The Political is Personal

I’ve held my breath so long because, let’s face it, it’s scary to be a woman with a political opinion on the internet. Maybe the answer to the epidemic of misogynistic trolls is herd immunity. What if every woman with an opinion got on the internet and said what she thinks? They’d have to start recruiting new trolls, or working double shifts, just to keep up. Or, one would hope, they might even bore of the enterprise once they realize their harassment and vitriol aren’t deterring opinionated women anymore. So maybe it’s just as important to be showing up online as it is to march in the streets.

I’m never going to get the words right, so I might as well just use the ones I have.

The second wave feminist mantra, “The Personal is Political,” has long held a lot of meaning for me. I pretty much stopped following government politics at a national level in 2004, when the president I’d so vehemently opposed since 2000 was re-elected, mere weeks after my father died.That fall, I lost all capacity to process events that were happening at a national level, and I decided the politics of national government were no longer worthy of my interest or energy—I chose to focus, instead, on directing my actions and intentions locally, on a personal level—making the little choices that, if a helluva lot more people made them, would make a helluva lot of difference.

“The personal is political,” for me, has meant choosing not to own a car, commuting instead by bike or bus or walking. Except for the rare occasions when I rent a car for travel, I never buy gas. If more people made that personal choice? Think of what decreased demand and consumption of fossil fuels would mean for our environment. Think of what it would mean for foreign policy if the U.S. economy didn’t depend on imported oil.

I shop local whenever I can. I work for a public university. I volunteer in my community and help to lead an organization that provides a platform for women’s voices and stories. I read books and poems and articles, and watch films, and listen to music made by black people and indigenous people and trans and gender nonconforming people and queer people and disabled people and neurodiverse people and poor people, and I seek out these voices because they are not other, they are us. I am working, albeit slowly and without much to show for it yet, on a writing career that expresses an explicitly intersectional feminist viewpoint. I’m 38, unmarried, no children. All of this is political, and none of it has to do with national government or electoral politics, which has been no concern of mine over the past twelve years.

But today?

Today, and since the November elections, the political has become personal, for me. I hate conflict. My heart races and my chest gets tight when people disagree with me, in real life or on the internet. But I am working on that. It’s embarrassing to admit. But maybe if I admit it, other people who feel the same as me (too fearful of possible repercussions to make political statements on the internet) will be courageous enough to take a step as inconsequential as this little blog post here that nevertheless terrifies me to publish. Herd immunity doesn’t work when so many opt out. Until a whole bunch of us are willing to assert our political authority on matters that are important to us, the wrath of trolls will prevail.

Today the political is personal because the new federal administration poses direct threats to the freedoms I hold dear.

Tomorrow I march. Many are characterizing the Women’s March on Washington (and its satellite marches, including the one in downtown Tucson I’ll be joining) as the bitter tears of sore losers. That’s not what I see, and it’s not why I march. My concerns are bigger than any one candidate or elected official, and I have no interest in arguments that reduce the issues to a zero-sum game of winners and losers where everyone has to pick a side, conservative or liberal.

I have dismissed politics, for so very long, as a game no more sophisticated than the high school popularity contests we called “student government.” Are we as a nation incapable of nuanced discussion? Can we start a new conversation that isn’t about picking teams, insulting the opposition, and scapegoating our society’s most vulnerable– poor folks, immigrants, indigenous people, religious minorities, people of color and the disabled?

Do not reduce my concerns to mere disappointment in the openly misogynist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual individual with no experience in government who has just been elected chief administrator of the executive branch of our national government. He is a symptom of a diseased democracy, and we have to stay focused on the disease and not the distracting antics of this individual if we want to have any hope of finding– perhaps not a cure, but at the very least, treatment for our ailing democracy: in the form of community-building, education, empathy, and the elevation of discourse.

I want to focus on getting better about sharing knowledge in both formal and informal ways. I want to improve my capacity to have productive conversations with family members, coworkers and acquaintances who share differing worldviews. I want to get past my stubborn investment in being right (or, more to the point, avoiding conflict), and find a way to prioritize boring-ass conversations about public policy (ugh) and the responsibilities of citizen activism. I want to start having real discussions about my deeply held personal values, even when doing so betrays truths I’d rather keep private.

I want to model an engaged citizenship that goes beyond defaulting to party lines or passively expecting one elected official or another fix what’s broken in our society. I want to begin modeling the kind of vocal and persistent participation in our democratic republic–at the local, state, and national level– that it is going to take all of us to own as a personal responsibility if this dream of a more perfect union that we call the U.S.A. is ever to be realized.

Tomorrow I march, because today we are a less than perfect union. I march to make vocal and visible my support for the institutions, individuals, and communities which appear to be threatened by the new administration, but especially:

FOR Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and a free press that functions as a fourth estate providing checks to government overreach and misconduct

FOR Freedom of religion and AGAINST Islamophobia

FOR Separation of church and state

FOR federal investment in public education, infrastructure, healthcare, climate change research, environmental protection, and the arts.

FOR criminal justice reform and the abolition of the prison industrial complex

FOR rights of undocumented migrants to live and work in dignity without fear of violence, harassment, or deportation.

FOR Black Lives Matter and FOR the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and AGAINST White Nationalism

FOR women’s right to reproductive choice

FOR freedom of gender expression, and the entire rainbow spectrum of sexual and romantic preference, and AGAINST homophobia, transphobia, and heteronormativity

Now I exhale, and hit publish. This is only step 1. Family, friends and strangers, by all means, feel free to disagree with my positions. Tell me how wrong I am, whether for being too liberal or not liberal enough. My skin is thin but with practice, I think I can build resilience. Bring it on.

And family, friends and strangers who agree with the opinions I’ve posited here– please don’t bother agreeing in the comments. I’d appreciate your affirmations, but what I’d appreciate even more is YOU saying what YOU think on your little piece of the internet (if this post inspires you to do that, I’d love seeing a link to what you produce in the comments). Let’s overwhelm the internet with women’s opinions. It’s herd immunity time.

Don’t just settle for, as I have long done, sharing the articles you agree with on the like-minded echo chamber of social media. I ask you to take the time to articulate, in your own words and on a public forum, what you value and what you want from your government and what you oppose, provided you have the capacity to withstand whatever backlash such proclamations may provoke. Know your limits, but know also that you are likely capable of more than you realize. This isn’t politics as usual, this isn’t normal, and THIS IS PERSONAL. We have to keep making it personal. Take the first step, then the next. Then the next. I will be marching right alongside you.