Monday, January 30, 2017

Tweeting the Revolution

Greenpeace activists hang banner over White House
We are now dealing with a group that used social media to gain access to the White House. Whether or not this access was gained legitimately, it is through social media that they continue to  manipulate citizens in this country. It is not yet clear exactly what is going on inside that building, but I highly recommend this thoughtful analysis, which includes a lot of new information than I've yet to see in other sources.

I believe we are at war. This is not a war fought by soldiers and with bombs or tanks, but a war of words and images and data, some of it real, some of it faked. If you are active on social media right now, you are on the battlefield. If you've found yourself here on the battlefield without realizing war has broken out, it's time to wake up and pay attention.

All of us need to understand how the war is being fought. The tools that are being used to oppress us and suppress dissent are at your fingertips and can be used to fight back. It is no longer acceptable to deride Twitter as "silly" or a "waste of time," when our President can change relationships with countries in a single tweet.

In 2009, Iranian citizens demonstrated in the streets of Tehran against their government. This uprising was thought to be facilitated by Twitter and other social media, which was used by the protestors both to get the word out to the world about what was happening in their country and to stay connected to each other. This revolution is sometimes, then, referred to as the first Twitter Revolution as it initiated what has now been years of uprisings around the world, all facilitated by social media.

The uprising in Iran began after elections that year that were widely believed to be "rigged." The Iranian government literally shut down access to the internet during this time in an attempt to control the revolt. Two years later, the people of Egypt rose up against their own president, who they deemed to be corrupt. That revolution was, again, facilitated by social media. I wrote about it here and am struck by the similarities between what is happening in the US this month, in 2017, and what happened in Egypt in 2011.

What lessons, if any, can we draw from this history? In no particular order, here are some thoughts I've had as I've watched, generally through social media feeds, the last week or so of protests across our country.
  • Don't use your social media feed to vent and rage impotently against the system or people you disagree with. This is not the best use of these platforms and only adds to the already deafening noise level on them. If you need to vent (and we all need to do this) use your own private journal or, better yet, talk to your friends and family in person. 
  • Do use social media to connect with others, share information, or organize action (protests, calling or letter-writing campaigns, meetings, etc). Social media are really just fast and highly-connected communication channels. Their greatest value lies in facilitating and enhancing our ability to communicate with each other.
  • Stop fighting with each other. We need to unite to better fight our common enemy. There are many things at stake and all are important, but it serves no one to shame or chastise people who happen to be working on an issue different from the one you're passionate about. 
  • Limit your social media time and understand that too much Facebook time (or Twitter or even televised news) can be detrimental to your health. Our bodies are not designed to take in this much alarming information this quickly, so prioritize self-care at this time: maximize time spent in nature, get plenty of sleep and exercise and make time to connect (in person) with other people. Stay focused on your own life and work and use these media sparingly to stay informed and share useful information with others, not to substitute for a life in the real world. 
  • Understand that in this highly-connected world, things will evolve and change much more quickly than they did in the past. A coup that might have taken weeks or months to pull off can now occur overnight. A revolution that might have taken months or years to succeed might now prevail in a few weeks. This is simply a result of the increased speed of communication and not necessarily due to the fact that we are more nimble. It will make your head spin at times--we all need to get used to living in a new timescale.
Humans are resilient and I firmly believe that these new technologies are largely useful and will help us, as a species, develop societies and institutions that are for the good of us all. I find it interesting that groups among us have been "practicing" for this time for awhile now by forming flashmobs for various singing and dancing displays. Those flashmob skills are now being put to use in mounting demonstrations and in getting packs of lawyers to airports to help free those unfairly detained by the latest edict from the White House.

There will be more opportunities to flex our social media skills, so let's get smart about how best to use these valuable tools. One of my current fears is that our government, like governments in the past, will try to cut off access to social media platforms, in an attempt to squash dissent. It's happened in the past in other countries and it could happen here. We need to be vigilant.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why I Can't Get Over It

Marching on Washington
Now what? We’ve marched on Washington and hundreds of cities across the country and around the world, and I’m glad we did. We’ve posted photos and videos and shared our experiences in online discussions and in-person conversations as well. The march brought to the fore multiple urgent issues that need our attention. Some are of special concern to women: the pervasiveness of sexual assault and violence against women, reproductive rights, equal pay, and others. These issues fueled the formation of the march, but other issues and causes propelled it forward: protecting the rights of immigrants, religious minorities, ethnic and racial minorities, even the health and future of the planet.

It can be easy to be overwhelmed when faced with so many areas of concern. Each of us is a single person with limited time and energy. You might choose to tackle all of it, but my experience is that this leads to exhaustion and burnout.

My advice is to pick the one or two areas you feel most passionate about and devote your energies to those issues. Picking a focus doesn’t mean I deny the importance of all the other issues. It will be nice if people join with me, or you, in supporting our causes, but please don’t attack folks who choose a different issue to focus on—we are all in this together. Moral support is crucial.

Although many of us were out there marching, there were also many who could not or would not participate. We are starting to hear from the latter group, to learn why they weren’t with us, why they say our chants and signs don’t speak for them, why they wish we had stayed home.

“Can’t you just get over it?”

I’ve heard this question most of my life. It’s come at me from all corners of my family when I’ve given voice to the anger and frustration I have felt as result of being sexually assaulted and humiliated by an older male member of that family for years. I was quite young when the attacks happened and have had decades to “get over it,” but these women (and, yes, they are all women who have said this to me—white women, of course) think there must be something wrong with me that I’m still angry.

“You don’t see all the good he has done. You think he’s all bad.”

I was told these sorts of things as well. I find it interesting that speaking out against reprehensible behavior is interpreted by the perpetrator’s defenders as being an all-encompassing condemnation of that person. I get it: even good people sometimes do bad things. However, just imagine how hard it is to try to see good in a person who has assaulted you. Forgiveness is possible, but it’s asking a lot, and should never be demanded.

This, of course, is happening in our country right now, on a national level. Many people have condemned things our new president has said or done. Some of these same people have later chosen to support him. I cannot do that. For me, trust has been permanently broken. When Donald Trump was revealed as the sexual predator he is, I became physically ill and I know, for a fact, that many other survivors of sexual assault did, too. Our bodies know the truth before our brains do, it seems.
My favorite sign from the march

I was emboldened and inspired when other women came forward with their own stories of sexual violence. I wrote about it here, but what I didn’t say then was that their brave actions and words inspired me to re-post my own story. I had written a blog post several years ago and was immediately attacked (yes, these same older white women) for “going public” with my story.

“What I don’t understand is why you have to talk about it.”

I reposted my story because it’s the truth and I was never allowed my own truth. The interesting thing is, the facts have never been disputed by the perpetrator himself. The only thing that has been disputed are my feelings.

“You’re not angry. It didn't hurt you.”

But I am angry. And it did hurt me, in some ways permanently. I am done with being told by other people how I feel, or how I should feel. And this is why Saturday’s March on Washington will be remembered by this survivor of sexual assault as a highlight of my life.

My life-long sense of rage was finally validated this January 21. I have tried to speak out, for years, because girls and women all over the world are being assaulted and abused every day. I want to be one voice speaking up for them, saying, “I actually do know how you feel, and I hear you,” but it’s hard to keep going when I’m attacked for speaking even my own truth, which has happened too many times when I’ve told my story. This Saturday I finally knew, in a deep visceral way, that my voice has been heard.

As I made my way to the march early that morning, I really didn’t want to go. It all seemed rather pointless. “Nothing will come of this,” I thought. What I didn’t know is that near the end of the march, next to the Washington Monument, I would come upon a little girl, sitting atop her father’s shoulders. She was dressed all in light pink and couldn’t have been more than three or four years old.

She was chanting with the crowd when suddenly everyone but her stopped. “My body, my choice!” she shouted. All the adults around her, including me, turned to her and chanted back, “Your body, your choice!” She beamed, full of joy, and shouted it again: “My body, my choice!” And we affirmed this truth for her: “Your body, your choice.” I wish, when I was her age, the adults in my life had believed this.

And then I heard it, a wave of roaring voices, rolling toward us from somewhere near the Capitol. It swept over my section of the march, and we joined in, all of us—including me and that little girl, filling the mall with sound from the Capitol to the White House. And that's when I finally began to believe it: I am no longer alone.