I am writing this as we await President Trump’s speech to the nation about his strategy for America’s longest war, Afghanistan. I am not sure the conflict in Afghanistan can be called a war as Congress never declared war. The declaration of war is Congress’s constitutional responsibility. Conducting war is the President’s responsibility, not the declaration. If Congress allows the President to conduct strategic military activities without a formal declaration of war, Congress avoids the responsibility of the outcome of the military activity. It also allows the US to withdraw from conflict when the conflict no longer serves their interests without achieving a peace treaty. We don’t need to solve whatever problem we said we were there to solve. Of course, the issue we discussed in Afghanistan was the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. September 11, 2001, just shy of 16 years ago. I, like most of you, remember it well. I had three young children. I now have three young grandchildren. Osama Bin Ladin is dead. Al Kaida is now a non-entity. So, why are we still in this fight? What is it about this battle that has taken so long? Why is this man that most American’s do not trust going to talk to us about war when thousands have filled the streets in protest and resistance since he took office?
The President has talked about the possibility of turning the safety and security of the US and her allies over to private contractors. Fortunately, the military opposed him, including Secretary of Defense, James Mattis. This morning, Politico published the results of a poll that found that only 20 percent of voters thought that troop levels should be increased in Afghanistan. I know that this decision is not one that the President just woke up with this morning. I do see that the need to switch up the conversation. A week now of discussion and argument about the violence in Charlottesville, VA and he is completely unable to convince America that Civil War monuments are not racist and people marching with Nazis, and the KKK are perfectly lovely people with the best of intentions. We need a crisis to divert the public. I know the eclipse has been exciting. An eclipse is hardly enough to keep people from opposing a racist President. It is not nearly enough to cause people to forget that our President did not have the grace that President George W. Bush had in calling all Americans to care and compassion for all their neighbors as they went about their day shopping. I do know that in her book No is Not Enough, Naomi Klein warned about the President’s need for a crisis event. An event that would divert the protesters from taking real action that would move a progressive agenda. An event would have to be a large increase in the military presence in Afghanistan. I don’t know if the political will is there for that. The problem is that if we are busy fighting a military buildup in the Middle East, we are not fighting devastating tax reform, privatization of our infrastructure, and other features of the far-right agenda that we would not be fighting while we fight a war in the Middle East.
I don’t know what 45 is going to say this evening. My crystal ball is still broken. I don’t anticipate liking it. Almost everything he has said that I thought I liked ended up with a twist that turned out to be bad. This article is not strictly speaking about communication. It is still not the review of the Inconvenient Sequel I just wanted to get some thoughts out there.
So, comment, like, share.
More to come in the next day or two.
I keep hoping that we are past the age of overt racism. I did not understand, when I was a child, the sight of people picketing with signs on the street corner against people of different races buying homes in the neighborhood I lived in. There were children of different races in my classroom and near by the Watts riots rages. I did not understand. I knew that there used to be institutional racism. But, by the time I came along and was aware of the world, Brown versus Board of Education had come and gone. I was raised in California, so I was unaware of many of the legal battles waged in the South in the late 50’s and early 60’s. As I grew, I became more aware of some of the limitations of that many of my friends of color experienced. I was not aware of how those limitations affected their lives. It took many years for me to become aware that history in the US is about dead white guys. Everyone else gets a month if they are lucky and loud. I had hoped that after the election of Barrack Obama as president, we were at least on our way to a less racist society. The bottom line here folks is that I have no idea what to say after the events in Virginia this weekend. I am saddened beyond belief. I cannot imagine that we have a president that does not even know how to respond to such a tragedy.
Let me start "'with a summary of events. If you already know all of this, or just don’t want to hear it again, skip down to the next paragraph. Carletonville, Virginia has plans to remove a statue of General Robert E Lee from Emancipation Park. In protest of this action, a group of neo-Nazis, KKKers, and other white supremacist groups planned a Friday night candle march on the University of Virginia with a Saturday “Unite the Right” protest. Many protesters were in White Supremacist garb. The former head of the KKK, David Duke was there. So, counter protesters arrived for the Saturday event. Police attempted to maintain calm and order by calling both sides of the protest illegal and called them to disperse. As a result, the protesters from both sides began marching in different throughout the city. Several counter protesters were injured, one killed when a car ran into marchers. None of the chanting or signage seemed to have much to do with General Lee. It became a rally for white supremacy. Counter protesters were about diversion and inclusion. Sorry, General Lee, you are not that important a 150 years later.
Exactly what to say about this event in the twenty-first century is hard to imagine. I was not sure exactly what to write about the whole thing. I have not had much to post on Facebook. I certainly did not know what to say to you. I know Trump was elected President. I know that Steve Bannon is serving in the White House. I know our Attorney General is Jefferson Beauregard Session III. Somehow, I still think things can’t be that bad. I know, I’m white. Then I found a post of Zenobia Jeffries article “Charlottesville Was Not a ‘Protest Turned Violet,’ It Was a Planned Race Riot” from Yes Magazine. Ms. Jeffries examines the mistake that much of the media make in addressing this and other similar events in calling them protests gone bad. She asks “Who wears paramilitary gear and carries automatic weapons to a rally? Who takes shields and helmets and pepper spray and bats and sticks to a rally? The car didn’t ‘crash’—it was driven at full speed into a crowd of counter-protesters.” These are not the actions of a group of peaceful citizens opposing the removal of a monument to a local hero. These are the actions of race rioters. She further challenges her readers to look at what side they are going to take. Are we going to take the side of minimizing the violence and hatred of white supremacist groups? Ms. Jeffries has some other things to say about how the media tends to cover these events. She also challenges the media in its failure report the reality of the lives of the people of color and Jews that are under attack in race riots. What are their lives like in the early part of the twenty-first century?
I know I have been talking about the need to listen to the other side. We have to understand Uncle FOX News’s point of view and flip the conversation. Sometimes, we need just to stand up and say what is true. We need to ask the tough questions. We need to attribute the violence to the proper source. For example, protests in Berkeley lately have often led to violent encounters. The violence is often unattributed. What goes unsaid in the mainstream media, is that while liberal groups organize the events, left leaning groups, uniformed, conservative, white supremacist groups disrupt the event, often with violence.
I understand that there are violent liberal actors. I have not been to any events or seen reported where the participants have arrived in riot gear and carrying guns. Of course, I live in California. We have pretty strict open carry gun laws. I have always felt safe attending various marches and protests. I will continue to attend marches and protests. I will be attending the Interfaith Peace Vigil-Standing with Charlottesville, VA in Walnut Creek, CA this evening, hosted by Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County. To find events near you to stand in solidarity with Charlottesville go to the website below, go to the bottom of the page, enter your zip code and search. The site will give you the events near you occurring in the next couple of weeks. If you don't see anything, plan something.
I am hoping for a more hopeful week next week. Again: this is a marathon, not a sprint.
To read Zenobia Jeffries article:
Leave a comment if you have a thought. Share, like. I will be posting my review of An Inconvenient Sequel in a couple of days. I had to post this first.
As we left off last in discussing framing, we were asking our FOX news loving uncle about a time in his life when he helped someone else with no expectation of getting anything in return. The exercise gives him a chance to see himself as someone who cares about other people. When he tells us about doing something for others, we can see him as someone who cares about other people. It moves Uncle FOX News to a more compassionate place. It also helps us to see him as a more compassionate person. When my Congressman, Mark Desaulniers, was my state Senator, I was lobbying at his office on behalf of my Union; I noticed a sculpture of an ear in his office. He told us a friend gave it to him to remind him to listen. He felt that he tended to talk too much and needed to listen more. As discussed in last week’s post, we need to come out of our mental frame to understand what others are saying to us. I want to talk about two techniques mental health professionals use accurate empathy and reframing.
Accurate empathy is the ability to identify the feeling that someone is expressing in a way that allows them to feel heard. For example, if someone says to you, “Things are changing. I used to know all my neighbors. I don’t have anything in common with my new neighbors. My kids can’t afford to buy a house in this area. I don’t know what they’re going to do.” They're sharing with you what sociologist Arbie Russell Hochschild calls their “deep story.” What you may hear is code for racism. You may be right, but that is only part of the story. If you stop listening at this point, you miss the opportunity to make a deeper connection. That connection is going to allow you to change or flip the discussion. So it is important to get it right. I like you to take a minute here and think about the deeper emotion this person is telling you about. If you’re willing to, write in the comments below.
This is what I hear: “I feel out of place. I used to think I belonged here. Now I just feel unwanted and alone. I’m afraid of losing everything I’ve worked for. I’m afraid my children won’t have the opportunities they were told they would have if they worked hard, were honest, take care of their families. They should be safe. Their future should be secure.”
They have come to believe that they are on the Titanic, and the ship is sinking. There are not enough lifeboats. If others get on the boat, they will miss out. The truth is that things are mostly fine. The ship is not sinking, yet. We have plenty for everyone. We also have real problems. We just need to work together to solve them. We can’t do that in a state of panic. But first, we must recognize the panic state that Uncle FOX News and his friends are in. He is identifying some real issues. Where he (or she) is off, is in identifying the source of these problems as immigrants, or minority groups, or some other group that Uncle FOX sees as THE PROBLEM. The problem is the financial inequity that we face. Financial inequity is a problem for all of us, no matter where you fall on the scale. Uncle FOX is not ready to hear that. Uncle FOX needs to get out from under his misconceptions. Before we can flip this discussion, Uncle FOX needs to feel heard and understood.
I know this, but the power of the reality is still difficult for me to trust. I talked earlier this week about talking to my sister about the health care issue. It was not easy for me to do. I spent time talking to her a week before and told her I was going to the March in South Gate. I did not ask what she thought. She called me again the next week. I had determined that I was going to ask her about her opinion. She had a good response. She thought Kaiser Permanente should provide service because she has had Kaiser health care for many years. She has seen an improvement in the last 20 years and felt it would be a good system for many people. She was not sure about funding. She does not think we should pay more taxes. I can understand that, but I don’t see how it can be done without taxes. She is not the only one looking to Kaiser as a model for health care services for all Americans. Her view comes out of her concern that all people get good quality medical care. It is certainly a start. I look forward to having more opportunities to discuss her opinions with her.
Listening is not something I struggle with professionally. If I am being paid to listen to someone's concerns, I have no trouble with accurate empathy. In fact, I’m good at it. Even with people I don’t know as well. I have more difficulty with family members with whom I disagree. I do know that it is difficult to engage in the conversation. If we start with listening, we will earn the right to talk. We earn the right to have our opinion heard.
That brings us to the second task, reframing. I will never forget the first time I did this. I was in my first class on how-to counseling 101 in my Master's program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA. We were taking turns bringing a problem to class and practicing as the “counselor.” When it was my turn to perform the counselor function, my colleague and friend talked about her mother and a particular holiday. She was complaining about how she felt about the holiday and what her mother wanted. I reframed the issue to one of “what you want to do versus what you should do.” Well, let me tell you, I have not said anything that brilliant before or since. It flipped the way my colleague thought about the relationship with her mother at that moment. To examine how this is going to work in future endeavors, stay tuned. We will be discussing this in a future post.
For now, the challenge is to listen. If you have a chance to flip the conversation, go for it, but make sure that you have earned the right to be heard. Make sure that your family, friend, or other is ready to hear you. Calling colleagues, friends, and family members racists, chauvinists, or stupid is not going to help. I know that we do a lot of venting on social media, but it is important to remain loving. Please remember that others can read what we write.
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