Does silence always equal consent?

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It’s past midnight now (I’m in Atlanta this week speaking at, and staffing the WordPress.com/VIP/Longreads booth at the AAJA conference.) My colleagues and I stayed up late to enjoy a last, late snack and drinks before we fly off to our respective corners of the country tomorrow, but I’m still wide awake and mulling over the keynote speakers at tonight’s unforgettable gala.

First, Captain Sulu — er, George Takei — spoke. He was interviewed by Juju Chang, co-anchor of ABC News’ Nightline. They chatted more than I expected about his experiences on the original Star Trek series (how many times has Mr. Takei answered the question of what his favorite Star Trek moment was? Even a lot of non-Trekkies like myself know that it’s the episode where Sulu gets to fence and save Uhura’s life), but mostly they discussed his activism on behalf of the Asian-American and LGBTQ communities. He’s currently promoting his upcoming AMC anthology series, The Terror: Infamy, described as a show that “infuses historical drama with supernatural horror.” Set in World War II, season 2 of the series zeroes in on the story of the Japanese American internment camps and is notable for featuring a large Asian-American cast and senior crew, including showrunner Alexander Woo and director Lily Mariye.

George Takei on stage with Juju Chen.

While a lot of folks know Takei primarily as Star Trek’s Sulu, he’s especially famous in the Asian-American community for his fierce and tireless activism. He helped found the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles; starred in Allegiance, a Broadway musical loosely based on his own experiences at an internment camp; and has used his hugely popular Facebook page (currently at 10 million followers and growing) to share both hilarious memes and disturbing stories about racism, bigotry, homophobia, and hate. He recently published a graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, about that brutal period in early childhood when he and his family were imprisoned by the American government simply for looking like the people who had bombed Pearl Harbor.

Next was Congressman John Lewis, whom I’ve always known as a legendary civil rights leader, and frequent news show guest, but whom I’d never seen or heard speak in person. He radiated wisdom and gravity, and the entire, packed ballroom fell silent each time he spoke. He was interviewed by renowned broadcast journalist Elaine Quijano, and they spoke of his early work as a civil rights activist in the 1950s and 1960s as well as his thoughts on the current, distressing state of our fractured union. At some point he quietly said, “Silence is consent.”

The last keynote speaker was Maria Ressa, the founder and CEO of Rappler and one of TIME Magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year, and who is currently being charged by the Duterte administration in the Philippines of cyber libel and tax evasion. Ressa’s case gained considerable worldwide attention earlier last month when it was announced that Amal Clooney has joined Ressa’s defense team.

Maria Ressa

Ressa, never afraid to speak truth to power, is a tiny woman with a big smile and an even bigger well of courage and grace. It’s astounding that this charming, articulate, funny woman standing in the spotlight on stage in this fancy Atlanta hotel ballroom poses such an existential threat to the Duterte government that it will risk international condemnation in order to silence her. It’s also a clear sign that this clumsy, obnoxious, and brutal regional bully and strongman (oh, hell, let’s call him what he is: a dictator), who wields presidential power as if he’s engaged in a dick-sizing contest with fellow bullies and strongmen even within his own country, is making the same mistake as all other bullies and strongmen: underestimating the power of the press in general and this fearless journalist in particular.

And I keep going back to what Congressman Lewis said: “Silence is consent.” All three of these s/heroes have refused to be silent and have let their actions and words drive and inspire change. Is it possible to be silent — neutral, distant, removed, detached — and yet still be counted among those who support important humanitarian causes like freedom of speech, poverty elimination, education for women and girls, voting rights, reproductive rights, prison reform, criminal justice reform, and basic healthcare for all, to name just a few of the issues whose solutions remain elusive? What is enough? What is activism? Does contributing money but not time count? Does contributing time but not money count?

And what does it mean to be a liberal activist? If your particular brand of advocacy means outreach to disaffected and marginalized communities that also happened to have voted for Trump because they believed he was going to be their Messiah and deliver them to the Promised Land of well-paying manufacturing jobs with benefits and middle class comforts, does that count as activism? In an era when even some of the most empathetic liberal activists consider all Trump supporters — no exception — to be racist misogynists at heart, is it possible to imagine an activism that includes compassion and a desire for understanding beyond stereotypes and a simplistic view of a very complicated and human conflict?

I ask because I don’t know the answer. But I’m glad to have the question, and the lives and works of three unforgettable, inspiring and larger-than-life true s/heroes to reflect on as I pursue that answer.

Take a break, but don't forget to come back

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FROM NPR:

We asked how your social media habits changed after the election. More than 150 of you replied — and most are tired, deleting apps, unfriending people, tuning out politics or worried for family ties.

Source: After Divisive Election, Overwhelmed Social Media Users Unfriend, Cut Back : All Tech Considered : NPR


 

NPR recently published the above article about the narrowing of communities, courtesy of the most divisive, negative and emotionally gripping election most Americans have been unfortunate enough to have lived through. Specifically, people are unfriending like mad on Facebook, or otherwise staying away from social media altogether. I spoke with a colleague today who said that she’s been avoiding the social network of late because she “need[s] a break from people.”

I get that. A couple dozen (maybe more?) of my Facebook friends are staunchly pro-Trump or are otherwise deeply conservative, and they share a lot of content that I find personally repugnant, and that’s not even including the “news articles” populating their feeds that are so obviously fake that I question their basic intelligence.

I completely understand the desire to disengage, to retreat into one’s private space to reflect, maybe forget even for just a little while all the disheartening stories and news of the last few weeks. I, for one, realize that I can’t “unhear” that stomach-churning, horrifying Access Hollywood tape from early October, and that was just one example of just how much damage has been wrought by one very angry, self-absorbed and manipulative narcissist. (And now he’s our president. Ugh. There I go again. Where’s the sangria when I need it?)

Still, I hope that very soon, good, conscientious people will return to the communities in which they once thrived and through which they were involved in civic society. We need more people with a commitment and passion for social and economic justice; freedom of speech, religion and of the press; reproductive rights; human rights; and so many other civil liberties that are now being threatened under the impending new administration.

So many people reached out to me privately, either just before or just after the election, lamenting that they didn’t feel they did enough. As any good therapist will tell you, there’s no sense in wishing for what might have been. Instead, channel that disappointment and anger into productive action. Come back to your community, even if your heart is still a little bruised, and your head is still smarting from the pain. Come back to your networks, and double down on your outreach. We still need Joe Biden memes, cat GIFs, puppy videos, holiday baking recipes, and the latest news from Kamp Kardashian. But we also need people to participate as fully informed citizens of a democratic society.

Of course, sharing meaningful, thought-provoking news and essays on social media (obviously, I don’t mean these news articles) should just be the beginning of one’s engagement. I loved the proliferation of “how to be involved” articles in the days after the apocalypse election. Here are two of my favorites:

How to Channel Your Post-Election Anger, Sadness, and Fear Into Action (from Slate.com)

Finish Your Ugly Crying. Here’s What Comes Next. (from NYMag.com)

I’ve already done a couple (after, of course, hanging out in Barcelona for a few days. Business trip, believe it or not!). Namely: becoming a monthly donor to my favorite progressive organizations (that would be the ACLU and Planned Parenthood), and paying for the journalism that sustained me throughout the election. I also have been in touch with my fellow Hillary for America volunteers, and we’re working on our post-2016 strategy. We’re setting our sites on defeating Ted Cruz’s reelection bid in 2018, and for that, we have to start now.

Another “next step?” Figuring out, along with so many other of my progressives-in-arms, who would make a great candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. Right now, there’s not a very long list, but I’m thinking this particular woman might just deserve a place on it.

 

 

Take a break, but don’t forget to come back

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FROM NPR:

We asked how your social media habits changed after the election. More than 150 of you replied — and most are tired, deleting apps, unfriending people, tuning out politics or worried for family ties.

Source: After Divisive Election, Overwhelmed Social Media Users Unfriend, Cut Back : All Tech Considered : NPR


 

NPR recently published the above article about the narrowing of communities, courtesy of the most divisive, negative and emotionally gripping election most Americans have been unfortunate enough to have lived through. Specifically, people are unfriending like mad on Facebook, or otherwise staying away from social media altogether. I spoke with a colleague today who said that she’s been avoiding the social network of late because she “need[s] a break from people.”

I get that. A couple dozen (maybe more?) of my Facebook friends are staunchly pro-Trump or are otherwise deeply conservative, and they share a lot of content that I find personally repugnant, and that’s not even including the “news articles” populating their feeds that are so obviously fake that I question their basic intelligence.

I completely understand the desire to disengage, to retreat into one’s private space to reflect, maybe forget even for just a little while all the disheartening stories and news of the last few weeks. I, for one, realize that I can’t “unhear” that stomach-churning, horrifying Access Hollywood tape from early October, and that was just one example of just how much damage has been wrought by one very angry, self-absorbed and manipulative narcissist. (And now he’s our president. Ugh. There I go again. Where’s the sangria when I need it?)

Still, I hope that very soon, good, conscientious people will return to the communities in which they once thrived and through which they were involved in civic society. We need more people with a commitment and passion for social and economic justice; freedom of speech, religion and of the press; reproductive rights; human rights; and so many other civil liberties that are now being threatened under the impending new administration.

So many people reached out to me privately, either just before or just after the election, lamenting that they didn’t feel they did enough. As any good therapist will tell you, there’s no sense in wishing for what might have been. Instead, channel that disappointment and anger into productive action. Come back to your community, even if your heart is still a little bruised, and your head is still smarting from the pain. Come back to your networks, and double down on your outreach. We still need Joe Biden memes, cat GIFs, puppy videos, holiday baking recipes, and the latest news from Kamp Kardashian. But we also need people to participate as fully informed citizens of a democratic society.

Of course, sharing meaningful, thought-provoking news and essays on social media (obviously, I don’t mean these news articles) should just be the beginning of one’s engagement. I loved the proliferation of “how to be involved” articles in the days after the apocalypse election. Here are two of my favorites:

How to Channel Your Post-Election Anger, Sadness, and Fear Into Action (from Slate.com)

Finish Your Ugly Crying. Here’s What Comes Next. (from NYMag.com)

I’ve already done a couple (after, of course, hanging out in Barcelona for a few days. Business trip, believe it or not!). Namely: becoming a monthly donor to my favorite progressive organizations (that would be the ACLU and Planned Parenthood), and paying for the journalism that sustained me throughout the election. I also have been in touch with my fellow Hillary for America volunteers, and we’re working on our post-2016 strategy. We’re setting our sites on defeating Ted Cruz’s reelection bid in 2018, and for that, we have to start now.

Another “next step?” Figuring out, along with so many other of my progressives-in-arms, who would make a great candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. Right now, there’s not a very long list, but I’m thinking this particular woman might just deserve a place on it.

 

 

I voted.

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I knew I’d be excited about voting for Hillary Clinton. I know it’s an historic moment, that I would remember this day for a very long time. 

What I didn’t expect would happen was that I’d be overcome with emotion right at the voting booth. I saw Hillary’s name on the electronic ballot, and I had to pause and swallow hard. 

I’ve been campaigning for her for weeks, making phone calls to battleground states, writing the local campaign office’s newsletter, and drumming up as much enthusiasm as I can on social media. I hadn’t really given myself much time to stop and consider just how momentous this is. All of it. 

My friends know this, but I’ve wanted Hillary to run for office since she first burst into the public consciousness in 1992. I was among the many, many young women dazzled and inspired by this incredible woman with the brilliant mind and strength of character. I wanted her self-confidence, her self-possession, her unshakable belief in herself and her mission. 

Now, 24 years later, I’m actually voting for her. She’s on the ballot. And barring any October or November surprises, it looks like she might actually win. It looks like she really will become the next president of the United States.

I did cry, just a little bit. And then I lightly pressed my finger on the touchscreen and chose her as my candidate. My 20-year-old self cheered. 

Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read – Telegraph

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Amazon’s new system will cut the royalties for self-published authors who fail to hold a reader’s attention until the final page

via Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read – Telegraph.

This is horrifying and a terrible precedent. Frankly, I don’t understand the position of author Kerry Wilkinson, who is quoted in the article as asking, “If readers give up on a title after half a dozen pages, why should the writer be paid in full?”

If I go to the emergency room with a heart attack and die on the operating table because the EMTs didn’t get me to the hospital in time, is my family still liable for the bill?

If I buy a dress but then take it altered to my favorite tailor because I think the hem should be 2″ shorter to truly flatter me, should I get a refund from the designer for whatever percentage of the dress I cut off?

If I book a flight to Paris, but then fall in love with someone while on layover in London and decide not to continue my journey, should I demand that the airline reimburse me for the percentage of the flight that I didn’t complete?

And yes, as Peter Maass is quoted as saying in the article: “I’d like the same in restaurants — pay for how much of a burger I eat.” Or a glass of wine I drink. Or if I walk out of a movie halfway through, I only want to pay half the bill. Or better, yet, hell, just give me all my money back.

Yes, it’s true that writers can “opt out” of the Kindle Select program, and frankly, it’s not that great a deal anyway since you’re essentially getting pennies so that someone can read it for free. But it sets a terrifying precedent to a future in which writers are mere commodities in the same way that education has become a commodity, valued only for what it can produce for in a free market.

I used to think that I wanted to live forever, but now I just want to die before it all goes to hell and writers will be mere content producers, not the scribes of an age.

The Weird Things I Find Oddly Amusing #3,539

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I used to write a weekly column for a local paper when I lived in Colorado. The town leaned heavily conservative, and being a liberal, proud feminist of color, I received my fair share of nasty letters and the occasional death threat.

I was still surprised, though, when an email landed in my Inbox an entire year after I’d already stopped writing for the paper and had moved back to Dallas. What surprised me wasn’t the content but the fact that this reader felt such a burning desire to hurl virtual flaming torches at me for a column I’d long since forgotten already. This much, I remember: it was about abortion.

Screen_Shot_2015-02-26_at_10_46_47_PM

What I found most amusing was that he actually thought I’d be remotely interested in engaging him by responding to the email.

Er, no. But it does make good blog fodder.

Nicholas Kristof, you're my hero

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I first heard about Kristof when he became the New York Times’ Tokyo bureau chief. I was living in Japan at the time and read an interview with him and his wife and colleague, Sheryl WuDunn, in the Japan Times. He now writes a biweekly column for the Times about humanitarian crises around the world, frequently traveling from Africa to Asia in his quest to uncover and highlight some of the most egregious acts man has ever committed against his fellow human beings.

Yeah, he’s my hero. In an interview with Guernica magazine, he briefly touches on the challenges of balancing his responsibilities as a journalist with that of being a private citizen who cares about people. When is it appropriate to “cross the line” between being a reporter and being an activist? If you read any of his columns over the last few years, you’ll quickly realize that Kristof doesn’t appear too bothered by this delicate balance. He’s written passionately about the crisis in Darfur and the sex-slave trade in Cambodia. He’s also produced videos about his work, including a response to reader questions about how they can help out with some of the issues he addresses in his columns. He’s not just filing the facts; he’s also vocal about the need for Americans — both ordinary citizens and our political leaders — to become more personally involved in some of the most horrifying crises facing our world today..

I’d love to see my own little column in the Free Press do just that. I’ve always positioned myself firmly in the left side of the political spectrum and have never apologized for doing so in my column. Still, the idea of using the column as a platform for highlighting issues that are otherwise ignored by the mainstream media appeals to me. Not that the issues I tackle (immigration, feminism, minority rights, etc.) are necessarily under-the-radar, but I am tired of seeing the same five people speaking on behalf of millions. Especially if those same five people are the same five white, privileged people.

Yeah, Kristof is a white, privileged journalist. (His wife, WuDunn, recently left the Times to become a wealth advisor at Goldman Sachs. Yeah, that Goldman Sachs. So no, they’re not doing too badly.) But I like that his columns are reminiscent of the articles that Mariane Pearl is writing for Glamour magazine. Pearl profiles a prominent woman activist in each of various countries around the world, and her columns are decidedly liberal and activist in tone, as befitting her subjects. Kristof does the same, albeit in a much larger forum, with an even greater and more diverse audience than Pearl commands. It’s a sad fact of life that the privileged classes are more likely to listen to a voice if it belongs to one of their own, but at least that voice is committed to speaking out about the forgotten majority. The un-privileged, if you will.