — we’re still needed to save our country
Posted on Medium recently
I wanted Elizabeth to be the next president of the United States, the first woman president. I always liked her, even before she was a Senator. I remember her as a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart when she was a law professor. She was smart, articulate and funny — a real triple threat. She called out the corporate power structure that controls so much of American politics and democracy. She dropped out of the race before I submitted my primary ballot, so I voted for my second choice, which was Bernie.
I AM a liberal, a progressive! I am opposed to the corporate control of our democracy, where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class keeps shrinking. I am for a government that provides services for the good of the whole. So, of course, I would vote for Bernie, even though it seemed that the majority of Democrats (not just the leadership)were steering towards Joe.
Joe does not inspire me, he’s pretty conventional, a moderate who, like President Obama and Hillary, plays nice with the corporate world, though not as flagrantly as the current administration. It seems that he will be the nominee and we will never know if Bernie would have awoken the sleeping giant of young voters, idealists, and revolutionaries. But the majority of Democrats think Joe is the best chance we have of dethroning our current POTUS, whose name I don’t want to sully my page with.
I worry about my fellow Bernie supporters who are angry at this move, as they were four years ago when Hillary became the nominee. One said she was so angry that she would not vote for Joe. The slogan, Vote Blue No Matter Who, is being widely criticized by angry Bernie supporters — like how dare they tell me that. To my fellow idealists, I plea with you to stay the course, take the long view. And read on for my story of frustrated idealism. Spoiler alert: I’m still an idealist and progressive.
How where you stand reveals who you are
Published on Medium on March 9, 2020 or read it here.
Protectors of the Mauna
The island that I live on, like all of the Hawaiian Islands, was originally formed from volcanoes. There are five volcanoes here, three considered active and two not. One of these dormant volcanoes is the subject of a major controversy. Mauna Kea, which last erupted 6,000 to 4,000 years ago, is the tallest mountain in the world, if you are counting from the sea floor. Even if you’re not, it’s pretty tall, 4,207.3 miles, about 14,000 feet. Its height as well as other factors such as low humidity and absence of light pollution, make it a desirable location for astronomy.
The latest proposed telescope, called the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), is the subject of the most contentious protest to a development in my memory. In the 70s, there were actions to stop the bombing of Kahoolawe, which were ultimately successful. I recall protests in the 80s and 90s over the H3 freeway on O’ahu. In Kona, before I moved back here, local activists acted to protect a strip of pristine coastline that was being pursued for an exclusive beachfront community. There are many stories of activism in Hawaii. Current events do take a front seat in one’s memory and there is something about this controversy that is different, more significant. Protests in support of the “protectors” have taken place in places outside of Hawaii, such as in Las Vegas, California and Guam. I mean, if superstars Jason Momoa and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson visit the site in support of the protestors, if Janet Jackson refers to it in a concert in Honolulu, that’s pretty impactful, right?
There is something going on. Something in the air. Something like a tipping point. Something bigger than local politics. Something. What is it?
Published on Medium on 2/25/20
As I seek to understand the current confusing chaotic state of our country, I like to see what my Trumpian friends post on Facebook. It gives me a glimpse into their thoughts. In the beginning of his presidency, I would challenge these friends by asking questions about their reasoning. I’d point out to them when they posted memes or articles that were in error or outrageous to me. I gave up after a while when I saw it made no difference. I think I was unfriended a couple of times but I have never unfriended anyone.
So one of my friends posted this article about the practice of witchcraft in America. Intrigued, I clicked. It is just the kind of evangelical screed that infuriates me, especially because it started out by praising the end of the “witchhunt” to impeach the president. Apparently, there was a binding spell cast on him at Halloween. The writer also mentions a similar hex placed on Brett Kavanaugh as he was going through his hearing. The article goes on to describe the problem of witchcraft in America, how it and associated practices such as astrology, ouija boards, and tarot cards, are evil.
We Need to Win the War on Public Education
I came of age as a professional educator before the advent of so-called education reform, which most notably became federal policy under Bush (W) as No Child Left Behind and sadly continued under Obama with his Race to the Top directives. Of course, it is even more ominous in the Trump era and an Education Secretary who sees vouchers as “the conservative answer to what ails public education.”
This reform agenda was the bane of my profession, eventually causing an early (and now blissful) retirement. It continues to be an issue I care deeply about. I still work as a substitute teacher. I still have friends toiling in the system. I still love children. And I still believe in the need in our democracy for an informed citizenry. The struggle continues even though I am no longer in the war. But in this era of chaos and confusion, I am provoked to do my part to advocate for public education.
Why is public education important? The opposite of public school is private school. Parents have their personal reasons for wanting their children to attend private school, and if they have the means (including financial aid), they will make that choice. I struggled with this conflict when my daughter went into middle school. I explored options to public middle school, believing that this was a vulnerable time, and I wanted to protect her. I arranged for her to attend an all-girls Catholic school with a full scholarship. She hated it. And the next year, she attended the middle school in our district, a feeder from a public housing project, that turned out to be a phenomenal school. Her high school experience was equally impressive, and she got into a very good college with scholarships and good financial aid.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.