Hillary’s Gratitude Runneth Over

At this time of year, I try to be more grateful, and have even considered starting a gratitude journal that I could do before bed after I have responded to the rest of my work emails, washed my face, brushed my teeth, put out my clothes for the next day, actually remembered to lock the front door—oh shit and put the rest of the dinner leftovers away and put my son’s hoodie in the dryer. Traditionally, I do none of these things and instead Nestea plunge into bed and pass out until one of my kids comes in to ask me something like, “Where do we keep the plunger?”

I ask, “Why are you still up? It is the middle of the night.” When it is actually 9:45 p.m.

I do believe that being grateful is valuable, and as Oprah says, if you concentrate on what you have, you will always end up having more. Maybe you just don’t remember all your shit! Every time Oprah takes inventory, I am sure she feels immense gratitude. For me it is the same. For example, I am grateful that we even have a plunger, and then I remember that I have two plungers, and then I remember that I also have a toilet snake that I purchased but did not actually know how to use, and then I remember that I was able to hire a plumber to come to my home. Then since I listen to way too many true crime podcasts, I am grateful that none of the people who have done work at my house have ever come back to murder me. Suddenly, I see how much more I have. It is like winning the fucking lottery!

Oprah also says that we can focus on being grateful for our breath because maybe that is all we have, which is depressing, but also important since so many Americans are denied basic healthcare and cannot afford to struggle to breathe. I just watched a video where Oprah said that we could even be grateful for having two hands and then told a story about a woman who had her hands amputated and how Oprah thinks of her every time she uses her two hands to count her stacks of money. I am grateful that I can use my two hands to clean my toilets myself. Then I remember I am grateful I have running water. Suddenly my bounty is overflowing all over the tile floor.

I was listening to Rob Lowe’s podcast when Oprah was his guest and these two celebrities bravely talked about the importance of gratitude. Lowe shared his newest life lesson that it is impossible to be in gratitude and resentment at the same time, and I was thinking, try me. As a kid, I had a friend over to my house and we were working on some experimental baking that I am sure turned out delicious. My friend said it was impossible to crack an egg on a plastic bowl. I said I could crack this egg on this plastic bowl. She said I could not. I smashed the egg into the bowl, it cracked and went all over the kitchen. We both looked at each other at the same time and said, “See?”

If Rob Lowe holds resentment in his heart, maybe he could take the podcast grind on the road to his favorite ski chateau and then look at himself in the mirror #gratitude. I often have resentment about teaching college students against their will and feel like my job is a joke because of my resentment against an entire system that undervalues education but then I remember how grateful I am that my job pays just enough to make me eligible for Obamacare, and it is like a gratitude golden shower. Oprah added in her conversation with Lowe that gratitude is her religion. She practices it every day. The first thing she says each day is “Thank you.” Then she makes her own ginger tea. The fact that she had to add “make my own” made me feel resentment.

I am probably not ever going to start a gratitude journal. I think it is too late for me to be one of those people who journals. I am way too fun at parties, and my bedtime routine involves having one more glass of wine and then deliberating if I should drunk text people from the couch or from the bed. If I have the energy to do anything productive at the end of the day, instead of writing down all that I am grateful for, like my breath and all my limbs, my two beautiful children, and that new everything bagel hummus I just bought, I would rather try to spend more time reading the stacks of books next to my bed or doing something even more stimulating, like watching porn.

My younger self is grateful that we can now afford sunglasses.

Drifting to Sleep to the Sound of Deadly Tornado

As a grown woman who prioritizes self-care, I fall asleep with my phone inches from my head playing a soundscape from a meditation app that I may or may not be paying for because I do not understand subscriptions. I am now addicted to the app and cannot fall asleep without the calming sounds of wind in the pines or the soothe of severe thunderstorm. The men I’ve slept with this last year also seem to be addicted to falling asleep to fake nature sounds. The most popular with divorced white men over forty is heavy rain, which I find unimaginative, sometimes noting it’s actually raining outside, and I could hear that if he didn’t snore so loud. 

The number of choices on my particular app has grown exponentially during the last year. When I first started using it, there were several varieties of rain and an equal number of ocean waves sounds—they can be crashing or calm, near or distant, you could fall asleep like you are actually drowning or as if you are in a bungalow over the ocean. Lots of choices for the wind. There was one with crickets. Maybe a purring cat, a washing machine, a train. All the sounds of nature.

Now there are dozens more choices that keep appearing as additional squares on my soundscape app probably because the algorithms are noting that none of us are actually sleeping, so they just keeping adding more choices, piling up in a Seussian frenzy. Still awake? Ok what about lightning in the distance over a canyon at dawn? How about child licking an ice cream cone?

There is a new soundscape called open plan office for people who miss falling asleep at their desks. I put it on today while working at home and there is considerable white noise, like if you work in an open office laundromat. It also includes the soothing sound of a woman talking loudly on the phone in the distance. There are also now the soundscapes city park and public museum for people who go to sleep in a comfortable, climate controlled bed but still want to connect with the experience of being homeless.

There is a lighthouse cottage that has a leaky roof, clearly just managed with a bucket on the floor and either a cat or an old man snoring. This choice was likely added because so many of the app users can only find real comfort by returning to the sound of being in a tower on a jagged ocean cliff bearing the responsibility of all the souls at sea on their hopefully still awake shoulders.

I generally stick with nature sounds, although I avoid any soundscapes that include the word “forest” because they almost always have chirping birds, which is the universal language for wake the fuck up. I like to think that using nature as a way to soothe myself to sleep is healthy and shows that I am outdoorsy, but more likely it is because there is not (yet) a soundscape that represents my comfort zones from childhood. I do not connect to the pacifying sound of city fountain.

I remember when I moved home, again, at age twenty-two and slept a hard nine hours a night, drifting into easy unconsciousness to the sound of my mom and stepdad watching whatever movie had the most gunshot sounds at a volume that would shake the kitchen cabinets. If the app adds a soundscape, aging parents in next room playing Full Metal Jacket in Dolby Surround, I could easily fall asleep wrapped in the comfort of knowing that I am an adult baby again.  

I also spent time when I was an actual child sleeping at my dad’s house in the summers when he worked the night shift, and I would lay in bed all night terrified someone was going to murder me—the soothing sounds of footsteps outside bedroom at midnight. Although, the sleep sound that reminds me most of the warmth and comfort of sleeping like a baby would be the sound of parents divorcing in the kitchen. zzzzzzzzzzz 

If we are going to keep adding sounds that actually exist as new methods of relaxation, we should think about what sounds make people the drowsiest, like my son explaining a video game, the sound of all the dances at the recital your kid is not in, a recording of a PTA meeting. Maybe the sound of shaking a bottle of Ambien.

Last night, I tried to fall asleep to living among trees but had to turn it off when tropical birds started calling to each other across invisible limbs. I switched to glacier snowfield, which sounds suspiciously just like wind in the pines. When I think of my most restful moments, like at six am, minutes before my alarm goes off, when all the noises have been assuaged, probably because my phone died, and I fall into a sleep so soothing that it’s almost ecstatic, I think, why can’t we create this ambience in an app? 

Hillary’s Narcissistic Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees and Falling

I spend time in the woods each day, wandering around with my dog looking at nature and, more importantly, hitting enough steps to feel like I have earned the right to eat food. I have been walking in these same woods for many years, but after the COVID lockdown in 2020, I started walking every day and logging more miles and even more bug bites that keep me awake at night itching and frantically applying hydrocortisone. People often warn me about walking in the woods alone—worried I could get abducted or eaten by an alligator—but instead the real danger is that I am slowly being eaten alive by bugs, and I am concerned there is a metamorphosis type scenario on my horizon, and then how will I ever find love?

When a friend recommended the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, I decided to read it because I am a nature girl and an intellectual who reads nonfiction for fun. I even thought about how it will be a great book to listen to at warp speed while peacefully looking up at the leaves rustling in the breeze and then tripping over an exposed root. This book is fascinating, and I have learned that trees have friends and even mate, which made me jealous, and that some trees, like beeches, do not reach sexual maturity until they are 80 to 150 years old, just like most billionaires.

The narrator reminds me of the announcer on a ride at Epcot—the place where drunk intellectuals go on rides, pretending to our children that a ride about agriculture is awesome, but also when we get off, next stop, Mexico! The book is a well written biology text, and what I have remembered is how much I hated biology, which is why I did not become a doctor or any other job that actually pays and also why I got divorced from my ex-husband, who is a biologist. It is the reason for our dissolution: it’s not you, it’s your field. I also remembered that maybe I am not an intellectual. I am smart and somewhat well read, but I would probably trade a reasonable number of IQ points for a vanity project, like being super skinny without having to worry about what I eat.

I often come across trees that have fallen in my path, and I am amazed at how expansive they are when felled to the earth. Sometimes I see the scars where the tree’s enormous weight has cut holes into the dirt on impact, and I am thankful that I have not—yet—been murdered by a friendly, sexual tree. Trees make my walks possible by providing shade even in the summer when there is the most possibility for attracting bugs, so when I go in public in a bathing suit people probably think I have the measles. Also, the trees provide places for spider webs to connect across the trails. I take down approximately 150 spider webs per day with my face in the summer. That is how I keep my hair so thick and luxurious—it is full of spiders weaving new hair.

Besides this book about trees, I am also currently reading Falling by new author T.J. Newman. This book takes place almost entirely on an airplane and was given to me by a friend in the same manner as when somebody smells something terrible and says, oh gross here smell this. According to the back cover, this book is “a bullet train of a thriller” and “heart STOPPING!” The premise of Falling—and this is not a spoiler because it is on the jacket—is that someone has kidnapped the family of the pilot, Bill, and has threatened to kill them unless Bill crashes the plane with 144 souls on board. The kidnapper is not from America originally, but you can guess the region he comes from—it rhymes with whittle yeast.

At first, I was skeptical about the book, partly because it got published and the author was promoting the book on the morning shows, which is the only reason I write because I hope to eventually be interviewed on television. I was also skeptical because early in the book it does seem like a flight attendant manifesto to inform the public that some heroes wear polyester. They are not there just to serve us food—as if we think that when airlines stopped serving food twenty years ago the higher ups just forgot to fix the glitch and the attendants just keep getting on board—the flight attendants are in charge of the safety of the cabin and everyone in it once that plane is in the air.

Even if some of us might prefer that perhaps, especially in a situation that presents itself like in Falling, flight attendants seek help from a superior on the ground or maybe even poll the passengers to see if there is anyone onboard who has more training to deal with trauma, like a psychiatrist or a hair dresser.

Also, reading this book one might get the mistaken idea that airline passengers are not tremendous assholes who would sacrifice anyone for their own safety. I feel confident that if a person is unwilling to wear a mask on an airplane, they are probably not going to be willing to trust a pilot with a family being held hostage. Fuck you, Bill! I just coughed on a baby, you think I give a shit about your precious family?

Despite all of this, I found Falling almost impossible to put down. I kept turning pages and that is the sign of an interesting read. Even though it should be me in that clear acrylic chair across from Jeff Glor, I still recommend this book. Reading Falling has played a role in my growth as a writer. Now I know what people want, and I am going to start writing thrillers. I don’t have all the details worked out, but I think my first one will be titled Crawling, and it will involve an imminent attack by chiggers.

My protagonist taking forest selfies.

Hillary’s Narcissistic Book Review: The Queen’s Gambit and Parable of the Sower

I am in two active book clubs, and I know what you are thinking—does she live in a nursing home? No, but I do have a rich and exciting life that also includes watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy every weeknight. I joined the book clubs on accident, not even realizing I was in an actual club, just having drinks and then someone suggests a book and next thing I know I am being asked when we can schedule the next meeting. Some people get drunk and wake up the next morning pregnant or in a Vegas hotel room with a new husband they don’t recognize, but I wake up and realize I have been indoctrinated into a book club.

The last book I read for one club was The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, written in 1983 and now the basis for the popular Netflix series. I wanted to read Queen’s Gambit mostly so I could be the asshole who says, no I didn’t watch the show, but I did read the book.

I was concerned that I would not like this book because I do not know how to play chess. I can barely play checkers. Actually, I play all the games with squares at a toddler level. I have never won a game of Connect Four. My kids started beating me at tic tac toe when they were still being lovingly bottle fed. However, now that I have read Queen’s Gambit, which is drenched in detailed explanations of chess play, the vision of the board, the strategy, I think I am ready to compete in chess professionally.

At the beginning of the book, coinciding with Beth’s discovery of chess, she also becomes addicted to tranquilizers because her orphanage forces the green pills on all the kids to subdue the little bastards. I was never addicted to pills as an eight-year-old, but that does seem like the most fun time to try it. For starters, children have no responsibilities, like work, children of their own, or ageing parents to care for also at the same time. I don’t have many regrets from my childhood, but I wish I had experimented with drugs at an even earlier age. Maybe then I would be a world champion in something, like Hollywood Squares.  

For my other book club, we recently read Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, written in 1993 but set in an apocalyptic future. It is an epistolary novel told through the diary entries of the young protagonist, Lauren. The book starts in the year 2024 in California and describes an unimaginable world where the wealthiest few are hoarding the majority of resources and everyone else is left to try and not die. Many people are addicted to bizarre drugs and committing mass murder, space is being colonized by private companies, and police are more deplorable than dependable.

In 1993, the year Butler published Parable, I graduated from high school and then later that same year failed out of my first college. I was definitely not predicting 31 years into the future. I could not even predict how much money I would have tomorrow if I spent all the money in my account today. Butler depicts a close parallel to our world today, like when a Black male character seeks the police’s help after his sister and her family are murdered, and Lauren implores him not to go because she worries the police might kill him and steal his money.

Parable was written in the wake of the 1991 beating of Rodney King by police on a California highway and then the 1992 riots that erupted after the four officers were acquitted. As with all good science fiction, Parable is a caricature. It simply exaggerates what is already there, and the result is a future where all the masses are left struggling to survive because those in power have been allowed to jackknife the system. The moral might be that we should all work together, or we could end up in a dystopia with some people starving in the streets and many more struggling to get by while billionaires in cowboy hats blast into space for their vacay.

Meanwhile on the East Coast in 1993, I was way too high at a Widespread Panic concert in Boone, North Carolina listening to an endless jam that seemed, at the time, to last about 31 years. Now, I am a grown woman, but I am still waiting to reach psychological maturity. My bildungsroman has been a slow burn—a stream of consciousness life. The young women in these novels are both survivors and as someone who is also surviving, I think we have a lot in common.

My protagonist as a young woman doing the worm.

These Are the People in Your Neighborhood

I live in the panhandle of Florida, and my local news covers Tallahassee and a large area of rural Florida and South Georgia. Brunswick, where Ahmad Arbery was killed, is our neighboring region. I could drive there in about three hours. When the faces of the men who killed Arbery appeared recently on my news feed, in a short segment between new Coronavirus cases and the weather, I remembered that these were not cops in uniforms, these men are our neighbors.  

 

“If there was a pattern to the endless conflict, it was that battles overwhelmingly involved neighbors.”

Malcolm Gladwell from Talking to Strangers

 

I don’t run. I don’t even jog. I am a walker, which mainly just means that I wander aimlessly around neighborhoods. When I was 15, I decided that I was chubby and similar to the way Forrest Gump stood up, ran out of his front yard, and then across the entire country, I walked out of my house, down my driveway, and out of my neighborhood. I walked across the nearest main road and entered another neighborhood—a much nicer and more expensive neighborhood, where the houses are set so far apart, and with such established landscaping, that on foot you can often only see one house at a time. Unlike my little neighborhood, this fancier neighborhood has a hilly loop, a canopy of shade, and an active neighborhood watch. I know this because I read that information on a sign as I walked off the main road, not because anyone ever questioned me for being there.

I have been walking ever since. When I lived in Austin, Texas, I would drive to another part of town, park my car in a lot that said, “No Parking”, and then walk into a nearby neighborhood. It had great hills and the houses were charming and eclectic. It was one of those neighborhoods where young families who were just starting to make good money lived next door to empty nesters. I walked here regularly for two years—as a complete stranger. Some days, if it was especially hot, I would dip into a yard to get hit by the sprinkler. Maybe put my hands out and wait for the spray of cool water and then splash it on my face. On the way back to my car, I would often go into the office complex where I had illegally parked to sip from the water fountain and use the bathroom.

I have also lived in South Georgia. For most of the year in South Georgia, it is so hot that walking at any time when the sun is actually shining is not something people do voluntarily. I have had people offer to give me a ride because they do not understand that I might be out walking around on purpose. One day as I walked through a neighborhood, I started to feel lightheaded. I was hungover. It was 90 degrees. I stopped at a house with a car in the carport and sat on a ledge—on their property—but near the street. I sat for about 15 minutes looking haggard, red faced, and sweaty. I looked like a hungover loser who was about to pass out on the side of the road. I actually hoped someone might notice me so I could ask them to drive me home. A few cars drove by, the homeowner never came out. He did not call the cops about the woman in his driveway.

Some of my time walking in South Georgia was through a cemetery, located adjacent to a part of town with a higher population of Black residents because white people do not like fields of dead bodies in their own neighborhoods. I walked hundreds of miles, weaving through a maze of headstones on narrow paved streets. I considered the cemetery a safe choice because I have always, even as a woman walking alone, considered my biggest danger to be getting hit by a car. The cemetery had very few cars. I rarely saw any people. There were a few groundskeepers who would nod as they drove by in work trucks, and I would wave and smile back. Then one afternoon, a truck pulled off the main road and drove next to me as I walked. It was an older white man, he rolled his window down and told me I should not walk in this cemetery. That it was dangerous. There could be dangerous people.

I looked around. This man, who chose to change his route, to turn into this cemetery to warn me about dangerous people, was the only person I could see.

I recently watched the video of Ahmaud Arbery, as he walks into the home under construction. I watched this particular video with a certain kind of familiarity. There are people who view this video and painstakingly relate to the danger of being a Black man. There are also individuals who watch this video and relate to the white man who called the police and other neighbors for back up because he viewed Arbery as a dangerous threat to his community. I related to Arbery as someone who exercises out on neighborhood streets.

As I watched the video of him outside the construction site home, I noted how he contemplates going inside. The hesitation. There are probably countless Black citizens who watch him walk in that house and think, you know that is a bad idea. As a white woman, I am infinitely more protected, and I am not trying to commodify our experiences, but I have probably done this with the same hesitation. I would be worried about getting in trouble or putting myself in danger, as a woman walking alone. But also, I would be thirsty. I would have gone in too. And as we see from the owner’s videos, other people—white people, a couple and some kids—go inside the site. The cops are not called on these other trespassers.

Once inside, he looks around probably because he knows what he is doing is a little dangerous. There is evidence that perhaps he goes to the back to get water at a dock. Then there is video of him standing back inside, hands on hips. As I watched this I thought, he is getting his heart rate down. Cooling off. His back is clearly covered in sweat. On February 23, 2020 the high temperature in Brunswick, Georgia was 63 degrees. That is not exactly heat stroke weather, but Arbery was running at 1:00 pm, the hottest part of the day, especially in February before the start of Daylight Savings Times. The sunset—that Arbery would never see—would occur by approximately 6:30 p.m. Also, he had likely already run about two miles—the reported distance from his mother’s house to this site.

When he leaves the construction site, he takes off running because that is what he was already out doing. Arbery did not know at this point that a neighbor has already called 911 to report him, “A Black guy, white t-shirt.” The caller also alerts his fellow neighbors to help apprehend this neighborhood interloper. Now there are two trucks, three men—at least two of them armed—and a 25-year-old jogger who winds up shot and bleeding out right there on the street.

I am not an expert on Georgia law, although I know enough to understand that chasing someone down in a vehicle and yelling for them to stop should void the ability to claim that the shooter felt threatened. Also, I am not an expert on citizens’ arrest law, although I know Georgia has one, and I also know it does not state that the citizen may shoot the supposed perpetrator. Also, the citizen only has a right to hold someone who he thinks has committed a crime if it is a felony. If you are wondering if trespassing is a felony in Georgia—it is not.

As I have rewatched the video of Arbery in the construction site, I think about what the white man on the street saw, the man who initially put the entire crime into motion, a man wearing overalls. I think about it as like in a novel where the same scene is told by a different narrator. He saw a Black guy in a white t-shirt. That was enough for him. Also, what is not often mentioned is that these men made an ignorant assumption. They were being dumb. And they have guns. It is a dangerous combination.

Then I thought about the perspective of the people who have defended the men who killed Arbery, especially on social media. What do they see as they watch these same videos? Perhaps they view Arbery’s clothes and don’t see him as a jogger. He does not look like the runners we see on television. He is not wearing expensive athletic gear. Maybe he just felt like going for a run, in whatever he was wearing. We accept that Forrest Gump just got up and ran in a button down and khakis, but for Black citizens, a white t-shirt and long shorts are a dress code violation. So are hoodies. What is the proper attire required for a Black man to walk through your neighborhood?

When the video was released and the public outcry led to arrests finally being made, that was the start of a tiny sliver of justice for Arbery’s family, but the only way to keep other innocent people from being killed is for all white people to make an effort to change the way we see Black citizens. Thinking about the case in Texas with the female cop who shot Botham Jean in his own apartment: if she had opened the door to what was not actually her apartment and saw a white woman sitting on what was not actually her couch, would she have shot that woman? Probably not. It might have been more like when a woman walks in on another woman in a public bathroom, it’s fine.

The death of Ahmaud Arbery was a battle between neighbors. So was the case of Botham Jean. Why wouldn’t someone recognize a person who lived so near to them? Maybe because white and Black citizens are walking through the streets of America in parallel universes. As I watched the man calling the police about Arbery and then looked at him driving in his truck, he reminded me of the man who stopped me in the cemetery. When that man warned me that I could be in danger, I was a 40-year-old adult woman walking in broad daylight. Why did he feel entitled to try to protect me? It was almost as if he wanted a dangerous person to appear because that supports his narrative.

That scenario also maintains his proximity to power. White people benefit from the myth of the dangerous, armed Black man. We benefit by being able to walk down the street without being murdered, no matter what we are wearing, but also because as long as systemic racism continues to thrive, we have better access to jobs, networking, generational wealth, public education, housing, access to healthcare.

The truth is that Black citizens are less likely to be armed than white citizens. About 35- to 40% of white Americans own guns, compared to between 20 to 24% of Black Americans. Also, Black people in America only make up about 13% of the population. White men are more likely than any other group to be gun owners. Statistically, it is much more likely that a white man is armed than a Black man is armed, and there are many more white men than Black men in America. If people understood these facts, then maybe people would not feel so threatened by the presence of a Black person. Unless, the violence is not just a reaction to unbiased fear.

As a country, we are keeping this bias alive, like a four-hundred-year-old sourdough starter, passed down through generations. We still teach racism in our schools. Slave Owner is bolded in our textbooks in the same manner as Inventor or Astronaut.  It is a title, not a condemnation. The way we teach American history occasionally borders on sympathy for the people who were enslaved, but rarely do our texts promote shame for the people who owned slaves. Classroom lessons about slavery promote racism more than they denounce it. Before my son started lessons on slavery in early elementary school, in a school with a 50% Black student population, he used skin color only as a way to describe someone if he did not know their name. “The kid on the monkey bars, the one with the red shirt and the brown skin.”

In January, every elementary school kid in America comes home with their report on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Often it is a cut out of the shape of his head with important facts about his life and most importantly, he is clearly labeled in the handwriting of all of our children as “non-violent”. Teaching our kids that if Black Americans want equality, it is best not to be too aggressive. Of course, King was arrested more than 30 times. His most famous written work comes from his time in Jail, and he was assassinated at age 39. Every January, our kids are also taught that even nonviolent protest of racism will not be tolerated in America.

We can tear down statues, we can remove the confederate flags, we can defund the police, but it is like chasing fire ants around the yard. We eliminate one mound and another pops up a few yards away. From slavery, to segregation, to redlining, to education discrimination, to police brutality, to prison pipelines, to voter suppression—these are all methods created by people, like ants working diligently little by little, to keep racism intact. While we the people are working to dismantle racism, we the people are working to strengthen its foundations.

Then we the people end up on the same street. In broad daylight.

We are all neighbors. I have spent considerable time trying to end this essay—to land the plane. I have typed a bunch of bullshit and then deleted it. Racism in America cannot be tidied up into a conclusion, especially not by me. I can only observe what I see in our neighborhoods. I will keep writing and walking and trying each day to learn how to be a better person. I will try to remain hopeful that we the people can rewrite this conclusion.

In the meantime, if you see a hungover lady walking in a cemetery, just wave hello, and if I pass by your house, feel free to spray me with the hose.

 

 

***When I first started studying the story of Ahmaud Arbery, I thought maybe the original police report showed a different portrayal of events and that is why there were no immediate arrests, but it does not. This is a link to the original police report. 

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6883377-Ahmaud-Arbery-Police-Report.html

This New York Times video is well produced and adds graphics to demonstrate what happened in the time between Arbery walking into the construction site and dying on his neighborhood street.

https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000007142853/ahmaud-arbery-video-911-georgia.html

This is the letter from District Attorney, George E. Barnhill recusing himself and advising no arrests necessary.

 

Monopoly

The royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle cost $42 million. Meghan’s dress cost $508,000. I suppose that is just the price of a fairy tale. I can’t help but think of all the little girls around the world who watched Meghan—now a real princess—walk down the aisle, or at least saw pictures, and thought about how beautiful she looked, especially the little girls who are starving.

Even just the two million children in the United Kingdom who live in poverty must have been so in awe by this elaborate display. My mum has to work two jobs and we have rats in our flat, but look at Princess Beatrice’s fascinator! A family could likely eat for a year just from the cost of one of those hats. That is how fairy tales work, though. One person is plucked from the masses to live in luxury. All the other townspeople, teacups, step sisters, the other two members of Destiny’s Child—they are all left in the village to continue toiling.

Maybe this is why people seem so willing to accept vast discrepancies in wealth, especially here in America. Fairytales about princesses were the stories I grew up with, even though I did not live in a village with a large castle looming off in the distance. Perhaps because we replaced being ruled by a wealthy monarch with a market-based system kick started by violence and oppression, and a fairy tale set on the lawn of a plantation is less palatable. Well except as the venue for white people’s weddings.

We no longer have a king, but we have a small percentage of people who hold the most wealth and they still got that way by screwing the rest of us over. I recently watched a documentary series on HBO titled McMillions. The show details how this one guy stole the winning McDonalds Monopoly game pieces before they ended up in the fast food restaurants, and he gave them to friends and family in exchange for a percentage of the prize. The FBI was very upset about this. So was McDonalds. Customers are being tricked to think that they can buy a hamburger and win one million dollars and these scoundrels are robbing the McDonalds customer of this chance. It is not fair to the people!

At first, I was drawn into this thought experiment. Then I remembered that I do not give a shit about anyone robbing from McDonalds. Also, I do not know anyone who actually thought they were going to win a million dollars. One of the recipients of a stolen winning game piece was a struggling single mom. I think it is a crime that she felt like she had to choose to take the winning game piece—from her mafia wife friend–and then give half the money back to the ring leader. I was thinking, wow, I wish she got more money. McDonalds corporation has a net worth of $170 billion and they earn this money by underpaying employees, outsourcing to franchisees, and preying on the pocketbooks and blood pressure of the rest of us. This elaborate scheme amounted to stealing $24 million, which is a lot—less than a royal wedding—but still a chunk of change. Of course, it is only 0.01% of McDonalds total net worth.

By the final episode of the documentary—no spoilers—I started to imagine the exact same documentary but instead of McDonalds monopoly winners, the FBI was going after real criminals, like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, the Koch brothers, or the Walton family. On the first episode, the fast talking FBI rookie would not get a post-it note that read, “McDonalds Monopoly scam?” but instead one that reads, “Walmart entire business a scam?”

The agency would start by investigating how a company starts with prices so low and with so much inventory that they put a myriad of other local businesses out of business, not just the local hardware store, but the groceries, the clothes shops, the mechanics, the tire stores, the fabric stores, toy stores, electronics stores, Christmas shoppes, pharmacies.

Then it gets really good. Now with a newly expanded market of poor people, shopping at Walmart becomes a necessity not a choice. Walmart then further maintains these low prices by underpaying employees (more customers, cha-ching!) and then subsequently arguing that if they paid their beloved employees more then they would have to hire less employees or raise prices and you don’t want that, do you? Can you really afford to buy your diapers anywhere else?

Cut to the sharp FBI agent, leaned back in his chair explaining how he opened an investigation to look into the Walton family. The FBI is outraged! Because of Walmart, all industries are forced to compete with low prices and low wages and underemployment as way to keep benefit costs down and profits up. It is part of a nationwide, systemic increase in poverty. Parents are working overnight shifts and still unable to afford their kids’ medicine. What if the Waltons are pocketing like a million dollars each off this scam?

Picks up phone. Holds up finger to the camera for a pause. They have hoarded how much money? $163.2 BILLION? But they give to charity, right? $530 million donated from their family foundation in 2017. But that is only 0.32% of their net worth. That’s less than people are supposed to give annually to their church. Puts down phone. Ahem.

Okay, now I am outraged. This is not fair to the people.

The most expensive part of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was for security. Supposedly they spent about $36 million for added measures of protection, but who were they protecting themselves from? The people they serve, right? Who else? Bad people perhaps. People who do not understand boundaries. But it is still the people. I don’t think they were protecting themselves from rabid dogs or locusts. They spent a thousand times the salary of the average British household to keep British citizens from crashing their wedding.

The sad part is that we use words like philanthropic to describe rich people who spend money like there are not more than 800 million hungry people in the world and give away very small percentages of their wealth to help those in need. And in most cases rich people got rich off the hard work of people who can barely afford to keep their lights on. Most Americans likely give a larger percentage of their own net worth than our richest citizens. If you think about the money you paid to your PTA, the money you put towards that GoFundMe so a child could get a prosthetic leg, the money you donated—although it wasn’t much but it was something—to help families who lost their homes in a local fire, the dollars you handed to a man on the side of the road, the time you paid for the coffee for the person behind you in line, you have likely donated a larger portion of your income to charity. The rich are not more charitable than we are. They could give billions and billions more.

Even visiting poor and ravaged areas of the world and coordinating aid—although it is admirable—is still a privilege. And not enough. If I went up to my local Walmart, I am sure I could find multiple employees who would leave their positions immediately to fly on a private jet to Africa to visit schools and hospitals. It will be hot and there are lots of bugs. Walmart employee chuckles. But wait, how do you feel about walking through landmines? Been doing that my whole life. Holding babies whose mothers died from AIDS? With open arms. Infectious disease? Do the seats on the jet fully recline?

Dating Across Party Lines

In the spring of 2017, I went on a date with someone I met online. It was Bumble, the supposedly feminist dating app, which is different because men can’t message a woman unless she messages him first, so basically women are stuck with more of the work. I have been on many online dates since my divorce four years ago, and this one didn’t necessarily start out any different, but we had chemistry, and I was fairly confident we would see each other again. I wasn’t sure what would happen beyond that because we were somewhat different. We didn’t talk about it, but there were signs. I had recently marched in Washington, D.C. in protest of the inauguration of Donald Trump, and he drove a big white truck with a YETI sticker on the bumper.

If we met a few years ago, I may not have gone out with him again. I might have crafted a T-chart, with things like “wears cowboy boots” on one side and “makes me happy” on the other, as if those were equivalent in importance. Luckily, I had experience dating post-divorce and after many break ups and some good therapy sessions I learned that I should not plan my entire future with, or without, someone on the first date. Maybe instead I should just have fun and see what happens, which feels like driving down a dark, canopy road with no headlights. As someone who prefers to plan ahead, I want my dating endeavors to be like doing taxes with Turbotax, “You are now 75% done!”

With this particular person, I climbed up into his front seat and just went along for the ride. During the first several weeks, I was having too much fun to perform any kind of assessment, and I never felt insecure enough to freak out because he was different than most of the other guys I had dated, meaning that he was not a jerk, married, or dead inside. We did not discuss our political opinions at the beginning, and sometimes that was a bit of a cloud, leaving me wondering if it would eventually rain on our love parade.

As a writer, who writes about my personal life and opinions, it is difficult to keep my ideologies out of the public sphere. I am one quick Google search away from being an open book. One night leaned up against a railing staring at the Gulf of Mexico, we bridged the subject. He said he did not want to be with someone who was his mirror image. I agreed. I work with a radical feminist group in Tallahassee, and when I first mentioned that I was going to a meeting, I called it “a women’s group” as if we were gathering to talk about the new edition of our local cookbook and not working to topple the patriarchy. He was not fooled and told me he was proud that I fight for what I believe. With that moment, I metaphorically inched a little closer to him in the cab of his truck.

Now, I have space in a closet he cleared out for me at his house. He moved some suits that he never wears and a few jackets to make room, but left a half-dozen shotguns. Every time I slide open the closet door, I see them lined up between my row of strappy sandals and the ruffled hems of my sundresses. They are a reminder that life is most interesting when it offers up the unexpected. We do not often talk about politics when we are together. That is why I have a Twitter account. When an issue does come up, I am usually able to at least understand why he would feel that way, unless he mentions something about emails. What I have realized is that I love him more than I love being right, and I am not sure I could have felt that way in a relationship before my 40th decade. We probably won’t ever celebrate 50 years together, unless both of us make some serious lifestyle changes, like cryogenics, but I am thankful every day that I did not meet him a moment sooner.

 

Gaslight

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The 1944 film Gaslight tells the story of a young woman named Paula (played beautifully by Ingrid Bergman) who is deceived by her new husband Gregory (Charles Boyer) into believing she is crazy. His manipulation starts small. He tells her that she has these little flaws and then makes them true through sleight of hand. He says, “You know you are inclined to lose things, Paula.”

“I didn’t realize that,” she responds because she has not been known to lose things and then he gives her a broach and when she loses it she thinks, oh shit maybe I do lose things! Of course, she didn’t lose it. He hid it from her because he is an evil murderer, but Paula does not realize this and the cycle continually repeats itself until she questions everything she understands about her own mind.

Gregory wants control and keeping someone in a state of heightened nerves is a great way to leverage power. He also wants money. He murdered Paula’s aunt and then tricked Paula into moving back into the house where the murder happened—a home conveniently owned solely by Paula until they married—so that he can spend his nights rummaging around in the attic looking for the family jewels because he doesn’t have any. He eventually finds them sewn into a gown, and I found this scene amusing and willed him through the screen, Gregory, please put on the dress. Sadly, he doesn’t put on the dress but he does grab the jewels and rub them around in his greedy little hands.

Meanwhile, Paula is held captive in her own house, like the madwoman in the attic or the young wife with her yellow wallpaper or modern day moms stuck cleaning with a cartoon bald man. Gregory tells her she is not well enough to go out and then fabricates events that make her believe he is right. What is most interesting about Paula is that she is not weak. Perhaps that is why he must go to such deceptive measures. He cannot control her transparently.

In the end with the help of a tall, handsome inspector from Scotland Yard, Paula realizes that she is being tricked. Each night Gregory leaves the house and walks to the back alley into an abandoned flat and climbs through a skylight into the attic. I like that the story involves him scurrying like a rat. There is no dignity in greed. When he gets to the attic he turns on the lights, thus using some of the home’s gas and causing the lights in the main house to dim. Paula notes that shortly after he leaves the lights dim and shortly before he returns, they brighten. She knows this change is real and that factor serves as a lighthouse to her sanity.

“You know who’s up there.”

She knows. Because she is not actually crazy. He distorted her reality. He controlled information. He made statements and then through manipulation made them come true. It is how most card tricks are done (spoiler alert!) He also places her in a spiral of fear and as her insecurity about the reliability of her own mind increases she must rely on Gregory to act as her compass. This gives him even more opportunity to manipulate her environment.

I was interested in this film to get a better understanding of the term gaslighting to condemn what Trump is doing by continually denouncing the legitimacy of the media. He is attempting to distort reality by telling the American people that we cannot trust the information we are receiving. And perhaps it started small, the same way Gregory started by simply telling Paula that she was forgetful, and now it has grown into daily poorly written reports and tweets that suggest the information we receive is fake. It is a tactic used to try to unsettle the public trust and make us question what we should believe.

Distorting someone’s perception of reality can be done by inserting a single, subtle word that invokes doubt, like “You look nice today,” which usually leaves me questioning what kind of trash heap I have looked like every other day. Or maybe something like, “Make America Great Again.” Trump’s entire slogan was a manipulation. He used two unstated assumptions. We don’t even have to get into this country’s history of oppression and discuss timelines of exactly which horrifying “again” he was aiming for, the point was that by accepting the slogan, followers had to swallow the ideas that America is not currently great and that there was a time in our history when things were better. Relying on assumptions is a bad magic trick.

Trump said the media can’t be trusted throughout his campaign because as any gaslighter knows, the seed must be planted early and often. In May of 2016 Trump told Sean Hannity that Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and current owner of The Washington Post was unfairly attacking him and using the prominent news source “as a toy” (interesting choice of words, is it all just a game?) Trump suggested that Bezos, who as owner must obviously have complete control of all reportage, did not want Trump in the White House because of his “huge anti-trust problem.”

Since his first day in office the constant lambasting of any news source that does not report the facts he wants to hear is an attempt to make the American people question what we know is real. All negative news is fake news! Coincidentally, that is what I tell anyone who has ever spoken to my ex-husband. Trump is like a controlling spouse, and unlike most controlling spouses who must go it alone Trump has a posse, like his Press Bitch, Sean Spicer, and his rotisserie chicken, Kellyanne Conway, who stand up to corroborate all his attempts at misdirection.

Trump uses Twitter as a means of supporting his own fabrications. Lies! It is as if he thinks that if he tweets it, then it must be true. Sadly, I am not sure Trump is as good at gaslighting as Gregory. He does not have the restraint. His constant tweeting of easily verifiable misrepresentations keeps the majority of the public’s sanity in check. And maybe it is his overuse of exclamation points, but I always picture his tweeting persona as a giant orange New Year’s baby with his thumbs pounding on the keys in tantrum.

Usually what a gaslighter wants is control. Trump wants fame, fortune, and to be right. His grand wizard Steve Bannon wants control and to be alt-right. Under Bannon’s leadership Brietbart News has become an active participant in glaslighting America through its outrageous commentary meant to fracture and leave Americans in a state of heightened fear. Breitbart uses media as instigation. By spinning stories in certain ways, the site enrages the public, for example a search of “black on black crime” on the Breitbart site retrieves five pages of articles with 20 stories on each page. That is 100 articles. The sensationalizing of these stories seeks to demonstrate that black citizens are inherently violent and therefore any disenfranchisement is due to their own behavior and not a product of systemic racial inequality. These stories serve as a tool of the oppressor and promote othering. Breitbart is bad fucking news and now we have let its leader scurry into the White House.

Breitbart has even politicized the Super Bowl, suggesting that the Patriots comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons was like election night all over again. There is an actual story that compares Brady and his football sorcery to Trump’s “win” on election night. They are both backed by evil slobs, so I can see that angle. Even the links to ads on Breitbart of other things “You Might Like” are charged, like the picture of Obama with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and the caption “Obama’s IQ will shock you!” which I felt compelled to click on but never found Obama’s IQ or Donald Trump’s, although I did learn that Hillary Clinton has the same estimated IQ as Kesha and both, of course, have higher IQs than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It is important to remember that before gaslighting became a verb it was not the dimming and brightening of the lights that incited the manipulation. In the original story, the lights are what help Paula keep reality in check. They are the clue that bring her back to her own sanity. Those of us who can clearly see what these puppeteers are trying to do to the American people, that they are attempting to keep people in a state of fear and to promote their own corrupt agendas through distortion and sleight of hand, must stand firmly as the lighthouse that can help this country and all her people come back to sanity.

Stand up. Fight Back.

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On a hazy January morning, we started to walk with the crowds towards the National Mall, not knowing the exact destination just simply moving with the current. The dome of the United States Capitol peeked out above a line of rectangular bureaucratic buildings. The faces of these buildings were stone and unadorned. They stood stoic and quiet, impenetrable. The crowd was still loose enough to allow gaps between the women and girls and dots of men who carried signs and upbeat voices.

We made it to a cross street, and I watched the people ahead of me as they made the turn, their eyes focused down the street, some lifted phones over their heads to take photos, others just stared, but they all kept moving. As we entered the wide expanse of the intersection, I saw what they saw. We were at the top of a hill staring down Independence Avenue. At the bottom the crowds were so dense and bright there was no indication of street or sidewalk, of where buildings stopped and the tiny dots of all those people and their declarations began.

We turned and walked down the hill, small conversations and observations with the people walking with us, there was laughter and shout outs looking for a member of our group not easily visible, “Where is she?”

“Oh, there she is.”

There were chants from the crowd, “When women’s rights are under attack, what do we do?” and the crowd responds, “Stand up! Fight back!”

“What do we do?”

“Stand up! Fight back!”

Above all the empowerment and solidarity there was also a cloud of everyone’s collective anxiety. Because we were not going to a festival. This was not fucking Bonnaroo. We were marching into a crowd larger than I had ever seen. We did not know how this day would unfold, where we would end up, how we would get home. We did not know if the crowds would be peaceful and generous. We did not know what force majeure awaited us. We also did not know if there was something insidious waiting in the future of the day. Nobody checked our clear backpacks. Nobody looked under my bulky jacket.

“When I say sisters, you say rise!”

“Rise!”

“Sisters!”

“Rise!”

We kept walking. My anxiety presents itself as jitters, stemming from the epicenter of my nerves and branching out. An overall sense that I might just simply pass out. I have had this experience before, when the stimulus overwhelms my capability to react. It is as if every vessel expands just a fraction and there is not enough room in my body for all my energy. My experience at this march was overwhelmingly positive and at times even fun, but I was nervous. I have two kids at home. As a mother, my life is not my own. I don’t have the luxury to be reckless. They are not my raison d’etre, but I belong to them. I breathe deep and keep walking.

“The people! United! Will never be defeated!”

“The people! United! Will never be defeated!”

I glance around and look for the familiar coats and jackets and pink hats of my marching crew. Everyone is wearing pink pussy hats, but I know which ones are mine. If I lose sight of my sisters, then I scan for our “Women’s Strike” signs. Black with white lettering. Unapologetic. The mood of the crowd is not somber. We talk and point out signs that make us proud or make us laugh.

Keep your god out of my bod.

Tiny hands, big asshole.

Everyone moves forward calmly but willfully. Officials in green vests stand in intersections and suggest we make turns, doing signs with their arms as if directing traffic, but instead of cars it is a mass of people—women, men, children, and strollers. Bumps into shoulders are quickly met with a call of “Sorry” and a response of “It’s ok” because we are women and we are taught to make no ripples. But on this day in January we form a tidal wave. By the hundreds of thousands, we put a dent in the center of the National Mall, making a mark on history. Our collective footprint like a space boot on the moon.

The women’s march was considered successful because of the incredible number of protesters in Washington D.C. and because of the solidarity shown around the country and even internationally. From what I could see the march was more than just white women. There was representation from women of color, maybe even more than I had expected, even though there still exists the valid concern of why white women are now finally marching out from behind our picket fences. Where the hell have we been?

This march was also peaceful. There were no arrests. No tear gas. No rubber bullets. There was barely even a police presence at all. I saw less than a dozen police, mostly standing against cinder block buildings, one knee propped up like a casual flamingo. The only interaction I had with the police was when I waved down a uniformed officer to get help for a woman who had tripped on a curb and landed on her face and suffered a cut above her right eyebrow. However, this protest was not successful because it was peaceful. Those two factors must remain mutually exclusive.

This protest was attended by women, men, and families just like me, who are kept just comfortable enough to be unwilling to storm the White House. We had the numbers, and maybe it is because a group of women would not usually destroy such a beautiful home. We had enough of a presence that we could have commandeered the White House, emptied it of all the precious antiques, and then burned it to the ground. But we didn’t. We wore our pink hats, told our bladders, “Not Today!” and took peaceful control of the National Mall. Then we left and went back to our spaces of comfort, hugged our children, and now many of us are continuing to organize in our local communities.

The march was important and successful. The night after the march, I was renewed and felt a sense of optimism about the people of this country and our precious democracy. However, the march was also benign. If we consider this march in relationship to the two Americas presented by Martin Luther King, Jr. then this march was attended by those living in the America where “People have the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality flowing before them.” We the people of this America are unwilling to throw bricks because that could substantially disrupt our glass houses. We are accustomed to silent conformity.

Also, we have been so conditioned to the idea that rioting is non-productive and only further divides groups. How many times have I heard the phrase “those people” sprout and erupt around times of rioting and violent protest? We use rioting as a scapegoat for othering. King is celebrated by the white community and we get a day off from work to celebrate him because of his promotion of nonviolence. Ask any school kid in America and that adjective will be the one that is most closely associated with his legacy.  I am still waiting for my kids to come home from school with their detailed reports on Malcolm X.

Looking more closely at King’s “Other America” speech, he talks about the use of nonviolence as a more effective measure than rioting because “A riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt” and he continues to state that he cannot condemn riots without also condemning the conditions that promote them because “A riot is the language of the unheard.” King was arrested 30 times for protesting against segregation. Nonviolent is not the same as nondisruptive.

As a white woman who walked into this march maybe feeling the anxiety for the first time of a possible fear of police presence, I realize that I have no excuse for not standing up before now. Maybe I should have been standing shoulder to shoulder with all the marginalized voices throwing bricks into business windows. Even better, there is (as King taught us) a space between a protest with no arrests and an outright violent demonstration. We are going to have to be more disruptive to fight against a bully of this magnitude. We cannot just walk the streets and expect to be heard. My name is now likely on some type of list. A big black checkmark beside my H. And the thing is that I don’t even know if I have the courage to come out from behind the protection of my glass house. I am still questioning how much I am willing to sacrifice. As I sit here being heard, I am a parcel of hypocrisy.

My unwillingness to let go of my space of comfort is exactly what the Trump administration, headed by Grand Wizard Steve Bannon, is counting on. They are expecting that middle class white people will abandon the disenfranchised when it comes time for real protest, that the huge crowds of people will soon just be a few groups living in tents and playing hacky sack while the rest of us are at home watching CNN and tucking our children into warm beds. That is what Trump and his band of villains are using to place all their bets. Giant stacks of chips made from compressed pieces of our freedom and betting on apathy. Our gazes down as we have passed by our history of inequality and violence fueled by discrimination of anything that is not white, wealthy, and patriarchal are what got us here. Fear and division put extremism in the White House. We are going to have to use courage and solidarity to get us out. We have the numbers. We have the education. The awareness. Morality. Empathy. History. This administration thinks we are bluffing. We need to firmly demonstrate that we are serious about maintaining the rights of all the people and not just a select few.

When democracy is under attack, what do we do?

Stand up! Fight back!

Anger Management: Armed with Only Words

At the end of Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom and Huck find Jim, who has been captured and held as a runaway slave, and they both propose plans to set him free. Huck suggests they simply steal the key and take Jim under the cover of darkness to the stowed raft, “Would that plan work?” asks Huck.

“Why cert’nly it would work, like rats a-fighting. But it’s too blame simple; there ain’t nothing to it,” responds Tom.

Then Huck suggests they get Jim out through the man-sized opening in the wall of the shed, and Tom suggests that instead they dig him out, “It’ll take about a week!” Then as Huck and Tom are in the room with Jim, going in and out freely, Huck notices that Jim is only chained to the bed post, which can easily be lifted up so that he can be freed. Tom suggests that instead they should saw the leg of Jim’s bed off, “You got to invent all the difficulties.”

“I wish there was a moat to this cabin. If we get time, the night of the escape, we’ll dig one,” says Tom. They steal sheets off the line so that Jim can fashion a rope ladder to escape from his single story wooden structure. Tom also suggests that Jim grow a flower and water it with his own tears.

When I teach this novel, I try to get my students to see this ridiculous scene in comparison to the opposition to end slavery. Setting people free is not all that complicated. It can be done with an announcement or the lifting of the bed post. And if you are a slave, do the details of the holdup really matter? Whether it is national division, the economy, oppression, racism, or two boys who want to have an adventure, whatever the cause, you are stuck in chains while someone else’s agenda takes precedence over your life.

And of course, Jim was already free. He was set free in Miss Watson’s will, and Tom knew it the entire time. The irony of this brings on a whole new discussion about the legacy of slavery and the nuances of freedom.

Right now, our government is Tom Sawyering the shit out of gun control. Instead of taking immediate action and working towards legislation that saves lives—doing the obvious things, like banning assault rifles, advocating for stronger background checks, longer waiting periods, increased age limits, required training, renewal processes, all things that law-abiding citizens should have no issue with and would be no real threat to their freedom, we are tying together bed sheets and digging a hole with spoons.

I have to talk about guns. Again. I already did this in Zombie Apocalypse when I tried to break down the semantics of the second amendment, but the second amendment is just a pawn being held captive, most likely at gunpoint, by a powerful lobbying group working to protect its profits and a population that lives in fear. America has a gun problem. But before we rehash this argument, the one where I metaphorically yell at the brick wall that is the NRA, I want to talk about something else.

When I was a teenager and even into my twenties, I would drink and drive. Regularly. Sometimes, I would even drink while I drove chanting, “You will have to pry my champagne flute and this steering wheel out of my cold, dead hand!” But then law enforcement started to take drunk driving more seriously, mostly because of the successful grassroots effort by MADD, so I stopped. I wanted to protect my right, because the only thing that will help drunk people get safely home is a less drunk person who can drive them. However, I did not want to get arrested. Also, a new culture emerged (eventually) post-MADD that exposed drinking and driving as shameful because it was a selfish act that put innocent people’s lives in danger.

MADD was birthed out of tragedy. Candy Lightner’s thirteen-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 1980, and she and close friend, Sue LeBrun-Green sought answers. They started at the DMV. Three years later, 129 anti-drunk driving laws had been passed. Their efforts focused on using testimonials. They put faces to the statistics and engaged emotional appeals—they made it personal. Before the 1980s, DUI bills were failing in congress, but in 1984 Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Bill, a measure specifically designed to discourage drunk driving, especially among young adults. According to MADD’s website, then Senator Elizabeth Dole recalls talking to the president, whose top advisors were telling him that this measure goes against his states’ rights stance, and he said, “Well, wait a minute, doesn’t this help save kids’ lives?”

Yes.

“Well then, I support it,” he said.

More than 32,000 Americans die by guns each year. Seven kids or teens are killed by guns EVERY DAY in the U.S. That is more than 2,500 kids per year (See EveryTownResearch)

Should I go on? I will because I would like to talk about regulations for residential swimming pools. Let’s look at the laws in say, Florida. According to Florida Statutes, if you have a swimming pool in your backyard, you are required by law to have a barrier that is a least four feet high, has no gaps or openings, and is at least 20 inches away from the pool. Your barrier must also have a self-latching locking gate or door that is only accessible from the inside. This is mainly to protect any random kids that could be wandering through the neighborhood, like maybe as they walk to the gas station to buy Skittles. I think the concept is that by locking the gate and thus denying access to the pool, then human lives might be saved. Basically, it is something that one household has to do on their own property to protect citizens they might not even know.

Of course, also according to Florida Statutes, if you have a loaded gun, you only have to lock it up if you “reasonably should know that a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm.” You have to keep your pool locked at all times because you never know, but guns only when you have a play date. And based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws, probably the best thing to do if a person does get into your pool enclosure because you have a faulty lock or left a ladder leaned up against the fence is to go ahead and shoot them for trespassing.

When something is dangerous to others, we enact laws to make that activity illegal, even if we know it is going to be impossible to completely eradicate. We make it illegal anyway. And the hope is that then people won’t commit that crime as often, like murder for example. Because jail sucks. And murder is, for most citizens, completely illegal. But we continue to sell products, over the counter, that make murder incredibly easy. Anyone can accomplish murder with a gun, even toddlers.

The inability of our country to do anything to make it even slightly more difficult to buy even the most dangerous guns is not about freedom or individualism or even the second amendment. There is an article on the website ArmedWithReason that debunks the myth that an armed citizenry prevents tyranny. Through historical analysis the article argues, “Militias are typically the gateway to tyranny, not the safeguard against it.” And the real problem for us as Americans is that as a country, we cannot agree about anything. What issue will cause us to rise up together and form a militia? When the government continues to restrict access to women’s reproductive health? When the government continues to allow Christian ideology to inform our legislation? When the government continues to actively discriminate against minority groups? I am guessing we will not agree, so if it comes down to protecting ourselves from a suddenly tyrannical government, it will be from small, disconnected, radical groups. And that sounds oddly familiar.

The real issue is that the lack of policy change about gun laws is the case of a singular group having the financial power to make their agenda more important than human lives.  If the box cutter industry had more money and better lobbyists, we would probably still be able to take those on airplanes. People would fight for their constitutional right to break down cardboard in-flight. The NRA sells fear, and fear is a wildfire. Gun sales spike after mass shootings, after terrorist attacks, after threats about gun legislation. It is a capitalist wet dream. Maybe even a capitalist centipede. Feed the fear and the people will keep taking shit. AR-15s are flying off the shelves right now after the deadliest mass shooting in modern history. Gun manufacturers are toasting their 12-ounce cans of America to the fucking profits.

And our government has their limp dicks in their hands. But they aren’t protecting the majority of constituents. Majority of Americans believe we need stricter gun laws, and we are most united in our opinion about the importance of stronger background checks. And less than half of American households have guns, broken up regionally, 27% to 38% of American households own guns, although southern whites own proportionately more guns (47% of Southern white households own guns), but black households are only half as likely to own guns, so that decreases the South’s overall percentage of gun ownership. Majority of gun owners are white, male, and tend to vote republican (see PewResearchCenter). This is interesting for multiple reasons, for starters because when the NRA became the force that it is today back in the 1970s, under the leadership of Harlon Carter, a man who at age seventeen shot and killed a fifteen-year-old Mexican kid who was armed with only a knife, and then later served as head of the U.S. Border Patrol, they did so by transforming a group that was more dedicated to hunting and sportsmanship into a fear mongering powerhouse that promotes personal protection.

Against gangs, rioters, home invaders, car jackers, terrorists, government invasion, zombies, spouses, black teenagers, and I guess even school children, movie goers, and nightclub patrons.

In Charlton Heston’s famous “Cold Dead Hands” speech, he states that wielding a firearm is the way to “defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away.” When I watch this speech, where he uses the term freedom in almost every sentence, I question what force is threatening his freedom? To what bed post is he chained? The only thing I can think of is that the haves must protect what they already have. If the individuals who already have the most power are also the individuals who own the most guns, then who should really be the most afraid?

For the most part, the citizens that support the NRA are being used as weapons—they are fired up to speak out and spread the propaganda. They get to keep their guns, yes, and they get a false sense of security—because if they have to take the gun out of your cold dead hand, then did it really do the job it was supposed to do? But people cling to this symbol of their personal freedom and protection. They put it on a bumper sticker. Just try and take my guns, they say, as the black and white drawing of a gun barrel points at me and my kids in our car waiting at the red light behind them. When a mass shooting happens, these same citizens post comments on social media about how there are lots of ways to kill people. Cain killed Abel with a rock, they say. You can kill someone with a baseball bat, they say. Great, then why do you care if someone takes your guns? Unless you own stock in a gun company (don’t get any ideas), you are losing just like the rest of us.

So why can’t we do for gun control what two dedicated women were able to do to combat drunk driving? The number of drunk driving deaths has declined by half since 1980. The citizen movement from Sandy Hook has used testimonials and pictures of first graders, so why are the photographs of these children not enough to get people to give up on a hobby and a false sense of security? What is it about guns?

Would banning assault rifles and passing stronger gun legislation save lives?

Yes.

Well shucks, Congress, then why don’t you support it?

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