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Being Here

The other night at supper, a friend suggested that there was little point to the Women’s March. He said, “The women should wait until there is something to protest, like a bill or an action.” 

 I disagree
.

As a huge presence, the women were saying I am watching. We are witnesses. Of course, they did not want to have to take action and did not want to be violent. But they had to assemble peacefully.They did what women do: they gather together: to support, to console, to make themselves known as a huge body who wanted to assert and proclaim their power as an entire gender that does not support the politics all ready lived and dictated by Donald Trump.

Historically significant, the point was to send a message. Ironically, the women who massed together likely had not voted for the candidate so they had been unable to change the presidential results. So in spite of their numbers, they had not tipped the scales away from Trump at election time.

There have been peaceful marches before such as the 1963 Martin Luther King on Washington, Gandhi’s salt March to Dandi in 1930, the Selma to Montgomery March, all forms of civil disobedience to goad oppressors and declare there has been mistreatment in the world. However, the march may be the first to be a “ Women’s March”, although there is no doubt the suffragettes had gathered too: referred to as the suffragette “ parade” in 1913 in Washington, the word, of course, deriding the seriouness of the protest to a show or spectacle.
And on television last Saturday in San Diego, there were scenes from old age homes where grannies unable to physically join the march declared they could not believe how the attitudes towards women have been so set back.They sat besides their daughters and granddaughters, incredulous at the president’s tweets and twitters and offhand banter towards their gender.

Young girls today scoff at Feminism, laughing at its origins, but I recall Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug and even Marilyn French’s Ladies Room book when suddenly women were loudly pushing back, burning their bras in protest and demanding parity of pay ,opportunity, respect and control of their own reproductive functions. In Washington last week Gloria Steinem, now in her 80’s!, encouraged those who had come, to be there with their bodies as a statement against the policies that will decry and limit women’s rights.

Margaret Wente in Tuesday’s Globe wrote,

“But will this weekend’s march change history? Not a chance. Women’s solidarity is a mirage. Forty-two per cent of U.S. women voted for Donald Trump. Among white women, it was 53 per cent. The people we saw on Saturday simply reflected the Democratic base: big-city urban and suburban professionals, overwhelmingly white, along with people from minority groups. ”
I often read but do not agree with Wente although she presents another opinion, not an “ alternative fact” , and not necessarily a truth, although it may be her ” truth”. We used to be encouraged to listen to, not silence a diversity of voices so that one might ponder, or weigh their thoughts and perhaps come to a conclusion, or even consider there might be room for expanding or re- thinking  one’s original rumination.

 In the past , strides towards women’s rights were made slowly and even if the glass ceiling has not been broken, we did edge forward with more women doctors, lawyers, engineers,CEOs” leaning in”. I recall my own Aunt Marion involved in VOW, Voice of Women, an international group in the 50’s, protesting above all- nuclear bombs.Once when I travelled with her to Norway, we met with a member in Norway and I caught the passion in their voices as they discussed world issues. With David Muir, Trump trumpeted, “The world is a mess.”And how will building walls, policies of protectionism, isolationism, refusing refugees safe harbour, water boarding improve the state of affairs? Maybe if we stare at pictures longer and repeat the same slogans enough times, people will be brainwashed into accepting that repetition of untruths somehow converts them into truths. Shades of Clockwork Orange, Handmaid’s Tale and 1984.

To be repudiated, mocked and seen as fodder for sexual groping from the President of the  United States returns women  to the dark ages.It is demeaning, and infuriating- for oldsters and the future generations. Yet, that so many places in the world protested along with those in Washington recalls Helen Reddy’s song “I am Woman…see me roar”. Would that we didn’t need to roar, although we demonstrated yesterday it can be done civilly, quietly , with dignity, uniting all women.

As uplifting as it is to witness the rise of women power is the flip side: that it is necessary in the 21st Century to have to take these tactics towards a repressive 50’s minded male- in spite of Ivanka’s declaration that Look at me; he’s not like that. Just ask Rosie O’Donnell or the victims of sexual harassment. It makes you want to cry or scream out that the same stupid games are played over and again and that so many can turn away, wipe away the facts and ignore the reality that has matched forward.

 But the thinking goes along with the jingoism of America First. Where we thought we shared a global village, that we were all our brothers/ sisters keepers, and that together we are stronger, Trump has perpetuated the image of carnage, the Hunger Games, TS Eliot’s terrible post war vision of The Wasteland.

In all places, there is poverty, disease, brutality and sadness, but the idea of the American Dream had been a leitmotif that has underpinned what has been seen possible and the best in America: from education to financial stability and security from oppression and the rights that accompany democracy. Above all, rather than mongering fear, Barack and Michelle Obama offered hope for the country, reaching out and with their efforts, returning people to work, and making the White House, the People’s House, as it became to be called.
That green light at the end of the peer, beckoning.

In truth, I’ve always thought the idea of the American Dream a fantasy. Reading Philip Roth’s American Pastorale, I have stated that if Gatsby’s green light marked the symbolism of the dream, the forests of decay  in Roth’s novel signified the end. Yet people need something to move towards, to believe their hard work and dreams will amount to something more than a slavish life, corruption, and that at least as they yearn for those far shores, that the lives of their children will be improved, their potential realized. That vision and the freedoms we cherish have motivated others, extended a life line: likely  dead to those suffering in war ravaged countries.  What hope do they harbour now? 

In case, Trump has totally smeared the Obama years, The Washington Monthly lists some of Obama’s achievements which I quote here:

1.$787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to spur economic growth amid the most severe downturn since the Great Depression.

2.The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 to re-regulate the financial sector after its practices caused the Great Recession. The law tightens capital requirements on large banks and other financial institutions,  

3.Obama led six nations in reaching an agreement with Iran that requires the country to end its nuclear weapons program and submit to a rigorous International Atomic Energy Agency inspections regime in exchange for lifting global sanctions. This blocked Iran’s pathways to building a bomb, slowing down the development time for a weapon from three months to one year if Iran were to break its commitments.

4.Global Agreement on climate change was also achieved.
..

Wente again believes women’s rights will be safe. Once more, she writes,

“As one protest sign read, ‘We Not Go Back Quietly To The 1950s.’But that’s not going to happen. Cultural norms have changed too much. The laws have changed too much. Women’s gains are too entrenched. Women are no more likely to go back to the kitchen… ”

Would that be so, and there are enough thinking people who will refuse to turn back the clock, even as the Doomsday one pushes forward. Still in these times of fear and words that are easily bantered rather than carefully conceived and spoken aloud, we need as my friend Anne insists, something of beauty, upon which to dwell. And if that beauty has been clouded over by the darkness of Trump’s policies, at least the Women’s March took the pussy image and transformed it into a pink pussyhat.
And gave us a tickle, a smile .

In the 4th Century, Phrygian Hats, soft conically shaped provided the symbol for freedom for slaves from Europe.During the French Revolution, there was the bonnet rouge and for those old enough to remember Dickens’ Tale Of Two Cities, there was Madame Dufarge, one of the knitters who sat beside the guillotine. Ian Brown in referencing the symbolism of hats brought this character to mind as he referred to the sea of knitted hats that provided wave after wave of cat ears and colour , conflating both slurs and women’s reproductive organs. Besides the seriousness of the image, it also suggested a lightness, a way to reduce the repulsive intrusive comment used by Trump.
I can image Madame Dufarge holding her needles aloft, streams of pink pussy eats cascading over the heads of the marchers.

In deed, my daughter at an appointment last week, observed her doctor emerge from surgery wearing such a little hat.

Still, I cannot but hold that dark picture of the tricoteuse Dufarge in the novel, head bent, silently knitting as the heads rolled. The women in  the Women’s March  refuse to be silenced and sit quietly by the side of the guillotine chopping up the hard earned rights of the past. Like the pussyhats, they are essentials voice in a democracy to be taken seriously .

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Mrs. Nebraska and Brave New World

I’m standing in the JCC parking lot with a woman from Nebraska. She looks quite nice, and relates that she is 74. As soon as she says Nebraska, I know what’s coming. I have rolled my eyes to reinforce that Trump is and will be a disaster. But she quickly retaliates that having lived in Central America for 2 years, that the Clinton Foundation is nothing but corruption. I actually believe this is true, but I respond, ‘When you have two terrible choices, you take the lesser of the two”. She vehemently disagrees, again trumpeting the corruption. I retaliate with the stories from the African- America cabbies from Chicago, the Meryl Streep twitter…but all is lightly dismissed, and as far as the Russians go, according to Mrs. Nebraska, they have always been involved, and they did not pull the levers in the polling booths. She throws her best shot( Martin Luther King Day was just yesterday), exhorting that the country is divided and everyone must come together.

I nicely retort that we are never going to agree and that really, I must leave. But she will not stop her harangue and because I am polite, I stand for a few more minutes, but when she turns her furor on Barack Obama, I walk away, leaving her to discourse with the empty parking lot.

Later I think of what I might have added- no doubt to deaf ears- regarding Trump’s choices for his cabinet posts that go against all of his promises to support the the poor stiffs and pains- in- the- butts : as in just encountered here. There’s the wall, attacks on women and disabled, thin skin, Trump University, no prior governmental experience, bad business deals, petulant retaliations….still I am boiling over at the stupidity of this woman.

***

Last week, we watched Lester Holt interview Barrack Obama. And then 60 Minutes also asked Obama some demanding questions.What a pleasure to observe such a thoughtful, positive voice which might have come from a historian, an artist or any thinking person. Truly, it gives one hope in spite of what is coming.

In many ways although with less laughter, the interview resembled the one with WTF’s Marc Maron in which Obama discoursed on democracy and the way all things take time, with no road being smooth, and for every set back, a small piece of the step forward has been – if not achieved, at least put in place. Referring to Obamacare, he spoke to its inception as a marker from which to grow- even if Trump will see to its being repealed and the insurance companies will barter for more covetous rates.

As I listened to Obama’s. exchanges with Lester Holt, and then Steve Kraft, in a truly tough conversations, I considered Obama’s optimism and his youth and at the end, was surprised that he is mid- 50’s and that he still maintains beliefs we usually associate with ingenues whose lights are still bright because they have not been tested by the world. That he has held strong to that attitude is admirable, one we DO want our children to embrace.

Still I couldn’t help but ruminate that he has revealed in his presidency, rather than just optimism a naïve stance: for his belief is very strong in the promise of an America as ideal. But perhaps even as a symbol, he must gasp that an African American having achieved the presidentship is close to miraculous. So perhaps that realization has prompted him to dream the impossible dream.

From my point of view, it was his desire to maintain his values of compromise and collaboration, that lofty goal to be inclusive with the Republicans that underlined issues in succeeding to establish his ventures .In deed, he had paused, tried to connect, offer opportunities for input, fought the dragons, but ultimately his plans for a stronger, safer, more inclusive country had fallen far from the goal. Particularly in his first term when like a knowing, autocratic parent, he should have prevailed in stead of tending to voices.

Yet, we are not privy to the workings within government, the wheels within wheels, the deals done and undone. But, even Obama in his interviews lamented the impossibility of changing votes that hinged on a representative’s constituency, his/ her state’s goals, self- interest and the desire for re- election. And it is true, decisions, even the most moral ones can be sidetracked for so many unknown reasons. For people like me who do not generally think in greys , the path towards what is right is straight ahead, but few are brave or strong enough to forge ahead and allow themselves to accept the fallout of choosing the path less travelled by. Perhaps too, I have lived long enough to observe that self- profit or a strong self- interested ego motivates too many. And yes of course, I am cynical.And at this point, I am rarely surprised by the tactics taken- even by those we would trust.

But Obama, with strong spirit and no corruption in his years as president did represent the Camelot we sought and believed was possible. But once again , we were proven wrong by those who lied, provided false research or did not truly care : that guns kill children; that everyone deserves health care; that clean air is a necessity; that we build through compromise and collaboration. The aims no aspirations we hope to plant and embrace, and ironically are even the last one of collaboration written here are penned in the statements that underpin companies’ philosophies and statements.

Congruently I reflected on articles last week, one in particular by Rick Salutin in The Toronto Star that listed OBama’s losses and failures in his eight years: Guantanamo, Iraq, Israel… The question put to Obama by his interviewers about the Middle East was a difficult one for the president. Yet without attacking those who dare to enquire and pose the hard questions, and without insulting or dismissing the uncomfortable probes and withholding resentment,Obama spoke of his work, commenting humbly on the successes along with the setbacks and frustrations.

Again for me, it was the handling of the intensity of the moment, “the how” as opposed to the what or why that impressed me the most about President Obama. How often in a tight squeeze , do we lose our cool, lash out, scream unfair, sulk or react defensively .

Along with a respective, reflective demeanour, Obama acknowledged that he had been so busy, there had not been time to connect with many people who felt disenfranchised by job loss, etc– in spite of having put so many Americans back to work.

Incredulous and backed by the parents of the Sandy Hill dead, he could not comprehend how gun laws and simple registration had been defeated. He acknowledged that the Republicans made up their minds and refused to even listen. With tears on his face and empathy for those parents, he stood as the challenging angel amid the satans of deafness.

There is so much to admire in this man. Besides being the harbinger of justice and symbol of the American Dream, he is a feeling individual, able to express his emotions of love, despair, anger. Yet his behaviour is tempered by rational thought. He thinks, he considers, he reflects and then he acts- in the good for all. He, like Nelson Mandela ,will remain, I believe, as the emblem of what is best in America. And like the cab drivers I spoke to in Chicago, he still dreams the dream- as quixotic as it may be by oldsters like myself. But he gives you reason to hope. That after the Trump years, and pray we and our children are not demolished, that another Phoenix will rise from the ashes to make a better world, with pure heart and intentions that we hope our children will choose to emulate.

The protesters, the Women’s March today, John Lewis’s remarks last week and even the debate on Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press give us reason to hope that the best will endure to challenge a presidency that in its earliest beginnings has all ready reiterated its jingoistic slogans and, for reasons I cannot fathom, resonate with the Mrs. Nebraskas of America.

Yesterday at the end of my yoga class, an older man turned to the rest of us and  sadly muttered,” Brave new world”.

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