In the immediate wake of the 2016 US presidential election, a friend of mine reached out to me. She said, “I’m a straight, white, cis woman who owns a minivan,” and that if we needed it, anytime in the next four years, she could get me and my family across the Canadian border.
Never before has an American election prompted someone to tell me that they will be an Underground Railroad for my family.
This situation, in our country — this is different.
I’m a woman, and trans, and a lesbian. I’m also white, and for a lot of my life I passed as a cis man, but now that I’ve transitioned and been written up in the local paper, pretty much everyone knows that I’m a woman, and trans, and a lesbian. The second two make me a target of opportunity for social conservatives, and the first of course means that I’m at risk should I ever find myself within reach of Donald Trump. Or, you know, existing during a Trump administration.
As a police officer, I was accustomed to being the one protecting my community. Now, a good friend was pointing out that in the coming years, there were crosshairs on me and mine. And she was doing it in the most concrete way possible: by telling me what she could do for us, if we needed it.
It was sobering. It was also inspiring. That’s concrete action.
In the days which followed, I also reached out to friends and family. I started with LGBT people. A lot of them were in shock that such a person as Trump could possibly have been elected. But as we recovered from the shock, we all started asking, “What next? What can I do?” One friend (a different straight, white, cis woman) wanted to know how to take effective steps, and wanted advice on how. I struggled to give her advice. She is comparatively wealthy, and so I suggested that she donate to the Transgender Legal Defense Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and/or GLAAD.
But she wanted more, and I didn’t blame her. I also wanted more, and I also didn’t know how. I had just retired from a 21-year career as a police officer, a career when I seldom expressed a political opinion while in uniform. People under investigation and people in custody are often terribly vulnerable to abuse, and in my opinion a good officer makes it clear that she operates in accordance with the law and a high standard of personal behavior, which includes demonstrating that your political opinions will not interfere with the correct performance of your duties. Other officers can and do disagree, but that’s how I did my duty.
Law enforcement is a peculiar career. Officers occupy a unique niche in our society, being the only people empowered to arrest other people. People often guard their behavior around officers, in a way somewhat similar to how they guard their behavior around clergy. Like clergy, an officer in her community is never really completely off-duty. She always represents her department, her profession, and the might and power of the State which has empowered her. So even off-duty, I forbore to express my political opinions publicly.
I certainly had political opinions, and I certainly voted in every election. I just tended to discuss them only sometimes, and mainly with friends. I did not, for instance, write letters to the editor.
Also, as an officer, your work can follow you home, in the form of homicidal people you have arrested. So officers generally have unlisted phone numbers, and are often publicly cagey about family details like where they live, or what invisible minority groups they belong to.
So I don’t have much practice being an activist for the policies I believe in. Neither do many of my friends.
Well, we just got creamed at the polls, and we better get our act together before we try to limit the damage at the polls in 2018 and change course completely in 2020.
There’s also work to be done day-to-day, on the ground. Leaving aside whom we just elected, and whom he is appointing to his cabinet posts, his behavior has emboldened people to do things like this. When I told the story about my minivan-owning friend to another friend, who is Jewish, she shook her head in disbelief. Well, that’s a car with “Tranny die”, “Trump” and a swastika spray-painted on it.
White supremacists are speaking up. People who align themselves with the Alt Right are unironically adopting language used historically by actual Nazis, like “Lügenpresse”. People meeting in our nation’s Capitol are shouting “Hail Victory!” while giving a Nazi salute, which they would prefer that we all think of as a “Roman” salute.
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.
–Pastor Martin Niemöller
It’s a powerful poem, so widely-known as to be a cliché. Seth Chalmer’s father put it more directly, and I named this blog in an homage to a lesson he taught to his son:
I came home from middle school and mentioned that one of the few black kids on the playground got picked on that day. I’d even heard the N-word for the first time. Dad asked if I told a teacher, and I said no, I was just glad they weren’t picking on me. “No,” he said. And his voice was soft; this was different. … [He said,] “Whenever you hear ‘nigger,’ hear ‘dirty Jew.’ Whenever you hear ‘spic,’ or ‘fag,’ or ‘dyke,’ hear ‘dirty Jew.’ And take it personally.”
One of my favorite memes, since the election, is this one: “First they came for the Muslims, and we said, ‘Not this time, motherfucker.’”
We better learn to be activists. If we fail to do so, there is a real risk that we will see, within our country, for the first time, actual fascism, actual oligarchy, actual totalitarian rule.
If you think that’s hyperbole, don’t believe me. I’m no historian, and I’ve never lived in a totalitarian state. Believe someone who has lived under totalitarian rule. Believe a professor whose specialty is Eastern Europe, whose article on the topic ran in the Dallas Morning News, of all places. (When was the last time you saw such a piece in a mainstream newspaper, let alone in a mainstream paper in Texas?!)
It really limits your actions when you have to be cagey about your home address, or your beliefs. Now that I’m no longer serving my community as an officer, I can serve as an activist. I’m not going to be cagey about who I am, or what my opinions are, or what invisible minority groups I belong to. People who have studied fascist states far more than I have tell me that self-censorship in the face of intimidation is key, for the fascists. Once that becomes widespread, the war is effectively lost.
So, everyone, if you haven’t already, speak and act as publicly as possible, where and when you are able. When necessary, get in people’s faces. Do it safely when possible, but don’t trade short-term safety for long-term ruin.
This is my real name. These are my opinions. This blog is going to be two things: an accounting of what I have done, personally, to help my country be a progressive, pluralistic society where everyone’s rights are respected, and a resource for people who are looking for things they can do, and ways to see our way more clearly.
This will not clog your Inbox; I will post no more than once a day, and no less than once a week.
We will start with comments, and we’ll see how those go. A moderation policy will follow in a bit.
I hope this helps.