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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

The day after the Inauguration, I had a long conversation with someone who was fighting despair. He was obviously a smart guy, educated, well-spoken, reasonable. He was trying to make sense of what was happening on the national political stage and come up with a plan to fix it, and he was failing. His failure, to which I imagine he is at least somewhat unaccustomed, was causing him a lot of distress.

I told him, “This is an unprecedented and chaotic time, and there isn’t a simple easy fix. No one knows what is this is going to lead to in the future.”

I want you to pause and let that sink in: No one knows what is going to happen.

Seriously. I don’t care how smart any one individual is. They do not know what is going to happen. Most of them do not even have all the facts. Unless X-men mutant powers have suddenly manifested around the globe, nobody knows what the future will bring. They can guess. They can analyze. They can plan. They can string together a line of facts with speculation. But they cannot know.

Why does this matter?

Fear has two sides. On the one hand, it can be an effective weapon. It can galvanize us into action, overcoming the impulses of laziness, denial, and apathy.  It can help us develop courage and integrity. It can act as a loud warning siren that something has gone wrong in the world around us.

But if left unchecked, fear can spiral out of control. It can deepen into despair and defeatist thinking. It can overwhelm and paralyze. It can lead a person into believing there is nothing they can do.

And spending too much time dwelling on and being terrified by an unknown future can lead to this spiral of despair all too easily.

How do we combat this? By aggressive self care, by acknowledging that we do not know what the future will bring, and by empowering ourselves by focusing on concrete actions we can take.

But Amy, I hear someone say, what good are my actions? They won’t make any difference.

And to that person I say, I understand how you feel. We are, each of us, tiny specks of sand being blown by the winds of history in the making. It is an uncomfortable feeling.

But you are wrong. Over and over again in this blog, I have written about the importance of the individual’s choices, about how we impact the world around us, about how living a mindful and examined life matters. And that has never been more true than at this moment.

What you believe matters. How you choose to conduct yourself matters. Acting with integrity matters. Reaching out and supporting your friends, your communities, your families, that all matters. Staying engaged and informed matters. Donating matters. Becoming engaged in the political process matters. Organizing matters. Protesting matters. What you create as an artist matters.

You do not have to conduct a very deep dive into history to find concrete examples of how these things have impact: various independence movements; women’s suffrage; the Civil Rights Movement; the LGBTQ rights movement; the Tea Party. And that’s just off the top of my head. These sorts of things are usually messy and often deeply imperfect, because we as individuals make mistakes and are deeply imperfect. But over time they can change the status quo. Our actions do matter.

And if the fear is strong in you right now, know you don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to do it alone. That is why organizing is so important, because when it works well, you become more than the sum of your parts. You support each other. You don’t have to be an expert on every single issue. You can take breaks. You can focus on your strengths and not beat yourself up so hard over your weaknesses. You can raise up your voices together, and a million voices are a hell of a lot louder than one single voice.

As Dylan Thomas so famously wrote:

“Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Fight against despair because it will lie to you. It will tell you your integrity and your principles no longer matter. And that is simply not true.

Who you are will always matter.

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I recently read an article by PZ Myers about how silence is political, and it gave me pause. While I do place a lot of importance on having a voice, I am frequently silent. In particular, I often remain silent about the controversy du jour of the science fiction community, of which I am firmly a part.

I remain silent because it is the easy thing to do, and it is my privilege to be able to choose to do so. I remain silent because I want to be liked, and I usually have friends on both sides of the issue. I remain silent because it takes a lot of energy to produce a well-crafted statement of opinion, and sometimes I don’t have that energy to spare.

The choice to remain silent is, however, inherently political. I am choosing not to rock the boat. I am choosing not to expend the energy. I am choosing what is important enough that I’ll brave the inevitable conflict for speaking about it. I don’t know that this is incorrect in that I have finite resources, but it is an act of privilege that I feel I can afford to stay silent, that I even have a choice at all.

Photo Credit: _Zahira_ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: _Zahira_ via Compfight cc

It is with this in mind that I’m going to talk about my recent decision involving SFWA. For those of you who don’t know, SFWA is the professional organization for science fiction and fantasy writers. My membership came up for renewal last month, and I was quite torn about whether to renew. Much of this, I confess, came down to the mundane fact that I didn’t particularly want to spend the $90 required, but I’ve also been disturbed by the controversies regarding sexism that have been rocking this professional organization for the last year or so. What to do, what to do?

I was speaking about SFWA to a friend of mine who stated he didn’t think he’d join once eligible. He talked about how all the scandal has tarnished SFWA’s reputation and how they don’t behave like a professional organization. He criticized organizational decisions and responses and behavior. He made several valid points.

And to my surprise, I found myself defending SFWA. When an organization is striving to make large and systemic changes, it is bound to be messy and slower than we would wish, I argued. But if I support the intended changes towards more professionalism and less sexism, can I in good conscience abandon the organization before giving them time to correct? The latest revamped Bulletin (the organization’s newsletter) is an excellent example of something deeply positive and helpful coming out of all the controversy of the last year.

Ultimately I feel that my decision as to whether to remain a SFWA member is also political. And this year, I chose to pay my dues and stay a part of the organization.

I believe that communities cannot change without experiencing growing pains. And a lot of the controversy of the last year and a half is happening because people are no longer staying silent. Having people speak up about difficult issues almost always causes a push-back. Just as some people in my life were unhappy with my decision to leave my people-pleasing days behind me, so some people in SFWA have been unhappy with those members who have chosen to speak out against the sexism of the Bulletin, among other issues. Change is hard and painfully slow. But the only way the change will stick is if the people invested in the change hold the course.

So yes, sometimes SFWA does not act like the professional organization it is striving to become. Sometimes its officers make errors of judgment. Sometimes it seems like its responses are ridiculously slow. But I believe it is on the course to becoming more professional. And I’m willing to give it some more time to see if it’s able to continue to transform itself into an organization of which I am proud to be a member.

Next year I’ll probably go through the same mental gymnastics in order to decide whether to renew. But for now, I’ve put my money where my mouth is, and I’m speaking up about my decision.

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voting guide

It’s that time again: election time.  I recently received my California General Election information guide in the mail, along with my absentee ballot (I’m on the permanent absentee ballot list because I find it encourages me to vote).  And once more I prepare to climb into the morass of trying to figure out who and what to vote for, which involves trying to find information about people I’ve never heard of and wading through dense legalese.

Some quick statistics, based on numbers I found here and here.  California has an estimated 18-and-over population of 27.7 million.  As of April of this year, there were 16.9 million registered voters in the state.  Some easy math tells us that only about 61% of those over 18 are even registered to vote (leaving over 10 million adults in the dust).  And of course, just because someone is registered doesn’t mean they’ll actually cast a vote in any particular election.

Voting is very important to me.  I feel lucky to have the chance to participate in my government and to have duties as a citizen.  But when I’m faced with my 127-page information guide (which does come in languages besides English, I am happy to say, although how easy it is to obtain one in the correct language is outside of my experience), I’m not so shocked that only sixty percent of those eligible elect to participate (or even have the possibility of participation).  In fact, I’m surprised it’s that many.

(By the way, my actual ballot is printed in both English and Spanish.  Good move, whoever is in charge of such things.)

It takes a lot of time for me to vote, and it causes me a fair amount of anxiety.  I read the text of each proposition carefully, trying to understand what it actually says, and I usually pop on the internet and have a look at the opinions of a few established groups.  And then I hope I’m actually understanding something outside of my expertise and cast my vote.  In this year’s election, I will go through this process ten times, once for each proposition.

And then there are the elections for mysterious positions such as State Controller, Insurance Commissioner, Board of Equalization members, and Water District Director.  (Thank goodness my handy guide tells me what these positions are because otherwise I might not know.)  Meanwhile, I’m just feeling relief that there don’t seem to be any local elections this time around, with all kinds of City Council members, Judges, and assorted bureaucrats who aren’t even associated with political parties in case I need to fall back on blind party voting. (EDIT: Oh no, wait, there are City Council members up this year.  Sigh.)

Then there’s the propaganda problem.  Thankfully I don’t watch TV so at least I miss the commercials, but when digging through available information, how do I know who to believe?  And while I’m willing to dig through the voting records of presidential candidates (during primary time, since by the final election I only have two choices anyway), do I really have time to do so for every single candidate on the ballot?  Hmm.

So I muddle through the ballot, doing my best to make responsible, informed decisions and sometimes falling short.  If I weren’t so personally invested in my voting rights, I could see getting lazy and just not bothering with the whole thing, since it often results in my feeling helpless and/or stupid.  Yet another instance in which my stubbornness comes in handy, forcing me to do the right thing.

Because voting is the right thing.  No matter how unpleasant or confusing, no matter how complicated or mysterious, casting my vote is a concrete action in the face of widespread apathy and ignorance.  It says that I care about my country, I care about my fellow citizens, and I care about my hard-earned right to have a say.  It says that I’m not taking the status quo for granted.  It says that I believe each one of us is involved in creating the world we live in.

Are you planning to vote in November? If not, I hope you consider changing your mind and joining me in the baffling yet important process of participating in our government.

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