Feminism has always been my 'ism'. It's the cause that has felt the closest to my skin. I grew up reading Little Women and Jane Eyre. Those books were written in another century but the feminist ideas in them are instantly recognizable and transmittable. The idea of women being equal and able to achieve anything, gives me courage. I got an engineering degree, I became a neighborhood activist, finally, I became a minister. Mostly feminism was my friend, a bright spot of ideas and pro-woman emotion that I could lean on for support.
The dark side of feminism is sexism. It's the pressure of the world saying you are not equal, you are less smart, your main value is in your attractiveness. Feminism wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for the world with its attitudes and laws that oppress women. It would be called peoplism! But, I don't often notice sexism. I just don't notice it. Is it shaping my life? Probably, but it isn't something I think about every day.
Not until lately.
Rarely but sometimes, I break out of my cheerful cocoon and suddenly I see sexism everywhere. It doesn't make life easier to live. It's similar to when someone close to you dies or you have a close call on the highway, and you feel that presence of death. You think, hey death, yeah I know about you, but I would prefer not to think about you all the time. Yet grief, fear, and anger roll through you and there is no stopping them. The veil has been pulled back and you see how close we are to oblivion.
The presidential campaign reminded me that sexism was alive and well on an almost daily basis. It wasn't over. It wasn't even over in my protected life, and with my positive attitudes. In fact, where was that positive attitude? I had lost it and needed a little help getting through my days.
It was then that I heard about the Women's march. It was happening the day after the inauguration! In Washington DC.
So I went. The Women's March was like medicine for me. I needed to have other women and feminist men surrounding me with their power. My feminist son came along with me looking fuzzy and groovy in his pink hat (see picture). The march was healing from start to finish, from the plane ride to DC (full of pink hats), to the funny, angry signs, the unselfconsciously pro-woman feeling, the huge number of women, and the love that flowed all day. The genius of the march was that it happened the DAY AFTER the inauguration. Instead of wallowing in a deepening distress, I got the instant high of being with others who felt the same way. Thank you march organizers, you saved me.
My attack of feminist awareness isn't over. I don't really want it to be. But the painful onset is gone -- now it is just a dull ache reminding me not to go to sleep again.
Senator Michael Dembrow is a favorite Oregon legislator of mine. Recently he welcomed thirty to forty Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon citizen lobbyists into his office space for a stand up meeting (we couldn't all fit in his office conference room). We made our pitch for the six issues we had come to Salem to lobby for: climate justice, gun violence prevention, health care, housing, hunger, and wage theft. We didn't all speak, but designated spokespeople plucked from the crowd gave our reasons for supporting each issue.
Then it was his turn. He flattered us a little before he really got started, "you are the biggest group ever to come all this way from my district." He is a warm guy with a teacherly manner. He was a community college teacher before he became a legislator. But after jollying us up, he got down to business and gave us some great advice. Apparently there is still a lot of teacher in Michael Dembrow.
And then our 15 minutes were up and he sent us on our way.
We put our faith in qualities that seem powerful. Qualities like truth, or innovation, or the power of money, or the power of competency and hard work. All that isn't unimportant. Yet, we rarely give enough credence to our human warmth and the stories and lessons of our lives. Frankly, when we were children we were authentic, friendly and full of stories. However, we learned early that wasn't enough -- we needed to do our homework and learn our times tables and pass a whole lot of tests. Forget about all that interpersonal stuff, we were told one way or another. And yet, power comes from all kinds of unlikely places and a huge source of power is interpersonal connection.
After I get over the shock of his words I get another feeling. It feels like a blast of freedom from an impossible standard. Suddenly I like knowing that I am best as an advocate, best as a citizen, when I am being most human.
How about you? How does it make you feel?
I am having trouble with a meditation. It goes, "Everything is absolutely ok right now. There is nothing I need to change in this moment. . . ." Truth to tell, I've always had a little trouble with this phrase. But the new reality of a scary new presidential administration with its chaotic orders has me talking back. "Everything is NOT ok right now. There are MANY things I need to change in this moment!"
It doesn't even help that the meditation absolutely works. When I do this mediation, my shoulders come down and find their natural resting place. Who even knew my shoulders spent so much time in the air? I certainly didn't.
I still do the mediation but the struggle continues. I've accepted the meditation in a pragmatic way. It works, so I do it. But I always have an initial reservation. I think of the world's suffering. If I have something large in my life, I think of my suffering. I honor the meditation though and release my thoughts and allow myself to accept it's words.
Are they true? They certainly aren't true in the Enlightenment sense of truth. It is very easy to find a counter example to the words. But they have a spiritual and psychological truth that I seek.
Spiritual Truth I probably can't do justice to the spiritual truth. This is a short form blog after all. But the spiritual truth comes right from our Universalist ancestors. Early Universalists were convinced that God is too good to condemn us to hell. Good is the Universe's underlying state and in the moment of the meditation we are aligning with that faith.
Psychological Truth If you think the world can be a better place you are in tension with the world. You are constantly pushing against reality. "This cannot be", you think, "It has to change." Every moment is a struggle against what is. Try and notice right now that feeling. It's there isn't it! But notice the precision of the words "everything is ok RIGHT NOW (emphasis mine). There needs to be time in every activist's life when they stop the struggle. This is a matter of long term health and resilience.
As you sit on your couch, the space around you is generally quiet. Everything IS ok for you 'right now'. Enjoy the peace, it won't last, but it is a truth that belongs to everyone.
Last summer I bought an electric bicycle. It was a purchase I thought about for a long time. Sometimes I make up my mind fast and other times it takes me forever. This decision was a slow one.
The reason I wanted the electric bike was because I wasn't riding my regular bicycle that much anymore. I believe in bicycles. They are better for your health and for everyone else's. I'm an idealist and I've ridden a bike all my life! However, I wasn't quite fit enough anymore, and the hill I needed to climb to get anywhere was too steep, too soon, and too scary.
Yes, too soon, the hill was too close to my door. My body was barely awake when I would have to climb it. Plus,five lanes of truck infested traffic going too fast up a hill was scary. Therefore, I was using my car often when a bicycle would have done just fine. Truth be told, I really wasn't a bicyclist anymore. But I wasn't willing to give up that image of myself. Wasn't using an electric bicycle, well, cheating?
Finally I went to a bike store and test rode a couple of electric bicycles. And that was it. I bought one. No more slow back and forth decision making. No more research, no more discussion. Because it was so much fun!
In all the articles I read about electric bicycles -- the authors often wrote about the good things - -their low carbon footprint, their speed, how you could wear regular clothes instead of spandex and, shamefully, how you didn't have to be that fit -- they never mentioned how much fun they were.
My electric bicycle is so exhilarating to ride! When I take it out, I always cruise down my street with a smile on my face. Sometimes, gentle readers, sometimes I sing. It really makes me happy and I use it all the time (not right now, 20 degree weather is a little too exhilarating). I just checked my odometer and I have 1,000 miles on it.
Those of us who work in social justice do it for a variety of reasons: Love, righteous anger, feeling the possibilities of the future, fear for our children, compassion for others, a desire for the beautiful and sometimes compulsive do-gooderism. Fill in your own reason here. There are a lot of reasons and they are lofty reasons usually. Like my reasons for wanting to keep bicycling.
Yet if we are regular people we can't always get ourselves to go up that dang hill because it's too steep, too soon and to scary. It helps if we actually get something out of it, if there is joy, fellowship, and feelings of spiritual connection to keep us going. That is what this blog will be about. Of course, there will be posts that just explain things, or persuade, or tell you about Oregon UU Voices for Justice. But I hope to write about you the activist and what you need to know to actually enjoy social justice actions.
Sometimes we get surprised by how good it can feel. Sometimes we get to sing.