Friday, November 07, 2008

Don't let the shadow of a rat keep you from feeling the sun

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,



Beth said...

OK, well said. I'd rather have Obama and Prop 8 (and no on 4!!) than McCain and No on 8. And perhaps Obama will give us universal health care and civil unions, and gay marriage will be a moot point.

I still reserve my right to mixed emotions, though--and I'm not even all that wild about marriage as "the" national-level gay issue. I'm thrilled about Obama, but I don't think Californians can feel smug about their progressiveness. Isn't it true that nobody's free till we all are?

Kay Dennison said...

Thank you, Jan, for allowing Ms. Kafele to share her thoughts with us!

Thank you, Ms. Kafele, for a wonderfully articulate and logical commentary. Twenty years ago none of this would have been possible. That we have even have dialogue on these issues is a miracle in my mind. That a mixed race man is about to be our President is a huge miracle. It demonstrates that progress has been made.

The rest will come in time if the struggle continues.

Neil said...

The reason the passage of 8 is so difficult to swallow is that we could have won. In fact, we should have won, but we blew it by running a campaign with a meandering message, lackluster fundraising, and minimal grassroots and field organization. We missed an opportunity to put the issue to bed for good, and that's not easy to take.

Rebecca Gordon said...

Dajenya, you have expressed my thoughts and emotions about this moment better than I could have done. Thank you.

Sometimes it seems hard for us on the left to claim our victories. It's almost as if winning threatens to shake the worldview we've hacked through so many lies to acquire. Having learned that there are real conflicts of interest in the world, that we have real adversaries, it can be disorienting when we actually win one of our struggles.

I don't know why anyone who actually understood what she or he was taking on would want the responsibility of the U.S. presidency at this moment, but thank God we got the one we did.

Now our job is to keep pushing from the left - because we know our adversaries are going to be shoving in the opposite direction!

Fr. John said...

I think the passage of Prop 8 is such a blow to so many LGBT people because it triggers deeply internalized feelings of shame, insecurity, and being "less-than." It is difficult to feel joy when one is emotionally reduced to a fearful adolescent who will never fit in. It takes a great deal of awareness and maturity to resist this undertow of unredeemed suffering.

The antidote, for me, is to take refuge in community and in the embrace of a Love that transcends and heals the smallness of this temporary setback. The beloved community empowers us to continue the struggle for justice. We need to be that community for each other right now, both in our joy and in our pain.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you for this post. Points well made and equally well taken.

That being said, let me say this: As a woman and a lesbian in partnership for 32 years, who, 32 years ago has lost custody of her children and regained them after 5 years and thousands of dollars in legal fees we could not afford, who has been passed over for promotions or not even considered for certain jobs because I'm a woman, who still deals daily with the manifestations of the micro-oppression of sexism, heterosexism and homophobia, you will, please, excuse me if I'm still of mixed emotions on this one.

I'm THRILLED that Obama is our President Elect. I KNOW his progressive agenda will eventually right this wrong. I KNOW, from personal experience (see above paragraph), that "losing a battle is not losing a war."

I also KNOW that winning a battle is not winning the war.

Just let me grieve losing the battle against heterosexism and homophobia while I celebrate winning a battle against racism, okay?

Meanwhile, the war rages on. Meanwhile, the Truth is marching on.

I don't write this with any sort of meanness of spirit, but really, my sister, I don't need your explanations, your sympathy or your empathy.

I just need you to let me sit with my raw, complex emotions in this very red hot moment in time.

Think of it this way: If Obama had lost and Prop 8 had been defeated, would you be easily consoled by a post similar to your own?

No, I didn't think so.

So, like Jonah, let me just sit under this withering plant of hope when I need to. Understand that when I share with you my joy as well as my sorrow that this is a huge statement of trust.

Pretty soon, I'll wipe my tears, blow my nose, pick up my socks and continue to keep on keepin' on. I'll be the loudest one signing and the most outrageous dancer in the streets come Inauguration Day.

Just not right now. Now when you want me to. Okay?

Anonymous said...


-- Dajenya

Nell said...

Learn the difference between a setback and a defeat.

Involving as it does the experience of both setbacks and defeat, that's one painful learning process.

Still excellent advice, though.

Dajenya said...

Hi, its me again: Dajenya.

Well, now that I have finished celebrating the election of Obama, I am back to say that I am very concerned that his election has led to a fair amount of complacency in the anti-war movement. Sure, Obama plans to get us out of Iraq (after a year or two...), and meanwhile he plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Even if you are not a pacifist, even if you believe some wars are either justified or necessary, or might do more good than harm, this war falls into none of those 3 categories.

Even articles in Time magazine (hardly a progressive media) state that war in Afghanistan is un-win-able (as it was for every invader from Alexander the Great to the USSR). Afghanistan is more a collection of tribes than a united nation, and the land/topography as well as the cultural conditions are such that "victory" is not possible. So what will be accomplished? Many thousands of deaths of US soldiers and Afghani citizens, and a continuation of the huge waste of money that is so sorely needed here at home. Just so Obama can prove that he is neither "weak" nor a leftist?

I offer my prior article as my pro-Obama credentials. However, regarding his stance on Afghanistan, it is past-due time for the US anti-war movement to organize and resist the escalation of this newest "Vietnam." Rather than tip-toe on eggshells to avoid conflict with our beloved Obama, I hope that all those who, like myself, supported Obama's campaign with words, money and action, will now feel responsible to send a message to our friend Obama that war is not the answer; certainly not this war!

Obama may be the closest thing to Roosevelt in our lifetime. But there is no president then, now, or ever, who does not need to hear the loud and clear voice(s) of concerned citizens when he takes our money, our children, our conscience, our international reputation to war. Unlike the slow quiet involvement in Vietnam, the escalation of this war is public and publicized. What are we waiting for?

Dajenya said...

That was then; this is now. I stand by my comments about the revolutionary importance of the US electing a Black president. However, I must retract my statements about Obama being to the left of other presidents or comparing him to FDR. Today I can only say that Obama is a fantastic speaker, but I no longer see him as any more honest than any other president was, nor to the left. In many areas (such as war & civil liberties) he has exceeded the evil doings of his predecessor. But what upsets me more than my disillusionment with Obama is how relatively silent and inactive the peace movement has been since Obama took office.
-- Dajenya in 2013

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