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Category: Social Justice Page 1 of 18

This square image is dominated by a red rectangle showing a black, green, yellow, and red design flanked by the words, “The seven principles: Umoja: Unity. To maintain unity in Family, community, nation, and culture.”

Kwanzaa Begins with Unity

Kwanzaa begins with Unity. Is there any value that should resonate more with all of us? Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration of African American strengths and values. I’m not Black, so I can’t presume to speak for Black people (other than as an ally against racism).

But no American of any ethnic background can afford to spurn the idea that unity is a paramount value, and sadly lacking in the USA right now. In this historical moment, all of us could afford to learn a few things from our Black neighbors and friends.

I don’t believe I did justice to the first day of Kwanzaa, back in 2017 when I wrote my first post about it. I squeezed it in between two other “holiday thoughts,” about the day after Christmas and Boxing Day. Both have their place, but Kwanzaa deserves to stand alone.

This square image is dominated by a red rectangle showing a black, green, yellow, and red design flanked by the words, “The seven principles: Umoja: Unity. To maintain unity in Family, community, nation, and culture.”
Image by, and courtesy of, Jeffrey St. Clair. See Credits below.

Kwanzaa Begins with Unity and so Should We

If you think about it, unity is what brought us together as a nation in the first place: unity against outside tyranny. We were perpetuating our own egregious tyranny over the enslaved Africans whose labor our white ancestors stole to build a lot of the young country. But at the same time the founders (apparently unironically) set forth principles of equity and justice.

The very foundations of this country were uniquely well-adapted to building a multicultural nationality. Emphasizing freedom, equality, and justice for everyone under the law was radical stuff in the 18th Century.

And it’s still radical stuff today. We set ourselves up “from the get-go” for a lot of trying and falling short. We are a multicultural republic, stitched together both by force and by choice. And we are perpetually certain to come up against opposing views competing for space and dominance.

The background of this square image is a charcoal drawing of four hands and forearms in a roughly square alignment, where each hand grasps the wrist of the person to their right. Superimposed over the drawing, it says, “’Unity is Strength, Division is Weakness.’ – Swahili Proverb.”
Courtesy of United We Stand on Facebook. See Credits below.

But Beginning is Not Enough

If you look at the whole principle as outlined in Jeffrey St. Clair’s design, the idea is “to maintain unity in family, community, nation and culture.” That’s no small feat. And it’s definitely not something we can do alone. That takes commitment. It takes grit, it takes communication, and it takes a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated, like-minded people.

Kwanza begins with Unity, but it continues with six other principles that ground and support and make unity happen. This holiday celebrates strong Black people living in a vibrant culture – but no single segment of our multicultural republic can flourish without a broader unity.

Here in the USA we’ve managed to let ourselves be drawn into warring camps, to the extent that we’re in serious danger of losing it all. Can the “democratic experiment” we started almost 250 years ago survive? Not without Umoja. And not without Black people, White people, Native people, immigrants from all different communities and everybody else in this country joining together in our own self-defense.

This is a dark red square image with a length of woven Kente cloth across the bottom. At the top it says “@SanCophaLeague,” Then “Black Unity is key. ‘Get organized and you will compel the world to respect you.’ -Marcus Garvey.” In the lower left, just above the cloth band, it says, “Facebook.com/SanCophaLeague.”
Courtesy of SanCophaLeague. See Credits below.

Kwanzaa Begins With Unity, but the Series Continues

I have spent a lot of time this week going back though my old series of Kwanzaa articles and updating them for today’s standards. 2017 was 6 years ago, which is an eon or so on the Internet. Now they’re ready for mobile devices, and I’ve tried to optimize them other ways, as well as expand them into fuller explorations of the topic. Along the way, I’ve also worked to improve the illustrations in both quality and relevance.

So please take a look at the rest of the series in their new format! Take them in order, or skip around if one or another takes your fancy: See Self-Determination on Day Two, followed by Working Together and Investing Wisely. From there, explore Empowerment through Purpose, and Creative Healing. Appropriately enough, on New Year’s Day Kwanzaa Ends with Faith to Take that Step . . . whatever you determine those steps should be in the coming year.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair, via LinkedIn’s Slide Share for today’s Umoja: Unity design. I really loved the “Unity is Strength” quote-image from United We Stand on Facebook, and I also loved how the quote coordinated with my topic today. It was a little harder to track down the SanCophaLeague’s exact image, which I first found on Pinterest. I figure it’s got to come from them since their name is all over it, but even Tineye Reverse Image Search didn’t turn it up. In any case, Thank you!

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Not in My Neighborhood

By Jan S. Gephardt

“Not in my neighborhood!” I’m sure you’ve heard this characteristic cry of property owners almost everywhere. It’s a near-universal protective reflex when anything new or even potentially threatening appears on the horizon.

And there are times when it’s thoroughly justifiable. After all, the vast majority of us are persons of limited means. If we don’t protect and steward the value of things we own, who will? If our property value goes down too much, our home or other property can turn into more of a liability than an asset.

So, for example, if we don’t raise a stink a rumor that someone wants to install a landfill near our local school, we could be in trouble. Pretty soon there’ll be a stink on our kids and on our spring breezes. If we don’t make some noise about a “party house” where they blare loud music all night, we might lose our sleep and our hearing in the resulting din. And in either case, our neighborhood will suffer.

“We must do more to protect our neighborhoods and give integrity to our community plans.” – Alan Autry
Many thanks to AZ Quotes.

“Not in My Neighborhood” and Inequality

But “not in my neighborhood” isn’t always possible. That’s because what it actually means is “somewhere else.” So, for all too many of us, it’s okay if someone else’s neighborhood is trashed, just as long as ours isn’t? My country – indeed, my own home city – offers many cases in point, both from history and in the present.

That’s because the power to say “not in my neighborhood” doesn’t belong to everyone. No matter how “equal” we try to convince ourselves we are. It never has. In the United States, as I write this, dramatic economic inequality colors every aspect of our lives and the way we live. “Not in my neighborhood” currently finds some of its expression in gated communities. Some of it comes with gentrification. And it often finds expression that results in environmental injustices.

Historically, “not in my neighborhood” is the very heart and soul of redlining. That’s a now-illegal lending and real estate practiced that very successfully segregated our cities. Its legacy lingers today. But it’s a concept our kids are unlikely to learn if we live in certain states that have restricted academic freedom and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

"If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods." -- Harvey Milk
Thanks again, AZ Quotes!

How “Not in My Neighborhood” can Cause Enduring Harm

Redlining by real estate developers such as J. C. Nichols in Kansas City created cascading results we still see today. By figuratively but quantifiably “walling off” parts of the metro area from each other, these practices guaranteed division. You can still see stark differences from one block to the next in my home town.

When they systematically invested money in some, while actively barring investment in others, they guaranteed harsh divisions between rich and poor areas. They chose to bless some with fertile ground to prosper, while they monetarily “salted the earth” in others to make sure they stayed poor. This not only impacted personal wealth – we also see it in schools, health outcomes, and many other compounding effects.

Income and racial disparities from redlining and similar practices left a mark. They made it possible for developers of the US interstate highway system to target Black and brown neighborhoods. Those “lower value” zones became the ones literally plowed under and paved over. The social chaos from that simple, cruel solution still haunts many cities today.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Many thanks to QuoteFancy.

Righting Old Wrongs

The statutes that enabled redlining have since been declared illegal and unconstitutional, but the disparities persist. Johnson County, KS was the “favored land” in the Nichols vision – read that white and Christian only. No Jews need apply, and certainly no Black people back then. Our local officials and state legislators are still trying to eradicate all of the old, racist language from housing covenants. Legally, that’s been a lot harder than it should be.

Rectifying historic wrongs will take a lot more than erasing old language, however. The harder work is fighting persistent biases and historic patterns. In my town there’s a common understanding about which are the “good” or “safe” neighborhoods, and which are the “bad parts of town.” Cultural memory persists. To this day, some of my neighbors actively fear going into “the wrong parts of town.”

Unfortunately, avoidance doesn’t usually breed either an appetite to do something about it, or the individual means to do so. And heaven forbid we should suggest anything as radical as reparations! Most of those selfsame neighbors are still stuck in the “that was then, this is now” mindset of people afraid of losing their historic advantages.

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” — Nelson Mandela
Many thanks to GoodGoodGood!

How “Not in My Neighborhood” Creates a Toxic Stew

Those disadvantaged, redlined communities also have borne the brunt of environmental injustice. Because they are poor (as well as often poorly-educated, hungry, over-scheduled by juggling multiple low-wage jobs, and ill), they don’t wield a lot of clout in municipal decisions. The working poor are almost never at the table when zoning changes that impact them are made.

Thus, we have situations such as the one in Brownsville, Texas, where Native Americans (another historically restricted and dispossessed group) have been fighting to preserve their heritage in the face of environmental destruction. We have activists from a Black neighborhood in South Charleston, WV, struggling for decades to contain the pollution from a Union Carbide plant. Or poor neighbors in Catawba, SC, fighting pollution from a paper mill. And don’t forget residents of the Wilmington Neighborhood in Los Angeles, struggling with pollution from oil refineries.

Where does it stop? How do we change and improve? Environmental destruction impacts poor neighborhoods first, but as the residents of East Palestine, OH have discovered, pollution can happen anywhere, anytime, with no warning. You also can ask people in Washington County, KS about that. Those folks all can attest that “not in my neighborhood” only goes so far.

Environmental injustice is a tangible, intolerable example of exhibited moral laxity and minimal concern for healthy standards by corporations and political structures based on the race, ethnicity, and class of those being impacted.” – Bernice King
Thanks again to GoodGoodGood!

Reconsidering “Not in My Neighborhood”

This post has been long on problems and short on practical solutions. That’s partly because few of the difficulties I’ve highlighted are easy-to-fix issues. Hidden danger lurks in only focusing on the “low-hanging fruit” – the easy fixes. Simple-minded solutions to complex issues aren’t solutions at all. They just defer the inevitable (and possibly attempt to shift blame).

If we habitually look at life as a zero-sum game where someone must by definition be a “loser,” we’ve not only taken a morally bankrupt approach. We’ve also set ourselves up for later grief. I write science fiction about an imaginary place far from earth. But through it I often try to re-imagine how solutions to clear and present problems might be solved – and what those solutions might look like.

Here in the present, our neighborhood is increasingly connected to everyone else’s neighborhood. All-or-nothing “solutions” are not helpful at all. It takes creativity to look at complex problems in new ways. It takes ingenuity and determination to craft new, better answers to the problems born of inequity, pollution, and systemic injustice.

In the final analysis, “Not in My Neighborhood” doesn’t truly fix anything. Not unless it transforms into “Not in Anybody’s Neighborhood.”

IMAGE CREDITS

As noted in the cutlines under the illustrations, for this post I’m grateful to AZ Quotes, QuoteFancy, and the wonderful post full of “Quotes about Justice to Inspire Positive Change” from GoodGoodGood.

Covers for Jan's three "Cops in Space" books, "The Other Side of Fear," "What's Bred in the Bone," and "A Bone to PIck."

What should police do?

By Jan S. Gephardt

We rarely think to ask a fundamental question: what should police do? What part should they play in a multicultural, representational democracy? The ubiquity of police forces around the world argues that many societies believe police do have a role in civilized life. But what – exactly – should it be?

As a novelist whose primary characters are science fictional detectives, I am in an unusual position, both to ask and to answer this question. But I believe it’s also a question everyone should ask. Especially every citizen in a representational, multicultural democracy.

Why should we ask? Isn’t the answer to that question obvious? Well, no. We’ve all grown up “pre-loaded” with conscious and unconscious attitudes and understandings of what police officers and police forces do, and why they exist. But clearly, those seldom-examined attitudes and understandings aren’t leading to very good outcomes. Not in much of the world. And certainly not here in the United States.

"Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They've got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law." - Barack Obama.
Many thanks to BrainyQuote.

Asking as a Novelist

One of the best things science fiction does is hold up a mirror to society. If you think about it, all fiction does that in a certain way, because all fiction is a reflection of our experiences of life. I’ve written elsewhere about the role of the novelist in society. And yes, a fundamental aspect of our work is purely to produce entertainment.

But it’s not the only aspect. I would (and frequently do) argue that it may not even be the most important aspect, particularly in the realm of science fiction. That’s because science fiction is all about thought experiments.

When we start asking “what if?” a whole multiverse of possibilities opens up. What if a recent scientific discovery led to a new technological breakthrough? How would that change the world we live in? What if our society continues on its current course in this aspect, what might the future look like? How would our world change? How would we react?

So, as a novelist who writes about police in a future society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”

"My role as a novelist is to explore ideas and imagination, and hopefully that will inspire people from my world to continue dreaming and to believe in dreams." - Alexis Wright.
Thanks again, BrainyQuote!

Asking as a Citizen

But I’m also a citizen: of the world, and also specifically of my country and community. I’m a taxpayer, a voter, a member of “the public.” I can be sliced and diced out and defined demographically, culturally, and any other way you choose. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Woman. Educated. Teacher (retired). Middle class. United Methodist. White. Senior citizen. Democrat. Science fiction fangirl. Creative person. Animal lover. Multiculturalist. I am all of those things and more.

And as that complex, multi-aspect creature, I bring all of my experiences, understandings, and biases into my role as a responsible adult in contemporary society. For me, that involves an active interest in news and politics. I have formed some rather strong opinions over the course of my life. Each day I refine them or adjust them or reinforce them as I receive and process information.

I see it as my right – indeed, my responsibility – as a citizen to ask if my government and community leaders are representing me and governing in a way I think is appropriate. Are they respecting and honoring values I share? If they’re not, then I have a right to question them, and to seek better representation. As do we all.

This means, as a citizen in contemporary society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”

"Each day, millions of police officers do the selfless work of putting their lives on the line to protect civilians, frequently responding to or preventing crises completely with no recognition." - Letitia James
You’re now 3-0, BrainyQuote!

What Do We Ask Police To Do?

We currently ask police to fill a wide range of roles. “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said in a 2016 interview by the Washington Post. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. … That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

I tend to agree with Chief Brown. As a teacher, I learned all too much about the many things our communities want to dump in the laps of their public servants. Usually while also underpaying them, restricting their operating budgets, and asking them to do work they never trained or signed up for. I get it, and I agree.

But what problems are the police meant to solve? Unlike some observers on the leftward end of the spectrum, I do believe there is a role for police in society. Unlike some observers on the rightward end of the spectrum, I don’t believe we will ever be well served by our current system. Certainly not when it’s focused on criminalizing poverty and mental illness. Not when it majors on crackdowns on minority populations and small offenders. And certainly not when it perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline.

This graph charts United States crime clearance rates in 2020, the most recent year for which the statistics are available. “Murder and nonnegligent homicide:54.4%. Aggravated assault: 46.6%. Violent crime: 41.7%. Rape: 30.6%. Robbery: 28.8%. Arson: 21.5%. Larceny-theft: 15.1%. Property crime: 14.6%. Burglary: 14.%. Motor vehicle theft: 12.3%”
Graphic ©2023 by Statistia.

What Problems WERE Police Meant to Solve?

If you were to ask the average “person on the street” this question, they’d probably say “Solve crimes,” or maybe “keep public order,” or perhaps “enforce the law.” Fair enough. So, how well are they doing?

Let’s take that first one, “solve crimes.” A look at the crime clearance rates (percentages of crimes that are cleared in a given year) is downright discouraging. “Clearance rate,” by the way, does not mean the full Law & Order-style litany of captured, charged, tried, and convicted. No, “clearance” means at least one person has been arrested and charged, or it means the probable perpetrator(s) are identified, but outside circumstances make arresting and charging them impossible. For two examples, circumstances could include that they died. Or maybe they’re in another country from which we can’t extradite them. Stuff does happen sometimes.

Clearance rates vary by the type of crime. But according to Statistia.com the only type that gets solved more than half the time in the USA is “murder and non-negligent homicide.” The clearance rate for that is 54.4%.

Flunking Crime-Solving

Think about it. That’s only a bit better than a 50-50 chance that any given murder will be solved. If I were grading a test and my student made a 54.4% on it, their grade would be an F (On a normal grading scale, 0-60% = an F). And that’s the best they do! You want them to solve your burglary? Sorry to tell you, but you have only a 14% chance that the perpetrator will be caught and charged with the crime. Someone stole your truck? Oh, dear. You only have a 12.3% chance they’ll ever arrest the thief.

So, basically, police in the United States flunk at crime-solving. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons, and many of them are tied up in the other answers to the question “What should police do?”

"When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe." - Mary Frances Berry
Thanks yet again, BrainyQuote!

What Should Police Do to “Serve and Protect”?

What does “keep public order,” “enforce the law,” or “protect people” look like, when it’s happening? Does “keeping public order” mean bulldozing camps of unhoused persons? Or imposing a curfew on a small population’s free movement during a specific part of the day or in a specific place? Does it mean beating or injuring protesters? The words “keeping public order” have been used to justify all of those actions.

On the other hand, it also could mean directing traffic away from an accident. Maybe it means repelling a violent insurrection from the Capitol. And it could mean shielding a person who has not been convicted of any crime from a lynch mob that wants to kill them. It’s an umbrella phrase, broad and nonspecific enough to be both used and abused.

Standards Without Clarification

And in the end, it’s not a very helpful standard without further clarification. The seemingly obvious “protect people” brings the same host of issues when we try to apply it to specific cases. Which people are the police to protect? From whom or what? In a racist, sexist society (don’t kid yourself: that’s this one), how many ways could that go wrong?

“Enforce the law” is only deceptively “more specific.” Does that mean “enforce all the laws, all the time?” By that standard, most of us should be, or should have been, arrested at many points in our lives.

People are fallible. There are times when we’re sick and can’t cut the noxious weeds in our front yard. Or we’re forgetful and only notice later that our driver’s license has expired. Perhaps we’re tired or in a hurry, so we jaywalked when we saw an opening, instead of walking down to the corner and waiting for the lights to change. Minor traffic violations, legally carrying a gun, or simply walking down the street have resulted in citizens being killed by police in the name of “enforcing the law.”

"Accountability for police officers should be an expectation, not an aberration." - Alex Padilla
You rock, BrainyQuote!

Okay, so: What SHOULD Police Do?

As we’ve seen, that’s a really problematic question! But, both as a citizen and as a novelist, I want to find better answers to it. I cannot endorse a blanket approach such as “abolish the police.” I’m not a fan of “defund,” either. Neither of those represent where I think this conversation should go.

On the other hand, a thoroughgoing interrogation of that “what should police do?” question isn’t going to deal kindly with old-school “cop culture.” Not with many contemporary police training techniques and approaches, either. Nor even with a fair number of contemporary laws and standards.

Yes, dear reader, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m cueing up a series of blog posts on this topic. I’m not sure how long it’ll be. Considering our upcoming publication schedule, it most definitely won’t be every single post for the next umpty-dozen times without a break!

But over the next few months, I propose to take up one aspect of “what should police do?” at a time. I’ll examine how it’s currently being handled in the USA, survey the critiques, and then explain “how we handle it on Rana Station” and why I think that might work better. I hope you’ll find the series interesting.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to BrainyQuote (what would I have done without you for this post?) and Statistia.

Clockwise from upper left: An arrangement of roses, hydrangeas, and tulips form a backdrop for the words “Valentine’s Day Special;” a heart-shaped box’s lid, which is printed with the words, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” is offset to show a glimpse of the chocolates inside; a jewelry marketer inserted a woman’s diamond-studded engagement and wedding ring into the petals of a red rose; and a restaurant offers a “2023 Valentine’s Dinner” special.

Valentines and Love

By Jan S. Gephardt

Valentines and love are pretty inextricably bound together in our contemporary culture. But that connection wasn’t always understood in the same way. This post is part of a series of looks at holidays that have periodically appeared on “Artdog Adventures” and “The Weird Blog.” It will go live the day after Valentine’s Day, so it seems like a good time to consider the holiday.

Contemporary practices bear little relation to the third-century saint recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Its origin may lie in a few lines of poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer. Others link the traditions to the Roman festival of Lupercalia or the troubadours of the late Middle Ages.

Troubadours sang songs about love. But many marriages among the upper classes of that period were matches made for political advantage. Marriages usually were arranged between powerful families when the girls, and often also the boys, were small children. If love had anything to do with it, it was a side benefit, developing later.

However (and however many times) it began, the February 14 date became linked in North European cultural imaginations with a celebration of mate-finding. Observations persisted and evolved through the unfolding centuries. Valentines and love became more firmly linked as time went on.

A colored etching made in 1870 envisioned a wedding by two young teens in the later Middle Ages. The bridegroom wears a fur-trimmed red tunic with a light colored cloak. The bride wears a light gray gown with a dark yellow cloak. Three brown-robed monks attend the ceremony (one officiating), while a crowd of others looks on.
A Victorian (1870) etching of a Medieval marriage in a stone cathedral between two, very young people. (See credits below).

What Kind of Love is This?

That Valentine’s Day ideal of marital love – or at least of couples’ love –became more firmly linked in the last three centuries or so. During the Victorian era the tradition of making poems and cards for a loved one (or “vinegar Valentines” designed as put-downs) flourished.

By the time I finished high school in 1972, Valentines and (always heterosexual) love had long since been permanently linked with romance and marriage. But meanwhile the institution of marriage went through a lot of turmoil and cultural change. At my high school in a small town, “catching a husband” by getting pregnant was still a thing. Until a Planned Parenthood came to a nearby city, girls had to ask their parents to get them a prescription if they wanted to use “The Pill.” I don’t know of anyone who had the guts to ask.

The linkage of love and marriage that we were fed by popular culture when I was growing up held that once you were married, you’d found your “happily ever after.” Marriage was supposedly the magic key to “legal sex” and a happy life. But the institution was far from a straightforward thing when, for many of us, the legal line between partner and property (or at least second-class citizenship) remained blurry.

And then several waves of our parents’ marriages started coming apart at the seams after the divorce laws changed. The economy changed, too, and within a decade more and more women were commonly expected to work outside the home.

Top: “open” and “closed” views of an 1863 Civil War Valentine. The tent’s flaps open to reveal a soldier composing a love letter while envisioning his beloved. Bottom: A German card from around 1900 opens into a 3-dimensional train. Photos from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, via the New York Times.
As a paper sculptor, I had a grand time looking at these early 3D Valentines. (See credits below).

Valentines and Love and Spending Money

I finished college, taught for a couple of years, and then married my longtime boyfriend. By then it had become the “new reality” that a middle-class family needed two incomes to make ends meet. The income from the “wife’s job” somewhat made up for the fact that all salaries were falling ever-farther behind the cost of living.

But now we needed an ever-growing number of appliances and gadgets to help make up for not having a full-time stay-at-home person to cook, clean, and supply child care. A woman couldn’t do all of that the way her mother had, and also work full-time (the husband, help with housework? What??). Working Americans became ever more voracious consumers of nearly everything, from ready-made clothing to microwave ovens. Corollary to that evolution, Valentines Day became ever more expensive. Our contemporary focus on buying expensive gifts for our loved one has roots planted firmly in the United States (you’re welcome, World).

It’s become one of our biggest shopping days. Valentine’s Day spending in the US hit $23.9 billion (yes, that’s billion-with-a-B) in 2022. Every year we see articles on how to have a heartfelt Valentine’s Day without spending lots of money, but for many of us, Valentines and love mean spending big bucks, whether we have them or not.

Clockwise from upper left: An arrangement of roses, hydrangeas, and tulips form a backdrop for the words “Valentine’s Day Special;” a heart-shaped box’s lid, which is printed with the words, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” is offset to show a glimpse of the chocolates inside; a jewelry marketer inserted a woman’s diamond-studded engagement and wedding ring into the petals of a red rose; and a restaurant offers a “2023 Valentine’s Dinner” special.
There are so many ways to spend money on Valentine’s Day! Here are four favorites. (See credits below).

Whose Love “Counts”?

Up till now, we’ve focused on North European and American ideas about Valentines and love that are pretty exclusively heterosexual (And middle-class. And white). But there are billions of people in this world, and Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class heterosexuals make up only a tiny fraction of them. As Valentine’s Day has become more widely celebrated through the world, it has expanded well beyond its original expressions.

Singles who feel left out and demoralized by the holiday live among us. There’s a variety of healthy ways to cope with feelings of being left out, left behind, or erased on Valentine’s Day. Among them are celebrations of familial love, deep friendship, pet love, and more.

But there’s another whole rainbow of love in this world that in my opinion deserves equal treatment, both on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year. Included in their ranks are some of the most amazing, creative, wonderful people I know – and some of the most admirable examples of long-term commitment. Yet they aren’t feeling any love at all from certain conservative legislatures in my country (or from certain governments in others). I mean, of course, the whole range of what we call the LGBTQIA+ community. When we’re talking about Valentines and love, a narrow paradigm that’s stuck in Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class, heterosexual love falls far too short.

On a black background, three symbolic couple outlines are colored with an underlay of the colors of the Pride Flag. The couple on the left is 2 women, the one in the middle is a man and a woman, and the one on the right is 2 men. Image from tenor.com.
If we’re going to celebrate love, let’s include all the love! (See credits below).

Love is More than Valentines

When all is said and done, Valentine’s Day is only one day. It’s an annual opportunity to think about and value all the love that’s in your life. A day to reach out and express your love for others. And to receive love from them as well.

Too much focus on how much you spend, what gift(s) you were (or were not) given, or how someone made you feel rejected, is a warning that your perspective needs work. But working on your perspective is a worthy use of your time on Valentine’s Day.

Because self-reflection is a form of self-care. Dare I say it, of self-love. And until your core self is secure in the knowledge that you are a person of value who deserves love (which you are, and you do), you can’t truly love anyone else. So start with healthy self-love – then look outward.

Otherwise, any external show of Valentines and love just rings hollow.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Wikipedia, for the 19th century visualization of the medieval wedding. A scan by Laura Valentine of the book Aunt Louisa’s Nursery Favourite yielded the engraving, created 1 January 1870.

Thanks also to my friend, the author Rob Chilson, who called my attention to the New York Times article that featured the 19th century Valentines. The article discusses a collection from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. It yielded the two 3D Valentine pictures.

I owe thanks to four different sources for the montage of ways to spend money on Valentine’s Day: Freshest Flowers of Haddon Heights, NJ for their “Valentine’s Day Special” graphic. Wilson Candies of Jeanette, PA, for the photo of their “Valentine’s Day” 8oz. Milk Chocolate Variety Heart Box. The Dallas Morning News for the photo from Blue Nile. It shows a Blue Nile Studio French Pavé Asscher-Cut diamond eternity ring in platinum with a Bella Vaughan for Blue Nile Grandeur Cushion Halo diamond engagement ring in platinum. And finally North Corner Haven restaurant in Lancaster, SC for their Valentine’s Dinner promo.

The “Love is Love” image is a screen-grab of an animated GIF available from Tenor. Thanks also to them!

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” — Brian Tracy

Gratitude isn’t only for one day

By Jan S. Gephardt

Here in the United States, we recently celebrated Thanksgiving. As I noted in my last post, it’s supposed to be a time to reflect upon the blessings in our lives and be grateful. My purpose today is to make the point that gratitude isn’t only for one day a year. It’s better understood as a lifestyle.

It’s my lived experience that when one looks at the world with gratefulness, it’s easier to see the blessings that fill our lives. Even when our lives are hard. Maybe especially when they’re hard. And yes, this marks me as an optimist by nature.

I recognize that pessimists have an important place in the grand scheme of things. They do seem naturally better-suited for some essential roles in society. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily fun or easy to go through life as one. And it doesn’t mean that the pessimists in the world don’t need us optimists around. If they’ll accept it, we can give them necessary balance when they start going totally sour on everything (as is their natural bent).

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.” — George Bernard Shaw
Balance in life and human society requires both! (Many thanks to Quotefancy).

Are We Wise Enough to See It?

An important part of bringing that balance into one’s perspective is a key awareness. NO human is a totally “self-made” person. That “self-made” poppycock is a self-aggrandizing fallacy. It flies in the face of human nature because we are a social species. Our primary survival mechanism is gathering into interdependent groups. All of us, no matter how independent-minded and  contrary, must depend on others in many ways and for many things.

Maybe our families bestowed riches, education, and advantage on us. Or maybe they did just the opposite. Whatever our history and personal level of success, we all have received favor and grace somewhere along the line from someone. From society’s basic infrastructure, if nothing else! If we are wise enough, we recognize that.

And if we recognize it, honesty demands that we be grateful for it. Gratitude isn’t a show of weakness – it’s an acknowledgement that our species’ greatest survival skill is active in our lives. That’s why I contend that gratitude isn’t only for one day (for instance, Thanksgiving. Or perhaps the day after Christmas. Or some moment when we can’t escape the obligation to write a thank-you note). Gratitude isn’t only for one season. It isn’t only for one year, or any other finite period. Properly understood, it’s perpetual.

"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough” — Oprah Winfrey
Maybe not a law of nature, but certainly a law of human psychology. (Courtesy of Wow4u).

Seven Days of Gratitude

Back in 2017 I wrote a series of seven blog posts in a row. I posted one right after another on seven successive days. They were my response to a self-challenge to think about the things I was most grateful for. Now, as I just pointed out, if gratitude isn’t only for one day – and it isn’t only for seven.

But that exercise provided a learning experience. Several patterns of thought emerged. Had I pushed the experiment further, I’m sure I would have discovered more. But even though I clearly had lots more time to write blog posts back then, there were limits.

What themes did I choose for my Seven Days of Gratitude? They covered quite a range, from the personal to the broadly institutional. Considering them from that perspective, let’s take a quick look. Are these things you would have chosen?

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” — Brian Tracy
Don’t just take my word for it. The lives of the grateful are richer in every way. (Thanks again, Quotefancy!)

Gratitude for Personal Things

As I said, some of the things I was (and am) thankful for were personal. Take for instance my family (that was Day Two’s topic). Cliché, much? Yes, “I’m grateful for my family” is basic elementary-school essay fodder, but that doesn’t rob it of validity for many of us. Some people’s families are real-life horror shows, but most of us regard our near kin more kindly. How do you feel about yours?

Another important point of gratitude for me was the companion animals in my life. In genuine ways they also are family. Pack is Family, after all! Even though I didn’t bring them up as a topic till Day Six, they are an active force that makes my life better. This blog is so pet-friendly, that won’t surprise you. Since pet-related posts often get more traffic, if you’re reading this post you probably feel much the same!

One “gratitude topic” that isn’t in the lineup of “usual suspect” clichés was another deeply personal one. I expressed gratitude for my callings. That is, for the things I do well and that give my life meaning and purpose. I believe that each of us comes into the world with a unique suite of abilities and predispositions. When we find ways to develop and express those “best things” in our lives, everyone in our lives benefits in some way. It is a supremely satisfying “fit,” even when it’s also a lot of work. What are your callings? How do you express them?

This montage consists of three quote-images. The one on the left says, “Gratitude: Today be thankful and think how rich you are. Your family is priceless. Your health is wealth. Your time is gold.” – One Bite Wisdom. The middle one reads, “I am thankful for my pets because they complete my family.” – Anonymous. The one on the right says, “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” – Leo Buscaglia.
How do these things work in your life? Do you see them as blessings? (See credits below).

Gratitude for Broader-Based Gifts: Food Security

Gratitude isn’t only for one day, and it isn’t only for one “level” of blessings. When I looked beyond my personal existence, I found yet more things to be grateful for. I’m privileged to be able to claim some of them. Take food security, for instance!

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported in September that more than one in five Americans has experienced food insecurity this year. One in five! In the country that is the richest nation in the world! And speaking of “in the world,” we’ve got a global food crisis on our hands. So, if food insecurity is not one of your clear and pressing worries, you have a very great deal to be thankful for!

Those of us blessed with food security should lift up a hearty “thank you!” And then why not look into Charity Navigator’s excellent guide to giving opportunities that fight hunger? But for a few twists of fate, we could be among those on the “hungry” side of the line!

“Before you eat food or drink water, look at what you’re about to eat or drink and feel love and gratitude. Make sure your conversations are positive when you are sitting down to a meal.” — Rhonda Byrne
An excellent place to start! But don’t stop there. (Quotefancy comes through for me again!).

Yet more Societal Gifts: Peace

Number Three on my 2017 list was Peace. Yes, we’ve all seen the clichés and memes about “whirled peas” and beauty pageant candidates claiming they’re all in for world peace. But gratitude isn’t only for one day, and it isn’t only for my small part of the world. Anytime we feel blasé about peace, we need to remember what’s actually going on in the world.

What would Somali farmers say about peace in their part of the world? How would Palestinian or Syrian children (whether refugees or not) feel, if they could grow up in peaceful neighborhoods? Or schoolgirls in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Pakistan, or Afghanistan? How would Rohingya refugees feel about the ability to live quietly in peace? Or, of course, the Ukrainian people spending this winter huddling in what’s left of their cold, dark homes?

And let us not forget violence in our own country. The murder rate in my hometown of Kansas City is nothing short of blood-drenched, although (for now) my little neighborhood is relatively quiet. We “only” hear gunfire once in a while (last night, for example), and usually a fair number of blocks away. No, I don’t take peace for granted at all, and neither should anybody! You bet I’m grateful!

“My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and absolute freedom – freedom from violence and falsehood, no matter how the last two manifest themselves.” — Anton Chekhov
Freedom from violence makes all our dreams more possible. (What would I do without you, Quotefancy?)

But Wait! There’s More!

The last two items on my “Grateful” list deserve at least one separate blog post, so I’ll mention them only as a preview of future (and a reminder of past) posts. Kind of an “alpha and omega” for my thank-you roundup, the very first item on my list was freedom of religion, a topic I’ve already written about several times, including in my 2020 series on the First Amendment, and in a 2019 post about violence against places of worship.

The “omega,” but far from the least important on my list? Gratitude for the arts. I’m a writer and artist. My career history includes work as an art and writing teacher, a graphic designer, a journalist, and an art agent, among other arts-related work. I come from an artistic family (for one, my sister and publishing partner is the Director of Concert Operations for The Dallas Winds, as followers of this blog may recall).

My whole LIFE has been about, and suffused with, the arts. They have not only sustained me as the source of my most meaningful work, however. The amazing thing about the arts is that they can touch any human life with a near-miraculous gift of grace. They have lifted our spirits in times of dire darkness, helped us find meaning, and opened untold wonder for untold numbers of people. So I’d be pretty darned ungrateful to leave them off of my list!

The quote on the left says, "Religious freedom should work two ways: we should be free to practice the religion of our choice, but we must also be free from having someone else's religion practiced on us." — John Irving. The one on the right says, "Art gives its vision to beauty not always recognized. And it surrenders freely -- whatever power it possesses to every sincere soul that seeks it. But above all else--it presents us with the gift of ourselves." — Aberjhani
Gratitude for these blessings brings richness and joy to our lives. (Double thanks to PictureQuotes; see credits below).

So, then. That’s my list. And while gratitude isn’t only for one day, it also isn’t only for one person’s list. What’s on yours? Can you find seven things to be grateful for? Share in the comments if you wish. But more important by far is to recognize them. Cherish them. And do your best to spread the gratitude you feel into the world around you.

IMAGE CREDITS

And now for more gratitude! First of all WOW, Quotefancy! This blog post wouldn’t be the same without my access to your trove of image-quotes. See the individual credit lines in the captions for the four different, but highly appropriate, quotations from this resource. Thank you very much! I also owe a double debt of gratitude to PictureQuotes for the two images used in the final montage. They provided both John Irving’s words on religious freedom and those of Aberjhani on art.

To the rest of my image sources, I also am grateful to you! Many thanks to Wow4u, for the Oprah Winfrey quote-image. And three hearty “thank you!” shout-outs to One Bite Wisdom on Pinterest, Quotesgram, and Biblereasons. I loved being able to find the component quotes that I used to build the three-part personal gratitude montage. I appreciate all of you!

This detail from Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Freedom from want” painting shows Grandma setting a beautifully-roasted turkey into place at the head of a bountiful Thanksgiving table. A smiling and happy white family, representing a wide variety of ages from the patriarch next to Grandma, through a range of adults and children, down to a little blonde girl of about six.

A Genuine American Thanksgiving

By Jan S. Gephardt

Here in the United States, it’s time for another celebration of our national Thanksgiving holiday. Today is supposedly a time to reflect upon the blessings in our lives and be grateful. But if you want the honest truth, that’s not what most Americans do. Forget Norman Rockwell. What does a Genuine American Thanksgiving look like today?

Americans being Americans, the holiday’s origins and purpose, as well as myths surrounding its traditions, are pretty murky. Digging deeply into its actually-rather-convoluted history Is dangerous if you have staked your identity on idealistic innocence and self-serving myths.

This detail from Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Freedom from want” painting shows Grandma setting a beautifully-roasted turkey into place at the head of a bountiful Thanksgiving table. A smiling and happy white family represents a wide variety of ages from the patriarch next to Grandma through a range of adults and children, down to a little blonde girl of about six.
Here’s a detail from Norman Rockwell’s iconic Thanksgiving painting, Freedom from want, 1943, one of four in the artist’s “Four Freedoms” Series. I can’t help noticing how predominantly white everything is, from the tablecloth and plates through the people. (Image courtesy of Artsper Magazine).

A little Thanksgiving Mythology

No, I’m not going to launch into a history lesson. Others have been there before me, including the article I cited above. As for me, I was stuffed full of all the traditional myths when I went to elementary school in Rolla, Missouri in the 1960s. The Pilgrims and the Indians. The happy story about two groups of unlike people coming together over shared bounty. All of it.

I made “handprint turkeys” and cut out Pilgrim hats from construction paper. I participated in a Thanksgiving play, for which my mother was supposed to make me an “Indian squaw” costume (on a day’s notice). I believe I probably had checked off all the cliché-boxes of “Genuine American Thanksgiving Mythology for Entitled Little White Kids” before I hit the ripe old age of nine.

But when I look at the holiday from any point of view other than one of white privilege, it’s easy to see that BS for what it really is. The holiday’s evolution is a triumph of that evergreen-and-currently-faddish American pastime, promoting “revisionist” (more properly “negationist”) history. I would like to hope that by now most of us understand whitewashing the past like that is an extremely problematical aspect of the holiday.

I would like to hope that, but I know better. Because that whole mythology is still an “inerrant truth” of a Genuine American Thanksgiving for a frightening number of white folks.

Above a black-and-white version of Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ white supremacist painting, “The First Thanksgiving, 1621” are the words, “Thanksgiving is a special time to remember all the things we have.” Below it, the words continue: “And forget about the genocide that was committed to get it.”
The painting parodied in this meme is Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ The First Thanksgiving, 1621. It was painted in 1912 during an era of rising white supremacy. Many thanks to Reddit for the image.

Genuine American Thanksgiving Food Hypocrisy

We Americans famously subvert the meaning of what we’re supposed to be celebrating on Thanksgiving. Even in my own family, people often seem to feel that the idea of actually talking about what we’re thankful for as a part of grace before the meal is somehow too “cutesy” or “cringy.” Perhaps these normally-liberal people think it would be “virtue signaling”? Whatever, the few times I’ve tried to entertain the thought I’ve been shot down (and not only by the kids when they were teenagers).

Instead, we (as a family and also as a nation) have often turned our Genuine American Thanksgiving into a festival of gluttony. When feelings will be hurt if everyone doesn’t try at least a little bit of everything, the pressure is on. It’s reasonable to enjoy a chance to eat well at what is essentially a harvest festival. What part of “party” doesn’t mean eating special foods, drinking festive drinks, and making merry? But in our appearance-obsessed culture being fat is a sin (or at least considered to be in very bad taste).

Unfortunately, the definition of “fat” is in the highly critical eye of the beholder . . . who will then feel free to judge harshly, no matter how much they themselves weigh. Guilt trips lie in wait like hidden landmines for many of us throughout our Genuine American Thanksgiving. And on into the rest of the holiday season, too.

This image is a composite of two memes. One speaks to the issue of fattening side dishes: a picture of a beautifully-staged lasagna with one piece cut out, and the words “If you don’t eat Lasagna on Thanksgiving, you are not Celebrating Properly.” The other shows an enormous table piled high with food. At the top it says: “My Mom:” (indicating all the food). Underneath the picture it says, “Me: But there’s only gonna be 4 people coming.”
Excess is a Thanksgiving tradition, it seems – at least, for those who can afford it. (See credits below).

Family at Thanksgiving

It’s no surprise that Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season can present serious mental health challenges. Traditionally, a Genuine American Thanksgiving comes with a heaping side-helping of stress.

In many American families, Thanksgiving is one of only a few times each year that relatives may see each other. Family members who may live hundreds or even thousands of miles away from each other don’t have many face-to-face opportunities. But on Thanksgiving they often brave modern air travel, snarled traffic, cataclysmic weather events, and more, simply to get there.

Then they crowd around one table (or perhaps the “adults’ table” and the “kids’ table”) in a cramped, overheated place to eat mass quantities of food. Long-haul travelers may be time-pressured and jet-lagged. The cook/cooks are probably exhausted and high-strung from the pressure of fixing all the fancy stuff so it’s ready and at peak tastiness on time. The smaller kids are probably off-schedule, wound up, and sugar-fueled by treats and snacks.

This image is a composite of three memes. The first on the left is split into a top and bottom picture. The top picture shows the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park” on a rampage, bellowing in the rain. The words on it say: “Mom getting ready for Thanksgiving.” In the lower picture we see the T-Rex toy from “Toy Story,” smiling in front of a wallpaper design of fluffy clouds in blue sky. The words on it say: “Mom when people arrive.” In the second meme, a child screams in fear when seven green parrots land on their red hoodie. The caption says, “Me at Thanksgiving with my family.” Around the screaming child are the questions: “What are you doing with your life?” “Did you gain weight?” “You’re drinking? It’s 11 a.m.” “When are you getting married?” “Are you even dating anyone?” and “Are you sure you’re not a lesbian?”
The third image shows a sketch of a young person looking at their smartphone. Above the drawing, it reads, “Happy Thanksgiving to someone checking their phone in the bathroom to escape their family.”
The memes are funny because the pressures are real. (See credits below).

A few Words about Exchanging Words

Emotions are already topsy-turvy, so now it’s time to talk to each other, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong, after that setup? But what can you say? What can you ask? This part can end badly, depending on one’s mental preparation. Expectations of older relatives, based on standards from their youth, may not mesh well with the lived experiences of younger ones. Sibling rivalries and other past disagreements can surface under the stress. Boundaries can get trampled. Tastes may clash. Understandings often fail.

My own family has not been immune to this. For what seemed arbitrary reasons, the younger girl-children of two successive generations fell into disfavor with certain elder relatives. My sister G. S. Norwood endured that treatment when we were in our teens. And a different elder relative inflicted it on my daughter (and on me, the female in-law) in the following generation. Bottom line: you can’t always stop such treatment, but eventually we found ways to work around it.

This composite image consists of two memes. The first uses a Facebook background of laughing yellow emojis with “heart eyes.” It says, “Make sure to bring up politics at Thanksgiving this month to save on Christmas gifts.” The other is a Glenn McCoy cartoon. In the foreground a Native woman and two Pilgrim women clean up the remains of a meal and the dirty dishes. In the background, Native men and Pilgrim men are lined up for a football scrimmage. One of the women speaks to the others, saying “I hope this doesn’t become a 
tradition.”
Politics and football (and mountains of dirty dishes): for many of us, they are inescapable essentials of a Genuine American Thanksgiving. (See credits below).

Politics and Football

In addition to intergenerational strife, Americans today have an incredibly divided political landscape to navigate. Every couple of years, a Genuine American Thanksgiving comes later in the same month as a major election (if you think the mid-terms aren’t “major” you have not been paying attention!). But in recent years a political system that for all practical purposes makes us choose “either or” between two parties has divided us deeply.

That’s not a problem if everyone in the family agrees on the basic tenets of one party. However, that’s rarely the case. What can we do if someone we love is “on the other side”? Psychologists urge us to remember that there are ways to bridge the gap, if both sides are willing to engage.

And if all else fails, perhaps there’s football. Many families have a strong collegiate or NFL football team affiliation. If all else fails, they still can unite over love of their team, or at least love of the sport. Football has become a cherished Thanksgiving tradition in many households. It can even transcend politics – especially if people are looking for “something else, please!” to talk about.

But what if there still remain a few undiscussed aggressions to work off? Why not get rid of them with an informal family scrimmage in the front or back yard during breaks? It’s exercise in the fresh air, and that can’t be bad. It won’t work for all families, but it works for some.

This photo shows a densely-packed crowd on Black Friday. Its caption says, “Black Friday: People trampling over each other for cheap goods mere hours after being thankful for what they already have.”
Best wishes and good success to us all, this Christmas season! (Many thanks for the meme, Bustle!)

Christmas Songs Before Thanksgiving?

Oh, great. Yet another Genuine American Thanksgiving “political” divide! There are those who live all year in eager anticipation of seasonal Christmas music. They seemingly just can’t wait for the chestnuts to start roasting on the open fire. They probably feel secret delight that “even stoplights” to blink a bright red and green. And they yearn to pretend that their snowman is Parson Brown. The rest of us would willingly end them if they start that sh*t as early as Halloween.

But after Thanksgiving, it’s a different story (or a lost cause, depending on how you see it). Like it or not, the Christmas shopping season begins about the minute Thanksgiving ends. Never mind that the day after Thanksgiving is by law Native American Heritage Day (as if Thanksgiving itself weren’t enough of an ethnic insult). But more importantly, everybody knows it’s Black Friday.

Make no mistake about it, from an economic standpoint, the Christmas shopping season is huge for American businesses. Time to break out the jingle bells and go “ho-ho-ho” all the way to the shopping mall (or wherever, depending on what buying opportunity best floats your boat). I’m more of a Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday kind of girl, myself, but some people live for the joy of the Black Friday hunt.

You be you, whatever your plan. That, too, is an important part of a Genuine American Thanksgiving. 😊

IMAGE CREDITS:

Once again, I want to thank Artsper Magazine for the history and detail image for Norman Rockwell’s iconic Thanksgiving painting, Freedom from want, 1943. Deepest appreciation to Reddit for the meme that lampoons Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ 1912 painting, The First Thanksgiving, 1621. Many thanks for the memes about Thanksgiving food to “Hardcore Italians” on Facebook, and “Bored Panda.”

I appreciate Nate ‘Patchy’ Adams @NateAdams741 on Twitter for the “Mom T-Rex” meme, “Bored Panda” and “tasteslikesarcasm,” @tasteslikesarc on Twitter for the “Family Questions” meme, and Some EE Cards for the “Phone in the Bathroom” image. Thanks yet again to Bored Panda for the Facebook-themed politics meme, and to the wonderful Glenn McCoy (in this case via Reddit) for the “Tradition” cartoon. And finally, thank you to “Bustle” for the Black Friday meme.

Here are two illustrated quotes: first, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.” – George Jean Nathan. Second, “If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.” – George Carlin.

We Get One More Chance

By Jan S. Gephardt

I almost didn’t post anything this week. Life events (my daughter’s health crisis and my father’s recent death) have just about sandbagged me. But, with a little encouragement from my Weird Sister (who’s also had her cataclysms this year), I concluded I did need to say something this week. Because things in my beloved country are rapidly running toward a collision point. And because in this season of advance voting, we get one more chance.

Anyone who’s followed this blog for long knows I am passionate about voting. I was among the first crop of 18-year-olds allowed to vote in the US, and from that day on I have never voluntarily missed an election. While this makes me pretty run-of-the-mill in my family, it makes me rather uncommon among the general US population.

I wish it wasn’t so. I wish everyone who was old enough and eligible understood how important it is to make an educated vote on the key matters of the day.

Here are two illustrated quotes: first, “We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” – Thomas Jefferson. Second, “Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” – Susan B. Anthony.
Voices from the past weigh in. I hope people consider their words. (See credits below).

Of Primary Importance

Here in Kansas, we proved just how wrong polls can be, and just how powerful women – especially young, angry women – can be in an election. Back then I posted, tweeted, and blogged for all I was worth about the incredible importance of voting in every election, not just the big, “sexy” ones in the fall. I am under no illusion that I made a measurable difference, but enough people did step up to create a rather amazing outcome.

Nobody thought young people would vote. Nobody expected angry young women to vote in such numbers. Everybody had kind of written Kansas off as “oh, well, they’re a red state.”

They’re doing that again this fall. Will the “sleeping giant” of angry young women go back to sleep, assuming they “fixed it all” in August? Well, the issues are less clear-cut in November, if you choose to look at it that way. They aren’t for me personally, but I vote anyway. I guess we’ll find out what others decide.

The cartoon shows two crowds, one of which is about double the size of the other. Everyone in the smaller crowd wears a T-shirt that says, “I voted.” The larger crowd wears blank shirts, and a word balloon above them reads, “We didn’t vote because it won’t make a difference.”
This cartoon image says it better than I ever could in words. As the picture makes clear, it WOULD have made a difference. Whatever you do, don’t sit this one out! (See credits below).

Don’t be Discouraged by the Polls

One thing I keep telling myself is that I can’t lose hope. If Kansas in August is anything to go by, the polling then showed a close race. It was anything but close, although one benighted idiot did demand – and pay for – a recount.

When was the last time you got a call from an unknown number and actually picked up? Pollsters do their best, I assume. But they’re at a disadvantage in an age when we have to jealously guard our time and our privacy against abuse. Recent polls have consistently skewed conservative, in large part because who has landlines these days? Who routinely answers phone calls? Older people who haven’t caught on to the pitfalls.

Other places, such as focus groups, public events (fairs, shopping centers, etc.) offer opinions from small populations who often self-select to at least a certain extent. Email polling is often partisan to the point of becoming an echo-chamber. I’ve come to the conclusion that polls are just “iffy” guesses (sometimes accurate, sometimes not) till the election happens. Kansas in August proved that to a more dramatic extent than we’ve seen in a while.

Here are two illustrated quotes: first, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.” – George Jean Nathan. Second, “If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.” – George Carlin.
The two “Georges” have it right. Inform yourself and vote, if you haven’t! (See credits below).

In the General Election we get One More Chance.

The outcome still lies with us. We get one more chance. A lot of the candidates have bought into the “Big Lie” that previous elections were rigged. Note that none of that camp who DID get elected seem to worry that the vote was rigged in their case, however. We get one more chance to refrain from giving more power to that group.

In the name of “election integrity” state legislators already have instituted changes that inhibit many of the voters they deem to be skeevy (weirdly enough, they don’t seem to target old white conservatives, although those who need assistance to vote are out of luck). If some of the candidate-election commissioners, secretaries of state, and/or attorneys general are voted in, we’ll get more of that, plus legislatures with the power to reject results they don’t like.

Elections matter. We get one more chance in November.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Largely because (mentally and emotionally) my main reactor core has already melted down and I’m limping along on “impulse power” toward the nearest repair base, I used illustrations from my previous blog posts for this one. The two “vote-quote pairs” are both from my November 4, 2019 post, “Vote Tuesday! Will your voice be heard?” See that post for sources.

Similarly, the cartoon image by Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle came from my 2016 post, “Vote Like your Life Depends on It – Because it Just Might,” which used an image from The Coffee Party USA’s Facebook Page. Many thanks to all the original sources!

“The American Dream Game,” a 2014 David Horsey cartoon.

The Legend of the Undeserving Poor

By Jan S. Gephardt

A cluster of recent news articles have, to me, pointed to an older-than-America problem. I mean the recent water-quality issues in Jackson, MS, and the end of the universal free public school lunch program. A local infrastructure issue and a nationwide nutrition program might seem to have little in common, but under the surface they do. Both resulted, ultimately, because government officials bought into the Legend of the Undeserving Poor.

Now, before you get your feathers all ruffled about my obvious Bleeding-Heart-Liberal stripes showing, please hear me out. Certainly, there are unmotivated, indolent, and unwise individuals out there in the general population. They exist in all economic strata of society, from frivolous trust-fund babies on down. Users, grifters, and cheaters exist, and they certainly do their best to let the efforts of others “carry” them.

But years of studies, analysis, and personal experience should tell you that the growing ranks of the “Working Poor” in this country aren’t all (or even mostly) a bunch of so-called “Welfare Queens.” So where does this persistent legend of the undeserving poor come from, and why does it persist?

"Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." - Mark Twain
Some folks take this advice a bit too literally in public policy matters. (Statustown).

Tradition, Worldview, and Convenience

The legend of the undeserving poor is nothing new. It has the powerful forces of tradition, worldview, and convenience working in its support. Some historians say it dates back to the economic and social changes as the Plague waned in Europe. Wealthy people resented the growth of burgeoning “underclass” populations, with their desire for a better place in life than was comfortable for their “betters.”

My first inkling of how old (and unfair) the tradition might be while viewing Dutch art from the Reformation era (1500s-1600s). I was scandalized to see a mocking engraving that purported to illustrate disabled war veterans and other classes of the “undeserving poor.” How, I wondered, could anyone disabled while fighting for his country be considered “undeserving”? Of course, when you consider how the United States has treated 911 responders, as well as soldiers exposed to Agent Orange and burn pits, that outrage seems naïve at best. But then, it all makes me angry.

The legend of the undeserving poor has a long and ugly history. It offends anyone who values equity and social justice, and yet it persists. Why?

“Even climate action at home looks suspiciously like socialism to them; all the calls for high-density affordable housing and brand-new public transit are obviously just ways to give backdoor subsidies to the undeserving poor.” – Naomi Klein
Wouldn’t want to help the “undeserving,” of course! Not even if it helps to save the world. (Quotestats).

A Worldview Predicated on “Personal Responsibility

Did you choose to be born to, or adopted by, the parents who reared you? Were you personally responsible for choosing the color of your skin? Not if you’re a natural-born human being, you didn’t. Yet these involuntary conditions are massive predictors of how successfully you’ll be able to live your life.

But it seems clear that some people in our society think the situation into which you were born should make no difference to your outcomes in life. Somehow, despite all the evidence to the contrary, they believe we all start from the same point and compete equally. If you didn’t struggle sufficiently to be an economic success – regardless of your opening situation – then that’s on you. Somehow, you are simply a lesser human being. And in that case, they appear to think that you deserve to just suffer and die, already.

It’s a supremacist worldview. Weird, how often it’s held by people lucky enough to have been able to access opportunities and capitalize on them. You’ll often hear such folks describe themselves as “self-made” or having “pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps.” Never mind that the original definition for the latter phrase implied the completion of an impossible and unbelievable task. And if you somehow failed to do the impossible, well then, the legend of the undeserving poor is tolling the bell for you.

This cartoon shows what looks like a board game. One route, marked “Black” at the starting point, is long, winding, and includes lots of lost turns. Some of the sections say things like “Slavery, lose 100 turns,” or “Denial of Voting Rights, lose 10 turns.” The other route, marked “White” at the start is short, straight, and has sections that say “Free land from Indians, jump 2 spaces,” and (2 spaces later) “Free Labor from Slaves, take another turn.” A young White man near the end turns to his Black competitor and asks, “Are you just slow, or what?”
“The American Dream Game,” a 2014 David Horsey cartoon, is one of my favorite “pictures worth 1,000 words.” (LA Times, #142 of 200).

It is Inconvenient to Think Complex Thoughts

Thinking is hard. It actually uses energy and it can genuinely wear us out. That’s probably why some of us try to avoid doing it at all costs. Unfortunately, that attitude is kind of baked in to our culture. Americans (and, increasingly, supposedly-educated people everywhere) want clear-cut answers, they want them right now. Preferably in bullet-points that would fit on a bumper sticker. We’re already busy enough as it is. Our lives are already rife with complexity.

Unfortunately, our world faces a lot of complex problems, with multilayered causes. We need to solve them before they kill us. Climate change is one of those things that is complicated, famously inconvenient, and increasingly deadly. All the reasons why the legend of the undeserving poor is misleading and wrong are another.

But wait! If it’s so bogus, why does it persist, you might ask. It persists because it is convenient for those who don’t want to engage their empathy for the “poors.” Even more so, for those who don’t want to spend any extra tax money (“my hard-earned money!” whether it truly came hard or was inherited) to help others live a better life.

"Power from unearned privilege can look like strength when it is in fact permission to escape or to dominate." - Peggy McIntosh
The legend of the undeserving poor persists because it serves unearned privilege. (AZ Quotes).

This falsehood, this enduring legend of the undeserving poor, perversely persists. It endures for the same reason a deeply misleading – but catchy – meme persists. Because it suits the purposes of undeserved privilege.

IMAGE CREDITS

Author/producer Jan S. Gephardt is grateful to all the image sources credited in the cutlines above. She isn’t quite Taking a Sick Day (after all, there is a blog post for today), but let’s just say she’s had peppier, healthier moments.

Mt. Stromboli erupts spectacularly at night.

Angry Women

By Jan S. Gephardt

“Oh, now, honey, let’s not get hysterical.” If this phrase or its moral equivalent has never been directed at you, you probably aren’t female. Fact is, there are few things more socially unacceptable than angry women.

Even the word “hysterical” has women at its root. As far as I can tell, throughout the ages there have been angry women. And for just as long, there have been men and other women who were terrified and/or outraged by them. Take your pick: terror and outrage are often two sides of the same coin. But it  all adds up to this: society does everything it can to make angry women shut up. Even when they have every reason to be angry.

Two quotes here: “There is not a woman alive who does not understand that women’s anger is openly reviled.” by Soraya Chemaly, and "It's a very difficult thing for people to accept, seeing women act out anger on the screen. We're more accustomed to seeing men expressing rage and women crying." by Rebecca De Mornay.
Society discounts and looks away from angry women. (See credits below).

The Molten Core

If “Oh, now, honey, let’s not get hysterical” didn’t punch a few buttons and raise your blood pressure a bit, (1) you’re probably male and (2) but wait! There’s more. Millennia of patriarchy have piled on enough indignities, disrespect, and exploitation to fire up the molten core that seethes within most women. Consider the following to be a very small sampling.

Two more quotes: "Most women have no characters at all." - Alexander Pope. And "When a woman gets angry, she cannot speak reasonably." - anonymous (or possibly in hiding?)
Here are two examples of the sort of disrespect women deal with. (See credits below).

And let’s not forget the widespread illusion that there is no way for a man to understand “what a woman wants.” If angry women puzzle and confuse you, then you’re part of the problem.

Three quotes here: "Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood." - Oscar Wilde. "If a woman is upset, hold her and tell her how beautiful she is. If she starts to growl, retreat to a safe distance and throw chocolate at her." - Anonymous (and he'd be wise to remain that way). And, “Behind every angry Woman is a man who has Absolutely no idea what he did wrong.” – Again, by Anonymous (he spouts off a lot).
It’s an ancient trope that men don’t know what women want. Have they ever considered respect? Or listening? (See credits below).

For women, the whole business of navigating life has, for centuries, been one long steeplechase of often-unavoidable hazards. One scarcely has to look, before examples leap to mind (if you’ve been paying attention).

I’ll pull two from art history. Consider the treatment of Artemesia Gentileschi at her rape trial – an experience all too much like the experiences of contemporary women. Or the fact that the famous artist Rosa Bonheur had to get special permission from the police to be allowed to wear a smock and trousers when she went to a slaughterhouse to study animal anatomy (in order to do her life’s work).

Why talk about Angry Women?

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about women’s anger and the curious way it’s been ignored, overlooked, and otherwise disregarded by pundits and political analysts. Particularly, in the wake of the Dobbs decision that reversed Roe v. Wade.

It wasn’t only angry women who rose up on their hind legs last week to deliver a resounding “NO” to the “Value Them Both” referendum in Kansas. Men definitely participated in that result. But a lot of the momentum came from a sustained “ground game” by volunteers all over Kansas. Volunteers who included a lot of young, angry women. And the voters who responded in unprecedented numbers also included a lot of young, angry women.

Now, there are a lot of Libertarians-at-heart (of all genders) in Kansas. Their reaction to a threat of egregious government overreach also forms an important part of the “No to Value Them Both” story. And on the face of it,  it’s downright un-American to nakedly foist one narrow set of religious views on the general public. Especially while removing important rights to life and liberty in the process.

Here are three more quotes, of a higher caliber than the last batch: “No person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” - Alice Walker. “Life without liberty is like a body without spirit.” - Kahlil Gibran. And "Independence is a heady draft, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.” - Maya Angelou
Liberty with agency: wouldn’t you say it’s what everyone wants and deserves? (Country Living).

What’s wrong with this picture?

But most of the “experts” inside the Beltway and among the national media appear clueless about many aspects of this story. In underestimating rural people’s intelligence, they definitely blew it. There was a widespread fear before August 2 that the ignorant backwoods rubes would fall for the deceptive name, wording, and hype. But the underestimation is even greater when it comes to the angry women.

I used that metaphor of “the molten core that seethes within most women” earlier, for a reason. I think a lot of people are ignoring “seismic indicators” in the social realm. Volcano experts learned to predict when volcanic eruptions will happen soon. They’ve learned what to look for – the signs that indicate a given place is building up to an eruption. Pinning down exactly when it will happen is still difficult. But they can be pretty clear on it when an eruption seems imminent. They know they must monitor certain telltale indicators.

Mt. Stromboli erupts spectacularly at night.
Stromboli subtly inflates just before it explodes. (See credits below).

Angry Women Suppress their Emotions for a Long Time

By contrast, I believe a lot of political observers are consistently missing telltale indicators that we’ve been seeing in recent years. I think this is because our society consistently refuses to take women’s anger seriously. Women (and their families) have endured one provocative outrage after another in recent years. Seems to me  that inexorable drumbeat is eventually going to bring on a history-changing “eruption.”

The chances look good that a lot of so-called “experts” will be astonished when it happens. Just as they were blindsided by the referendum results in Kansas. That’s because it takes a lot of outrage and a long buildup, before angry women explode.

Two quotes here: "When a woman cries it's not usually over one thing. It's built up anger and emotions that she's been holding in for too long." – QuotesGate. And "So many women keep their anger inside and let it build until they explode and then people blow them off again." - Rosalind Wiseman.
Women are trained to hold their anger in. But that only lasts so long. And when people blow them off, that starts the cycle all over again. (See credits below).

Seismic Indicators

Let me offer a few items for consideration. Do you remember the Women’s March of 2017? It followed the election of a man who clearly had no respect at all for women.

"When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy . . . You can do anything." - Donald J. Trump
When challenged, he doubled down. Worse, he still won the election. (The Guardian via Twitter).

About that same time came the fall of Harvey Weinstein and the massive expansion of the #Me Too Movement. In early 2018 we learned about Larry Nassar and his protracted run as the chief sexual predator in residence for USA Gymnastics. Outrage piled on outrage until it was intolerable.

Most of us also remember the 2018 Mid-Term Elections, in which the Democrats re-took the House of Representatives and a record number of female representatives were elected. Observers noted that angry women had played a part, but after all – the sitting President’s party “always” loses ground in the mid-terms, right? How much role did women really play? It was easy to dismiss or overlook the angry women.

More Fuel to the Flames of Indignation

The botched handling of the Pandemic led to the needless “extra deaths” of thousands of elders and lower-income workers (read that predominantly Black, brown, and female, although men died in droves, too). Misogyny and racism reared their heads more nakedly than we’d seen them for a while.

Mass shootings do not only concern women, of course. But as the steady drumbeat of mass shootings also mounted, women-led groups grew. I’m talking about our local Kansas City Mothers in Charge, and on the national-level Grandmothers Against Gun Violence. Another group heavily threatened by gun violence is victims of domestic violence, who are disproportionately women. And yet, a lot of people overlooked how much of an active role women played in the pushback.

This huge crowd of protesters was one of millions who turned out worldwide.
The Black Lives Matter movement started with the initiative of three Black women (Safe Journalists).

The police killings of Black people such as Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd sent thousands into the streets in the summer of 2020. Angry women of all races and gender expressions joined angry men to voice their outrage. In 2020 voters kicked Trump out of the White House and gave Senate control back  to the Democrats. This country had ample reasons. It wasn’t only the work of angry women. But who spearheaded the Black Lives Matter movement, for example? Women (specifically, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi).

Is Dobbs the Final Straw?

The proverbial camel could only take so much weight. Throughout history we’ve seen long-simmering resentments against injustice finally reach a tipping point. If it wasn’t possible to turn back systemic injustices and the denial of rights, there would have been no successful suffrage movement for women. No Civil Rights era could have occurred (although it seems we’re about ready for another chapter of that struggle). There would have been no end to Prohibition.

Let’s wrap up with three more quotes: "I am angry nearly every day of my life, but I have learned not to show it; and I still try to hope not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do it." [Character of Marmee in Little Women] - Louisa May Alcott. “Anger is not an accepted thing for women. And, you know, I do get angry. I feel it’s a very honest emotion.” – Rosamund Pike. Finally, a closing thought from Soraya Chemaly: “A society that does not respect women’s anger is one that does not respect women.”
Anger has been an ongoing challenge for women since at least the dawn of patriarchy. But it’s a real emotion we can’t help feeling. When will our society respect it? (See credits below).

Never doubt that the eruption is coming. Respect repeatedly denied demands redress. The repeal of long-established rights – and the threat to repeal more – isn’t something people (certainly not Americans) will just roll over and take. And life-destroying, unjust mandates, exacted by a small, ignorant, over-controlling and unrepresentative group (looking at you, wealthy, privileged elders without vaginas) won’t stand forever.

I can’t tell you exactly when the eruption will come. But when it does, angry women will fuel it.

IMAGE CREDITS

As ever, we have lots of people to thank for the photos and illustrated quotes that punctuate this post. The author, Jan S. Gephardt, selected and assembled all the montages. Many thanks to Quotefancy for Soraya Chemaly’s words, and to Quote HD for those of Rebecca De Mornay, in the first montage.

For the second, we’d like to thank Inspirational Stories for the Alexander Pope quote (although we’re not sure what it might inspire beyond anger or contempt). Status Mind contributed the incendiary “When a woman gets angry” quote/image. Though perhaps we’re being hysterical to call it that, despite the grass fire in the background?

For the third montage, we thank SaveDelete for the condescending Oscar Wilde quote. Funny All Women’s Talk brought us the (not so funny) “throw chocolate” quote. And thanks to Amazon for the “Behind Every Angry Woman” design (they put it on a notebook). In light of boneheadedness such as this, are angry women a surprise?

Liberty, News, and a Volcano

All three of the “Liberty” quotes in the fourth montage come courtesy of Country Living. Quanta Magazine provided Rainer Albiez’s dramatic photo of Mt. Stromboli erupting. The next montage combines a quote about women’s frustration from MEME with a wry observation from Rosalind Wiseman courtesy of Idle Hearts.

UK publication The Guardian posted The Infamous Trump Quote on its Twitter feed (many thanks!). It inspired more angry women than he would believe. And the unattributed photo of a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020 came courtesy of Safe Journalists. Read their accompanying article for an overview of outrageous attacks on well-identified members of the press during the 2020 protests.

The final montage consists of three more quotes about angry women. The Louisa May Alcott comment comes from All Author. Picture Quotes provided an observation on anger’s honesty from Rosamund Pike. And we wrap up as we started, with an appropriate thought from Soraya Chemaly. This one comes from Stacey Rosenfeld’s Mental Health Service Facebook Page and Gatewell Therapy Center. Many thanks to all!

"A vote is a prayer about the kind of world we want to live in." - Rev. Raphael Warnock

It’s Important to Vote

By Jan S. Gephardt

In Kansas and Missouri, we’re holding a primary election next week. And every time there’s a primary, some people question whether or not it’s important to vote in it. I’ve blogged about Primary Elections in other years. Longtime readers of my “Artdog Adventures” blog know very well that I feel it’s important to vote.

I realize some of my readers don’t live in the United States, and many others live in states hold their primaries earlier or later in the year than now. I was talking about this with my sister recently. She agrees with me on the importance of voting, although for her the primaries are so last March (she’s a Texan, as longtime blog-followers well know).

But in my neighborhood, the primaries are looming (August 2). It’s important to vote because elections are always a potential turning point of some sort. And that’s where life is informing my art rather a lot, recently.

“So long as I do not firmly and Irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Image courtesy of Medium).

Life, Art, and Science Fiction

I’ve already blogged some about politics on Rana Station. Rana is the fictional, far-future space-station home of the XK9s and their favorite humans, the setting of my novels. Readers of my stories may recall mentions of elections for Premier that were held while the XK9s and their partners were still on Chayko. POV characters Pam and Charlie voted absentee, and talked with their XK9s about the elections. It’s unspoken but clear that both think it’s important to vote.

There are political undercurrents throughout the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. On Rana, Boroughs are sort of a cross between a city and a state or province, politically. Readers saw the local Borough Council in a special session during What’s Bred in the Bone. In the second novel, A Bone to Pick, Ranan politics received less focus. But that realm returns in a big way –on a national level – in the third novel, Bone of Contention. As it happens, I’m writing some of that part now.

Of course, politics in science fiction is nothing new. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, recently.

"The job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be." – Jan S. Gephardt.
(See credits below).

Eroding Rights

Women who pay attention know our rights and freedoms are always under attack. Cases in point: horrifying recent stories about Mongolian schools that require “virginity checks.” Patriarchal cultures use force to suppress education for girls. Invading armies use rape as a means of terrorizing civilians. All across the world our freedom and bodily autonomy are at continual risk, and they always have been.

Even before the United States Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health verdict that made it official, we in the USA saw the warning signs if we were paying attention. Remember “pussyhats” and the Women’s March on Washington in 2017?

As a science fiction reader and writer, I’m aware of many dystopian “futures.” It’s a time-honored science fiction tradition to base dystopias on contemporary trends taken to extremes.

And in nearly any dystopia ordinary people are powerless. They have no agency, no autonomy. Goes without saying they have no vote.

The cover of the book “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a page from a graphic novel adaptation of the book, and a background photo from the television show based on the book.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has been adapted into a graphic novel and a television show. (See credits below).

Tales and Parables

One science fiction story that has resonated deeply with women – and in the wake of Dobbs feels even more relevant – is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In this dystopia, first released in 1985. Starting production in 2016 (imagine that), a television series by the same name, based on the novel, has been renewed for season after season.

But the science fiction that’s resonating most deeply for me this week is Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I’ve been re-acquainting myself with it. I remember when it first came out in 1994. Back then, I was a mother with young children and little time. I had difficulty reading it, probably because I wasn’t ready to contemplate a world like the one it depicted.

Now, in 2022 (the book starts in 2024, in a world both unfortunately like, but also different from our current situation), I’m finding the parallels interesting. Butler’s world, in fact, feels like an oddly familiar place. For one thing, there’s more than a small echo of the assumption I grew up with, that it was only a matter of time before disaster hit. At the age of Butler’s main character Lauren, I tried to learn canning and gardening, assuming I’d need such survival skills after the coming nuclear apocalypse. But there are other parallels, too.

Two book covers, one for the original novel by Octavia E. Butler, the other for a Hugo-winning graphic novel adaptation.
Octavia E. Butler’s book Parable of the Sower has been adapted into a graphic novel and optioned for a film. (See credits below).

A Different Apocalypse, But it “Rhymes”

The kind of apocalypse Californian Lauren Olamina faces in Parable of the Sower didn’t start with a bomb blast. Some reviewers call the novel “post-apocalyptic,” but that’s not correct. The slow-rolling apocalypse Lauren and her neighborhood face is protracted and actively ongoing. There is nothing “post” about it.

Its origin lies in steadily-chipped-away rights, a process that has disabled all government protections for ordinary people. This has led to savage economic disparity and inflamed racial division. Of course, those dynamics further cripple government. The power and importance of voting has been reduced to choices between bad and worse impotent politicians. But you can only vote if you can make it through the mean streets to the polls in one piece.

By the time of the novel, all the last safety nets of civilization have been stripped away. This dysfunctional dynamic empowers the rise of business behemoths that capitalize on the power vacuum to further entrench their own advantage. No surprise, there’s a massive and growing unhoused and dispossessed population that’s increasingly desperate and lawless.

"A vote is a prayer about the kind of world we want to live in." - Rev. Raphael Warnock
(See credits below).

The Antidote? It’s Important to Vote! (While we still can)

Does any of this sound familiar? If not in exact mirroring, it certainly takes little effort to recognize parallel dangers in contemporary gerrymandering and false claims of vote fraud that threaten to actually do the real thing. If it’s okay to declare that corporate “free speech” (AKA money) is protected, and that some people have no right to bodily autonomy, how far from slow-rolling apocalypse are we, truly?

All of this brings me back to the importance of voting. We’re not yet in full-blown apocalypse. We won’t be (barring unforeseen disasters) in 2024. But we’ve been flirting with it for longer than many people have noticed. And if more of us don’t wake up to the serious issues that threaten our freedom and our democracy, we’ll wander blindly into it.

Our rights are increasingly on the line. Our best defense is our vote, and here the advice is “use it or lose it.” That’s why it’s important to vote. Every time. In every election. Vote.

IMAGE CREDITS

The quote-image for Dr. King’s view of the importance of the vote came from Medium. The background for the quote from Jan is Nebula 2, ©2021 by Chaz Kemp, first published in the blog post “Looking for Hope.” Design by Jan.

Jan also assembled the two montage images built around two of the books mentioned in the post. The Handmaid’s Tale montage Includes several images. The cover for Margaret Atwood’s novel is courtesy of ThriftBooks. A page from a graphic novel adaptation by Renee Nault comes via Maclean’s. And a still from the television adaptation of the book is courtesy of Woman & Home.

The montage for Parable of the Sower features the cover of Octavia E. Butler’s book, courtesy of the North Carolina State University Libraries. Butler’s book also has been adapted by Damian Duffy into a graphic novel illustrated by John Jennings. No TV show yet, however it’s been optioned for a movie.

Jan first assembled the final quote-image in this post from a tweet by the Rev. Raphael Warnock (now US Senator Warnock) in November 2020. The background photo is originally from the Baltimore Sun, taken at the Maryland primary election, June 2, 2020 by the multitalented Karl Merton Ferron. Deepest appreciation to all of them!

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