Apatico’s Den

Amazing to see what a flippant comment on election day can produce! Granted, there are people out there who refuse to vote but do tremendous work outside or within the political sphere. As the title suggests, this poem/rant is directed at a very particular audience.

Lounging in hubris
Apatico’s den
Shunning calls for any action at hand
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I get out of bed?”

Understanding our faults
Apatico’s den
Yet our fingers, not scheming, but still
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I think with my head?”

Convinced of half-truths
Apatico’s den
While half-lies are what guide your thoughts now
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I care if I’m fed?”

Primed for extremes
Apatico’s den
Doing nothing to make it more real
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I do what I’ve said?”

Whining, not acting
Apatico’s den
And the world just goes on getting worse
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Who cares if one day we’re all dead?”

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Through the Fields

It’s never quite simple
To traverse through the fields
Dark, unkempt, labyrinthine
And the muddy footprint
Provides no bearing or hint
For that print could be yours or be mine.

Grasses made firm
From unhindered growth
Majestic, impressive, unrestrained
They won’t bend to force
As a matter of course
For these stalks never cared if it rained.

The everlong field
Which engulfs us whole
Excessive, ill-equipped, ill-conceived?
It’s reliant on us
So to end all this fuss
The solution is true, if believed:

The taming of stalks
To walk through the fields
Unwavering, unbeaten, unafraid
Takes joining of hearts,
Minds from all parts,
And the activists lending their aid.

How Not Talking About Religion or Politics Made Us Worse At Both (Pt. 2)

Politics can be a beautiful thing. As the Supreme Court this week just upheld critical components of the Affordable Care Act and ruled on the constitutionality of banning same sex marriage, there is a great deal of excitement and discussion going on. One can only imagine just how historic this weekend’s NYC Pride Parade will be as it celebrates a tremendous achievement in the advancement of gay civil rights.

That all being said, it’s unfortunate that excitement, let alone discussion, of political issues comes after major decisions are made. Significant efforts had to be made to get the ACA case up to the Supreme Court. Years of organizing and jockeying outside the Court similarly elevated the importance of gay marriage. Admittedly, one can make the argument that to discuss gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act would be unfair, especially as it seems that, out of this week’s decisions, the greater focus is on former rather than the latter. While the ruling on gay marriage is, in fact, an historic achievement for the gay community, its scope really only falls within the (admittedly large and growing) gay community (unless you are one of those straight people who believe that gay marriage in some way will personally affect your marriage or relationships).

By contrast, the Affordable Care Act is an enormous document that completely changes the playing field for people who want or need healthcare. In other words, just about everybody. While the scope of the Court’s decision on the ACA is tremendous, I imagine the predominant narrative out of this week will be primarily on gay marriage, a decision that will not directly affect nearly as many people as the protection of the ACA. This also says nothing of the fact that with this fresh surge of ‘good’ news, it will only encourage the media, and by consequence, the general public, to move past the ‘bad’ news of racially motivated violence and inherent racism in this country (but we’ll get back to that in a moment).

The comparison between the ACA and gay marriage rulings isn’t meant to belittle the significance of one issue or the other. However, it does seem to illustrate a problem with how people in general address political issues. By and large, we don’t like talking about politics. Similarly to religion, we expect our beliefs and values to be respected for what they are. Unlike religion, however, the practice of politics is inherently between people; one can practice religion in a vacuum as they only need connection to his/her god(s). A person practicing politics by him/herself is just a person with ideas.

This distinction matters because while there can be some limitation to the challenging of one’s religious beliefs (example: you can worship that pancake that came out in the form of the Virgin Mary all you want), there are considerably less limitations to the challenging of one’s political beliefs (example: your political beliefs lead you to believe that people of color are inferior and we should establish laws to keep them to their rightfully lesser place). A person in the former example is pretty much harmless in a political discourse; a person in the latter is a serious threat to a free society.

The coupling of religion and politics has caused people to look at the values and beliefs in either to be treated exactly the same. In other words, my religious beliefs AND my political beliefs are sacred; to criticize either is an affront to my spiritual being and direct challenge to who I am. This is absurd and breaks down the possibility of being able to have an intelligent conversation about either.

In a time of social media and sharing of everything, this mindset is on full display whenever someone makes a ridiculous post. Luckily, such posts are not difficult to find in the immediate aftermath of the gay marriage ruling

gay marriage

Aside from the immediate frustration at the contents of the meme being shared (which itself could be a pretty sizeable blog post), the statement made by the poster is pretty childish in and of itself. “This is just my opinion. I’m not open for a debate so don’t bother commenting if you have something negative to say.” To voluntarily take up a hot-button issue like gay marriage but then request to only take feedback from people who are being positive is ridiculous. I can understand that people like to live in a bubble, but in case you haven’t noticed, a lot of people use facebook and the internet as a whole. If you want to live in an echo chamber where everyone agrees with what you say, you’re not using the right medium. If you don’t want to get into a discussion (let alone a debate) on serious issues, don’t post about serious topics.

The reason for sharing the above picture is that people who fall into this type of category, the “Here’s my opinion but don’t respond to this unless you’re going to agree with me” crowd are the unfortunate byproduct of narcissism, social media, and a lack of engagement on political issues. The priority for these people isn’t to engage in discussion of political issues, it’s to project their feelings of these political issues, to the point that the priority is their emotions, not the issues. Granted, there are plenty of people who are celebrating the decisions by the Court who have worked hard on getting to this point (and they certainly should be celebrating). However, not every person who is either celebrating or condemning the Supreme Court this week is willing to engage in dialogue on why this issue matters. Posts like the one above illustrate that clearly.

While people like the one above don’t wish to engage in politics at all, you then of course have your “socially-liberal-but-fiscally-conservative” people who will raise the alarm at the first instance of social injustice but shy away from the deeper discussion that necessarily follows any discussion on how to implement social changes. For a real-time example of how this happening, look at how the broader discussion that could be happening on systemic racism and whitewashed history in the US has become concentrated into a campaign to take down the Confederate flag.

Discussion of politics from a perspective based solely in social issues is the equivalent of saying that you’re swimming when in fact you’re just wading at shallow end of a pool. (For more on this issue, I’d highly recommend reading this great piece from Greta Christina).

In essence, we need to roll up our sleeves to engage in discussions of religion and politics. Without intelligent conversation on religion, we will repeatedly demonize, distance ourselves, and fail to reach common ground with those who are different from us. Without conversation on politics, the essence of our discourse becomes nothing more than another place for people to talk about “me, me, me” and less about what is actually going on in the world. We can’t do either of these without engaging with each other on the issues. And that means first opening yourself up to the possibility of being wrong (or right!).

So It Was

Write a post about any topic you wish, but make sure it ends with “And all was right in the world.”
——
People are chanting
Talking heads, ranting
Times are turning on the edge of a pen
Where have you been?
Come out, don’t stay in
Revolution’s a seed that we’re planting.

Chaos isn’t bad
Better that than sad
Because stasis is draining and dull
Rattle your skull
Don’t fall in a lull
And pick up the lost thoughts that you’ve had.

Emotions unfurled
Propositions are whirled
And all around are people seeking hope
So don’t be a dope
Reach out for the rope
And so, all is right in the world.

To the tune of “Silver Bells”

As promised, here is one of the tunes from our credit checks caroling last week at City Hall.
——-
De Blasio, De Blasio
Stop worker credit checks in the city
Hear us sing: pass this thing
Soon it will be Christmas Day

People working, always working
Just to pay off their bills
In the air
There’s a feeling
For justice
Workers passing, people asking
Backers mile after mile
Will you stop the credit check job fear?

De Blasio, De Blasio
Stop worker credit checks in the city
Hear us sing: pass this thing
Soon it will be Christmas Day

Do what is right, ‘cause it is right
So all cities can see
That New York City stands up
For people
Seize the moment, yes, this moment
Make your stance towards us clear
Because everywhere you go, you’ll hear:

De Blasio, De Blasio
Stop worker credit checks in the city
Hear us sing: pass this thing
Soon it will be Christmas Day

Holiday Caroling I Can Get Behind

In case you didn’t know, I can be particularly political from time to time. However, since it is the “happiest time of year”, it should be no surprise that holiday cheer and political action can overlap.

In case you didn’t already know, there’s no correlation (none) between one’s credit and their ability to work or their propensity to commit fraud. And yet, almost half of all employers use credit checks when hiring people. In New York City, we’re working to stop this practice from continuing. At this time of year, we take the tradition of caroling and apply it to the great cause of banning credit check discrimination (while also having an absolute blast).

Enjoy!

(For those looking to learn the words, I’ll be posting a few pieces over the next few days)

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Our Broken System

dyingjusticeJust a few days ago, I was inspired and hopeful from the protests that broke out after the grand jury’s decision on the killing of Michael Brown. I never thought body cameras would be enough to address the larger problem of police-community relations, but I thought they would be a small step in the right direction.

After hearing the recent decision of the grand jury to not indict in the killing of Eric Garner, whatever inspiration and hope I had left has been replaced with shock and rage.

Plenty of critics have pointed out prior to the grand jury’s decision that President Obama’s body camera initiative was a small step in the right direction, but with the grand jury deciding to not indict the man who killed Eric Garner, it seems more like the body camera initiative is just a monumental waste of money. Why? Because having video evidence of police misconduct is not enough to even get an indictment.

The whole idea behind getting body cameras on police is it would bring an unbiased third person perspective into any interaction between the police and the public. If there were police cameras, the thinking goes, we would be able to pause, rewind, and re-watch interactions between police and the public, thereby creating a direct form of accountability to the police departments that serve our communities. But all anybody needs to do to realize that this is a complete farce is watch the video of Eric Garner’s arrest and murder and then recall the decision of the grand jury.

Forget that the coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. Forget that Garner had done nothing wrong on the occasion that police stopped him. Forget that it was in fact Eric Garner who had broken up a fight before police arrived on the scene. Forget all of that. You have video evidence of a man raising his hands in surrender, being slammed to the ground by police who used an illegal choke hold that served as the primary cause of death. You have audio of Eric Garner begging to be released because he can not breathe.

And yet a grand jury fails to indict the police officer who clearly is performing this choke hold? What kind of country are we living in?

I understood that the solution to the disconnect between police and communities of color would require a larger discussion and reformation on police militarization and institutionalized racism, but having seen police smile and laugh in the face of people who are deeply mournful and angry at the loss of another innocent black person makes me realize that such conversations and structural changes are in and of themselves bandages of a much larger problem. The system is broken. When the voices of political institutions themselves are surprised and looking for ways for justice to be implemented through alternative means, the system is not working. When priority is given to tourists who gathered to watch a tree light up instead of to the residents of a community who are demanding justice for a family and people that are suffering, the system is not working. And finally, when society at large is more concerned with maintaining the charade of holiday cheer while many families across this country are accommodating one less seat around the table this year, it is painstakingly clear that the democratic, free, and transparent rule of law is nothing more than an orgiastic frenzy of consumerism, corruption, and self-congratulation.

I have often considered myself lucky to live in New York City, to be at what many consider the Center of the World, the heart, if you will. However, I have never been more disgusted with my city than tonight. The side by side displays of mourning and holiday amusement, the misapplication of justice, and the recognition that there are people above the law makes me seriously question New York’s role as a progressive or liberal beacon for the rest of the Northeast, let alone the country. Said in another way, this heart of the world is rotten.

In the days before the grand jury’s decision on the Eric Garner case, Public Advocate Letitia James spoke to media after meeting with community leaders in Staten Island on how to prepare for the decision and potential public reaction. While she specifically said that “Staten Island is not Ferguson”, I think it would be safe to assume that she would apply that sentiment to the rest of the city, which is to say, ‘New York is not Ferguson’. I would agree entirely. New York is not Ferguson; it is worse.

Ferguson had a history of racial tensions between police and minorities. It was easy for many of us in “liberal” New York City to look down upon the circumstances that happened so far away. After all, we have a strongly progressive City Council, our Public Advocate ran on the Working Families party line, and we’re lead by the liberal champion of working New Yorkers himself, Bill de Blasio, whose ascent to the mayor’s office was written through his narrative of ending the “Tale of Two Cities”. And yet, for all of those credentials and accolades, New York City failed to indict a man who was filmed choking a man to death while his hands were up and he begged for the ability to breathe.

It was Glaucon in Plato’s Republic who said “the extreme of injustice is to seem just when one is not.” By that characterization alone, it seems quite clear that New York City is at the center of the extreme of injustice.

At this point, one must wonder what truly can be done to fix our broken system. In truth, no reform, no matter how well-conceived, will result in any changes so long as any class of people is above the fair application of the law. There are many who are desperate to see this issue resolved, even if they do not know exactly what should be done at this moment. It should not be a surprise that people are marching through the streets of New York, blocking traffic and shutting down bridges and tunnels. These actions disrupt everyday life and call attention to these larger issues. As the crowds evade police and go from one landmark to another, one can make a depressing analogy to our current state of affairs. Society as a whole is a disorganized mob wandering from one place to another, hoping to find a solution to the same problem that keeps surrounding it from all angles. Nobody really knows where we’re going, but we’ll try any direction if it means we just might get it right this time.