The process is bunk, but disengaging from it could be dangerous

People are disengaging with the political process. It’s happening fast and it’s incredibly frustrating to me. Don’t get me wrong; I totally get it. The world is spiraling pretty quickly in multiple ways right in front of our eyes and the people in charge seem helpless to do anything about it. I can clearly see how easy it is to become cynical with any part of the process. What’s so frustrating to me about it is that I totally believe in engagement. I just think the systems are bunk and all of the wrong people are in charge—especially among the democrats.

Please understand, I’m no republican. It’s just that they’re easy to comprehend. They’re bigots and liars and that’s it. Everybody knows. In fact, it’s so commonly understood that the Republican Party doesn’t actually have a platform anymore. Like, you know the thing where members of the party get together and debate priorities and direction? Yeah, they literally just don’t do that now. They don’t have to. They all know what’s up.

The move used to be that Mitch McConnell would block any legislation benefitting the wrong people. In so doing McConnell would shield the rest of his party who would just shrug and claim that they would love to do something to help, but leadership, amirite? Politicians like Susan Collins made entire careers out of this move.

How did McConnell continuously get away with this? Well, some of it is because Kentucky is a republican-run state through gerrymandering and the usual right-wing bullshit. But some of it was actually the democrats’ doing. For example, during McConnell’s last campaign then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer worked behind the scenes to make sure McConnell would have next to no competition.

From the New York Times:

The Senate Democratic leader repeatedly pressed some prominent Kentucky Democrats to help him squelch a primary challenge to Ms. McGrath, admitting privately that she would not be a top-tier candidate, but that they could use her to raise money against Mr. McConnell and keep him pinned down in his own race, according to officials familiar with the conversations.

Predictably, McConnell won his seventh straight congressional race, crushing McGrath by nearly 20 points.

But, as we know, the democrats won on the whole—the house, senate and presidency all theirs. So why can’t they get anything done? It’s not McConnell anymore, so what’s the problem? Wait! Do you hear that? What’s that sound? Is it John Cena? Oh. Nope. It’s Joe Manchin.

The putrid rot of the republican party continues to halt national progress in the form of one man. Can we end the filibuster? No, because Joe Manchin. End gerrymandering? No, Joe Manchin. Protect voting rights, codify Roe v. Wade, Build Back Better? No, no, no. Joe Manchin, Joe Manchin, Joe Manchin.

There’s only one small problem. In true McConnell form, Joe Manchin is just the face. The reality is that there are actually plenty of democrats just as fascist as Manchin, we just don’t see them. The rot is perhaps deeper than we are ready to admit.

It may be difficult to admit, but we know things aren’t working. We know a U.S. Congress that is still somehow 77% white isn’t really all that interested in voting rights. We know that regardless of what happens to Roe v. Wade, there isn’t a politician in the country that will have a difficult time finding an abortion for a partner or family member. We know that we’re no better at fighting a global pandemic now then we were a year ago or a hundred years ago. We are a country owned and led by the wealthy and when it comes to the problems of others, the wealthy are incentivized to inaction far more than action.

The systems we have were designed and are maintained for and by the wealthy. Mixing and matching which wealthy person holds what position of power may complicate things, but it certainly doesn’t deliver meaningful change. We had a Civil War that ended slavery, but corporations use the incarcerated as slave labor, Black life is criminalized and we’ve known since at least 2014 there are more Black men in the prison system than were enslaved in 1850.

I don’t know all the answers, but I do know when people disengage from the political process they don’t just all throw up their hands and silently sit down. Many seek other means of change and those means can often be violent. I hope we figure it out before it’s too late. Joe Manchin just announced that he will vote against vaccine mandates and Florida governor Ron DeSantis just publicly proposed starting his own personal army, so I guess we’re going to find out.


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No strings donations: Breaking the cycle of privilege’s rules

A few months ago as I was walking with a friend, she was telling me about people in her home country who had even less money than she does. She was telling me about them because I had given her some money and she wanted to tell me about who the money was helping. I had a physiological response to her sharing the details of this with me. I desperately wanted her to stop. I’m still confused by this response, but am going to tease out some aspects of it here.

On the one hand, I come from a culture where we “don’t talk about money.” Talking about money signals a crassness, or, more accurately, a lack of the right kind of culture. While I didn’t grow up with enormous wealth, I grew up with people who did and I learned their language. I learned enough to know what it would take to be a part of their circles. I spoke their language with varying degrees of success.

As I’ve been practicing recovering from my addiction to whiteness, I’ve become more aware of all of the unwritten rules of speaking the language of class—and this is a cross-racial issue, though white people are more likely to be very wealthy and it’s white people I’ve known in this socioeconomic class. I wasn’t even aware that the rules were woven into me. They dictated how I moved in the world, and to a large extent they still have an impact. Even just thinking about writing this post made me feel tension in my gut, like I might be doing something shameful. I’ll get in trouble. I’ll lose access to networks. I’m not sure what else I’m afraid of, but my body has me on alert. I’m breaking a class rule, even though I’m not a part of that Super Rich class. I’m talking about money and I’m talking about the language of the moneyed class.

Another reason I flinched when my friend told me about the good results of the money I shared was because I didn’t want to feel like there were any strings attached to my gift to her. People in the upper socioeconomic classes frequently ask organizations and individuals to “sing for their supper.” I didn’t want to be one of those people. I gave the money to my friend because I had it to spare and wanted to share it.

Donors to nonprofit organizations or individuals can be very controlling about their donations. I’ve seen donors ask that recipients of financial assistance write thank-you notes to trustees, for example. Maybe that seems harmless to you, but what it does is enforce the power imbalance. You (recipient of funds) are beholden to me (donator). Individual donors often require special meetings with nonprofit management before they will make donations, too. In fact, this is very common. It’s a part of the donation process most people don’t even question. Executives in nonprofits regularly need to “court” wealthy donors. What is this courting process?

In my experience, when someone donates money but wants to be sure they have a say in how it’s used, there’s a level of white supremacy culture that is playing a part. As a white person who comes from a background of financial stability I have recently uncovered fear that real justice will mean I have to give away all of my family’s money. I have only begun touching on this fear in an embodied way. (My personal bank balances don’t show a whole lot of money to lose.) The fear lives at a deep, deep level. Existential. Cellular. I understand the urge to want to control what happens to money I donate. I think that’s why my friend describing the use of the money made me so uncomfortable. When I share money, I want to do it differently than whiteness wants me to. When I share money I do so with trust that the recipient will know best how to use it.

If you are among the class of people who has the option to share your financial resources, what do you expect of recipients? Do you trust them to use the money you share in a way that will have the most impact? If you don’t trust them, why don’t you? Are you asking people or organizations to sing for their supper? If you are, what need are you really trying to meet?


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Betwixt and between: The delusion of normal

Here in the United States, the season of holiday madness is upon us as our leaders and corporate overlords steadily push us to resume “normal,” even as we globally enter our second year of the pandemic. 

At first glance, to casually walk down the street, it’s easy to momentarily forget that we are even living in the midst of a historic life- and world-changing event. As many of the earlier pandemic precautions have faded away, what I see is that in many locales—including my state—social distancing and mandatory masking are no longer a thing, though it is suggested that people do mask up. Even the ubiquitous hand sanitizers have started to disappear. Restaurants and bars are often at capacity, and the only issue they seem to be struggling with is finding enough employees willing to risk their lives to serve an increasingly unhinged and uncivilized populace. 

The kids are back in school, and engaged in extracurricular activities, though the lack of school bus drivers and other support staff continue to threaten the charade of normal—that, and the weekly cases of COVID that create the need to quarantine. 

Americans have resumed their national pastime of shopping, though the supply chain globally remains fragile. So much shopping is occurring that it almost makes you forget that inflation is happening or that many of our fellow citizens remain at risk for losing their housing as evictions have started to happen again. 

Despite the growing concerns of inflation, the wheels of capitalism continue to churn and our success at “beating” the pandemic is measured by output, productivity and growth rather than humanity. Or the wellness of humans, for that matter. 

Strange thing though: Over 750,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID and untold numbers have had their lives uprooted by the ravaging aftermath of surviving COVID. Even in states such as mine where we are experiencing a COVID explosion despite being one of the most highly vaccinated states in the country, life is going on. The veneer of “normal” looms large. 

Despite our collective trauma and the continuing trauma of a global pandemic, societal expectations are that we are to soldier through this as if nothing life-shattering has occurred. 

In a white supremacist culture driven by the dictates of whiteness and capitalism, we are expected to be fine. The problem is that when the world goes topsy-turvy, where the richest and most powerful country survived an attempted coup by the synophants of our previous leader and where death and misery are daily staples, space has never been made to grieve or deeply acknowledge what we have gone through. Nor space given to what we continue to go through. How exactly are we to be normal? 

How can we manufacture joy over the turkeys and hams without an acknowledgement of the pain and sorrow? Why are we even expected to do so? 

Sure, not every day in the past two years has been a shitshow, but we have gone through some heavy emotional and mental trauma. Stuffing it down isn’t healthy and, frankly, doing so cheapens life. 

Our culture is unhealthy and emotionally stunted as it doesn’t create the space to grieve or heal. As anyone who has suffered deep losses knows, unacknowledged grief and pain will eventually come out. And it often does so unexpectedly and possibly makes your life go sideways, harming you in so many ways if you don’t address it. 

Despite the messages that we are being fed, nothing is normal and daily living in the middle of the pandemic with the virulent Delta variant requires daily vigilance in most locales, despite the fact that we are being told that all we need is to be vaccinated. Vaccines are key, certainly, but staying safe and protecting ourselves requires a multi-pronged approach. That mean vaccines, boosters, mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing at times. But like everything in America, we distill things down to a level so basic that nuance and depth are lost in translation. 

The current state of America isn’t an aberration. It is a reflection of who we are, broken and unable to face reality. Just as we cannot ever fully face our racial history, we seem unable to face the need for a shared humanity where we care enough beyond our personal comfort that we create a healthier space for everyone. 


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