Sunday, January 29, 2012

I am an American or Shrouding things with Words

Why I am even writing rather than trying to sleep is beyond me.  Especially since the alternative is to sit and try to tell you with words how tired I am of words.  I am tired of words, I am tired, I am not up to the tasks before me. 

I don't trust words anymore.  I guess that is what you get for changing cultures and beliefs the way that I have in the last ten years.  Maybe this is what you get with bipolar.  Maybe this is what happens when a person who is only trying to be honest with herself takes as much of a look at reality as she can bear.  I don't know why, but I am sick of words and ill at ease with all of them.  Words enslave us, and make us incapable of love.  Here are some words I am particularly sick about: unholy, American, Christian, doctor, good, bad, fair, Jesus, God.  They do not mean what they used to mean to me. 

I wish you could see it with my eyes.  I wish you could unwrap from your mind the assumptions you have about the rightness of your cause, your country, your religion, your views.  Please don't unwrap it as far as I have unwrapped mine, because frankly I have gone too far for comfort, although not so far that I think my views are invalid.  But it would be hard to say what my views are, actually, my brain seems to have made a decision without consulting me to shut down words for a while.  This makes it quite difficult to think things through, but it is actually a relief.  Here I agree with my brain.

I mean, you guys, in Washington I was the biggest cheerleader of liberal capitalism ever, and I thought I was super internationally minded, with my Foreign Sovereign Immunitiy Act and my nerdy habit of joyfully reading the Economist cover to cover on Friday nights.  I thought with the Embassy parties and the Beaujolais Nouveau parties that I really was a citizen of the Earth.  And I was so completely wrong.  In the last ten years, I have discovered a powerful strain of American exceptionalism within me, one that only after ten years am I fully understanding.  It makes me ill at ease with my country.  I remember some British person saying to me around '07 that there wasn't much of a difference between Obama and McCain.  I was completely shocked at their ignorance of American politics.  There were life-changing differences between them, of course!.  In retrospect, I see these differences as really small.  Goldman Sachs and military contractors really had nothing to fear from either one.  For on the biggest systemic issues of war, corporate favoritism and the monetizing of democracy, the candidates were pretty much aligned.   As was our government and our courts.  And that alignment continues even more closely between Romney and Gingrich yet all of America is entranced by their differences.  I see that as pure misdirection.  I don't think anyone is orchestrating the misdirection, I just think we have not been policing our democracy while we have been busy getting and spending and now this has happened: 

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” —Noam Chomsky

The presuppositions of our system are that elections are decided by money, wars must go on, and environmental concerns are not pressing.  Those are three that I think most people in the United States actually disagree with, but no one is talking about those issues in the GOP primary.  The Republicans are shaking their heads over the Dukakkis situation they have going on, with no great candidate and much disorder among the ranks.  The Democrats are getting worried and sending money to Obama.  And those are your two choices.  You get two.  That, in itself, is pretty bipolar.  Everyone in the US is damned to this binary thinking, and the left who would be Greens or a third party are told to stifle themselves and fall in line with the Democrats otherwise Ann Coulter will be president.  It's an incredibly effective threat.    Meanwhile, from the distance where I am, the United States is like China, running Guatanamo Bay and Homeland Security and the militarization of airports.  You get hassled by soldiers when you come to my country.  It makes people quite nervous.  The United States put Bernard Manning in prison and really, the deprivation of Manning's civil rights gets as much press as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's.  But somehow the good people of the United States don't see it.    

Anyway, as of Tuesday I will have been resident in the United Kingdom for ten years.  I have noticed that old people are happier and are comforted by national health care, which doesn't seem to work worse than private insurance and in many cases, works a whole lot better.  I have noticed that people having more time to spend with their families because of the relatively greater job security they enjoy, and that seems a good thing.  They may write the best plays.  But oh, their laws are form over substance, as are their manners, and oh, the whole country looks back, worships the past and fosters their regional differences.  And where I am, it is around 1958 and men (not, I hasten to say, my husband) are quite used to telling women what to do and that whole scene does not work for me.   The whole scene revolves around words about the past, but I am trying to get a feeling for the future.  And for that, I need and miss my United States.  I need the hope.  The hope sort of gives you courage to look into yourself and question the big things that need to be questioned.  I miss the honesty and forthrightness of Americans.  They don't waste time shrouding things in words.  They do here,  they shroud every meaning that they can, and read obituaries closely and they love to eulogize so much more than they love to act, to plan, to envision a future.

What I love and miss is something that cannot be put into words.  It is a feeling.  Being American and interacting with Americans feels good:  there is a confidence and a hope and there is a presupposition that we can change the world.  I love it.  I love being around Americans. It's easier than interacting with British people with the fewer shrouds and the pay-off is higher (because of the honesty and forthrightness).  Also Americans accept that they have an interior life of feelings.  When I moved here in '87 I found it such a relief to talk about ideas with my new British friends and have a break from the relentless Midwestern Christian School coffee shop discussions about how things made us feel.  Really.  But actually, there comes a time and place to talk about feelings, and the skills we developed in those coffee houses actually made us, on the whole, happier than many British people who lack these skills.  Talking to someone who is putting their feelings into words is cleaner and more refreshing than talking to someone who doesn't understand or is ignoring their feelings.  And I think the manners thing actually cuts in favor of the Americans too.  Not all the time, but I find that some British people use manners as a sword, to judge someone who does not match theirs. The manners thing is sometimes genuine courtesy that is appreciated but it is also sometimes a pretension that serves only to distance people, a sort of misdirection.

In the past couple years, I have made some really solid British friends who I really love, and nothing is meant to detract from them.  I even have a couple who agree with me that they are sick of words. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Theology Centre, Mariella Frostrup and Occupy

The chicken is in the oven and my 3 yo daughter decided not to do my hair so I have a moment.  Did you read Mariella Frostrup today in the Guardian?

She had the perfect message for Martin Luther King Day.  Why not join with a church community, since everything else sucks so bad.  This woman is a closet fan of Occupy and has been since 15 October and this one is her best message yet:  when overwhelmed with life and parenting and work, put yourself in a real community.  Have real friends and relationships.  And churches are real communities and you don't have to believe in God to go.  You need only believe that too much of your identity is getting and spending and that there must be more.  Sorry about the typical pronoun slaughter but she was making a point.  In the absence of answers from anyone else, why not try the church? 

  This is a big day for Occupy.  The Camp in London is celebrating Day 90.  And they are remembering Dr. King, a man who moved the United States by speaking church to church.  This calling upon a common love of justice Dr. King's work, or, as he was misquoted saying - drum major activities - informed my work on Winter Carnival and my understanding that an alliance between people of faith and the people of Occupy is fundamental to improvement in our society. 

Earlier this week I met with a group called the Contextual Theology Centre.  I have concluded that there are pockets of powerful good will within the Church of England that seek to help Occupy. This would be a good and fruitful alliance. 

A friend from the States is visiting and it is so very great, it has been way too long since I spent time with her.  I keep boring her  by complaining about how shockingly narrow the political discourse has become in the United States and saying the things I always say, that both the Democrats and the Republicans are just about the money, and the public dialogue stultifies with the narrowness of available discussions.  No one speaks of stopping wars, the most left leaning Democrat seeks only to streamline defense spending.  It is taken for granted that we will invade at the whim of our Federal government and not complain.  For a start.   Even the most progressive people I know will not easily give up on the system, not give up on the bitter bipartisan war in Congress, not give up on giving money to campaigns and thereby exacerbating the problem that campaigns are all about money.  They do tend to think twice when I say that if anyone could fix Washington, wasn't it the Obamas?  I mean, if these guys can't do it, then I can't think of anyone else who could.  The system is irrevocably broken from within.  The culture of money is too powerful to vanquish within the rules and means of the old ways. Here in the UK too.  The good news is that there are lots of people of faith who think this as well.

So we will fix it.  This is going to take a long time and I think things will get worse before they get better.  But I am excited about the opportunity to leave a better world for Liberty and Owain.  

I am with you, Occupy. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy New Year

So happy New Year to you. My children are still not back in school, and it has been one long holiday at our house, and it only ended tonight.  Playing Lego Harry Potter on Wii, watching Arrested Development, going on walks and snuggling has really eaten into my blogging time.  Star Wars, incidentally, is becoming a big part of Christmas thanks to some cookie cutters shaped like Yoda's head and C3PO and R2D2 being in our nativity. I couldn't be happier about that.

For this new year I resolved to work on three prongs of Occupy that I thought to be most important.  The first is the alliance with the Church of England.  The second is litigation.  The third is local organizing.

On the Alliance:  Occupy is slipping into a ghetto.  What it has accomplished is the awakening, but momentum is not building, the camping idea is not sustainable, people remain skeptical, and a long-term strategy is not apparent to people who are not there.  I am concerned it is becoming another invisible activist group, instead of the 99%.  Outreach through the Bank of Ideas exists but seems sparse.  Local occupations in England struggle.  Winter Carnival is only happening, if it happens, on a much more abbreviated scale and without the involvement of any of the London Occupy groups.  That is fine.  (Well, there is an issue of pride with me.  I am a fighter and I don't let things go easily.  Even now when someone very gently and nicely points out that the Winter Carnival is not picking up steam, I glower at them and think, screw you, buddy, I will MAKE it happen.  But for reasons below, actually, I will not). 

I continue to think that the commonality of peoples of faith and everyone drawn to Occupy is the Epiphany, is the connection that could really make this the 99% and keep us all safe - ie nonviolent.  I fear for the next year with our militarized police and their protection of the corporate interests pimping the Olympics and the huge strikes and protests planned.  And I fear that the more Occupy is marginalized, the more that the change it represents will be marginalized.  I know there are people who see this Alliance as important and I wish them godspeed.  I don't believe in god and I am an ex-Christian but there is something in this thirst for justice at Occupy that is sacred and holy and squarely within the remit of the Church of England so even though I know I do not make people happy when I say it, the Church of England needs to help.  Both Occupy and the Church of England could use some new people.Work together to get some. 

On the lawsuits:  There was a conference at the Bank of Ideas yesterday about bringing criminal actions in the UK as a private prosecutor and the possibility of, under the Occupy banner, bringing lawsuits for war crimes, economic crimes and welfare crimes.  I was going to go. I personally would love to do this.  The existing Civil Rights and Civil Liberties organization in the UK, called Liberty, is the preening lapdog of the corporations and I would love to get in there and raise some hell.  Put me in charge and I'll file some real lawsuits, the kind the Man is scared of.  To me, that is FUN FUN FUN.  I don't know much about this private prosecutorial ability, but I do think there is a wealth of possibilities in civil lawsuits against the Corporation of the City of London, shareholder actions, pension owner actions, class actions - a time-honoured element of modern rights struggles is the use of the courts.    The court proceedings Occupy has been subject to thus far in London lead me to believe that actually the judges are hungry for justice.  It always seemed to me that it is only British culture itself - a feeling, an unwritten consensus-- that prevents a lucrative deluge of lawsuits for fraudulent nondisclosure, bonus pay for bankers, wasting of shareholder assets/taxpayer money, Network Rail executive pay, violation of the EU Human Rights laws by Corporation of the City of London and others. Scrapper Duncan's blog is a great rallying point for that, as is the Occupy Justice Criminal Investigations.  They deserve support. 

On organizing locally:  if this is about people and their networks and being willing to change, I have to, I think, reach out to people in my network where I physically am.  Thus my involvement with the very new Occupy Cambridge.  We had a meeting today.  It was good.  These are people who cannot drop everything and camp (well, most of them).  These are people who want to slowly and sustainably build up relationships of trust so that we can truly act together. 

On Friday I met with a theater producer. (I have been a fan of this guy for decades so it was really dreamy to meet him and fun to be excited to meet someone).  It was about an idea for a play I had pitched him two years ago.  I now am going to write the play so I have to drop nearly all of my Occupy work.  No, I didn't see it coming either.  The play is about Williams v First Government Mortgage, a trial I did in 1996, which is also, by the way, the subject of my first ever blog post.  There is no doubt in my mind that this constitutes the greatest opportunity I have had as a playwright - maybe even as a person.  And what is the play about if it is not about economic injustice and the horrible face of unethical capitalism? 

What a strange thing.  I know that I will go back to Occupy, I just need to write this play first.  I mean, I have to go back, the events of 15 October, that moment when an officer of the law forced me to put down a sign that said justice is possible in order to be reunited with my family, well, that moment is never going away.  It was my red pill, and nothing will ever be as it was before.   

 For one thing, I was so horrified watching people dressing up and going Christmas shopping this year.  The untold hours.  The desperation.  The shoddily made crap people buy out of a sense of duty. The insecurity that somehow we are not enough for our children, and only in receipts and plastic may we truly prove our love and be enough.  It was like being in a zombie movie.  Man, thanks for that, Occupy.  Great!