A Democrat Goes to a GOP Gun Meeting

(Left: Virginia House of Delegates, 24th District’s Ronnie Campbell at the Buena Vista American Legion Building on December 8, 2019. Right: Two armed police officers at the event.)

(I wrote this post on Sunday, December 8, after attending Virginia House of Delegates member Ronnie Campbell’s townhall meeting in Buena Vista, Virginia.  The gun sanctuary decision was made the following night, December 9, by the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, who met at Rockbridge County High School.  I will write a new post soon about the December 9th meeting and decision. The next post should demonstrate that I did listen to people’s concerns about common sense gun reform, learn a lot of gun vocabulary, deepen my awareness of local culture, and come to understand even more poignantly the power of the NRA lobby in the GOP and, by extrapolation, our nation.)

You may know me.  I am one of the tens of thousands of Democrats who, in November of 2016, joined with friends and neighbors to decry the result of the presidential election, feel shame that I had not been more active before that point, and resolve to do something about it.  “It,” meaning all of it: stop-and-frisk police stops and killing of African American individuals; violence against and intimidation of immigrants; attempts to remove basic healthcare from millions of hardworking residents of the United States; and rampant corruption of the newly-elected president, so afraid to have his tax documents shared and so in the back pocket of a foreign government looking to manage the United States through its toady president.  You know me because I teach you, or live next to you, or am related to you, or sat next to you today at a meeting about gun sanctuaries.

My husband teaches at the sole public high school in our county in rural southwestern Virginia.  Four years ago, he almost singlehandedly beat back a gun raffle (it’s exactly what it sounds like) being held at the high school in support of the wrestling team.  When the raffle got cancelled, my husband was threatened by a county Board of Supervisors member inside the school.  After Parkland in 2018, my husband and many of his colleagues at the high school asked the Rockbridge County School Board and Board of Supervisors to consider greater safety measures for the high school.  The measure was never taken up, nor indeed responded to.  200 students bravely participated in a walkout soon thereafter, but the school board and board of supervisors never paid them any mind.

Now, the post blue-wave, mobilized Republican Committee of our area is responding to the Virginia Citizens Defense League by proposing that our county be a “gun sanctuary county.”  The Board of Supervisors meeting is of particular interest tomorrow because the Board will hear a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” resolution, of the type drafted and approved by over thirty Virginia counties (Washington Post 11/29/19 Editorial linked here).  Some residents are advocating that the sheriff and law enforcement defy any state laws passed to implement common-sense gun safety reforms.  We Democrats in the area are concerned about mob rule and lawlessness, as well as general safety in a state that has seen the Virginia Tech massacre, (2007), the Charlottesville violence (2017; Gender Shrapnel post here), and the Virginia Beach shooting (2019).

The Board of Supervisors has chosen to hold the gun sanctuary resolution discussion and decision at our local high school.  Keep in mind the school shootings that have taken place in the United States since Columbine (and note that there have been 45 school shootings in 46 weeks in 2019; related Gender Shrapnel post here).  Tomorrow night, when the meeting takes place, my husband and 150 students, parents, and coaches will be at the high school for a home meet of the academic team.  My daughter will be wrapping up swim practice for the high school. Nice time to hold a gun sanctuary meeting at a public school.  When my husband wrote to the chair of the Board of Supervisors to express concern about the confluence of the gun sanctuary meeting and regular school-type events, he received no reply.  But, at Friday night’s holiday parade, he did feel a large presence grab his right shoulder then his left, hold him place, put his mouth on my husband’s ear, and threaten him verbally.  You know me.  I’m the woman whose family is not allowed to express concern about safety without being physically and verbally threatened.

When I spend a Sunday afternoon at the American Legion in Buena Vista, Virginia, I am sitting with Republican neighbors.  They introduce themselves in a friendly way, a little less friendly when the word spreads through the crowd that I am from the other side.  The American Legion building has framed military uniforms, a framed copy of the American Legion constitution, enough American flags to keep a whole town warm at night, and 170 chairs set up for constituents of the Virginia 24th District, one of which I am.  About sixty of us are to sit back, relax, and hear Virginia House of Delegates member Ronnie Campbell prepare them (us?) for the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors meeting the following evening.  Our delegate frames the gun sanctuary discussion through the lens of voter ID (“everybody thinks they can vote”), abortion (“there’s stuff coming at us”), the news media (“Fox is the only one left out there. Citizens are not properly informed”), and Trump (“one of the best presidents we’ve ever had”).

Guns are metonymy for Republican talking points, and they are real objects that kill real people.  You know me, and I have had enough.

Don’t Tread On Me

 

In Gender Shrapnel, I highlight the ways in which harassment accumulates without our noticing the steps along the way.  I talk about how we absorb harassment for weeks, months, maybe years, and then experience high-consciousness, or “last-straw” moments.  During these last-straw moments, we look back and string together all the harassment events and all the symbols that accompany them.  We put it all together, we synthesize and analyze and, yet, we can go through this cycle repeated times.  Our resilience allows us to take the blow and carry on, kind of like forgetting the pain of childbirth or setting aside trauma.

This month’s “blue wave” in Virginia, which, for the first time in 26 years, boasts Democratic control of all sectors of state government (WAMU; The Atlantic; Salon; The Washington Post) has happened in the White House’s backyard. Serving as a possible bellwether for other state elections and the 2020 national elections, Virginia has thumbed its collective nose at the President and the prostrate GOP. These weeks since November 5th have brought blue euphoria and, I believe, red revenge.  We are on the node of built-up harassment and resultant resilience.  November has been the month of impeachment hearings, clear-as-day proof that Trump ordered Giuliani to negotiate to hold back hundreds of millions of state-approved aid to serve Trump and his reelection aspirations for 2020, and noble testimony from respected and respectful state officials like Fiona Hill and Marie Yovanovitch.  November has signaled our national divisions.

November has reminded me that we Democrats should be at a last-straw moment.  We should have had enough, more than enough, by now.  Each careful little step, each overly cautious accusation in the face of real harm, each mostly uncelebrated victory.  Barack Obama was belittled and threatened and attacked, and the GOP chose to undermine every common-good initiative of his platform. Hillary Clinton was harassed and trolled and threatened, blamed for all that Trump was actually engaging in at the time, told repeatedly and menacingly that she’d be locked up, and then, in essence, she was. These messages and actions told Democrats that we were too black and too woman and too caring of our neighbors and countrypeople, that we too should be locked up.  We were told not to tread, not to tread at all, because there is punishment for stepping out of line in a white, male, cis, hetero supremacist nation.

Don’t tread on me.  That’s what about one-sixth of the license plates in my state tell me.  The license plates peer out from the back of giant trucks that take up more than half the road and more than a single parking spot.  The giant trucks tread on everything, everywhere they go, imperiously declaring their greater size and might.  The Don’t Tread On Me trucks roll through the streets like tanks, claiming their right to everything, their willingness to fight, for their God-given right, to dictate and rule.  They are not asking to foment and share in democratic principles.

“Don’t tread on me” is the motto of the Gadsden Flag, described in this The New Yorker piece as “a favorite among Tea Party enthusiasts, Second Amendment zealots—really anyone who gets riled up by the idea of government overreach.”  The great irony here is that Tea Party enthusiasts have paved the way for ultimate Trump control of the GOP, and Second Amendment zealots allow for the gigantic NRA lobby to have a major hand in government rule.  “Don’t tread on me” ethos actually has brought major government overreach.  Tariffs on China, withheld aid for Ukraine, immigration policy, prohibitions on women’s bodily autonomy, and ever more limited rights for the LGBTQ community all come to mind as particularly heavy-handed government control.

Here in Virginia, red counties are pushing for so-called “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions, through which counties pledge to defy any new common-sense gun legislation coming out of Richmond in 2020.  This past Monday night in Rockbridge County, dozens and dozens of people lobbied the Board of Supervisors for just such a resolution.  I feel tread upon, and I think that is the desired effect.  We Virginia progressives are supposed to feel punished for a resounding November victory.

The Virginia Tech campus massacre happened in 2007. In 2017, Charlottesville witnessed a group of armed people overtake its downtown and kill a peaceful protester, while white supremacists marched and chanted, “You will not replace us.” The Virginia Beach shooting took place in May of this year. “You will not replace us” is another way of saying “don’t tread on me,” especially when the Second Amendment arms people to the teeth and allows them to increase their own threatening footprint.

On this day in this month of November in this state of Virginia, I want us to let go of “don’t tread on me” threats and the “you will not replace us” chants.  I want us to prioritize how we can walk together, tread together, towards common-sense gun legislation, stronger education reforms, and greater civil rights for all.

“We Have a Woman Problem”

In Season 4 of the compelling but deeply misogynistic The West Wing, lead characters Jed Bartlet, Leo McGarry, and Josh Lyman lament, “We have a woman problem.” The line strings through several episodes of the season, as the white, liberal-bro men in charge scurry to tack right to placate insistent constituencies without pissing off the women’s groups who are creating strong lobbies and insisting on recasting “women’s issues” as something far broader.  Just as these men underestimate the brain-power of the women in their families (thoracic surgeons; general practitioners; lawyers; school teachers), they undervalue the contributions and strategies of the women who work alongside them in Washington.  Anna Deveare Smith appears occasionally as Dr. Nancy McNally, the brilliant, no-nonsense NSA Director, but, besides this character, women of color are mostly absent from the show.

I would assert that the “woman problem” mapped on the fictional The West Wing is not that the women characters, drawn through the lens of Aaron Sorkin’s fear of the vagina dentata, will take good men down, but rather that powerful men will take for granted the support of women, and, as we know all too clearly from the 2016 presidential election, especially of women of color.  This The West Wing season, shot way back in the early aughts, presages much of what we have seen over the past two years, and specifically over the past week.

In fact, I started writing this post several days ago, before Lindsey Graham asserted that the GOP has to address “the suburban woman problem” (cited here in Politico).  On this NBC News clip, Graham states, “I think the Kavanaugh effect was real.   […] I’ve never seen anything in my life bring the Republican Party together more than the, uh, Kavanaugh hearing.”  Of course, he adds, that the “conservative judicial train will keep running.”  Let’s pause for a moment here.  Although most of us are not surprised, we should take an extra moment to absorb Graham’s statement (so contradictory to his worry about Trump’s appropriateness as a presidential candidate way back in 2016).  How do you translate this statement in plain-speak?:  “We Republicans support rape and rapists so that we can own the Judiciary.  Why, of course we do.  We count on rapists and rape to push our agenda down the throats of those who elected us, and those who didn’t.”  The metaphors represent a frightening reality of GOP control.

(The only levity I can introduce here is the striking resemblance between Lindsey Graham (in the NBC video) and Gumby.  How the hell has Gumby gained so much power?)

(Do you see it?)

What Graham, and his fictional predecessors, ignore at their own peril is that “the woman problem” now reaches far beyond just white women.

“The woman problem” reflects a bigger blue wave than most dudishly interrupting pundits could conceive of this past Tuesday night.  “The woman problem,” encapsulated in the reality of living with a Groping Old President, should now be seen as a woman-Muslim-Latina/o/x-LGBTQIA-Black Lives Matter-Native American-decent men big-ass wave of dissent against the white supremacist who occupies the White House and his fawning, spineless, power-hungry, weak-ass, and selfish lackeys.  We can look at the “me” of #MeToo in a broad, inclusive, representative way.  Just look at all the people who want and need to say, “Me Too.” (*See Michelle Goldberg’s “Women’s Revolt” piece in The New York Times; see also Jill Filopovic’s “Women’s Wave” piece in The New York Times.)

In summary:

You think you’ll support “both sides” in Charlottesville?

You steal votes from any person or demographic who in body alone challenges white male supremacy?

You withdraw from the Paris Accord?

You actually believe scary-ass liar-rapist Brett Kavanaugh?

You dog-whistle violence against Black and Jewish citizens?

You commit the ultimate fascist act of separating families?

You attempt to gaslight a nation?

If so, then get ready for more than “just” a “woman problem.”  The results in the House tell us that we want and need elected officials who understand and represent the many ways in which these United States are changing, the very changes so deeply feared by the white men who chanted on August 11 and 12, 2017, “You…will not…replace us.”

Most news outlets (e.g. NPR; USA Today; CNN) have reported by now that the United States has now elected more than 100 women to seats in the House of Representatives.  This historic group includes Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Latina and the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first Native American women elected to Congress, Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman from Massachusetts to be elected to Congress, and Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, the first Texas Latinas to be elected to Congress.  This is fantastic news!  In addition, several states have elected women governors for the first time (Iowa, Maine, South Dakota), and we are still waiting to hear what will happen with Stacey Abrams’ outstanding run for Governor of Georgia, against the astonishingly corrupt Brian Kemp.  Fingers crossed for justice to be served in the final recounts in Arizona and Florida senate races.

In my own district in Virginia, the deeply red hues have molted with the amazing candidacy of Jennifer Lewis and her historic run against Ben Cline, the sort-of-but-not-quite bro-dude tapped by the elusive Bob Goodlatte to take over Virginia’s 6th District’s post in the House.  Cline has a clear “woman problem,” and this will become only more evident as he attempts to push Handmaid’s Tale agendas through a now blue House.

Jared Polis’ victory for the governorship of Colorado marks the first time an openly gay man will move into a governor’s mansion.  There is much to celebrate, including the declaration in this The New York Times piece that, “The shift to the left in the House in the 2018 Midterm elections went well beyond the districts Democrats flipped” (see their linked article, “Sizing Up the 2018 Blue Wave,” which examines more closely the 222-196 Democratic victory in the House and states that “the overwhelming trend on Tuesday was a blue shift: 317 districts swung to the left”).

In 2019, even with what the Brookings Institute has dubbed “Another ‘Year of the Woman,’”  women will still represent less than one-fourth of Congress, even though women are over 51% of our nation.  Nevertheless, at the very least, when we think about women and how they/we have worked to undo a fascist regime bent on cruelty and violence, we can think more broadly—not just white and not just cis—as we expand our understanding of humans, collaboration, and representation.

Bring it.  Freaking bring it.