Statues and Flags

NotRace.JPG

I was talking to a friend of mine last night – you might say it was more of a rant! - about the buzz around the NFL’s “will they take a knee during the Anthem or won’t they?” kerfuffle.  I said, “It seems like for months now, while really important things are happening, all people want to talk about are flags and statues.  North Korea claims we’ve declared war against them.  Congress is trying to destroy the healthcare system without a decent replacement again this week.  Puerto Rico has been devastated and has no means of rebuilding itself without assistance.  There was another shooting at a church yesterday.  But all anyone can talk about today is whether NFL players are being sufficiently respectful to our National Anthem!  What matters now is the same thing that has always mattered: who gets access?  Who gets access to natural resources, and capital, and representation in the government?  These other things don’t matter at all, they won’t make one ounce of difference in anyone’s lives, but people are having disproportionate responses to them, at every point along the political spectrum.  I don’t get it!”

My friend, who’s a fairly wise man, said calmly, “Steve, flags and statues are symbols, and symbols matter.  Symbols matter a lot.” 

I’ve been thinking about it ever since!  And of course, he’s right.

I’ve been thinking about what the symbols mean, and realizing that the way we talk about the symbols enables us to talk, as a society, about the meanings behind the symbols without speaking directly about them, and that transference enables us to address very difficult topics. 

A statue is far more than a lifeless hunk of bronze, it’s on a pedestal: it’s literally a depiction of someone you are intended to look up to.  When people speak about statues of generals in the Confederacy, they’re not discussing history or what really caused a conflict that began over a hundred and fifty years ago – even though that’s what they’re saying on the surface.  What they’re really talking about is access.  For people that think in terms of race, or assume that their genetic material has any bearing on their destinies - personally, I don’t, but I know many people in this country do – the predictions of demographic trends are frightening.  If demographic trends continue, sometime around 2045, non-Hispanic Caucasians will be a minority in the United States.  I believe we’ll be stronger as a nation when that day comes, because maybe by then we’ll have moved beyond judging others by their skin color – a person can dream!  For people that still think in terms of race, though, it’s a cause to worry about whether “people like me” will have access to the same opportunities.  It’s telling that the tiki torch marchers in Charlottesville were chanting (among other things), “You will not replace us.”  To them, the removal of a lifeless hunk of bronze was a metaphor for the erasure of their own identity, because they’d based the core of their identity on the color of their skin.  The challenge for all of us is, how can we, as a society, get people to stop thinking of “people like me” in terms of skin color – how do we change that population to “fellow human beings?”  Maybe that’s why we’re having passionate conversations about statues: because we can’t yet answer that question.

Statue.jpg

Also, think about what those statues raised during periods of racial strife mean to people whose family histories include slavery.  They are invited to look up to people that fought and died to keep their ancestors in a system that defined their ancestors as three fifths of a human.  It doesn’t matter physically to them now, but as a symbol, it says, “The people that fought to dehumanize your ancestors are worthy of emulation.”  What message does that send about their own access to dignity, or the value of their own history?  Who is given access to history, those that oppressed and lost the right to oppress, or those that survived the oppression?

knee.jpg

NFL players were kneeling during the Anthem to make a statement about access to justice, at first, and subsequently to make a statement about access to free speech.   For some, this is a legitimate expression for concern for a trend in our society, namely, that African Americans in the United States are three times more likely to be killed by police officers than white people.  For others, any type of protest is excessively demanding or ungrateful, and is met with outsized hostility.   Think of how popular the topic of running over protesters became – and how popular it remained, even after it happened in real life. 

When we discuss the details of the salaries of NFL players, or how established the tradition of standing for the anthem is at NFL games, or whether the action disrespects the military, or whether it’s “the right time” to protest, the question we’re dodging is: who has access to justice in America?  Those that support the knee believe there’s still unequal access to justice in this country for some, based on the color of their skin.  Those that are incensed by the knee fundamentally believe there’s no inequality of access to justice for that reason.  But because this subject is so difficult to raise and discuss rationally, we speak about the details around the knee – passionately.  How do we get past talking about the surface topic of standing for the Anthem, and instead talk about the things that matter?

When can we as a people start having honest conversations?

Repeal HB 1774

Joint Statement from North Texas House Candidates:

September 1st, 2017 – We urge Governor Abbott to convene a special session to repeal HB 1774. This new law weakens homeowner protections and homeowner remedies when an insurance company acts improperly in paying their weather-related claims. As Texans and Americans, we can all agree that the families devastated by Hurricane Harvey deserve to be paid every penny they are due from insurance companies so that they can begin rebuilding their lives.

Without repealing this disastrous law, thousands of Texas families already devastated by Hurricane Harvey may be open to further victimization by predatory insurance practices. The Texas Legislature must act now to ensure every family can rebuild their lives and communities.

The Undersigned

Michelle Beckley for HD 65 @ForHD65

Sarah Depew for HD 67  @SarahHD67

Steve Riddell for HD 92 @S_RiddellTX92

Nancy Bean for HD 93 @NancyBean4TX

Beth Llewellyn McLaughlin for HD 97 @beth4TX97

Mica Ringo for HD 98 @ringofortexas

Brandy K. Chambers for HD 112 @BrandyforTexas

What Unites Us

usandthem.jpg

I'd like to tell you about an incident I had a few months back on social media.  I noticed a friend with substantially different political views from mine, posting what I suppose must have been, in retrospect, a rhetorical question about "liberals and how they think." I replied to it, politely, respectfully and intelligently, assuming he'd asked the question because he wanted to understand a perspective that differed from his own.  One of his friends replied to my comment with ANGRY COMMENTS IN ALL CAPS that weren't quite as well-reasoned as my own, from my perspective, but I took the time and trouble to respond to them politely, maintaining my desire to be informative and get to a place of civil discourse.  My friend deleted the entire thread.  I reached out to him privately and expressed remorse that my wish to be informative had caused so much conflict.  I told him that it was important to me to retain connections with people of differing opinions, because that's increasingly necessary today, and he agreed.  The next day, he sent a note out that he was "taking a break from social media" because he hated it, and was unfriending everyone, but it was nothing personal.  It's a small world, though, so I still see his comments on the posts of mutual friends.  I suspect he may have only unfriended people that weren't like-minded with respect to politics - or maybe he just unfriended me, that's certainly possible!

From where I sit, the most dangerous trend in America is our increasing tribalism.  To the greatest degree in our country's history since the Civil War, we're separating ourselves into factions and demonizing the people on the other side.  We no longer think of ourselves as "We the People," it's becoming "us versus them."  In the conversations I've had so far in this campaign, with people of all political stripes, I hear occasional comments like, "I wouldn't vote for a Democrat if my life depended on it," or, "This is proof that all Republicans are evil."  More often, though, the people I talk to express an eager desire to return to civil discourse, to elect politicians that work cooperatively for the betterment of the community, and who listen to all the people they represent, not just the people they agree with.

The unifying potential of the technology of connection that has sprung up in the past thirty years has become little more than a lost opportunity, and it isn't the fault of the technology.  The fault lies in our humanity and its clash with that technology - the two gears of human nature and technology are grinding up against each other with sub-optimal results.  

When we first started climbing up the evolutionary ladder, human beings could not survive as "rugged individualists" - we needed our group to eat and live through winter.  Over millennia, we passed along the genetic traits of sensitivity to the opinions of others - because insensitive jerks tended to get kicked out of the cave to be eaten by saber-tooths.  In the centuries since, the people that were aware of social cues tended to get more dates than those that weren't and thus, passed on that awareness to their children.  It's so refined in us now to seek the positive approval of our peers, and the corollary, to fear the disapproval, that scientists have noticed that people receiving social criticism - being told, "No, you're wrong" – show activity in the same part of their brains as physical pain appears.  Scientists believe that’s why so many people fear public speaking: it’s an entire roomful of peers that might disapprove of us and kick us out of the cave!  We feel like we must seek and retain the approval of our group to survive - even though that survival is not as threatened as it was twenty thousand years ago.  Our brains can't tell the difference.  

pogo.jpg

At the same time, technology is shrinking the world at an accelerating rate.  When you can sit down at any computer and immediately communicate with any person in front of a computer in Ho Chi Minh City or Helsinki or Harare, how do you define "our group?" Some people react to this inevitable world-shrinkage with hostility and alarm, and they lash out at the people getting closer to them.  We've seen evidence of this in such diverse places as Mosul and Charlottesville, in Richmond and Urumqi.  Some people want their groups to remain small and very specific.  Larger groups present a greater risk of social pain.  

The "public square" used to be a physical place, an actual public square, and it was a place you had to go to conduct personal business, hear the latest news, interact with the state and socialize with your peers - where is that place now?  All of these functions have moved - either partially or completely - into online places.  When the public square was physical, you had to interact with people you disagreed with - there was no avoiding them.  You had to be civil, and you had to listen to your neighbors, even when you disagreed with them.  

Technology changed all that.  We now have the ability to self-select our public squares.  We can watch news catered to our opinions.  Media corporations have happily responded to the demand for programming that prevents us having to feel the pain of being wrong about our beliefs.  We can remove from the square all of the people that might disagree with us, and live happily in a cocoon of comforting agreement.

But of course it doesn't make us happy.  Most often these cocoons enrage us, because they render us less able to hear the ideas of people that are different, and that acting against our instincts to build communities and cooperate - it frustrates us, because we know it's wrong.  I believe we must work past the pain and fear of hearing differing opinions, and start working together to build the world we all want, our mutual goal of a world of peace, opportunity and cooperation.  

I'm a Democrat, and proud of it, but I seek out the opinions of people that aren't.  I make it a monthly mission to check the websites of media outlets far to the right of my position.  I cherish the friendships I have with people that disagree with me, and I love a spirited but civil debate.  One of my primary motivations for being in this race is to bring back the kinds of conversations we had, as a people, in the public square.  As a people, as a nation, and as a state, we have to see ourselves as - in precisely this order - fellow humans, fellow Americans, and fellow Texans.  

Citizenship in the Community

Citizenship in the Community

My son and I just finished working on his Boy Scout merit badge for Citizenship in the Community.  I really enjoyed spending the time with him, sharing my passion for one of my favorite topics.  We had an extended conversation during the process about the difference between being “a citizen” and being “a good citizen.” 

Texas Roots

My 3-x-great grandfather Sheridan Riddell was the eleventh child of the big boss of Gilmer, West Virginia. Sheridan was born in 1829. The records don’t show when Sheridan moved to Texas, but he was there by 1859, when he married Nancy Oxford in Erath County. The records don’t show why he moved there either, but I imagine as the youngest of eleven children...