Friday, November 07, 2008
Here's a guest post from my friend Dajenya Kafele about the election, Prop. 8 and hope for activists. She describes herself as mixed-race and bisexual -- and I'll add that she is social worker and has been a writer for all the long years I've known her. I have shortened her original, but, I hope, retained its sense and spirit.
There are so many reasons that I am euphoric about Obama's landslide election that I can't begin to name them all, and when I try, I get tangled up in words, none of which can adequately express all the reasons.
At first I was happy not to have to explain anything as most people around me share my elation, and people all over the US, and indeed around the world, understand in great measure the significance of what just happened here.
However, by the day after the election I was disheartened by the number of people in my LGBT community who were so disillusioned and depressed by the gay-marriage setbacks that they failed to be moved by the significance of Obama's election. It is not all LGBT people, by any means, who are too boggled down by that single issue to appreciate the magnitude of the good thing that just happened. But a significant number seem to be.
My initial reaction was to feel sorry that some of my friends and associates were missing out on something so wonderful and I put forth my arguments for why they should celebrate, not mourn, this incredible moment.
As I continued to hear from more and more LGBT people for whom the (temporary) gay marriage defeat overshadowed the election of the first Black president of the United States (who also happens to be more progressive than most presidents of our lifetime), I began to get annoyed by the tunnel vision of so many in the LGBT community who, (like so many individuals in so many oppressed groups), can only see their own oppression, their own struggle, their own specific needs, and can do no more than give lip-service to any other cause. I don't know why I always expect more of activists, (and of everyone I know personally), but I do.
Finally, I came to terms with the fact that badgering people haphazardly with various reasons they should be absolutely elated right now rather than sad and self-pitying was not helping anyone, and that I was wasting too much time reacting to the statements of individuals one at a time. So let me begin by taking head-on what is getting in the way of so many of my LGBT sisters and brothers:
Learn the difference between a setback and a defeat. The struggle for LGBT rights that has taken place over my lifetime has made so much incredible progress in such a historically short period of time. Are you old enough to remember the 50's when people were arrested merely for being in a gay bar (and when there was no where else for gay people to meet)? We have now come so far that so many people have the luxury of believing that acceptance of gay-marriage IS the (whole) struggle today.
To date we have been so successful in our struggle for equal rights that in our battle for gay marriage, the opposition resorts to defending domestic partnership as being what we have a right to. Don't you see? They are not positioned to take away the rights we have already successfully won, so much as they are desperately trying to keep us from getting more. The opposition is actually on the defensive trying to stem the tide of freedom and equality as we march forward.
Did you expect that we would never have a set back? Did you think all our work was done? Did you think we could sit back, ignore the need to keep educating "the masses" and let the Courts do our work for us against the will of voters, and it would stick with no more effort on our part? Changing minds takes time, but we have made incredible progress over my short lifetime and we will continue to do so.
Losing a battle is not losing a war.
Perhaps being mixed race and bi-sexual has forced me to always be cognizant of more than one struggle, more than one oppression, more than one cause. Then again, most people around me today, white as well as black (and 'other'), LGBT as well as straight, seem to get it; seem to understand the amazing significance of what just took place.
It is not Obama that is the "almost-miracle." It's great that he is as progressive as he is on domestic issues and the environment. It is too bad that he is not (yet?) more progressive regarding foreign policy and our relationship to foreign countries and our role in the world. We hope with bated breath and caution (and readiness to take to the streets) that he won't pull us out of one war only to rush us into another.
It's great that Obama seems more like a real human being to me than any president in my adult life time...someone who I can relate to, identify with, who I could see being friends with. It's great that Obama seems so honest and real (very unusual in a president candidate -- let alone an elected president).
But the "almost miracle" is not Obama. The "almost miracle" is the fact that the US elected him president.
On the race issue alone, this is an "almost-miracle." This is the part that so many people all over the world get. People outside the US are very aware how racist the US has always been, even if so many white people in the US fail to see it. That the US elected a black person (any black person) to be president IS a revolution in the consciousness of America. It is also a conscious raising model for the world. People will think: if it can happen in the US it can happen anywhere.
But this is not just a step forward in the struggle against racism. It is a major step for all struggles for civil rights, equality, justice; a major step forward for the US, in fact for all humanity. If you think that any minority (such as LGBT people) will succeed in all their endeavor for equal treatment, while the great grandchildren of slaves continue to be treated us 3rd class citizens, you are sorely mistaken. This victory for one very oppressed group is a victory for all oppressed groups. In fact, it is a victory for everyone, as it is a very beneficial step in our common evolution and provides so much more hope in the world for our mutual survival and betterment of the world.
Add to the immense significance of Obama's ethnicity, the fact that Obama appears to be standing to the left of any president we ever had (certainly in MY lifetime). The fact that he is so focused on unifying people on the left and the right is not such a bad thing either -- even though it means negotiation, compromise and slow progress. We don't move forward alone. We must bring "the people", all the people, along with us. We are one species, one humanity and our seemingly endless wars of "us and them" hurt all of us. We must learn to befriend our "enemies" and educate instead of alienate if humanity is ever to learn peace.
Well, I cannot tell people how to think or what to feel. It just saddens me when so many of my sisters and brothers deprive themselves of the awesome emotional appreciation of this unique (possibly once-in-a-lifetime) experience of such revolutionary significance and social/political/spiritual/human magnitude. Obama provides hope for ALL struggles, ALL oppressed people. And enough of us knew that and felt that through the core of our being to participate in the communal euphoria that spread all over this country and around the world when Barack Hussein Obama II was elected president of the United States of America.
I think many of us activists are so used to struggling and fighting for our rights and complaining about everything that we think is bad or that we think should be better, that we don't know how to react when something wonderful happens ... and then we completely miss the moment and the extra-ordinary experience that we could be sharing with all the forward-thinking people of the world.
Wake up and smell the (de-caffeinated fair-trade) coffee. This is a wonderful moment. It is big enough to last for many a day. It is not too late to appreciate it. Take a minute to soak it in and bask in a well-earned euphoria before marching on to the next plateau.
With nothing but love for us all,