Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Commitment of Values

I have not previously written about politics in this blog. I have, however, written about values and it occurs to me that politics are values. My values are an important part of who I am and what I hope to express in my life, my artwork and my words.   

Under normal circumstances I accept that politics may argue for different approaches to create a better world. I may disagree with those approaches, but they are legitimate topics to debate in the public arena.

This election feels different. It is an election built on sexism, racism, xenophobia and the fundamental breakdown of social norms of respect and kindness.  If you doubt that, you need only look at the actions of people post-election as bigotry emerges.  I am angry and I am disgusted and beneath that lies a deep layer of sadness. I had thought I lived in a world with people who shared those social norms and values.

When the world turns upside down, I try to reestablish order, to make sense of it. That starts with asking myself what I can do to make it better. I think of my mother's mantra of "take your piece of the world and make it shine".  But I am just one person. How can I make a difference?

I have to believe in the butterfly effect, that small actions can make big changes even if I never see them. I've accepted that belief in my artwork. I believe the stories I tell with my art are powerful and touch people and may create an action in their life that I will never know.  On that blind belief I continue to create.  It is also on blind belief that I carry forward in this fractured time.

My process begins by thinking about my values. What do I believe in? What is threatened or will be threatened? What can I support? What can I shore up in a time of threat?

What we believe in is influenced by our experiences in this world and mine may differ from yours. I am a woman who values her autonomy, I am a Jew who lost family in the Holocaust and I am the grandchild of immigrants. I was raised by a father who valued acting on one's beliefs and speaking up for what is right, by a mother who expressed kindness and compassion in her daily life.

As a woman who seeks to have some measure of control of her life, I support women and our right to self-determination. That means control of our bodies which is fundamental to control of our lives. It means feeling physically safe in this world, not subject to threat. It means being able to use my talents to compete on a level playing field without being denigrated. I was appalled at the vicious denigration directed at our female candidate.  Disgusted beyond words that this was allowed to exist and flourish and disturbed by what it revealed about how outspoken women are truly viewed.

I oppose discrimination in any form.  As a Jew I am quite aware that discrimination against anyone is but one step away from anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism was already evident in this campaign. I am committed to safeguarding the rights of gays and minorities with a sharp awareness of that slippery slope. We are all connected and what affects them affects me.  The KKK that supported our President-elect views us all through the same lens.

I believe that immigrants can enrich our nation. My grandparents were immigrants. One grandfather was a tailor, the other ran a surplus store.  One of my grandmothers never spoke English although she understood it. Like many immigrants, her children navigated the world on her behalf.   It is because my grandparents gained entrance to the US that it in turn benefited from my mother who was a beloved teacher, my father who was a highly respected college professor who started a public TV station.  Suffice it to say that education matters to me as does the critical thinking which should grow out of education. In one of my volunteer roles I make loans through a development corporation, providing financing to minorities and immigrants to start and run businesses. On more than one occasion it has caused me to think of my own family's journey.

I don't have the sense of immunity that many Americans carry. I believe it is my heritage as a Jew that causes me to feel a certain underlying sense of threat. I do not blithely believe America is safe from demagogy and discrimination.  That was the beginning of the events that led to the extermination of my grandfather's family in Eastern Europe.  I don't know where it leads here, but I know it is nowhere good. I am on guard when I see the wall of respect breached, even more so when much of our country signs on, joining with white nationalists to vote in a candidate who exhibits demagogy and disrespect.  So yes, I am deeply disturbed by the values that are the hallmark of our President-elect and I believe we all should be.  His election does not make it OK, only more frightening.

So what do I do?  I have been identifying organizations and causes that support my values and will be making contributions of both money and time. I already work with many organizations and causes that support my values but will plan to step it up.

I will join protests that align with my views and make my presence known. I will not be silent in words or action.

I am wearing a safety pin, a symbol that I will step up to support anyone who is harassed.  I will be a safe place for others. I think of this symbol relative to the star of David which my grandfather's family was once forced to wear so they could be identified, isolated and ultimately murdered. Instead of creating a boundary and a separation, this symbol removes boundaries. It signals that I'm with those who are the target of discrimination or harassment, that I will act with them and in their behalf. It is a reminder to me of this commitment.

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