put up your dukes, asshole

put up your dukes, asshole

Over the past couple of days, I’ve heard from a number of friends with questions about what they should do in response to the outcome of the election; how they can have a impact in the face of the administration that will be in The White House in January. I’ve written this post with those folks in mind.

1. He’s going to be President. And even if you magically get rid of him, then you have Mike Pence. 

I don’t say this to suggest that people shouldn’t be in the streets chanting “Not my president!” this week and throughout the four years he (presumably) will be in office. It’s INCREDIBLY important that this is happening. It’s obviously cathartic for those who are involved, but it also sends a message to him and to those who will work with him (like the Republican-led Senate and House) that he does not have a resounding mandate from the American people. (He may have been given the keys to the car, but our hands are firmly on the parking brake.) It also sends a valuable message internationally: we’re not all xenophobic, racist, sexist assholes with messiah complexes and we don’t want to be told what to do by someone who is. Many of us, in fact, know how to and would like to play nicely, with the recognition that the global sandbox is large – and diverse.

I DO say this because I’ve seen people share ideas for how to prevent his ascension and I think it’s a waste of time and energy that is going to be greatly needed over the next four years. And it ignores the reality that Mike Pence may not be a blowhard, but he IS a homophobic prick who wants to take control of our bodies away from women and that, even if we get rid of Pence, the next in line is Speaker Paul Ryan. (Shudder.)

We need to confront reality: this is the card we have been dealt. Play it.

2. Stay and do your part.

For those of you who are talking about leaving? That’s nice for you, but there are a whole bunch of folks who don’t have that luxury and could use your help.

3. Educate yourself. Just because he doesn’t understand how the government works doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either.

In addition to the fact that he is a liar, a pig, and a racist, xenophobic, sexist creep, the thing that has driven me most batty about him is that he doesn’t seem to know how government works. He hasn’t read the Constitution (Could someone get this man a copy of the Constitution for Dummies?), he doesn’t grasp checks and balances and the limitations of the Executive Office and – which is weird for a Republican – he seems to think more power sits in the federal government (versus with the states) than actually does. The asshat doesn’t even know what Obamacare is, except that he doesn’t like it. I supported Hillary, in part, for the same reason I hire someone who knows how to use a camera when we need to film something; she knows how it works.

The thing is, a fair number of us need to pull out our U.S. Civics textbooks too, if we’re going to be able to be effective in response to the shit that is going to be flying our way. In particular, it is important to know what gets decided at the state/local versus federal level. For many of us who are lucky enough to live in “blue” states, we can advocate for and support our state, county, and city-level lawmakers to pass legislation that reflects our values and protects our neighbors and which can counter more hateful decisions that are being made at the federal level. (In most cases, state law overrides federal law.) We can also pay attention to what is happening at the state, county, and city-level in OTHER states and engage our friends who live there to be involved and do the same.

The kinds of issues that are decided locally versus at the federal level include many/most voting rights issues, education policy, LGBTQ discrimination/anti-discrimination policies, reproductive rights, police/criminal justice reform, and more. It is something about which you can be hopeful because you HAVE POWER.

4. We have allies at the federal level. 

While I hope they don’t choose to obstruct for the sake of being obstructionists – like their GOP brethren did in response to Obama – there are quite a few Democrats in the House and Senate who will be grabbing hands and playing the most important game of Red Rover EVER. They may represent you, they may not. But they need to hear from you when the time comes. And those who don’t seem like obvious allies? They need to hear from you too. There are plenty of GOP members of Congress who think he is bat shit crazy. Appeal to their better selves.

5. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Support the folks who were doing work before and will continue to do tomorrow and the day after as well.

I’ve seen some folks talk online about starting new organizations. PLEASE avoid the temptation. Of course, I say this with the SIGNIFICANT caveat that Black Lives Matter is relatively newly created and has had an invaluable impact. But it was done so organically and because there was a gap that needed to be filled and its message resonated with those who became involved and who may not have been involved otherwise. (Read Jeff Chang’s We Gon’ Be Alright for his take on their origin story and because Jeff is one of the most important voices in this country.) So, sure, if there IS a gap, fill it. But educate yourself first and consider making the groups who are not as strong as they could be STRONG.

I know of LOTS of groups who are getting by with minimal staff and tiny budgets that could use volunteers, people who can help them to get their messages out, and MONEY to help them to change the world. And I would be happy to share them with you if you’re looking to have an impact on a particular issue.

6. Subscribe to a newspaper.

I’m serious. Pay for your content. The next President has been hostile to the press, particularly those who call him out on his lies. WE NEED THEM. They fact check his bullshit. They let us know what is UP. And they NEEDS TO GET PAID to be able to continue to do so or they go away.

7. SCOTUS are people.

I am admittedly terrified about the impact that he will have on the Supreme Court – for generations to come. But while it can be scary that many decisions that affect our lives are decided by NINE people, they are in fact people. And one of the criteria they consider when they make their decisions is whether or not the country is READY for the change that would result from their decisions. So, get your shit together and pay attention to the SCOTUS docket (the SCOTUS blog is your friend) and, when an issue that is important to you is coming up, TALK ABOUT IT. Share news stories about it. In a couple of months, Aggregate is going to be on your case to talk about transgender issues for this very reason. SHOW UP.

8. Rock the Vote EVERY Day.

About twenty years ago I moved to Los Angeles to work at Rock the Vote. I ran a campaign that aimed to help young people understand that policy change happened on a day-to-day basis; that Election Day was not the only chance you had to have your voice heard. We traveled the country looking for stories of real young people who were getting skate parks built, overturning city council decisions to prevent all ages shows, increasing funding for higher education. And we found the little bastards. They recognized their ability to have an impact on issues that mattered to them. Please do the same. And please ask me – and my team – when you need help to do so. Our jobs became more difficult on November 8, but our passion for social justice persists.

Put up your dukes, asshole, we’re coming to get you.

If you have any more ideas, please share in the comments.

part of the argument: lgbtq storytelling and social change

part of the argument: lgbtq storytelling and social change

“You think you can change America through film?” – Charlie Rose

“Oh, I don’t know. That’s not even in my job description. Storytelling. Get the story right. Do what you can with the story. Try not to cheat the story. Whatever happens after that is in the purview of other people. I felt that way as a reporter; I feel that way doing this. But every now and then you get to be a part of an argument, and that feels good.” – David Simon

 

Despite desperate efforts to create the next “viral” video or to fund a social impact film that turns the policy agenda on its head, the contribution of storytelling to social change is cumulative–and it takes time.

A single story can evoke passion, promote empathy, teach, enrage, or empower its audience to take action–but it alone will not change the world. But every now and then you get to be part of an argument, and that feels good.

One TYPE of story can’t change the world either; we cannot live on didactic social issue films alone. Pop culture–even the really bad stuff–contributes, as do the personal stories we tell each other (online and IRL) or that we hear on the news. Art and music inspire us to see the world differently, or to be willing to do so.

Even a simple photograph can make a difference. The image of Michael Brown’s father yelling in pain at his son’s funeral, sweat soaking the front of his shirt, must have led even some of the most callous among us to realize something must be done to stop the war on young black men in this country.

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Over the past few years, the acceleration in the movement to ensure the civil rights of the LGBTQ community has been remarkable–even dizzying at times. While in the past decade there has been a sense that progress—particularly marriage equality—would come simply through the passage of time and a change in generational leadership, many of us still presumed the “inevitable” was years down the road.

Without a doubt, this progress can be attributed to a whole bunch of activists across this country, busting their asses and using their smarts to change the minds of policymakers and judges. But storytelling has been an accelerant to the pace of change, including the personal “coming out” stories so many have had the courage to tell at the risk of rejection, discrimination, and even violence.

In a 2013 Pew survey of LGBT Americans, 70 percent expressed their belief that “knowing someone who is LGBT helps a lot in terms of making society more accepting of the LGBT population.” When President Obama sat down with Robin Roberts on ABC News in 2012, becoming the first sitting U.S. President publicly to voice his support for marriage equality, he shared that dinner table conversations with his daughters Sasha and Malia about their friends’ same sex parents were what contributed to his changing views.

It is more difficult to hate when the object of your hostility is your child, your colleague, your neighbor, your teacher or, it seems, the parents of your children’s friends.

We created a timeline, LGBTQ Storytelling and Social Change, out of our own curiosity. We knew that storytelling – personal and pop culture – had played a role in progress in the LGBTQ rights movement, but we wanted to map the progression and to see the relationship over time of storytelling, social milestones and policy change. From Henry Gerber to Jennicet Gutierrez, from The Ladder to How to Survive a Plague, from President Eisenhower’s policy to ban “homosexuals” from working for the federal government to the U.S. Senate’s repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we’ve done that.

It is a timeline that reveals small steps and giant leaps forward as well as frequent and devastating falls backward. It is, oddly, a testament to both impatience (with injustice) and patience (with the long haul). It reflects that, even as gay characters became more prominent in films and television, gay people of color did not. It reflects the actions of presidents and other policy makers, bigots, activists, writers, actors, filmmakers, designers, magazine editors, murderers, artists, reality show stars, judges, musicians, athletes, and Dear Abby.

The triumphs remind us of how much has been done to get us to where we are and of the people who carried the burden, both the names in bold and those who will never be adequately acknowledged. They also remind us of how much more work still needs to be done.

We can celebrate love, but we can’t allow a wedding veil to block our view of the discriminatory practices that prevent many gay and transgender people–particularly people of color–from getting or keeping jobs or finding a home.

We can smile at a photo of Laverne Cox with the President and First Lady, but we shouldn’t forget to weep in response to the transgender women who have been murdered in the United States since the beginning of 2015: Lamia Beard, Ty Underwood, Papi Edwards, Bri Golec, Yazmin Vash Payne, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, Penny Proud, Kristina Gomez Reinwald, London Chanel, Mercedes Williamson, India Clarke, K.C. Haggard, Amber Monroe, Shade Schuler, Ashton O’Hara, Kandis Capri, Elisha Walker, and Tamara Dominiguez.

The process of putting the timeline together made it clear how much we have (and want) to learn. We’re confident that, despite our efforts, we’ve left things out that should be included. If you think there’s a story we should add to our timeline, let us know. Email me at alison AT whatisaggregate DOT com. Tell us a story.

thoughts on how to survive a plague

thoughts on how to survive a plague

A few of the Aggregate team members recently got the chance to attend a screening of How to Survive a Plague, a documentary about the AIDS activist movement in the early days of the pandemic.

From: Alison Byrne Fields
To: Haley Sides, Melissa Duque
Subject: Thoughts on How to Survive a Plague

Melissa & Haley,

I’m really glad you finally got the chance to go see How to Survive a Plague. I’ve been in love with the film since seeing it with friends at Sundance at the beginning of the year and have been on a mission to encourage everyone I know to see it too.

There are so many things that I love about the film: how effective the use of old Hi8 and VHS footage is at conveying the intimacy and DIY nature of the movement, the message that self-interest is a perfectly justifiable motivator for becoming an activist, the “characters” in the film, how strategic the activists were to educate themselves about the science to better enable them to know what to ask for and to partner with researchers, the unexpected decision by the director, David France, not to demonize Big Pharma and to portray their researchers as heroes in their own right. This list could keep going.

A few months back, I had the opportunity to speak with David France, who said that his goal with the film was that the story of the HIV/AIDS movement would become part of the canon. After hearing him say that, I found this great quote on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s site about the Black civil rights movement in the United States:

“The civil rights movement is one of the defining events in American history, providing a bracing example of Americans fighting for the ideals of justice and equality. When students learn about the movement, they learn what it means to be an active American citizen. They learn how to recognize injustice. They learn about the role of individuals, as well as the importance of organization. And they see that people can come together to stand against oppression.”

Ensuring people see and know the story of How to Survive a Plague has that same power.

Tell me what you think. What stood out most for you?

– Alison

From: Haley Sides
To: Alison Byrne Fields, Melissa Duque
Subject: Re: Thoughts on How to Survive a Plague

Hi Alison and Meli,

Thank you for sending us to see How to Survive a Plague, Alison. Being born in the mid 80s, I was young and don’t have a strong recollection of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s. This film beautifully portrays the extent to which AIDS activists had to go to compel society, the government and the scientific community  to act on this crisis. I found it amazing to see everyday people becoming experts and building legitimacy within the scientific community. The personal narratives of people living with HIV/AIDS combined with the evolution of activism around the HIV/AIDS crisis made for one of the most humbling, saddening, yet empowering documentaries I’ve ever seen.

The film also spoke to me on a very personal level. I found out in 2002 that a loved one of mine had just been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. This film put in perspective for me that in the U.S., between 2002 and only a decade prior, the difference in such a diagnosis is literally the difference between living with HIV/AIDS and dying from it. I couldn’t help but to reach out to Peter Staley after the film and thank him and others for fighting for not only his own life but the lives of so many others.  By the way, Alison, Peter messaged me back and said to give you a big hug for being such a great supporter of the film. (((HUGS)))

One aspect of the film that spoke to me the most was the question of how society treats people who do human things. I’ll never forget sitting in class my senior year of high school, less than a year after I saw my own family member come *this close* to death, and hearing a classmate angrily say, “Why don’t we just kill every person who has HIV/AIDS?!” As the ACT UP activist Bob Rafsky put it in the film, “A decent society does not put people out to pasture and let them die because they’ve done a human thing.” Bob did not live to see the tides turn in 1995-96, but his words, his drive, his desperate plea to society, is haunting. The work he and others did has forced society to confront the ways in which we stigmatize HIV/AIDS and those living with it.

That’s my take on the film. I hope every person I know, or don’t know for that matter, takes the time to watch How to Survive a Plague, and that it sparks more open, sincere dialogue about HIV/AIDS.

– Haley

From: Melissa Duque
To: Haley Sides, Alison Byrne Fields
Subject: Re: Thoughts on How to Survive a Plague 

Haley & Alison,

It’s been almost a week since we watched the movie and the home videos of Bob Rafsky featured in the film are still with me. The entire film was done beautifully and I respect and adore how David France was able to weave in the story of Robert Rafsky’s fight against AIDS. But I’m not talking about Bob’s speeches at ACT UP or his confrontation with then presidential candidate Bill Clinton; I’m talking about those home videos shared throughout the film documenting his relationship with his daughter, Sara.It’s those quiet moments between a father and his daughter that tell the story of AIDS that no amount of pamphlets, statistics or infographics could ever do. In the videos I saw a man fighting against AIDS, and fighting to have more time with his little girl. At times the videos made me smile and other times I cried as I watched Bob’s health deteriorate.

That night after I watched the film, I kept thinking about that little girl. I mean how could I not, my last image of her was at her dad’s funeral crying. I decided to search for Sara. I found out that she’s a research associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists Americas program. In 2008 she was awarded a Fulbright Grant to research photojournalism and the Colombian armed conflict. What an incredible woman.

Haley, I put the quote you shared from Rafsky on our wall. It’s a great reminder of what we are working towards.

-Meli