Right back at you, Judith, with thanks for continuing the conversation. Just a clarification about the 'inherent assumptions" in the piece: I do assume that the readers of Talking Writing are primarily college educated and that some are academics--and because it's critical for any writer to know her or his audience, the focus of the piece is narrowed by that understanding. However, I do not in any way assume that progressives are either college educated or part of the academic community. I know firsthand that is not the case. With respect to this piece, though, my focus is not necessarily on distinguishing between the upper middle class and working class whites who voted for Trump, but on those of us on the left whose patent disrespect for others' perspectives have so isolated the progressive movement from exercising real power in this country that heroes like your father-in-law (yes, thank you, Harry!) have seen much of their good union work flushed down the toilet by ideologues on the right who draw much of their
support from the people who are most hurt by their corrosive anti-union sentiment ... the very same people that progressives hold in such contempt. - Steven LewisonTrump Is Our Fault, Tooon 9/21/17 @ 12:18
Steve thanks for your thoughtful response. I do feel that this piece inherently assumes that all progressives are academics or hold college degrees like yourself. They are not. My father-in-law, a high school graduate, was a union organizer in the auto plants (and thank you, Harry, for fighting to give us the 8-hour day), thus my husband, who also does not hold a college degree, grew up in a blue collar household. When he attended a meeting about how to apply for CO status during the war, his father showed up at the meeting to help counsel the young men in his community. Most of my own community organizing in the Boston area was done alongside people who worked on the assembly line at GE, for example. I realize that TW doesn't exactly write for a blue collar audience, but perhaps you might want to revisit some of your assumptions about who is working on the left. In fact, a higher ratio of whites voted for Trump who had incomes that would be considered upper middle class than did those in the "working class" level income bracket. - Judith A RossonTrump Is Our Fault, Tooon 9/20/17 @ 3:13
Thanks for taking the time to write, Judith ... and for backing me up against my own wall. It's where I do my most soulful thinking.
Anyway, I do hear you. And I think you're mostly right about the critical need to find ways to reach out to Trump voters. But you completely misunderstood what my apology was about--I am not apologizing for or condoning fascism, racism or misogyny in any fashion. I am not equivocating about those who perpetrate fascist, racist, or misogynistic acts, Ever. They should all be locked up. But I am saying that the knee-jerk self-righteous response of progressives calling everyone with whom we disagree any of those names is simplistic, naive, and self-defeating, It is also dehumanizing to them--and to us. It's all in the language. We hate them, so they hate us. They hate us, so we hate them.
We have all spent our lives in the middle of a despicable American mythology, one that long predates Vietnam. But it is coming clear to me now that if we progressives had simply climbed out of our holier-than-thou heads and found the language over the last fifty years to speak from the gut to the middle class and working class people of this country ... and, rather than tell them how stupid and cruel they are, explained just how they were being fucked over by the Wall Street-Madison Avenue-K Street Republicans, we might have avoided Reagan--Bush--and the current killer-in-chief.
Self-righteousness is the singular scourge of this country--and the liberal progressive establishment, young and old, is not and has not been immune from its poison. It's time we showed a little humility, stepped down off that bullshit pedestal of purity, stopped back-biting amongst each other, and took some responsibility for our roles in the abject failure of the war on poverty, the rise of racism, the dismal state of the feminist movement, the unending misogyny, on and on. And yes, Donald Trump. - Steven LewisonTrump Is Our Fault, Tooon 9/20/17 @ 1:53
Thanks so much for writing, Eva. Amid all the deafening noise we all live with every day, and despite the temptation to give into despair or magical thinking, this very human "space" in Talking Writing provides enough hope to honor Valvano's plea: "... don't ever give up."
So ... there's this to add: I, too, am troubled--have long been made furious--by the cultural assaults against my ideas and beliefs. They're hateful and dehumanizing. However, I remain steadfast in my determination not to be dehumanized by my assailants, just as I am steadfast--with the writing of this piece--to stop dehumanizing my enemies. If I don't stop calling them names, if I continue to consciously and self-righteously fail to see the human struggle behind their hate-filled slogans, we will never meet in that middle, and they will never hear what I have to say. Hopping down off the soapbox now, with thanks .... - Steven LewisonTrump Is Our Fault, Tooon 9/20/17 @ 12:49
While we on the left need as many people on our side as possible, we also need to move beyond the narrative that you provide here. So how do we reach out to Trump voters?
Rather than apologies from academics, working people need the ability to organize themselves into strong unions, a government that values them more than corporations, and candidates with a clear, cohesive vision of how the people of this country can work together to eradicate poverty and injustice, halt climate change, and create an environment of “we” rather than “me.”
Since this issue of Talking Writing is entitled “Truth Telling,” here is my truth: I will never apologize for calling a fascist a fascist, or for calling out misogynist and racist behavior when I see it. In fact, all the misogyny and racism I've observed in my jobs, which have included factory work and various positions in academia, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations, has come from MBAs and other white-collar workers. And when our increasingly militarized police force is pepper spraying and flash bombing people who are protesting Nazi rallies, I won’t be putting any lipstick on them, either.
So, yes, we need to move away from this kind of thinking that puts the blame on both sides. Indeed, many of our young people have already blown way past it. For example, my 31-year old, activist son, who doesn't mince words, had this to say upon reading this post, and I quote with his permission.
“ I don't really know where to start in critiquing this piece except to say that he should be apologizing to our generation for this kind of complacent bullshit that allowed the left to lose so much power, leaving it to our generation to have to fight not just this far right wing administration, but milquetoast liberals like him that stand in the way.”
I’m with him.
- Judith A RossonTrump Is Our Fault, Tooon 9/19/17 @ 12:58
This essay feels like it was cut off in the middle, or like the author regards her last assertion (that "Without bridge people.. everyone drowns,") as being so intuitively obvious that she doesn't need to make a case for it. It reminds me of_Reading Lolita in Tehran_ in that both author/narrators see themselves as capable of broad understanding but don't understand why so many people are so angry that they would rather play rough than try to solve things in a calm and thoughtful and well-reasoned manner. Mikhail seems to believe that at the bottom of our present conflicts is a lack of mutual understanding based on ignorance rather than the refusal to understand based on self-interest which George Orwell famously observed. People feel that crimes are being committed against them or people they care about, and you don't reason with criminals. You just bring them to justice. - Joan HoweonAgreeing with the Other Side Can Be Revolutionaryon 9/19/17 @ 8:59
I appreciate why and how you wrote about this, as it has troubled me for some time. Our own culpability...what a concept! Yet, I wondered why, upon reading it, I could not give a full-throated endorsement, so I thought about it overnight, and discovered the source of my reluctance. It is this; I am equally troubled by the fact that my quest for enlightenment is viewed as elitism. That my faith in education is ridiculed and science is considered voodoo art. And really, if I can put these things aside, does anyone truly want to meet in the middle? I have mediated too many discussions in the past few years to think that is possible. Your piece, on the other hand, brings to mind a favorite quite from Coach Jim Valvano as he was dying..."don't give up, don't ever give up" I know you will keep writing, and I will keep reading, and then maybe, it will never happen again. Thank you Steve. - Eva BoiceonTrump Is Our Fault, Tooon 9/19/17 @ 8:46
HI, Maureen, Thanks for writing. So so sorry to hear about your struggles with the cancer. I'm very glad that poetry is providing some sustenance for you. Providing sustenance might be the best we poets can do with all those words.
And I love Rukeyser's notion of poetry as a transfer of energy. The part of the transmission that I'm struggling with these days is how to encourage a listener/reader to be increasingly available for that transfer.
Thanks again for answering--and my best wishes go along with you. - Steven LewisonA Thousand Bluebirdson 9/14/17 @ 1:48
Dear Steve, thanks for your reply of May 16 to our Sinead poem. I understand from the editors of Talking Writing that you were hoping for an acknowledgement from Neil and/or me on their website. Please know there was no disrespect meant in my silence. I was diagnosed with 4th stage metastatic breast cancer in May and have been deeply engaged in treatment. Poetry continues to provide sustenance. (I've been reading A LOT of Ginsberg myself lately.) I can tell you that writing with Neil was one of the greatest joys of my entire life. I just never knew where he was going to take our poem! A wondrous imagination! I began to think that language could do so much more than I'd ever experienced. And I know it is not simply my own joy that is important when I write a poem. I'm never quite sure what a reader will think or feel or who they will be afterward. I know I want to pass along a gift to the reader, which is something Muriel Rukeyser talked about, how a poem is a transfer of energy. She said that a poem "has the capacity to make change in existing conditions." (THE LIFE OF POETRY) I hope this is true, and I hope my work accomplishes this even occasionally. All my best to you. - Maureen SeatononA Thousand Bluebirdson 9/12/17 @ 7:55
Thank you. I am grateful for this essay about waiting in a line to see a family member in the almost unbearable chill of a state mental institution, built prison-like to protect, but resonating defeat. It's a universal story, but too intimate and full of respect to be completely sad. More than being about just about loss, it is about the spectrum of care-taking... From the young mothers, babes in pastel jumpsuits, mirroring their anxieties, to the way a wife feeds an apple to her heart-broken husband, to the humanity of patience that expresses the holding on together of the jewish traditions. In a way this is a story about fate, acceptance without the dour gloom. Even the hospitalized son in the story reveals his own form of circumspection. For people who live with mental illness in their families, these depictions validate the care-taking that must and does always show us who we are. The author might consider a full memoir. How many families live in shame and keep these stories as secrets? Mental illness plays a part in all of our lives. - regan heisermanonConfined to Quarterson 8/29/17 @ 7:39
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