Bob Goodlatte Needs a Better Job Description

The Gender Shrapnel Blog is not about Bob Goodlatte, but it is about problems of discrimination that arise at the intersection of gender with race, religion, sexuality, national origin, socioeconomic class, and parental status.  Gender Shrapnel points out the injustices, discrepancies, hypocrisies, and general bullshit that prevail when individuals and/or the groups who represent them assume too much power, decide they are more important or more valuable than others, and make self-serving decisions.

As a long-time resident of Virginia’s 6th District, I cannot write about gender shrapnel and ignore our district’s paragon of selfishness and discrimination, Congressman Goodlatte.  At the same time, this egomaniac probably loves the press he is getting—both good(latte) and bad(latte) (no one can resist these bad latte jokes, as bad as they are)—and so I am loath to feed the congressman’s hunger for attention.  Nevertheless, I persist.

You may know Bob Goodlatte as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the one whose staff members worked secretly with “President” Trump to draft the first travel ban.  Goodlatte’s website boasts the following:

“Established in 1813, the House Judiciary Committee is the second oldest standing committee in Congress. This Committee has jurisdiction over a number of matters from immigration, terrorism, crime, and intellectual property to constitutional amendments, anti-trust, patents, and copyright. The Committee is also responsible for oversight of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.”  (The remainder of the paragraph reads like this:  “In addition to currently serving as Chairman, Bob has served on the Judiciary Committee in a variety of leadership roles, including Chairman of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet (112th Congress), Vice Ranking Member (111th Congress), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee Task Force on Judicial Impeachment (111th Congress), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee Antitrust Task Force (110th Congress), and Vice Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property (109th Congress)”).

This is an unfortunate amount of power for a man who has proven himself to be patently unwilling to listen to his constituents.  This is too much power for an elected official whom we know to refuse to understand situations of people who he sees as unlike him and not worthy of his full attention and respect.   Bob Goodlatte is stroking his own ego as he tramples democratic discourse and participation.  We know that Goodlatte has skillfully evaded his constituents for years, using the “telephone town hall” as a slimy way to lead himself and others to believe that he is in touch with the multiple—and growing—concerns of the 6th District (see last week’s blog post about the phoney baloney telephone town hall).  These concerns include, but are certainly not limited to, healthcare, social security benefits, immigration, and the “president’s” ties to Russia.

Many concerned citizens in Virginia’s 6th District might prefer that Goodlatte’s website description read like this:

“Established in 1813, the House Judiciary Committee is the second oldest standing committee in Congress, which suggests that it is time for Congress to question the committee’s maintenance of centuries-old status quo and poor leadership. This Committee has jurisdiction over a number of matters, from welcoming individuals seeking better lives, investigating domestic terrorism, reforming the criminal justice system, and intellectual critical thinking, inquiry, and property to constitutional amendments, anti-trust, patents, and copyright. The Committee is also responsible for oversight of the Departments of Justice and Security for All.”

On February 11, 2017, Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) and several of his colleagues in the House of Representatives requested to meet with the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On February 16, Representative Gutiérrez (D-IL) and Representatives Barragán, Cárdenas, Cleaver, Correa, Kihuen, Napolitano, Torres, and Vargas were excluded from the meeting that they themselves had requested.  Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Speaker Paul Ryan requested their exclusion.  Gutiérrez posted a statement on his official website that speaks to Bob Goodlatte’s evasions and discriminatory exclusions.  The second paragraph of the statement says, “The new mass deportation executive orders are unprecedented, but so are the lengths to which the Speaker and Chairman Bob Goodlatte are going to control the information being disseminated to Members of Congress.  I expect such dictatorial shenanigans from the Trump Administration, but not from competent, compassionate legislators like Speaker Ryan or from legislators like Bob Goodlatte.  Do they have ear pieces feeding them orders from President Bannon or the others making decisions in the White House?”  Gutiérrez appropriately criticizes Goodlatte’s control of information and directly links his behaviors to Bannon racism.  (I also love how he removed the words “competent” and “compassionate” when he got to the Goodlatte description.)

Jerrold Nadler (NY) has also had to encourage Goodlatte to do his job as chairman of the House Judiciary committee.  See this full statement on Nadler’s official website, with this particular piece reserved for Bob Goodlatte:  “Third, Chairman Goodlatte also gave notice of an amendment in the nature of a substitute to my resolution, with wording virtually identical to H. Res. 111.  That amendment only exists as a threat to cut off debate on the underlying resolution.  I urge the Chairman not to break from the longstanding practice of the House Judiciary Committee, and to allow a full debate on the resolution of inquiry.  If Republicans choose to block the measure, so be it.  At least we will know where they stand.  I believe that the public sees this ‘tactical scheduling’ as an act of cowardice.  I predict that any attempt to curtail debate or limit media coverage of our markup will only backfire.  As they say, the eyes of the nation will surely be upon them.”

Nadler is pinpointing two elements highlighted by many residents of Goodlatte’s home 6th District of Virginia (including Chris Gavaler and Gene Zitver):  “tactical scheduling” and “cowardice.”  Indeed, Goodlatte spends most of his time avoiding real discussion, confrontation, and resolution, thus getting paid not to do his job.

On his website, Goodlatte calls Virginia’s 6th District “one of the most diverse and beautiful regions in the country.”  I wonder how Goodlatte is coding “diverse” in this sentence, given that he seems to be attempting to remove from his district and his congressional meetings individuals who are unlike him.  Goodlatte does not seem to realize that, as of 2014, “Roanoke, Goodlatte’s home in the Blue Ridge Valley, has seen its Hispanic population soar by 280 percent since 2000, to 6 percent of 100,000 residents — the biggest leap of any jurisdiction in the state except the Washington suburbs. In Harrisonburg, a college town 100 miles north, Hispanics have reached 16 percent of 49,000 residents.  In many other areas of Goodlatte’s district, immigrants are a fast-growing part of the landscape and workforce — from Mexicans who pick apples and process poultry to Indians who work in high-tech and medical fields” (cited in this piece in The Washington Post, 3-2-14).

Ya es el momento de que el señor Goodlatte vuelva a escribir la descripción de sus responsabilidades: hablar con y conocer a la gente de su distrito; representar plenamente los intereses de toda la gente de su distrito; estar presente en la región que representa; incluir a todxs sus colegas en las conversaciones que tengan un impacto en nuestro estado, país y mundo; entender el nivel de corrupción de su presidente y su propio papel en la investigación de dicha corrupción; aprender a ser un ser humano valiente, trabajador, compasivo y competente.

Sin embargo, me imagino que ya es tarde para que este hombre aprenda a hacer su trabajo.  Ya nos toca pensar en otra persona que pueda guiar al Sexto Distrito.

Bob Goodlatte Does Nothing Again, Only It’s Worse

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(Poster made by Sophie Waller)

People all over the United States, including those of us in Virginia’s 6th District (for the U.S. Congress), are usually quite busy at 6:49pm.  There are dinners to make, the elderly to look in on, children to get to activities and to feed, bathe, and get to bed.   Some of us are still at work or headed out to work.  That’s why many of us did not receive Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s automated invitation to his “telephone town hall meeting” until well into the call, which began at 7:00pm, eleven minutes after the message was left.  Here’s the message Goodlatte left:

“Hi.  This is Congressman Bob Goodlatte.  It’s Thursday evening and I was calling to invite you to participate in a live, telephone town meeting to hear from you about issues before Congress.  I regret that I missed you.  If the call is still in progress, you can join by calling {#}.  Otherwise, if I may be of assistance to you, please contact my Roanoke office at {#} or my Lynchburg office at {#}.  Also, if you’d like to receive important updates from my office, I encourage you to sign up to receive. {message cuts off}.”

I’m sure you’ve heard of fake news and falsehoods.  Goodlatte’s desperate telephone call was filled with fake concern and scripts from the ever-more-false Republican party line.

By the time I called in, I had missed about the first 17 minutes of the conversation.  It turns out, though, that 43 minutes of insensitive responses to individuals genuinely concerned about social security benefits, Medicare cuts, the proposed decimation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the executive branch’s dangerous cover-up of its multiple links to Russia and cybersecurity threats was plenty of time.  In fact, Congressman Goodlatte uses the telephone to good advantage.  He tightly controls the medium by accepting a limited number of calls, reading from pre-packaged GOP scripts, and channeling all potentially troublesome questions into reassurances about how he is taking care of the safety and security of good United States citizens.  It becomes rather easy for listeners on the call to guess who are the bad U.S. citizens.

Those of us on the call could compare real concern in the voices of real human beings with the artificially concerned and overly robotic voice of Congressman Goodlatte.  Goodlatte cares only about Goodlatte.  He checked something off his list tonight.  I can just imagine him rubbing his hands together at 8:01pm and thinking, “Those pesky concerned constituents, check!  Now I can go back to gutting ethics and the ethics office, encouraging racist, Islamophobic travel bans, gutting the EPA, repealing Healthcare, and removing Medicare.”

Of even more rhetorical concern was Goodlatte’s use of two survey questions on the call.  The first asked callers to press “1” if they believed that sanctuary cities should receive federal funding and “2” if they believed they shouldn’t.  When the question was read again a few minutes later, an editorial bit was added:  “Should sanctuary cities—that do not obey executive orders–…”  Maybe Goodlatte didn’t get as many #2’s on the first go-round as he had hoped.  The second survey question asked if Iran and North Korea pose a threat to the United States (press “1” for yes and “2” for no; stay on your toes if you’re a liberal who thinks the correct answer is always “1!”).  Goodlatte’s manipulation of real concerns is disingenuous, mean-spirited, and fearmongering.  I’ve never been one to love surveys because I can never faithfully box my opinions into the limited range of answers.  In this case, I wanted to be able to respond, “Other.  Donald Trump and the sheep who follow him represent the greatest threat to the United States, both here on U.S. soil and abroad.”

NOW, please compare the account from this evening’s completely insincere and disrespectful Bob Goodlatte phone call to the following, brief retelling of this morning’s open door session with Ms. Debbie Garrett, a member of Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s staff.

You might recall this blog post that was a Theatre of the Absurd rendition of last month’s meeting with Congressman Goodlatte’s employee, or this post that takes Goodlatte to task for his racist support of the travel ban (I wrote that post before I knew of Goodlatte’s office’s involvement in the drafting of the Muslim ban).

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This month’s meeting quickly outgrew the meeting space, and so we moved downstairs to our City Council meeting space.   16 people were in attendance last month, 66 this month.  Congressman Goodlatte’s constituents care about what is happening in our district, state, and nation.  His staff member is instructed only to take names and report the issues mentioned by individuals. This morning’s meeting, in which at least 35 people spoke, demonstrated that the citizens in our area are doing their homework.  We study the issues, learn our representatives’ stances and votes, and ask hard questions.  We want a respectful answer to questions thoughtfully posed.

This morning’s 90-minute meeting, with only the ghost of Bob Goodlatte present, went much better than this evening’s Goodlatte telephone call because, it turns out, Bob is a better listener when he’s not there.  People in this morning’s crowd expressed eloquent dismay and outrage over the Muslim ban, general refugee and immigrant rights, our representative’s cavalier disregard for the health of the Virginia environment, the desire to repeal Obamacare without a new and effective plan ready to take its place, and the congressman’s support of removal of federal funding from Planned Parenthood.  Those who spoke made reference to those who had spoken before them, and those in the audience listened carefully, clapping and “hear, hearing” when they felt so moved.

Three items stood out:  (1) concern over Bob Goodlatte’s office staff’s involvement in the drafting of the travel ban; (2) Bob Goodlatte’s lack of regard for and response to his constituents; and (3) the group’s sincere desire to have a face-to-face reckoning with the man who is supposed to represent us but spends most of his time avoiding us.  He is a paid government representative who goes to extreme, expensive measures just to avoid a group of concerned citizens.  As one concerned citizen summed it up, “Bob Goodlatte, obey your oath.  Do your job.”

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Don’t forget Gene Zitver’s Goodlatte Watch Blog and Chris Gavaler’s “Dear Bob” Blog.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.” An Excellent Slogan, but We’re Forgetting to Call Out Real Discrimination Based on Race and Sex

This past Tuesday, February 7, Mitch McConnell and Republican Senators required Elizabeth Warren to cut short her reading of Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter, which formed part of Warren’s arguments against the viability of Senator Jeff Sessions as a nominee for attorney general.  They silenced her—on the Senate floor—until Sessions’ hearing was over.  The New York Times’ account (2-7-17) uses the phrase “formally silence” in its headline, and such was the case, as the senators voted 49-43 to make Warren cease and desist in her probing of Sessions’ “fitness” for the job.  The Washington Post’s piece (2-8-17) cites Mitch McConnell’s rationale for initiating the use of old-time Rule XIX against Senator Warren:  “’Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation,’” McConnell said later. ‘Nevertheless, she persisted.’”

Mitch McConnell does know that Senator Elizabeth Warren is an elected official of the United States Senate and not, well, his babysitting charge or a Salem witch on trial, doesn’t he?  As for the 48 GOP peers who stuck with him on this, they continue to be a flock of dangerously fearful sheep.  I see the action McConnell took late Tuesday night to be a desperate move to lock up some woman, somewhere, since he believes the “Lock Her Up” of the “president’s” campaign wasn’t realized fully enough.  I imagine McConnell locked in his own preening and limited worldview as he silences the words of a black, female civil rights icon articulated by a present-day white woman senator from Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Warren kicks ass.  She just does.  She does her homework, brooks no b.s., and comes out punching at a time when Democrats have been slow to resist.  In addition, individuals and groups on social media responded to McConnell’s unprofessional, power-play garbage in an instantaneous and properly biting manner (examples here).  Twitter’s tweets were a-flutter with creative responses, and the patriarchal language used by McConnell was immediately co-opted as a feminist banner.  Merchandisers got in on the action unbelievably quickly with “Nevertheless, she persisted” mugs and t-shirts, with proceeds going to the ACLU.  A rapid-fire response from the gender and race trenches works wonders.

There are two major points on this issue, however, that need greater emphasis.  The first was made beautifully in an opinion piece authored by James Grimmelmann and Jan Ellen Lewis in Friday’s (2-10-17) The New York Times.  They write that the GOP senators “added another chapter to a long and infamous tradition of manipulating congressional rules to prevent an open discussion of race.”  Exactly!  Elizabeth Warren was appropriately trying to establish long-standing concerns about Jeff Sessions’ racist beliefs and actions by reading a letter of one of the great leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and establishing that Sessions has no business occupying one of the highest posts in the land.  As Grimmelmann and Lewis state, it’s not that Elizabeth Warren didn’t know the rules, it’s that she recognized them as “unjust and antidemocratic.”  The 49 senators who voted to silence her just could not let race be debated on the Senate floor.

The second point is that 49 United States senators openly violated the United States Constitution by discriminating against Elizabeth Warren because she is a woman.  Rule XIX was not applied to Senator Tom Udall, Senator Sherrod Brown, or Senator Bernie Sanders when they read from Coretta Scott King’s letter.  While Udall, Brown, and Sanders appropriately insisted on reading Coretta Scott King’s words in the session, they did not call out their 49 colleagues on the sexual discrimination and harassment they had exercised against Warren in the Senate workplace.  McConnell and his thugs shut up a woman because they disagreed with her and had had enough.  This sounds like a partial definition of abuse, made even worse by the thugs’ hypocritical insistence on civility.  (*See Gender Shrapnel, Chapter 7, “On Emotion, Silence, and Shutting Up.”)  But no one pointed this out publicly.  In this day and age, must we still consider it “uncivil” to signal discriminatory actions in public?

Nan Stein writes, “When sexual harassment occurs in public and is not condemned, it becomes, with time, part of the social norm” (“Sexual Harassment in School. The Public Performance of Gendered Violence” [1998; p. 231]).  Therefore, we must call this incident what it is—a blatant and highly public example of sexual discrimination and harassment.

As I said before, Elizabeth Warren kicks ass.  They hit her with Rule XIX, and she hit back with Facebook and attentive news media.  She had the professional dedication and personal strength to keep reading Coretta Scott King’s words beyond the Senate floor.   Warren also wields a level of power that few people who experience workplace discrimination enjoy, thus giving her amplified voice and options not commonly available.  In fact, Warren even had the luxury to dismiss this discrimination she experienced as enacted against “Mrs. King’s voice” and against “millions who are afraid & appalled by what’s happening in our country” (as cited in this Feb. 7th NYT piece).  Warren has enough power to displace workplace discrimination, but she might need to own it so that we can call the actions of McConnell & Co. exactly what they are—illegal.

Nevertheless, she persisted, and that is still wonderful.

Death of a Yard Sign

 

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There’s something about stories with foretold deaths that provides relief.  You know death is on its way.  You don’t have to fret about the “ifs,” just the how, when, and where.  Death of a Salesman, Crónica de una muerte anunciada, and La voz dormida each in its own way announces its formula and then still enraptures.

***

Back in September we picked up the blue and white Clinton-Kaine-Degner yard sign with its cheerful outline of the state of Virginia.  Full of hope, we planted the sign by the curb for the speeding drivers on our cut-through street to see.  The sign looked lonely.  No one else on the street had yet put theirs up, and everyone could do the accounting and conclude that the sign would not enjoy the same success that its Obama-Biden predecessor had had.  No matter.  My little family went about our business, waiting for November results.  Other Clinton-Kaine-Degner signs eventually dotted the street, like little clouds of blue that couldn’t decide whether to billow away or turn into a bona fide storm.

One afternoon a week before the election, children from the middle school around the corner were trekking home from school.  I’m used to their pubescent awkwardness—the cliques, greasy hair, cakey make-up, tension between yelling insults and flirting, their firing the “F” bomb without the linguistic expertise they will gain with practice.  I’m often charmed by all the awkwardness.  What an odd stage of life it is, and it’s one that I think we experience again in our 40’s, whether or not we recognize it.  (Symptoms include:  hair loss, fat pockets in new places, creakier joints, shifting familial responsibilities and alliances.)

On that particular November afternoon, the passing children had gathered rocks of substantial size.  I only realized they had the rocks when I could hear pings and clangs from the Clinton-Kaine-Degner sign.  The sign groaned a little under this middle-school assault, losing some of its upstanding dignity and ending up a bit askew.  But no matter.  It was fine, and middle schoolers are, well, middle schoolers.  Who at 13 hasn’t thrown a rock at something?

On November 9th the yard sign looked up at me in stony silence, asking for mercy. Loneliness and pelted rocks hadn’t killed it, but certainly death from election loss and devastation was imminent.  It just had to be.  Come on, woman at her computer with her stacks of books and her candles burning novenas, come get me, it croaked.  End this.  I was stubborn, though.  It wasn’t yet time to commit euthanasia or call the preacher.  After all, there were still votes to count in Michigan and Wisconsin. There were still 10 more weeks of the imperfect but almost holy by comparison Obama-Biden connection.

Three weeks later the sky did turn into a driving storm with fast-moving clouds, inches of rain, everything gray, gray, gray.  I looked down from the window at the yard sign, soaking wet, still standing.  Okay, I thought, it’s time.  Mercy has come.  Out to the front yard I went, ready to lift the sign out of its hole and place it into a more permanent one.  As chance would have it, I was unable to get the post out of the ground.  It seemed to have grown long roots and an odd tenacity.  I tried again, shimmying closer to the ground and using more bicep and tricep power to remove it.  No go.  Well, well, old sign, I thought, looks like you’ll be staying here through the street’s holiday season.  And so it went.

During those weeks I saw plenty of signs that could easily have turned me into a middle schooler.  The oversized Trump-Pence signs that had overtaken many a lawn remained.  Trump-Pence bumper stickers still stuck it to me from their big-wheeled, high-riding vantage point.  The gigantic, all caps “Lock Her Up” sign was still nailed to a barn visible from the highway on the way into town.  Confederate flags prepared to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.  I didn’t pick up a rock, throw a stone, or so much as kick a pebble.  (I did let my dog poop near a Confederate flag and then didn’t pick up the poop.  Okay, so that’s how I stooped. Damned 13-year-old instinct.)

The holiday season came and went, with the trees and wreaths and lights going with it.  Clinton-Kaine-Degner stood strong through a sideways snowstorm and pitying looks from passersby.  Yard sign became talisman as Inauguration Day approached.  Maybe if the sign just held on in its smart, stubborn Ruth Bader Ginsburg fashion, then democracy could hold on too?

Yard sign seemed to wake up with us at 4:30 the morning of the Women’s March.  March well, yard sign called to us.  I’ll just hang out here and see you when you get back.  In the end, we and yard sign stood, rather than marched, in defiance.  Yard sign, alone, we with half a million pissed-off, creative people bearing their own signs, an explosion of rage and color and peace offerings.

It was almost as if yard sign knew it was time to let go when Ruth Bader Ginsburg came to town.  Throngs went to hear the Notorious RBG speak about her 20 push-ups a day, the co-education decision at the Virginia Military Institute, and her affection for the now-deceased Scalia.  When I arrived home from the talk, I almost gasped to see a metal post without its candidates, without its jagged, chalked peaks, without its blue and white sky.  The sign has died, yard sign has finally died, I whispered.

***

The question remains:  How did yard sign die?  Natural causes, euthanasia, suicide, homicide?

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Bob Goodlatte Supports Another Hateful (and Unconstitutional) Policy

Government officials, stop freaking hating people!  Start representing us—thoughtfully, kindly, constitutionally.

The text of the executive order of the “president” is here, with the helpful annotated version done by The New York Times here.  The evocation of 9/11 and terrorism at the beginning of the text is deeply problematic because, of course, it links individuals and families simply seeking better lives to terrorism and prioritizes Christians over Muslims.  The latter is a clear violation of the Constitution of the United States of America. Thank goodness many of the nation’s lawyers are on this.

The annotated version of the executive order, written by Adam Liptak of The New York Times, highlights the following problematic issues: (1) the invocation of 9/11; (2) going against the nation’s founders’ belief in immigration; (3) the insistence that non-U.S. citizens support the Constitution; (4) the overreach of executive power; (5) targeting seven specific nations; (6) the possible expansion of the list of countries barred; (7) the prohibition on the entrance of all refugees, but with greater consideration given to Christian individuals than to Muslim individuals; (8) expansion on the ban of Syrian refugees.  This is not only the expression of profound Islamophobia, but also a dangerous break with the Constitution and with diplomatic relationships developed over many years.

In this The Washington Post piece, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) states: “The primary duty of the federal government is to keep Americans safe. Today, President Trump has begun to fulfill this responsibility by taking a number of critical steps within his authority to strengthen national security and the integrity of our nation’s immigration system.”  (Goodlatte also proudly touts this statement on his own website.)

Let’s parse this hypernationalist, Islamophobic, state surveillance rhetoric.  The first item listed in the U.S. Constitution is that “We the People” will establish Justice.  Separating people by religion (or by national origin, race, sex, gender, parental status, etc.) and then limiting rights or liberties is antithetical to our constitutional tenets of fairness and justice.  And so the question is, which Americans does Goodlatte think he is keeping safe?  This racist, paternalistic language has got to go.

As for this “responsibility” of the “president” “within his authority,” we will rely on lawyers and legal scholars to knock down this ban as a dangerous overreach of executive authority.

Goodlatte links national security to immigration, but doesn’t acknowledge that the United States has experienced terrorist attacks from “homegrown” (right here in apple-pie USA) terrorists.  This CNN piece points out, too, that there have been, count ‘em, ZERO attacks committed by refugees in the United States.  Goodlatte also fails to comment that, since 9/11, not one terrorist attack on U.S. soil has been carried out by anyone from the seven countries listed in the ban (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen).  Goodlatte neglects to say that the “president” and his family also have no business dealings in these seven countries and therefore have protected their own businesses from retribution.

That is a lot left unsaid.  It’s time for Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, to step up, state the facts, and uphold our nation’s Constitution.

Goodlatte—qué mala leche.

 

 

 

 

Women March

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Yes, I marched.  How could I not march?  As a long-time Chicana activist said during her visit to our university, “How could I not go where a million women plan to be?”  There were detractors of the march—both valid (representation of women of color and the history of this in feminist movement[s]; see this National Public Radio piece here; Zeba Blay’s “mixed emotions” about the march in The Huffington Post) and invalid (Trump’s self-defensive criticism of the march via Twitter; reported here by PBS). But there is no denying that a seven-continent protest of the new president, his managerial shortcomings, and his inhumane policy proposals and hires makes an enormous (go ahead and say “uge”; I know you’re thinking it) statement.  This multi-million-person statement is important for the start of this regime and for the annals of history.  As this new person in charge charges through, hiring inept people and signing devastating orders, we have protested, and we have done so en masse.

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My husband, our two children, and I joined a group from our small town on the trip to Washington, D.C.  Several buses carried others from our town, thus revealing strong numbers from our area and signaling that people were definitely going to show up.  On our bus there were women and men, adults and children, black, brown, and white people, English and Spanish speakers (and speakers of several other languages), people born in our rural area, in other parts of the United States, and in other countries.  Poster messages ranged from embracing diversity, to promoting peace, to expressing frustration and/or fierceness, to citing great feminist thinkers, such as Angela Davis and Audre Lorde.  Many people sported pussy hats—in the standard pink, but also in black and rainbow.  The overriding political issue seemed to be profound concern about the president’s fitness for office, with each person having her or his “subthemes” or issues in which they were well versed, including Black Lives Matter, the environment, Planned Parenthood, LGBTQ rights, and immigration policy.
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I loved the sheer numbers at the march and its sister marches, the diversity of issues covered, the humor and compassion displayed in so many of the protest signs, the peacefulness of the protest, and the sense that the D.C. march layered over—step by step of every single inch of the packed protest route—the inaugural activities of the day before.  A lot of people said they went to the march for their daughters.  I went for me, my partner, both our children, and for the people around me whose futures are less secure under this regime.

I went to the march because I feel deep shame for my country and a profound worry about its/our future.  I needed to join a group who would make a loud and visible statement about what we have done, whom we have elected, and why it’s all wrong.  I wanted people in other nations and my own compatriotas to know that a gigantic sector of the United States disagrees with every move the new president is making.  My daughter wore the pussy hat a friend so kindly made for me.  I see the pussy hat movement as representing a stage in feminism—an early “girl power” stage that is important for many people, and likely for many young girls, boys, and people of the gender of their choice.  The hats also mark the tradition of women’s crafts and the solidarity in creating beautiful works and wearing them with a sense of purpose. I sense myself in a different stage in which I appreciate the expression of girl power but long for a more nuanced interpretation of women’s (and gender’s, in general) place in the world.  As a long-time feminist, I recognize that my views and political platforms must evolve according to analyses of others’ writings and according to emerging needs of those around me.  I work often in a Latinx community and therefore practice a feminism that is necessarily crisscrossed by questions of citizenship, race, class, and language.  But I know as a feminist who is white that this intersectionality has to be a deliberate choice every single day because it is too easy to luxuriate in white privilege.  This is why I understood the “Fuck White Feminism” sign held by someone two steps away from me at the march.  (Check out this Gender Shrapnel blog post that takes issue with the term “white feminism,” but not with the problems of it.)

I loved hearing America Ferrera, Gloria Steinem, Ashley Judd, Janelle Monáe, Sophie Cruz, and Angela Davis speak.  At times it was hard to follow who was speaking and what they were saying because the business of being in a jam-packed crowd, especially with children, was challenging.  One thing I heard before the crowds pinned us in were the words of Charlie Brotman, the man who has been an inauguration announcer since Eisenhower but was eschewed by the Trump crew.  I was miffed by his tin-eared decision to label the Women’s March crowd “Charlie’s Angels,” and I called out that he should get over himself and stop colonizing women.  Van Jones was generally great as a “private in the Love Army.”  Nevertheless, I thought I heard him mention men’s need to “protect our women” and took issue with the implication of women’s weakness and his use of the possessive.  These were minor issues in the grand scheme of things.

In his New York Times opinion piece of January 24, 2017, David Brooks wrote:  “Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism. People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. They have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community. Such movements descend to the language of mass therapy.”  Oh, Mr. Brooks, can you not be a little more nuanced?  Party politics is part and parcel of social movements, and it should be the case that, in turn, social movements are a part of party politics.  Marching in Washington, D.C., and all around the world does accomplish something, did accomplish something.  I don’t know anyone from the march who is not now more engaged in local, state, and national political processes than they were before the march.  This includes the children.  If “mass therapy” means that half a million people gathered on a two-mile stretch of the nation’s capital to express vociferous discontent with the incapable person we’ve elected president and then harnessed that group feeling to become politically active, then go ahead and use the patronizing term.

David Brooks also fawns all over Mark Lilla’s Nov. 18th (2016) op-ed in The New York Times, claiming that, “Times readers loved that piece and it vaulted to the top of the most-read charts.”  I was certainly a Times reader who read the piece, but I thought it dripped in white privilege and expressed a misbegotten nostalgia for when “politics” was only for white men.  (See the Gender Shrapnel blog response to Lilla’s piece here.)  Brooks concludes that the “anti-Trump forces” need to “offer a better nationalism, with diversity cohering around a central mission, building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality.”  Methinks Brooks doesn’t get that many March participants don’t seek “a better nationalism,” and, if they do, it certainly need not hearken back to capitalist and Christian tropes that got Trump elected to begin with.

In the end, I marched because we elected a megalomaniac who continues to erode the constitutional rights of many people in the United States. I couldn’t stand for it—I had to march.

poster-art

(“Hear Our Voice” by Liza Donovan; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/womens-march-poster-art_us_5873c531e4b02b5f858a2b1d)

 

Bob Goodlatte Performs in Theatre of the Absurd

Yesterday I attended a performance of the Theatre of the Absurd (see Martin Esslin’s piece on the Theatre of the Absurd here).  It was an “open session” meeting sponsored by Congressman Bob Goodlatte and run by one of his district staff members.  If you’ve ever seen or read Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, you’ll be familiar with the scene I offer here.

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CAST

Staff member of a government representative

16 concerned citizens

1 unconcerned citizen

Ghost of a government representative

A little kitchen in the county offices of a town in rural Virginia.  Long, plastic tables are placed in a rectangle, with folding chairs around them.  Flickering fluorescent lights dot the scene, and in the background are sounds of people clicking on computers, answering phones, etc., in neighboring offices.  The large, plain clock in the room ticks towards 8:59 a.m.

STAFF MEMBER (standing, holding a stack of folders and mail, speaks to one concerned citizen):  Are you here as part of the group?

CONCERNED CITIZEN #1:  What group?

STAFF MEMBER:  You know, the group.

CONCERNED CITIZEN #1:  Ummm…  I’m here as a concerned citizen for the open door session sponsored by our district’s congressman.

STAFF MEMBER (still standing, directing herself to Concerned Citizens #’s 2, 3, and 4):  Are you here as part of the group?

CONCERNED CITIZEN #2:  What group?

STAFF MEMBER (glancing around nervously, gradually placing her things on the table):  You know, the group.

CONCERNED CITIZEN #3:  Well, I’m here just as a citizen concerned about the congressman’s policy issues.

As the clock shows the 9 o’clock hour, eight more concerned citizens arrive.  Each is asked if she or he is there as part of a group.  Each looks bewildered and responds, “no” and sits down at the tables.

STAFF MEMBER (passing around a pad of paper and pen):  You need to know that this session is reserved for individual cases from individual citizens.  I’m passing around paper and a pen.  Sign your full name, address, and e-mail, and I’ll share this with the congressman.

(Directs herself to entering Concerned Citizen #13)

Are you here as part of the group?

(Concerned Citizen #13 looks around, recognizes no one among the seated individuals, shakes his head.)

CONCERNED CITIZEN #13:  Umm, no, umm, what do you mean ‘part of the group?’

STAFF MEMBER:  You need to know that this session is reserved for individual cases from individual citizens.

CONCERNED CITIZEN #7:  Why do you keep saying that?  Isn’t this an open door session sponsored by the congressman?

STAFF MEMBER:  Yes, but you need to know that this session is reserved for individual cases from individual citizens.  Now, if people have individual comments they would like me to relay to the congressman, they can raise their hands.

(Concerned Citizen #1 raises his hand.)

STAFF MEMBER (looks at Concerned Citizen #1):  Sir, I believe we’ve already heard enough from you.

CONCERNED CITIZEN #1:  But I haven’t even…

STAFF MEMBER (cutting off Concerned Citizen #1 and signaling to Concerned Citizen #6):  State your name.

CONCERNED CITIZEN #6:  Jane.  I’m here to talk about the Affordable Care Act.  I’m concerned that proposed changes sponsored by the congressman’s party will affect my son’s coverage.

(Staff Member scribbles on her pad of paper.)

CONCERNED CITIZEN #10:  I’m here for the same issue.  I am concerned about…

(Concerned Citizens #14 and 15 enter.)

STAFF MEMBER:  Are you here as part of the group?

(Bewildered looks from Concerned Citizens #14 and 15.)

CONCERNED CITIZEN #15:  Uh, what do you mean?  We’re here to express concerns about our congressman and the ethics office.

STAFF MEMBER:  So this isn’t an individual case?

CONCERNED CITIZEN #14:  Well, I’m not sure what you mean.  It is individual in that I individually am concerned about how the congressman is trying to gut the ethics office.

STAFF MEMBER:  Take a seat.

(Concerned Citizen #10 picks up train of thought from before)

CONCERNED CITIZEN #10:  …how changes in the ACA will affect 18,000,000 people in the United States, 30,000 of whom are here in Virginia.  I’m also concerned about the billions it will cost to enact these changes.

STAFF MEMBER:  I’m only here to hear individual concerns.

(Five other concerned citizens express extemporaneous individual concerns about the ACA.  They all speak at the same time.)

(Concerned Citizen #16 enters.)

STAFF MEMBER (sighing heavily):  Are you here as part of the group?

CONCERNED CITIZEN #16:  What do you mean?  I’m just here for the open door session sponsored by our congressman.

STAFF MEMBER:  Well, I have to take care of the case load.

(Bewildered look from Concerned Citizen #16.  Exasperated looks on the faces of other concerned citizens.)

CONCERNED CITIZEN #8:  If we wanted to speak directly with the congressman, how would we do so?

STAFF MEMBER:  Well, you can use his website…

(Snickers in the crowd.  One loud whisper that the website only seeks donations for the other political party.)

…or work through me.

(Audible groans from the crowd.)

CONCERNED CITIZEN #9:  Is it not possible to have a town hall meeting with the congressman?

STAFF MEMBER:  No, no, of course not.  It is the 21st century.  You understand the security concerns.

(Unconcerned Citizen enters the room and pulls up a chair next to Staff Member.)

STAFF MEMBER:  Hi, how’re you doing?  Are you here for inauguration tickets?

UNCONCERNED CITIZEN:  That’s right.

STAFF MEMBER:  Here you go.  Enjoy!

The plain clock strikes 10:00.  The ghost of the government representative smiles and nods at Unconcerned Citizen.

Lights out.  Curtain.

**********

You get the picture, right?

Government is not working for the people when its elected officials bask in partisan praise, ignore real concerns offered by individuals and groups, and gerrymander the voting districts.   The staff member here is just following orders—box them out (concerned citizens) and protect me (big man in charge).  This theatre of the absurd seems all too familiar.  Keep an eye on GoodlatteWatch and DearBob.  We have to insist that these perennially elected, gerrymandered fat cats start to lose some elections so that we can elect a real representative who will work for—and with—the people.