What Do We Do Now? – A Brief History Lesson, and a Plea for the Future

As we watch Trump fill his cabinet with people who are literally the antithesis of each of the agencies they will govern, the only thing we can do is try to power through the holidays for our families, while our heads quietly explode every evening. We’re trying to go about our daily business, knowing the powers that be are gathering the Legion of Doom at Trump Tower. Many of us are anxious for January 20th, because regardless of how our current President-elect’s child rape trial goes this month (beginning December 16th), we will have a new President in the New Year. Barack sadly doesn’t get another term, so now we’re thrown into the unknown, and the knowledge that’s coming in is making everyone, Trump supporters included, very nervous.

There has been an astounding outpouring of love and acceptance since the election, largely in response to an increasing number of vicious hate crimes. Many people are trying to show their friends and neighbours that they truly do care about their lives and well-being, and trying to drown out the voices of the hateful and harmful, but the fear is that at some point, that won’t be enough. Yes, they’re getting national attention, but that attention gets spun any way it needs to, and doesn’t necessarily gain sympathizers. Regardless of how much we march and protest, watching Trump gather his cronies in an attempt to follow through with his outrageous campaign promises is like watching a bunch of unqualified, belligerent, racist puppets try to take over the governm… Ooooer…

When the country got a peek at Kris Kobach’s Homeland Security plan, we got further proof that Trump was planning to go ahead with his wall-building and Muslim registry. I’ve been digging through history, trying to find out how some of the worst government-sanctioned human rights violations occurred, thinking that might help me wrap my head around what could come out of this. Yes, there was a registry for 3 [correction, 9] years under Bush, which targeted citizens of 25 countries. It was ineffective, costly, and traumatizing. Trump and Kobach are planning to revive it and put it on steroids, so it’s time to pick up a history book or two. 

Hitler’s appeal to the everyman and his use of the census to eventually round up non-Aryan people and commit genocide; FDR’s use of Presidential Proclamations and Acts to intern American citizens considered “Aliens of Enemy Nationality”;  Phillipine President Duterte’s  current use of police, and encouragement of armed civilian militias, to murder suspected drug dealers and addicts in the streets en masse. These have all been completely “legal” in their own countries, even if they were frowned upon by the UN. What allowed them to occur and continue was that enough citizens were extremely discontent with the government’s handling of some situations, making them fearful of other citizens, and an opportunistic con man came in to promise their worries away. This isn’t the way we should elect leaders, and when it is, bad things happen. 
How bad could it get, realistically though? How long could any given administration ride the fear wave, and how far could it really take them? When you put all of our President-elect’s actual words, along with those of his unwavering supporters, and those being charged to lead the country, an ominous picture arises. It will lead you to the 8 Stages of Genocide, a briefing written by the President of Genocide Watch, and presented to the United States Department of State in 1996. It was written to help the U.S. government understand how and why the Rwandan genocide took place, and steps to prevent another one. They look something like this: 

1. Classification (us and them)

2. Symbolization (#AllLivesMatter”Alt-right”, Make America Great Again, swatikas, heil Hitler salute, etc), 

3. Dehumanization (comparisons to animals, trash, disease, target practice, aliens, demons, etc) 

4. Organization (Trump’s plan for a Deportation Task Force, or the current 55,000 armed, unchecked DHS officers)

5. Polarization (hate groups spreading hateful propaganda, extremists vilifying moderates)

6. Preparation (implementing the list)

7. Extermination (speaks for itself)

8. Denial (nothing to see here, we’ve done nothing wrong… in fact, you don’t even know what you’re talking about).

Once you read through them, it’s clear to see America is already at Step 5. This should be alarming. Really, really alarming.

On the flip side, I’ve been trying to investigate how famous activists and revolutionaries have made their marks. Ernesto “Che” Guevara began as a young, middle-class, leftist student, famously riding his motorcycle throughout the majority of South America in order to gain the perspective and sympathy for the oppressed and neglected. His altruism pushed him to become a doctor. Witnessing the government atrocities against the people pushed him to become an expert in guerrilla warfare, and a key player in Castro’s overthrow of the imperialistic Batista. During his time as a military leader, Che committed ruthless acts of extrajudicial killings, and when he eventually left the regime to try to bring more socialist revolution elsewhere, he was assassinated, and Castro was left to rule Cuba into its current communist state.

Nelson Mandela, who began his anti-apartheid revolution as a peaceful activist, became a lawyer and opened up the first black law firm in South Africa. After being targeted by the government, harassed, repeatedly arrested and jailed for his resistance, he eventually gave up the idea that change could be made in a non-violent way, so he advocated for and got training in guerrilla warfare. Then, as we all know, he spent 27 years in prison for treason.

From 1985 to 1989, thousands of students gathered repeatedly in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest the communist regime and demand democracy. The demonstrations were always quickly squashed by the Chinese government until, in May of 1989, the government imposed martial law. Then came the tear gas, 10,000-15,000 armed troops, armored vehicles, and the first civilian casualties. Two weeks after martial law was declared, on the bloody morning of June 4th, the troops opened fire and slaughtered anywhere from 500-2,200 civilians in that very square. They fought hard, for days, to keep the troops out of the square but, as they say, resistance was futile.

It seems as though directly opposing the establishment generally leads to a violent clash, and far too many casualties, all with varying degrees of success. We’re worried that the government isn’t going to take our best interests into consideration. When we call the offices, we get ignored, yet they tweet (all of them) like they have nothing better to do with their time. If they aren’t working for us, we should work for ourselves. We pay our taxes, yet our teachers aren’t paid enough, water isn’t free anymore, and the police are inadequately trained (to say the least). Why not start social, educational, and medical programs? Housing, free clinics, food programs, community-run schools, daycare programs… just like the Black Panthers did. From 1966-1982, the Black Panther Party implemented and ran 65 community survival programs to benefit the black community. They felt they had to treat and take care of their own, so they decided to do just that. J. Edgar Hoover didn’t like this, and actually sent the FBI to destroy these programs, such as the Free Breakfast for Children Program. That’s right, the government despised how self-sufficient the BPP were becoming, so they sabotaged and dismantled their successful social programs to make struggling African-Americans MORE reliant on the government. They took away their food, made them eat from the palm of their hands, said, “Watch it now, don’t bite the hand that feeds.” Then, they assisinated their leaders, and complained about having black people on welfare. 

So, what do we do with our new government? What can we do to keep our values, bridge the gaps, and not devolve into complete anarchy? Sadly, this isn’t a rhetorical question. Tell me! I saw Van Jones made a hashtag. #LoveArmy… “Sign the pledge.”

– Stand with the most vulnerable.

– Act out of love, not fear or hate.

– Listen with empathy and expect to learn

I just want to ask him… what do you think this pledge will accomplish? The people who are signing it are the people who already feel this way, and quantifying them isn’t going to make anyone feel better – we know Hillary won the popular vote, we have the numbers to show that the hateful and bigoted aren’t the majority. “The people who were tricked by Trump” aren’t really going to want to come forward and admit it. This is just a feel-good campaign. In his Facebook Live video (is he one of the many news outlets and celebrities getting paid to go live?) he actually sounded a bit like you-know-who. “We’re going to start doing teach-ins all across the country very soon,” he said vaguely. “You can go to the Dream Corps Facebook page and give us ideas there…” Sorry if that doesn’t give us much faith that you have… any ideas at all. “Orient on values first, orient on love first, orient on compassion first, and once we get going, we’re gonna start doing concerts everywhere, we’re gonna start doing revivals everywhere, we’re gonna start doing parties everywhere.” Great, more bread and circuses. You want to do something? Why don’t you run for public office, Van?

In fact, that’s the only idea I have. Run for office. City council. Municipal offices. State positions. Congress. Challenge the comfy un-opposed incumbents. Work as a team to unify the electorate. Be truthful to your constituents – ALL of them. Make small, attainable promises and follow-through. This political machine is big enough that it’s hard to go up against, but they can’t stop all the moving pieces at once, so it’s time to make ourselves the moving parts. Stop trying to fight the machine; become the machineNot me of course, because I’m not a citizen. It clearly doesn’t matter how qualified you are for the position (see cabinet appointments, linked again for your convenience). So do it. Run for office. In the meantime, read up on how to run for office in your town, city, county, state. Don’t worry about which party you’ll be a part of – there’s enough time for them both to fall apart before the midterms. Get to know the needs of your town, and then talk about how they can realistically be met. 

Go now, become the machine. That’s all I’ve got for now…

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The Time I Lost a Friend Over Standardized Testing

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As a kid, I hated testing. I didn’t test well, either because I got lazy and didn’t study, I knew the material and psyched myself out, or I mismanaged my time on the test and didn’t answer all the questions. Regardless of the reasons, tests stressed me out so badly that I’d get sick. My stomach would twist itself into knots, like it was trying to wring itself out, my heart would pound, and I would get terrible headaches. It made me sick, and though it was “all in my head”, it manifested real symptoms in my body. I never had panic attacks though, so my anxiety was mostly dismissed. But I fucking hated tests.

Before I tell my story, here’s a little detail. Starting in Grade 3 (8-years-old), Ontario public school students undergo provincial and national standardized testing. Most of these tests are provided by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), “an independent agency that creates and administers large-scale assessments to measure Ontario students’ achievement in reading, writing and math…” This is repeated for various subjects in grades 6, and 9 (plus the OSSLT the same year, and others). The EQAO tells parents, teachers, and students that the tests are for accountability on the school district’s part (which, in Ontario, is separated by county), as a feedback tool for the administration, and for national comparisons. The idea is that it’s supposed to be used to improve the teaching methods and district policies, without affecting the individual student. Students and parents are told that the test absolutely does not count towards the student’s grade, but that it can be used in conjunction with their report cards and other tests “to help evaluate student learning and determine what additional support may be needed”. Ok.

So, in Grade 3, I took the test. The weeks of prepping, the intensity of the teachers, and the long, boring, silent, stressful test was just too much for me. I vowed to never do it again. When Grade 6 rolled around, I panicked. I knew the drill, and I managed to work myself up at the first mention of EQAO testing. This wasn’t a test you could study for, they told us. This is a test of your current knowledge, they told us. Don’t make us look stupid, they told us. Ok.

The more we prepped, the more stressed I got. Do these sample tests, they told us. “Why? If you’re teaching us what we should know, why do we have to take practice tests?” To know the type of questions they’re going to ask, they told us. It was boring, monotonous, bizarrely abstract material that we really didn’t cover throughout the year, but boy did we cram during the months leading up to the test. Endless worksheets. Ok.

My stomach started its slow twist, and eventually, I was writhing in pain. By the time the test came, I was a mess. “I can’t go, I’m sick!” I said, as I laid in bed. I missed the testing days (yes, multiple), and thought I was in the clear. Sadly, I was mistaken.

“All Grade 3 [6, and 9] students who attend publicly funded schools and who follow The Ontario Curriculum are required by The Education Quality and Accountability Office Act to write the Grade 3 [6, and 9] assessment.”

Uh Oh.

“If your child is absent on the days the Grade 6 assessment is administered, the school can make arrangements to have your child write the assessment when he or she returns, but only within the designated two-week assessment period.”

Well, fuck me.

As soon as I got back to school, they told me I had to sit in a separate room, and do each part of the test. “But I’ll miss regular class work,” I argued. They didn’t care. I had to do the test. They sat me in a room by myself, with a teacher to proctor. “I’m just one kid, does it really matter?” Yes. Do the test. “Can I just be back in class with the rest of my friends?” No. Here’s a bottle of water. Do the test. So, I refused. That was the kind of kid I was. It seemed entirely unfair that I had to be separated from my peers and miss class work (that I didn’t get excused from, and I’d have to catch up on) to take this mandated test that didn’t count for anything. I was right pissed. In the end, I doodled on the test – even though I knew the answers – purely out of defiance. My 11-year-old self was done with the administrative bullshit, but noncompliance doesn’t go over so well for an 11-year-old.

3 days later, when I finally got to spend time with my friends again, something had changed. They wouldn’t talk to me. For days, I tried to figure out why. Finally, one rainy morning, as we huddled under a vestibule to stay out of the rain during recess, I asked them, “Did I do something? I know I was gone for a few days… what did I miss?” They mumbled for a bit, then my best friend turned to me and said, “You didn’t take the test.” What?

“No, I did,” I said.

“No,” she said, “You doodled.” My heart jumped into my throat. How did she even know that? These tests are supposed to be private. “My mom said that she talked to Mrs. F. Do you know that without your high score, our whole school is going to get a worse grade? Thanks a lot.” They all looked to her for a cue, then it was back to the silent treatment. My high score? How does anyone know my scores on my assignments except… the teacher? She did not like my refusal to participate, and apparently made it known to my friends’ parents. When? How? At the time, I never thought parents and teachers co-mingled, but I knew after that. Teachers are human, who interact in the human world, with other humans. Nuts, right? Parents are also humans who interact in the human world, and sometimes, they meet teachers and have human conversations. Sometimes, those conversations involve their children/students. At any given time, both parents and teachers can be assholes. Needless to say, the rest of the year was hell for me, and then I moved schools.

Yes, I did do the following years of standardized testing. Yes, I got sick every time. No, I was never allowed to skip another test. Yes, I permanently lost a friend over a government-mandated test that counted for nothing, and which did exactly zilch to improve anything anywhere. Yes,”teach to test” is still a huge issue in the education-sphere worldwide. No, my children will not endure standardized testing if they continue with the current methods. The end.

Privacy and Safety in North Carolina: The McCrory Definition

Why did he vehemently support a company that continually endangered his state? Perhaps it was loyalty. After all, McCrory was an employee of Duke Energy for 29 years.

Over the past few months, North Carolina has stood out in the political sideshow that is America, and has become a target of disappointment and disgust worldwide. I’ve been keeping up-to-date with HB2, the bill to suppress a progressive Charlotte city ordinance meant to help protect trans citizens and visitors. In a nutshell, it’s a mess. If you’d like to read more about it, here’s a link to the bill itself.

Continue reading “Privacy and Safety in North Carolina: The McCrory Definition”