America is Becoming a Dystopian Nightmare: What Do We Do Now???

June 28, 2018

I’m sick to my stomach. It doesn’t seem like a survivable idiocracy at this point. It feels like the drift into authoritarianism. Both my undergraduate and doctoral work focused on how fascist movements emerge. My professional work as a researcher has centered on the threat of right-wing extremism. I have to slap myself to make sure this is not a bad dream. Trade wars lead to depressions which lead to authoritarian strongmen willing to do whatever it takes to make their nation “great again.” Is this 1938 or 1968? Old straight white men don’t see it, but almost everyone else sees the writing on the wall.

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At least the summer of 1968 had just a few central issues to focus America’s rage on; the Vietnam War, institutional racism, would the Detroit Tigers make it to the World Series (yes). For us in 2018 it’s dizzying. Our president alienating our allies and playing footsies with dictators, then lying about about a member of Congress, children being ripped from their parents by government police forces, the Supreme Court rolling back reproductive rights, worker rights, and banning many Muslims from entering the country. And that’s just in the last two weeks! How are we supposed to get a footing to fight back?

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Or is that their plan?

The announcement of the resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court should be taken as a monumental threat to our democracy but, jeez, it’s just another headline. There’ a protest about it, but I was going to go to the protest about the Supreme Court ending fair share support of public unions, and also those kids on the border, and what were we angry about this time last month? I can’t keep up. I’ve got Trump fatigue and that’s good for Trump and his cult of personality. Is this how Germans felt in 1929?

The Supreme Court situation is more than dire. George H.W. Bush recognized stacking the courts with his “yes-men” was the way to go 30 years ago. It’s an old tactic but it was raised to a new height of authoritarian rule in 2016 when Senate Leader and human turtle Mitch McConnell refused to hold hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court pick until after the election. Most of us thought, Fine, then President Hillary will appoint someone who is actually a progressive.

Trump’s pick (which constitutionally should have been Obama’s but GOP + U.S. Constitution = meh), Neil Gorsuch has helped to swing the bench away from the center and to the hard right. The decisions this past week prove that hard fought victories for women, workers, and a sane anti-terrorism policy can be zeroed out by a single vote. Now that Kennedy, the last remaining (Reagan-appointed) centrist is leaving, Trump can recreate the court in his image. Do you think he’s going for judicial balance or for a rubber stamp for his destructive policies? Look for Don, Jr. to be his go to “judge.”

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It’s clear that Roe v. Wade’s days are numbered and women and girls will soon be dying again in back alley abortions. (If Donald J. Trump ever paid for your abortion, now would be the time to come forward.) Marriage equality is in the cross-hairs as President Pussy Grabber tries to appease his evangelical gay-hating “Christian” base. Border policy that rounds up the “infestation” (his word) of non-white immigrants will be expanded. Start looking for an expiration date on green cards. But most of all the Trump Court will hand more of the people’s rights over to corporations and destroy the democratic (that’s a small “d”) fiber that made this country the shining city on the hill.

Trump looks more and more like Saddam Hussein every day, pushing this country into a permanent one party rule. He’s been quietly appointing scores of judges to the lower courts, including white supremacists. And we’re focused on Roseanne Barr and whether or not Sarah Huckabee Sanders can eat a burrito in peace. Post-modern theorist Frederick Jameson warned us that late capitalism would be characterized by an obsession with “politics” while the rich and powerful consolidated their control over the masses. “Trump’s creating an authoritarian state!” “Yeah, but did you hear on Fox & Friends what Maxine Waters said?”

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Speaking of TV shows, as I’ve mentioned before, this all seems like a preview of season three of The Handmaid’s Tale. Every woman and gay person who voted for Trump (or didn’t vote for Clinton) will see their rights rolled back. It might not be the government that is lynching “gender traitors” en mass and forcing non-Christians to work in the wastelands, but the hate mongers who love Trump and hate those who don’t will have high octane fuel for their pogroms. I spent the hour after the Kennedy announcement on white supremacist discussion pages and the Neo-Nazis could not be more excited about where Trump could take this.

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Where I’m stuck is what to do. When I watch The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m cheering for the terrorists. Whoever said that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter was right on the money. King George III called the American revolutionaries “terrorists” because of their asymmetrical warfare. Our country was founded by terrorists/freedom fighters. But there are also the Timothy McVeigh-style terrorists who call for a “2nd American Revolution” to purge America of its control by the “global Zionist cabal.” The 2nd Amendment Trumpies are itching for a civil war and any excuse to unload their ammo on random “libtards.” So, I think blowing shit up is probably off the table.

Can we rally behind a corporately-funded Democratic Party to plug the holes of this sinking ship in November? They don’t have a very good track record as of late and have done a perfect job of blowing perfect opportunities. Of course, all those “progressives” who refused to vote for Hillary in 2016 pretty much handed America Trump on a Mir-a-Lago platter. Can the entrenched misogyny be overcome by the clarion call of an Elizabeth Warren or are we just doomed to have to follow whatever old white man can puff up his chest the biggest?

Healing

I’m so torn. There’s a big part of me that believes Trump supporters are either complete morons or racists (recognizing that there is a third possibility, that they’re both). There’s also a big part of me that believes Trump supporters, like the Nazi skinheads I have spent thirty years studying, have just been misled by those speaking to their emotional distress and can be rescued. And therefore that America can be rescued from this abyss it stands on the edge of. It’s easier to say, “You’re wrong and you are being lied to” than it is to say, “Hey, let’s talk about our common values and how we can act on something other than fear.” Are we up for that challenge?

But right now fear is driving these people, like this ludicrous fear of MS-13. (I want “Angel Family” rallies for people killed by the police, or corporate malfeasance, or falling trees.) Trump’s “campaign events” look more and more like the fascist rallies of 80 years ago, full of scapegoating and dangerous conspiracy theories packaged in easily busted lies. Are his crowd paid actors (like they were at his campaign announcement) or are these people for real?

I don’t know what to do right now. A little angel is sitting on my shoulder and saying, “Randy, you’ve studied this phenomenon your entire adult life. You know what’s coming. Gather your family and get the fuck out.” But part of me wants to reason with these people one last time and remind them that we can be one nation again. That this politics of division will be the end of us. I’m ready to put my shoulder to the wheel to build bridges instead of walls. I’m ready to fight and recruit allies. Even old white men (and their “classy” (barf) women) can be reasoned with. It’s not over yet. America, I’m giving you until November.

 

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Watching America die, I sent a Statue of Liberty to Donald Trump

June 20, 2018

My wife crossed the border from Mexico into Texas when she was 8 years old. She was on foot with her mother in the middle of the night. An old man carried her across the desert because she had lost a shoe on a railroad track. Within 15 minutes of entering the country, her and her mother were picked up by a U.S. Boarder Patrol van. Welcome to America.

She was never separated from her mother, who was trying to lead her to a better life in the United States. But spending a night in jail together in a new country must have been frightening enough. The men were kept in one cell and women and children in another cell. After processing, the Border Patrol dumped them back at the Mexican border. Fortunately, the father of the coyote (the people that ferry migrants across the border) felt guilty that his group got caught and tried again the next night. He waived the additional $3000 per person price which was a good thing because my future mother-in-law barely any pesos left in her pocket.

Because of a provision in the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (authored by Senator Joe Biden), Andrea was awarded a green card in 2010.  The section allows the victims of domestic violence visas and a path to residency. It’s sad that women have to experience excruciating abuse to feel safe in this country. It’s also sad that Republicans tried to have the provision removed in 2012.

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As my wife and I watch the news stories of Donald Trump’s new “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has resulted in thousands of children and babies being stripped from their parents’ arms, we wonder what happened to the country that passed VAWA 24 years ago. A father from Honduras Marco Muñoz, after having his 3-year-old son taken away from him by Homeland Security agents in Granjeno, Texas, was so distraught that he hung himself in his cell. These children look so much like our 3-year-old daughter and the thought of ICE agents taking Cozy from us to God-knows-where is unbearable. It’s like watching an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale but it’s the evening news. Even seasoned journalists are in tears. How is this happening in America?

This policy, created by Trump’s favorite in-house racist Stephen Miller and deemed “Biblically justified” by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has disgusted even Conservative voices like Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan. In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, former First Lady Laura Bush compared Trump’s policy to the U.S. internment of the Japanese during World War 2. Even Tea Party rocker Cherie Currie (once of The Runaways) posted, “Bottom line is you don’t separate a helpless child from their parents. No matter what. Not ever.”

Beside the fact that somebody is making a lot of money off these private shelters that are now housing children and babies, including converted Walmart stores, the trauma these kids will face because of Trump’s irrational policy will last a life-time. Children screaming for their mothers won’t deter this White House from its “zero tolerance.” The majority of Americans oppose this draconian action as inherently counter to our values, but what can we do?

It’s not “your” country.

At the root of this problem is this binary thinking of “us and them.”  A lot of white people think this is “their” country and they have some sort of divine right to decide who gets in and that, somehow, their family came to America the “right way.”  There is so much ignorance here to unpack, it hurts. Before the The Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act) , there was no legal or illegal immigration into this country (unless you we coming from China). People just showed up. My great grandfather, Michael Blazak, arrived in 1891 from what is now the Czech Republic. He just got off the boat and started his life as an American. The 1924 law restricted immigration from non-European and non-Protestant countries (Only WASPs allowed) and has been praised by Jeff Sessions as a policy that was created to end “indiscriminate acceptance of all races.” My Catholic ancestor wouldn’t have made it in and Jews trying to escape Hitler in the 1930s were turned back.

When my great grandfather came into New York Harbor, he passed the very new Statue of Liberty (dedicated in 1886). He might have missed the poem at the base of the statue. “The New Colossus” was written by Emma Lazerus who had been aiding the refugees from the anti-Semitic pogroms of Eastern Europe, looking for safety and freedom in America. I hope someone translated the sonnet for him as he contemplated his uncertain future in this new land.

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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The world looks to America for that freedom and but the golden door been shut and the lamp has been extinguished. It’s now a false promise of America as a baby is literally taken from its immigrant mother’s breast. I would like to point out that you will not see any undocumented immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, or Canada in any these Trump camps (and there are plenty undocumented whites in America). I have a friend from Ireland who over-stayed their visa but has no worries that ICE agents will come knocking. This is the great clampdown on brown people because it is not “their” country. Make America 1924 again.

We have been here before

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I have the privilege of having a friend who has been through this before. George Nakata was 9 years old, living in Portland, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. President Roosevelt signed an executive order ordering the “evacuation” of every Japanese person, alien or “non-alien” (aka U.S. citizen) on the West Coast, to be rounded up and placed in internment camps. 120,000 people, most American citizens, were ripped from their homes, losing everything. Young George spent the summer of ’42 in a converted animal stable on the outskirts of the city. The Oregonian proudly declared my town to be the first “Jap Free City” in America. George was then shipped off to a camp in arid Idaho where the soldiers pointed their guns in, not out. He rightly calls it a concentration camp.

No Japanese-Americans were ever found guilty of engaging in espionage or colluding with the enemy. In fact, the 442nd battalion, made up of all Japanese American soldiers, liberated Nazi death camps and is the most decorated battalion in U.S. military history. In 1988, President Reagan formerly apologized for the mass internment but as George is fond of saying, they never put a Statue of Liberty on the West Coast.

If you ever get the chance to hear a holocaust survivor speak, please do. There aren’t many left. I’ve heard several and inevitably someone will ask, “When Hitler was first elected, why didn’t you just leave?” The answer is always the same. People thought it was a temporary bout of political madness. That it would be corrected at the next election. But then there was no next election. A policy was instituted here and a new law was passed there. Like the frog in the slowly heated pot, all of a sudden there was no escape. Democracy seamlessly transitioned into authoritarianism.

This is where we are. We are in it. America is dying.

We have a president, not elected by the people, but by the electoral college who is having a love affair with dictators right before our eyes and we are unfazed. It’s as if we are watching a reality show and as long as the kids behind the chain-link fences are not white, it’s just a show and not reality. But these people are slowly raising the temperature and at some point there will be no escape. Childish Gambino might think this is America, but it won’t be on my watch. Trump has described undocumented immigrants as an “infestation” and hinted that legal immigrants who receive federal benefits could be next. If they will do this to babies and toddlers, what makes you think they won’t do it to you? Because you’re white?

There is much we can do. I’ve called my senators and asked them to make the security of these children a priority. We can appeal to the decency of the Trump supporters in our circles. The emperor has no clothes! Remember your values! We can make November 2018 a massive referendum on these lunatics who are trying to hijack this country. I envision a Revenge of the Jedi wave striking down Trump’s evil space force. But there is one thing that might be more direct.

Send Trump Lady Liberty

I’m not willing to let these “America first!” nutzis define the values of this country. Not while the Statue of Liberty remains above ground. Maybe Mr. Trump needs to be reminded of what this country stands for. We don’t tell immigrants that their children are being taken for “a bath” and then place them in “tender age shelters.” Does that sound revoltingly familiar to you?

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I just sent a miniature Statue of Liberty (that I bought for 12 bucks on Amazon) to President Trump at the White House. I have a dream that, in the spirit of Abbie Hoffman, every American, conservative, liberal, or otherwise does the same. I want the White House mailroom to have boxes and boxes of statuettes to deliver to the president. And maybe a few thousand copies of “The New Colossus” as well. Here’s the address:

President Donald Trump

c/o The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

And if that goes well, maybe we can commission statues of Lady Liberty to be erected in San Francisco Bay and the stretch of Texas desert where my wife crossed the border, missing one shoe, many years ago. Let’s lift our lamp beside the golden door.  Por favor. #LadyLibertyforTrump

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Thinking about Racial Reparations

June 10, 2018

Growing up in the Deep South you get to hear white people say a lot of foolish things. Things like, “I never owned a slave, why are black people angry at me?” And “racism ended with the Civil War. Black people need to get over it!” In 1992, a white student of mine at Reinhardt College (in rural Georgia) said this to me; “Racism ended in 1865. Black people are just complaining.” I asked him, “What day? There had be a day when there was racism and then a day when there was no racism that we can celebrate. There should at least be a stamp or a commemorative plate to honor the day that racism ended and black people just started complaining.” He had no response.

Unless you are Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “least racist person,” you know that racism didn’t end with end of Confederate slavery in 1865. It folded into brutal lynchings and the madness of Jim Crow, and then institutionalized into the “war on crime” and every type of systematic racial bias you can imagine; housing, health care, hiring, and on and on. People of color know this in 2018. White people, not so much.

Obviously, this country still needs to have an on-going conversation about race, not a one-day Starbucks seminar. Having a successful black president for eight years didn’t solve the problem and kicking Roseanne Barr off ABC didn’t solve the problem. White people can’t switch on a Beyoncé song and proclaim themselves woke. I think some whites are figuring that out. But if you want to talk about racial reparations, all that white liberal wokenness goes right out the window.

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I was one of those who was leery of the call for reparations for a crime from centuries ago but I should have not been so fragile. For decades I have lectured about the legacy of slavery and how the psychological effects of the enslavement of an entire race are still with us all, including with African-Americans. It’s not just rednecks waving the Confederate battle flag, declaring, “the South will rise again!” (That’s code, y’all, for bring back slavery.) It’s not even the persistent brutality towards young men of color by police. The dehumanization of the people of Africa is manifested in daily life. If you are black and your last name is Jackson or Lincoln, you family history starts with slavery. (Something those named Obama could sidestep.) If you’re black and worry that you’re not light-skinned enough or don’t have the “good hair,” that legacy is there. Do you think there might be a price tag for all that trauma?

Another thing you will hear white people say is, “Well, black people can be racist, too!” This is true but not in the way my cracker brethren think. Black people don’t think white people are inferior, but many think black people are inferior. Studies have demonstrated that many African-Americans have internalized the racism that the world has laid on them for centuries. Just ask a little black girl which is better, the black doll or the white doll. “Black is beautiful” tried to undo the imposed self-hatred but it’s still a light-skinned black person’s status that reminds those who are “too black” that not much has changed.

I was lucky enough to (briefly) serve on the dissertation committee of Dr. Joy DeGruy at Portland State University. She’s the author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing and it needs to be assigned reading for white people. She outlines the gut-wrenching inhumanity of slavery and how those deep psychological traumatic wounds are passed down from generation to generation. That blacks are savages, rapists, thugs, or (as Roseanne just tweeted) apes deserving of what pain comes their way persists to this minute. Where is the class action suite on that?

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There is a young black activist in Portland named Cameron Whitten who has really forced me to take the issues of reparations seriously. We are a long way from “40 acres and a mule,” but there are real ways we can talk about making an amends today for the sins of the past. He has started to host “reparation happy hours” (now “Power Hours,” since it doesn’t have to involve alcohol) where white people who get it can contribute to gatherings for black people. At these gatherings black people can build community, political agency, and, yes, leave with a little bit of cash. (There is something poetic about black people being handed a ten spot with abolitionist Alexander Hamilton on it.) It doesn’t make up for the cumulative impact of slavery but it’s a powerful symbolic act that has real, tangible value.

Of course the right flipped their shit. Fox News tried to paint Cameron as a huckster, playing on white guilt to put money in his pocket (a thought I probably have been guilty of in the past). For the record, he is doing this as a non-profit called Brown Hope. Still, the troll army came after him, lampooning the idea of racial reparations. “Get over it!” they screamed. “You had Obama! What more do you want?” Whitten appeared on a local NPR show last week and calmly laid out his case. I was in my car listening and a big ol’ black light bulb lit up over my head. It made perfect sense. Reparations are not some type of sociological blackmail and it is time to talk about it without fear of attack from the same old defenders of white supremacy, be they Fox News trolls or white liberals.

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Think of being black in America as an invisible tax. Whether it’s the poorer health outcomes that come from discrimination in the health care system or decades of tobacco companies targeting black communities with their cigarette ads. Think of lost wages from job discrimination and lost wealth from housing discrimination that has prevented African-Americans from buying homes. (From 1934 to 1968, less than 2% of FHA loans for homes went to people of color.) Think of the cumulative stress of “driving while black” in a country that still sees police use-of-force disproportionately targeting minorities, not to mention all those traffic tickets I don’t have to pay because I’m not the one who is racially profiled. I could go on and on to the break of dawn, but I think you get the idea. There is a financial cost to being a person of color (this goes for brown, red, and yellow people, as well). This is a cost that I don’t have to pay and it translates to more money in my pocket. According to one measure, “for every dollar owned by the average white family in the United States, the average family of color has less than one dime.” My white privilege obscures the real reasons for this massive imbalance but it’s as real as the balance in your bank account.

We can’t undo the hell of racism in one happy hour or one generation. But we can acknowledge the price of racism financially. Don’t expect there ever to be a tax on white people to right the wrong. (You think racists like Trump are popular among “undereducated” white folk now…) But white people can think of ways to give to people of color in meaningful ways, even if it’s just supporting a black-owned business or buying someone lunch. Let’s deal with the actual cost of being black in America.

 

Guest Essay: The Status of Women

May 31, 2018

I like to occasionally feature the work of the only actual award-winning writer in the house, my wife, Andrea. She really pulls the #metoo moment together in this essay.

The Status of Women

by Andrea Barrios

Guest Essay

To paraphrase what Walidah Imarisha stated in her Martin Luther King, Jr. speech: wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world without the triple evils: militarism, materialism and poverty? Without the militarism that has placed neighbor against neighbor in Myanmar, sparking the Rohingya refugee crisis, or the genocide the military carried out under the government’s veil in Guatemala. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where instead of valuing the vain interactions of our online personas trying to out-buy ourselves into acceptance and determine our self-worth measured by likes and followers, we valued more meaningful human connections? A world without the racism that puts up walls between human beings that would otherwise discover they have so much more in common than different. The kind of racism that makes some proclaim that “all lives matter” while they sit idle as young African Americans are shot or suffocated to death and immigrant families are torn apart. Indeed, it would be nice, and even finer if you could live in that world as a man. In a perfect world, men and women’s idea of a perfect world would be the same, but in reality, women have an additional set of visions of what makes a perfect world, and their world does not include sexism and misogyny. In the words of the man with the dream himself, Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” Like Imarisha mentions, women might have never seen a world imagined without sexism and misogyny, but lucky for the world, we’ve been taking that first step all along, and will continue to climb our way out of the fiction.

I, like many other women, imagine what our daily lives would be like if those specific evils that haunt us women were to suddenly evaporate. I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where I don’t have to worry about the simple act of walking to and from class without having to clench my pepper spray in my hand, a world where I felt completely free to just walk. I wonder what it would be like to be treated with respect regardless of how I look and how my hair decides to lay that day. A world where my decisions and expressions aren’t attributed to my being a woman or my anatomy. A world where I am not infantilized in the workplace or in the classroom, after all, I’ve stored my girlhood in exchange for womanhood. This world I speak of is nothing like the world I live in, so I have learned clench my fist as I walk, I speak my mind regardless of my bad hair, and although I cannot see the top, I take the steps.

As I take the steps, the freedom I do possess seems to anger my male peers. The way I walk is too confident for their liking. The way my unyielding silence rubs against their unwelcomed compliments is taken as insult. How dare I not say thank you for being acknowledged? Who do I think I am to take up space, to sway my arms without a care. Although I’ve been taught to, I no longer want to hold myself together and shrink into myself. I am the product of all the steps taken by women who came before me. Although the women in my own family have never walked across the stage at graduation, I am here because I am just as worthy of this education, and I am just as worthy of being listened to and learned from.

It is true that we cannot build that which we cannot imagine. The artist sketches out his creation before ever laying a brushstroke on canvas. The writer’s mind collects inspirations and absorbs ideas from everyday life. We cannot build without imagining, but often, the limits of what we can imagine were often not set by us. As a woman, I have come face to face with the limits set by society time and time again. You can be a leader, but be careful not to be pushy or bossy. You can be confident, but not so much that a man might feel threatened by you. As women, we bump into those limits so often that sometimes they run so deep we start to internalize and even embrace them. There are those chains that others impose on you, and those we impose on ourselves. You might ask, but why would someone who knows they are chained not just set themselves free? The truth of the matter is that women don’t hold all the keys, or if we do, they are just a tad out of reach and stretching our arms to reach them, would mean starting a fight with a system that has very defined roles for women.

There are many women taking these blind and hopeful steps. Countless women at all levels creating a path for themselves and others towards equality. The road to equality should not be a solitary journey, although it may feel like that sometimes. In order to create real change and live a closer life to the world we all imagine, we also need men’s help. We need men who are willing to offer a hand as they pull us closer to equality. We need men who will not let other men’s shortfalls become a regular event, especially when they affect girls and women directly. We need men who are willing to defend women’s rights just as much as they defend and guard their masculinity. The only way to move from symbolic solidarity to actual change is to get in motion and to act out and defend women’s rights through action, through community, through art. Action means using any means or talent one possesses and helping women carve out the path to their better world.

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The recent events taking place in our society are lingering echoes of the change that is to come. The echoes of women sharing their #metoo stories, of women and men proclaiming that #timeisup and #neveragain. Women and men are both visualizing a world where women are equal and men are set free from the chains of toxic masculinity. The real world will push back on those ideals, because its shape is so set in stone that it takes grinding and chisels to change it little by little. Step by step. For those of us who never shared our #metoo story, for those of us who are mothers and students, for those of us who are just finding our voice, know that there are steps that have already been taken for all of us, but plenty of space for growth and representation for those men and women that are ready and willing to climb.