Long ago I decided to openly share my political leanings on my blog and business website.

Mainly because folks who disagree with the work I do are going to assume I’m a bleeding heart liberal  (do people still say that?), or an “elitist”, or a Commie, or a Socialist, or whatever pejorative is au Courant. It’s simpler to be clear.

If you’ve worked with me as a coach, or participated in one of my workshops, you’ve heard some version of my core beliefs:

  • We are all good people doing the best we can – and we can do better.
  • Assume ignorance before malice.
  • To know the good is to do the good.
  • The common good is worth individual commitment.

These are beliefs that inform my thinking and my actions. The language may change depending on the audience, but the guiding principle is static.

Maybe its 6 weeks of isolation, or maybe its my over-dosing on the news, but I am struggling damn hard today to live my values.

The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified behaviors that once upon a time in our society would have been unthinkable. The one that’s getting to me today is the appropriation of the language of civil rights struggles to promote a fringe, anti-quarantine agenda.

It is twisted and cruel.

Some may call it framing or spin, but I fully believe “words create worlds” to paraphrase David Cooperider.  So calling “Stay-at-home rules” a “Lockdown Order” makes space for all kinds of outrage and false equivalence.

Citizens unhappy about actions meant to protect the majority – to which they belong – are posturing as if their civil rights are being trampled. I want to know:

  • Who is marginalized?
  • Who is disenfranchised?
  • Who is being sacrificed because “we” are more important than “them”?

There’s a big difference between believing you are marginalized or disenfranchised, and demonstrated evidence that you, in fact, historically and currently, have fewer rights and less power.

Anti-quarantine rallies have appropriated phrases like “My body, my choice” to support not wearing a mask. The same “choice” that they would withhold for a women’s personal reproduction decisions.

When I say “My body, my choice” I mean I will fight for everyone’s right to make their own reproductive decisions and I won’t interfere with your choice.  Appropriated that phrase means “My choice will be your choice too.”

Anti-quarantine folks equate their “struggle against injustice” and loss of their liberty to shop, dine out, and watch sports, to Rosa Parks’ fight for integration and civil rights after slavery and Jim Crow.

Even though public safety is a common good, not evidence of oppression, anti-quarantine folks are falsely equating pandemic safety measures to actual genocide – to Hitler putting “Jews on trains”.

I support Free Speech because I value my rights enough to fight for your right to express your views even when I find them morally reprehensible. Like the statement about Hitler.

Today I can feel myself struggling to find my balance and grace in the face of the appropriated language and the many inflammatory, falsely equivalent headlines.

So I am reminding myself right now, out loud and in front of you,  “I am a good person doing the best I can, and I know I can do better.”

I know we can all do better.

FDR Memorial, Washington DC

It seems like every day now we see another example of people protesting and shutting down speakers when they don’t agree with their message. On campuses and other public venues, and now the controversy at the City Club.

Free speech, in my humble opinion, is the foundation of our civil liberties and its protection takes constant vigilance and tremendous fortitude. I write about it frequently. There is nothing anyone can say that will shake my conviction on that point. When we attempt to prohibit or block public hate speech we are throwing oil on a slippery slope to restricted civil liberties.

However. Private institutions like the City Club (and citizens) can choose who they *invite* to speak.

I would stand next to someone like Corey Lewandowski to protect his right to express his opinions in public – none of which I agreee with – but I would never invite him into my house. I disagree with the decision of the City Club to invite Lewandowski to speak because they are not required to provide a forum for his speech. The controversy itself only serves to amplify and legitmitize his message.

The problem I see is that conservative groups don’t seem to have the same desire to be exposed to contrary opinions. There are no headlines about liberals invited to conservative campuses or events to stimulate conversation only to be shut down by protests.

And that’s the real shame.

To be crystal clear so that my opinion is not misconstrued. I do not condone hate speech I support protecting free speech.

It’s complicated.

It’s messy.

And it’s American.

I often write about free speech on this blog. It is one of my core values and its a gut-check reminder that civil liberties only work if they are guaranteed for all citizens. Once again a smart, thoughtful friend of mine has written something that I think it’s important to share.

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by Jason Jaffery

There is a pivotal moment in the Warren Beatty film “Bulworth” when the homeless man played by Amiri Baraka shouts at Beatty’s politician character, Sen. Jay Bulworth – “Bulworth! You got to be a spirit! You can’t be no ghost.”

Invariably when I find myself involved with a question where someone’s rights are being denied this quote pops into my head. This year, during this presidential election, more than any other time during my nearly 25-year career as a civil libertarian, an activist and a non-profit leader, this quote has become a guiding principle.

Much ink has been spilled on why this presidential election matters so distinctly. I agree with all the reasons articulated for why Donald Trump is so monumentally unfit for the presidency.  But I’ll add an additional reason why I believe Trump is a danger.

Trump either doesn’t understand the U.S Constitution, or doesn’t care about its meaning. Most likely both.

As we consider the ongoing experiment of participatory democracy, the success of that experiment is predicated on our civil society adhering to an articulated set of shared norms and values.

This means that, however much we might disagree on issues like abortion, LGBT rights, free speech or racial justice, we can at least agree that there is a process for deciding what laws apply, and a higher wisdom that we can refer to when the path towards those decisions gets muddled.

The Constitution is that guide, and for whatever murk might exist in its words that require interpretation by the judiciary, it is the glue that holds our democracy together.

Donald Trump has weakened that glue.

Trump’s casual disregard for the principles inherent in the Constitution strikes a deep chill in me.

His disregard for constitutional principles – that a free press should be protected from punishment and retribution; that a woman making reproductive health choices should be free from punishment and retribution; that free and fair elections are possible and should not be subject to manipulation – has and will continue to have far reaching consequences.

Trump’s disregard has caused tremendous damage to the country, and our collective confidence in the protections afforded by the Constitution. No matter the outcome of next week’s election, hard work and allegiance to core American values are what will help us survive as a republic.

Which leads me back to the quote with which I began.

In the face of a crisis like Trump, and the overwhelming shift that is occurring in our society, it is understandable to freeze. The level of stress induced by Trump’s behavior, and the behavior he has inspired in his countless supporters, is truly overwhelming. Many friends and associates have expressed a feeling of helplessness and despair.

But we are not helpless. We can act. In fact, we must. Because to act is to be a spirit, not a ghost.

This election and what it has wrought should be a national call to service. Each of us can and should be a spirit. Participate – be present, be visible.

Whatever action we take—calling on friends and family to make sure they have a plan to vote; knocking on a stranger’s door to provide early voting times and locations; serving as a legal, trained poll observer to ensure everyone’s voting rights are protected – is a spirited act.

As is making a contribution to the candidate who is committed to protecting to Constitution, and whom we can hold accountable if and when her administration makes choices with which we disagree.

I have done all of the above and hope you will too. It is our right, and our duty as Americans, to be a spirit not a ghost, at every opportunity—from this moment until the election, and every day afterwards.

Be a spirit, not a ghost.

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The other day I attended a lecture hosted by the ACLU where Connie Schultz and her husband Senator Sherrod Brown were the speakers. Many interesting things were said about government, civil liberties and their life shared in the public eye. The most interesting comment to me by far was when the Senator answered a question about why the GOP hate people so much. I am paraphrasing as I don’t remember the actual question, but it was fairly mildly stated, even if it was provocative for a politician to answer.

What was interesting was that his response could have been self-aggrandizing or pointed up the differences between the party platforms, but instead he stated the ways that his GOP colleagues believe they are doing the right thing, even while we think they are wrong. And then he explained how he can get up and face it every day – he thinks about who he is working for and what he is working against.

An elegant reminder to keep your priorities straight.

Language is important to me. What we say and think we become. Being for something is infinitely more satisfying to me than being against. But its easy to forget, to get twisted.

My politics are pretty clear and consistent. I fall heavily to the left of center making me either a social progressive, liberal democrat, pinko commie, or socialist agitator depending where one stands on the political spectrum.  For instance, I am for women’s rights and reproductive choice, which might make me “against” a whole host of ideas, initiatives and traditions to some people. But there is a very important distinction in my mind. From my perspective the world I want to live in, the things I am working for, doesn’t exclude or obliterate the opposition. In my mind its not progress to restrict or limit others rights in order to assert your own. So as awful and abusive as protestors outside abortion clinics are, I support their right to be there exercising their free speech, as long as they don’t stop anyone from getting access to an abortion.

Its hard to not be resentful knowing that while I will defend and protect the protesters rights, they would likely strip me of me of the same rights if they had the chance. That’s when its useful to remember what you are for rather than what you are against.

I learned one other very useful thing at this lecture. I had stopped reading Connie Shultz a while ago even though I had admired and followed her for years in the local paper. Her columns became all about human interest stuff – her kids, her dog, her life being “The Senator’s lovely wife” – and I wasn’t much interested. Turns out she has been writing the same political, liberal, timely columns but they were syndicated and not being carried locally. Shame on me for not finding out sooner.

A plug for her book to atone. lovely_wife_200-s6-c30

The news from Syria is hard to follow. Not that its difficult to track what is going on, who the players are or the international stakeholders, but the very real, very specific civilian death, injury and destruction. I know some people in our local Syrian community and it’s very hard not to see their faces in the images on Al Jazeera English.

I am starting think that Syria may help decide the fundamental direction of our global society for the next thirty years. Here’s why.

The Arab Spring was possible in part because of the information stream going in and out freed people of their isolation. The world was watching. So even if the government shot them down in the street someone would find out about it, someone would be accountable. Cold comfort if you are the one dead in the street, but if what you are fighting for is worth dying, for at least you will not be invisible.

Now the Chinese are using weibo to protest. And getting away with it if they are taking on the provincial or municipal government. Not quite Twitter, the Chinese micro-blogging has more than 300 million users. That’s a lot of messages to filter for “human rights”, “democracy” and “Tienanmen”. I was reminded how many layers there can be in Chinese communication when I heard last month that the Chinese government blocked Ai Weiwei’s “Gangnam Style” video because the homophones he uses in the parody are roughly “F**k your Mother” (the Communist Govt). And its got a good beat.

So what does this have to do with Syria? In the midst of the Internet and cell phone black out the Syrian government has imposed across the country, the UN is working on an International Internet Treaty. Who owns the Internet. The answer to this question will be our future.

Formerly the Age of Information, in the new Age of Participation when we are all citizen journalists and a Twitter alert can cause a riot, who controls the flow of information controls the world. If the UN decides that each Government has to have the right to shut down Internet and cell phone usage (like Syria is doing) at their discretion, then we are headed for a Sci-Fi future that is anyone guess. The pressure is coming from (surprise) China, Russia, Iran and other Arab countries.

The UN should focus on creating some treaty that calls for checks and balances in times of turmoil (like Google & Twitter providing dial-up numbers to Syrian activists) so every member nation has to adhere to information protocols like the Geneva Conventions. Hell lets just add it to the Geneva Conventions since these situations will always come up in times of war/coup.

This is really the final frontier for free speech. If we do not make a global commitment to ensure globally diversified Internet access we have chosen our future. The fewer telecommunications providers the easier it is to flip a switch.

Decisions are being made. Attention must be paid.

I was going to call this post “My Republican Neighbors” but it is really about more than them.

During the election, and the rest of the time, I work very diligently to keep a hard line attitude about free speech. It only works if everyone has it so I support and protect your right to spew whatever illogical nonsense tickles your fancy. Few republicans, or tea party patriots, seem to appreciate what a tough stance this is.

In order to live by my values I have to make sure that Republicans/religious right/tea party yahoos, are able to work within the societal and political systems to undermine my civil rights.

For 72 hours this month I lost my ability and desire to do that.

I worked all day Sunday the 4th so I didn’t get back until after dark. The next morning I saw that my republican neighbors, courtesy of the Catholic diocese, had put another sign next to their Romney sign – “Protect Religious Freedom”. That felt like the final straw, the last insult, the point of no return. I lost my mind and descended into 72 hours of venom laced swearing and vitriol.

The idea that republican catholic religious freedom was somehow in jeopardy when in reality their version of religious freedom means imposing their religious views on me – well lets just say that frosted my cake.

I know it’ss business as usual to accuse the other guy of what you’re guilty of, but this seemed especially egregious. I have a personal dislike for the Mother Church with its special political status, unlimited funds and hypocritical, damaging policies crafted by men, in the name of God.  So to have the catholic contingent act as if the democrats would limit their rights (the flat out lies about the ACA contraception rules) made me lose all patience.

I remember saying to my husband. “I can’t talk to them ever again, they have crossed a line.” All I could focus on was the fact that my political views and values do not force anyone to do anything, but support every ones right to make their own choices.

Have an abortion or don’t! Use contraception or don’t – hope you can afford all those “rhythm method babies” without government assistance. Marry who you want – or don’t! Ain’t none of my business!

My neighbors values however want to impose on, limit, or remove my rights.

  • Their religion does not believe in abortion, therefore no one should be allowed to have access to an abortion.
  • Their religion does not believe in gay marriage, therefore no one should be allowed to have gay marriage.
  • Their religion does not believe in separation of church and state, therefore everyone should have to pray and acknowledge God.
  • Their God of course.

Thankfully Obama won the election and the neighbors took down their offensive signs the next day. I calmed down a bit and by the following weekend I made a point of making neighborly chit chat with them.

I helped the man carry his wood rack to the porch and inquired after the health of the wife. We made nice for a bit and went back to our yard work when the husband came out and asked if we wanted any fresh herbs from their garden. I thanked him and said we would use some parsley which he picked and left in a bag on our front swing. It felt very much like  a peace offering and I am back to my high road tolerance of their opinions.

Unfortunately, other people in the neighborhood have left their religious freedom signs in their yards so I still have to look at them. They are allowed. Because my side won.

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Since I only have a few minutes, I am only going to focus on a few minutes out of the Vice Presidential debate last night.

If you put aside all the “malarkey”, distortions and ideological nuances, what the debate last night gave us was a very clear picture of two forms of government. Answering the question asked by Raddatz, “What role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion”, the candidates gave voters a fundamental choice between systems of government. Continue reading

In following all of the upheaval in the Middle East, starting with the needless death of Ambassador Stevens and three others in Libya, violent protests Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen and ongoing protests in front of multiple embassies, I noticed a phrase being used that I found particularly disturbing.

In reporting on the video that is fueling the ongoing violence, some journalists used the phrase “anti-Islamic activists” and included Terry Jones, the nut burger pastor from Florida, as part of this group. I started to wonder, has 9/11 been subtly framing the reporting on this incident, or have we as a society forgotten what the word activist means?

Pro, Anti, and Activist can be tacked onto just about anything, but that doesn’t mean it belongs there. Activism, the way I understand it, means doing something (protesting, boycotting, campaigning) to change something (social, economic or political) to something different (better). For example, a person who is anti-abortion can protest outside a clinic to change minds (social) or write their legislature to change laws (political) and this makes them an activist. Misguided in my opinion, but an activist nonetheless. If you want a refresher, this website has some interesting links and background history on activism.

So what is a person making a movie trailer about a Islam, ridiculing its major religious figure, trying to change? It’s a far stretch to say this is political activism, but lets stretch for a minute:

If you are a political activist/social critic trying to rally supporters by exposing damning information that is withheld, obfuscated or overlooked by mainstream media, you would still have to have a desired outcome for other activists to take action on. Otherwise it is exposing information for titillation sake, which makes it tabloid news not activism.

The trailer-maker – I think we really should stop insulting filmmakers by referring to him that way – stated his goal as exposing the hypocrisy of Islam because “it is a cancer.” By any stretch of the imagination I still can’t consider him an activist.

The purpose of his trailer (which its reported that almost none of the protesting Muslims have seen) appears to be to portray Muslims as violent and insult their Prophet so as to provoke protests and violence. Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood use all opportunities to promote unrest, so now Muslim protesters are chanting “Death to America, Death to Israel” across six countries. The snake eats its tail and the trailer-maker can now say “See, I told you they were violent and want to destroy America.”

Now what.

There are all sorts of free speech & hate speech nuances with this incident, not to mention the way it is playing out with Romney’s statements, and the GOP are circling the wagons, I suspect I will revisit this topic again.

Here’s hoping I will be using the past tense for all further discussion.