Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Social Awareness: How much? How Soon? Too Much?

I've been reading through old posts of mine on the topics of social justice and taking action. I grew up going to protests and being politically active. My parents talked to me about the world, or at least that's what I remember. When I was in first grade, my friend and I woke up early one Saturday and hand made as many flyers as we could with a six-year-old's attention span. Then we put 8.5 x 11 "Ronald Reagan Sucks" leaflets in all the mailboxes on our block. As an adult, I would refer to this as "canvassing for Mondale."

When I reached 5th grade, I really was canvassing. I spent two years working on the GE boycott with I.N.F.A.C.T. I spent two years setting up an ironing board, selling buttons, collecting signatures. I even flew out to a GE shareholders meeting in Milwaukee for a direct action. I spoke to the city council about making Oakland a nuclear free zone. I joined an environmental group that held a lot of meetings and a couple retreats and ended up hosting an arts event for kids in San Francisco, but I'm not sure we did anything for the environment.

By the time I got to high school, I was burnt out on political movements. I became a typical Gen X cynic. I marched against the first Iraq war and Prop 187, but if I'm being honest, I was just happy to be ditching class. Rodney King, OJ, I stayed home. I voted. I kept myself abreast of what was going on in the world, but I didn't get involved outside of going to a couple protests against police brutality in 2002 where I got hit by a rubber bullet and faced down police that charged the crowd on horseback. I'll admit, that felt pretty badass.

When we had kids we half made a decision to not shield them from the world or our lives. The other half is that I think we just can't help ourselves. T and I are not the quiet, reserved, stoic type of people. We talk a lot. Like, a lot. People used to remark that our kids were "so verbal." Well yeah, mom and dad never shut up so they hear a lot of words, and a great many of those words are about politics.
I've always struggled with finding the line between making sure my kids know about the world and about our lives so they won't be surprised by things that happen, and telling them more than their developing minds are ready to process. I don't know what the bigger trauma could be, the shock of having things happen without warning, or the anxiety of knowing too many possibilities.

Lou, 2015
We took the kids to Obama's second inauguration in 2013. We thought it was an important moment. Buddy was four, Lou was two. Neither of them remember it. The next year, we went to Ferguson. Buddy was five, Lou was three. They don't remember that either. In 2015, it was the Million Moms March in D.C. Each of these included conversations about why we were going, the precipitating events and the desired outcomes. We talked about race. We talked about policing. I taught them the things I had been taught about how to survive encounters with law enforcement, even after I realized that their inherited genetic whiteness would make these lessons moot.

Then came the 2016 election and the beginning of years of having to explain new uncomfortable things to the kids about racism and sexism and homophobia and hate crimes. There were marches for women and pride and detention centers. During this, maybe bolstered by it and our discussions of marriage equality, Lou came out as transgender. If this is the one benefit of over sharing with the kids, it'll all be worth it.

Now it's 2020 and we're in the middle of a pandemic and a period of civil unrest. T is back to taking to the streets every night to protest. Lou is back to making protest signs. Xe has a strong sense of right and wrong and all xe wants in the world is for people to be fair. Xe thirsts for justice, which makes sense as xir survival depends on a just and fair world. So we've talked about George Floyd. Just like we talked about Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin and Philando Castille and so many others. Lou was excited to be able to ride in the Oakland Car Caravan protest. Everything seemed fine until that night. After the kids were in bed, T commented that maybe we've told them too much. She said that Lou and Yo now hated the police and were afraid of them and were afraid for us. They were afraid the police would kill us. They were worried about T going out to protest. Not long after, Lou emerged from xir bedroom unable to sleep, wracked with anxiety over police brutality. A few weeks later, a Black Lives Matter protest passed by the busy cross street near our house. The kids wanted to go down to the corner to hold signs and show support. As the main body of the march drew closer, police officers positioned themselves to block cross traffic ahead of the marchers. They were keeping the marchers safe. When Lou saw the police blocking our street on either side of the route, xe turned pale and started to retreat back to our house. Xe was convinced the police were there to hurt people. 

I'm wary of most police officers, but I can't bring myself to hate the police as a whole. I spent the spring of 2017 trying to become a police officer. While I acknowledge the systemic problems of policing as a whole, though I have been a victim of police violence, I just can't hate everyone who wears the uniform. This inability to hate doesn't stop me from being wary of any individual officer. I still do all the things I was taught growing up to make sure I get through police encounters alive. I support Black Lives Matter and I'm terrified of the Thin Blue Line crowd. I also don't want my kids, who by the privilege of their complexions will never need to fear a routine stop, to hate the police or fear them to point where they won't ask for help when they need it. I do want them to understand when to call the police and when to just leave things be. I want them to understand everything that calling the police really means and everything that could result. I don't want them to come to me at 25, seeing an unjust world and telling me, "Daddy, did you even know this stuff happens?" And I would have answer, "Yes." Because if I know then why wouldn't I tell them. If not to keep them safe, then to raise conscious, aware white looking secretly Latino-Asian allies?

It took some convincing, but Lou was persuaded to stay on the corner with us. I wanted xir to understand a couple things. First, that the police were not there to hurt people. Second, that there are things are worth standing up for, even when there's danger. I admit, that's a hard line to figure out. Whether to stand in the face of oppressive force, how much and for how long is dependent on so many factors I couldn't begin to try to explain them. I don't want T or the kids to stubbornly allow themselves to be beaten or gassed or worse. I also want them to start developing a sense for when to stay and when to leave. I want them to recognize danger rather than presume it (or on the other side, presume safety when it isn't real). I want them to be brave without being foolish. I want them to be cautious without being afraid. I want them to understand the world so they're not surprised by it. 

The thing I'm still not sure of is how much, how soon?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Five People, Four Sets of Pronouns: Introducing the IDL Podcast

Hello Friends,

Today's post is a short one because I'm hoping you'll give a listen to my first ever podcast episode. It's an interesting one, if for no other reason than because Buddy decides it's time to start using their real name. Many of you have gotten to know me in real life, or in closer online conversations and friendships and know who the kids are. Even for others, the identities of my kids is at best, a loosely guarded secret. After all, once you start doing TV interviews the jig is pretty much up. Still, I have tried to afford them some shred of anonymity so that at least their peers won't find them through lazy googling. Then they signed their names on the information for the protest they organized and things have progressed from there. 

One of the other tipping points, and the reason I decided now was a good time to launch the podcast is that Buddy recently came to us with big news. They came out as being non-binary. It was an emotional night for us, many tears were shed in relief that Buddy was finally living out as the person they really are. As I walked Buddy to bed at the end of the evening, they looked at me and said, "Well this is blog post."

I wasn't sure what to say to that. Did Buddy want it to be, or not? Did I want to write about this? I understood the comment, I write about these kinds of things. But for this, it felt like it wasn't my story to tell. As the kids grow up, they take more ownership of their identities in the world. They'll tell me to post or not post pictures I take. I've started asking them about what I can write about, and what they'd rather keep in the family. I knew I wanted Buddy's story out there. I thought it was important, not just for us, but maybe in the wider conversation on trans issues and the emergence of more trans youths. Still, I didn't feel like it was something for me to write about. Buddy's 11, they can tell this story better than I can. So I asked the kids if they wanted to do it as an interview so they could tell their stories in their own words. They both agreed, and I can't imagine a better way to launch a podcast than to talk to these two wonderful kids about a topic this personal. 

Oh, the title of this post! Right. Buddy is using they/them pronouns. Yo has decided to use xe/xir like Lou. Though we're not sure of Yo's motivation, we're going with it. T and I are using our cis gender pronouns. So we now have five people using four sets of pronouns. We're constantly correcting each other since we're all still getting used to Buddy and Yo's. It feels right. Everyone is happy. 

Thank you as always for reading, and I hope you'll give this a listen.

Friday, July 10, 2020

My Fears and Hopes of 2016 Have Been Realized

Our house on 11/09/2016

January, 2017 was a fraught and uncertain time in a way that seems almost quaint now. I kind of miss it. Looking back, it's like starting up a movie where you know how it's going to end, but you're watching anyway to see how they get there. I didn't exactly keep a diary of my thoughts at the time, but I did write a post about having to teach the morning after the election with a bad emotional (and admittedly, physical) hangover. I also contributed to a collection of short essays for Dads 4 Change. The editors at D4C asked us to write about our fears and hopes for the coming presidential term. I had a lot of fears and not much hope. Here's a excerpt of what I said:
"Like many Americans I worry about losing the progress made over the last eight years. I worry about the dismantling of our regulatory institutions, like the EPA, Department of Education, HUD, the SEC. I worry that this whole administration will be a boondoggle that strip mines the country for the benefit of the 1%. I’ve never had much faith in our intelligence agencies, but the new president seems intent on blinding them. Those are the concrete fears of today.
I hope that the Black Lives Matter sign in our yard, and seeing mommy interpreting at protests inspires my kids to avoid the apathy that cost us the last election. The one thing that could come from this is that they are turned into activists, that they feel compelled to be a part of the political process, that they never think that their vote doesn’t count. I cling to the idea that they will be the ones to help drag the country back out into the light."
You can read through the piece and those written by other dads and see that none of us were off base. What we feared came to pass. The country is divided. Hate crime has been on a steady rise. Kids are in cages. Intelligence and watch dog agencies have been dismantled. The country has erupted in protests over police brutality. There's also some kind of contagion loose, but I haven't had time to read up on that one. 2020 has seen all the sins of "but her emails," and over indulgent faith in polling come to a head. There isn't a single worry we had that hasn't become a reality in one way or another. It's numbing and enraging all at once.

Lou in Ferguson (2014)
The thing is, as we enter the latter half of what could be the last year of this particular madness, the hope has begun to manifest as well. T has continued to march. When the George Floyd protests took off, T was out there every night. She believed that she needed to put herself out there as a white body on the front lines to face down the police who might do harm to BIPOC protestors. Her aim was to shield them and I admired her even as I feared for her safety. They needed her, she needed to be there in that way, but we need her too. I need her to make it home. 

Seeing her example has also inspired the kids. They want to march. They make signs. They talk to us about justice. We've had a couple large marches go past our house. The kids were desperate to join in. I was concerned about Covid and even though everyone we saw had masks and was distancing as much as possible, it took a lot of asking before we relented. Then the kids went to a nearby action that had been organized by other kids. It was small and from what I heard, went about as you would expect a kid led protest to go. They marched circles around the park and made some speeches that were difficult to hear. But they had the experience of getting people together, taking collective action and getting their message out to the world. Buddy and Lou were inspired and decided to plan their own protest. 

T helped them with supplies and guided them through thinking out what they would need. The kids planned the theme, Black Lives Matter with a focus on LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities. They planned the route, the program and looked up who to invite. The kids wrote a solicitation inviting people to participate, speak, donate supplies and act as medics and marshals. Reading their email made cry.

We are two kids ages 9 and 11, and we are organizing a protest. We are hoping to show people that the current system of how we treat Black and Brown people is not okay, and that police brutality needs to be stopped. We especially want to call attention to queer people of color and disabled people of color.

We were wondering if you could provide some help with making sure we have the resources to do so. We're not sure how large this protest will be, but we want to be ready for a large event. We will need food (small portable snacks), water, and hand sanitizer. If we find that we have more supplies than are needed, we will give the rest to a shelter and/or another protest in the future. It would also help if we had some volunteer marshals to help organize.

We would also be very grateful if you would like to send a speaker to be part of this event. It will take place at (Time, Place, Route). We are hoping to have a short rally with speakers at both ends of the march. We will be providing ASL interpreting and there will be easy access for wheelchairs.

We're very thankful that you are taking this into consideration.

Buddy (they/them) and Lou (xe/xir)"
This email encapsulates all the hopes I had for them. They're aware and active. They want to be involved. They want to lead. They want to focus on specific communities within the larger movement. This is key. It's not "All Lives Matter," it's "These lives within the greater set of Black Lives will get particular focus today." It's notable because it brings in and includes LQBTQ+ and disabled BIPOC communities into the movement. It's uniting rather than dividing. They made sure to include interpreters, and a route that is accessible to people with mobility issues. They already understand inclusion and intersectionality better than I did when I was 30. 

The part that really got me was the signature. They signed it with their pronouns. They are so comfortable with who they are that they're not afraid of putting it right out there in a cold call solicitation. Whether they planned it or not, including the pronouns is also a final way of telling the reader, "You're safe here. You're safe with us." It's such a beautiful and subtle touch, it's probably the part of this that hits me the hardest. These are good kids.

The march was yesterday. The solicitation worked. People donated masks and supplies. They had volunteer interpreters and some marshals. T and I helped with publicity. It helps that I run Facebook groups and twitter accounts with over 10K followers. Our city council member came and said a few words. I'm not great at estimating crowds, but I'd say they drew 50-100 people. I'm proud of the kids for putting in the effort. As much as I'd like to see them rewarded with a big turn out, I know that they'll learn things from this that we may not have taught them otherwise. In taking on this project, they are learning to write professional emails, to engage with stakeholders, to research local organizations and how to plan with diversity and inclusion as foundational pieces rather than last minute add-ons. Most important, they saw something wrong in their community and they took action. 

I have hope.