At a restaurant today, I overheard one woman tell another that she didn't care about politics, and didn't think it mattered who won the 2012 presidential election. While I'm normally an even-keeled person, that got to me, because I know that she's not alone. There are many apathetic people in the world, and even more who are simply complacent with the status quo. I'm not one of them. I can't be.
I am going to claim a very unglamorous position of authority here. I have been an unwanted child, and I am a survivor of multiple childhood rapes. I have been a young, divorced, hardworking mother who did not receive child support and who -- on various, empty-cupboard occasions, navigated through the red tape of applying for public assistance. I was turned down more often than I qualified. I've lived close to the bone, working low-wage jobs while trying to pay rent and daycare. I've known the struggle of trying to climb out of poverty. I've been sick with no insurance and racked up thousands and thousands of dollars in medical debt. I've been unemployed, down and out, and desperate. I've personally confronted some of the mind-numbing policies and obstacles created by politicians and bureaucrats, and had the course of my life altered by them.
I'm also gay and after many years of denial and shame, I am so grateful to be out of the closet. I care about my rights and the rights of others under the law. I cannot take them for granted. Unlike so many, I understand that we don't live in a post-racial, post-bigoted, post-class society. Ask me about the time I worked at a factory, where a young black girl was tormented with notes and tire slashings, or about the boss that turned a qualified Native American down for a job. Ask me about the man who told me he didn't want a woman working for him, and then did everything in his power to make me quit, or the one whom I had to get a restraining order against after he found out I was gay.
I have a lot of stories -- too many stories -- about inequality, injustice, and irrationality, and they go way, way back. In third grade, I was turned down for a grade promotion because I was too smart. Too smart. As a girl, I was punished for not being intellectually docile, for not conforming enough to the norm. As a mother, I fought 12 years of red tape trying to get child support for my children. Critics shouted clichés about responsibility at me, but at the same time were nearly silent when it came to the absent father. All these years later, women with children are still left holding the bag when it comes to financial and moral responsibility. We're still the ones who are blamed in discussions of poverty, family dysfunction, and personal accountability. Does the world always make sense? No. But I've always believed that the proper answer to the "world's not fair" is "that doesn't mean we should give up trying."
We've got to try. Our future, and our children's future, depends on it.
Like many other women who've "been there," I am fed up with extremist politicians, publicity-seeking talking heads, and right-wing fans being ignorant of women's issues or treating them as fodder. I am at a point of boiling frustration with woefully uninformed people who have no first-hand or credible experience with women's issues debating rape, birth control, abortion, welfare, health care, and my rights as a U.S. citizen, a woman, a gay woman, and a mother. In a nutshell, I don't share whatever "Christian" values that the right-wing claims is part of their platform. I believe strongly in separation of church and state; that religion (or lack of it) should be a personal matter; and that government should not be ruled by religious ideology. I also don't believe in a government ruled by corporate special interests, or slick politicians who hold needed legislation hostage for special interest earmarks or to prove some good ole boy's point about power.
The good ole boys, the 1 or 2 percent, are not just part of the problem, they are the crux of the problem, and we need to stop laughing about that because it's no longer funny. Ignorance, greed, malice, and the destruction of our economy is not funny. We need to stop lying to ourselves that those good ole boys, with their billions of dollars and pedaled influence, really don't have any power, because they do and it's growing at an alarming rate.
We need to stand up against the system that is shutting out worthy candidates in favor of dogmatic, camera-ready, bought-and-sold multi-millionaires. We need to see the smokescreen issues, like abortion, for what they are. We need to realize that religion is being used as a cover for greed, profiteering, and corporate interests. Instead of focusing our disbelief on those who are falling for it -- instead of engaging in endless and futile arguments with other women, other voters -- we've got to use every means at our disposal to counteract the real enemy. We've got to put the focus where it belongs, on the constant corruption of our media, educational, and political systems. We need to stand up, thousand and then millions of us, and say ENOUGH.
Instead of pleading for mercy, instead of shrugging our shoulders at the base of the mountain, instead of escaping into our own comfort zones while trying to ignore the consequences of tomorrow, we have to awaken our collective consciousness and understand that
YES, IT MATTERS. IT ALL MATTERS.
It matters that people are being turned down for jobs based on their unemployment, based on their credit scores. It matters that the court system is being abused by creditors, and that arrest warrants are being issued for people who can't pay their bills.
It matters that more and more people, well-qualified and entry-level, can't find jobs that pay a decent wage.
It matters that there are over a million homeless children in this country. It matters that the method used to determine poverty -- the 1930's era Orshansky method -- is horribly outdated and underestimates the number of poor in this country, and cuts thousands of working people off from needed assistance.
It matters that the very richest in this country are getting richer, while every other class is left to wither on the vine. It matters that the top 1 percent of households earned 275n percent more in 2007 than they did in 1979, and that they've been gaining steadily since 1981, while every other class has taken a hit.
It matters that the middle-class is shrinking, not due to the burden of taxes, but due to the stagnation of wages and the increased costs of living.
It matters that the majority of Americans, in every reliable poll, don't want Roe v Wade overturned, don't want to see unions busted, and don't want public schools made private -- even if some of them agree with other points in the Republican platform -- and that the Republican party is not listening.
It matters when governors like Bobby Jindal wants to rewrite American history for thousands of children, teaching them that the KKK was a civic group and that most slave owners were really nice people.
It matters when the State of Texas wants to ban critical thinking in schools, and when a judge in that state declares that there will be a civil war if Obama wins.
It matters that Tea Partiers have threatened armed revolt if the choice of the people is Obama.
It matters when the State of Arizona bans books, when a candidate in Alaska thinks disabled children shouldn't be given an education, and when a senator in Idaho suggests that women don't really know what rape is, and that they should ask their doctors to make sure it wasn't part of "normal relations."
It matters that in 2011, over 1,100 bills were introduced by Republicans to restrict a woman's reproductive rights.
It matters that in Kansas, a doctor lost her license for not forcing a 10-year-old child to undergo a series of unnecessary tests before aborting the embryo she was carrying as a result of incest.
It matters when politicians from across the land proudly and stupidly pose with their Chick-fil-A bags, not in support of free speech (they don't cry out or rally together when Westboro Baptist is attacked or JC Penneys is attacked), but in support of a company that shells out millions to anti-gay hate groups.
It matters that Republicans and their supposedly religious right-hands have used fundamental Christianity to draft laws that exclude and discriminate against gays.
It matters that our culture is being dumbed down by reality television, dogmatic stations posing as "news" sources, and by the death of objective journalism.
It matters whether our eyes are opened or closed to the world around us. Our decision to speak up or stay silent matters. Our place in this country matters.
It matters whether we fight against the manipulation of our voting system, and that we strive to keep it fair and accessible for all people. It matters that we vote, and who we vote for. It matters whether we stand with Barack Obama and for the principles of equality, fairness and progress, or whether we hand the reins over to the party of "no" and their anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-middle class, anti-poor, anti-livable wage, pro-wealthy, pro-corporate platform.
Will history view us as a complacent generation of women who gave their futures away? Or will we show now that we are a formidable force? Will we leave our sons and daughters a world of irrationality and ignorance, or will we fight now for the sound intelligence of our ideals?
The 2012 election matters. If we don't stand up in great numbers, if we don't shout out in favor of our rights, our bodies, our choices, and our futures, I fear that it may be many more years before we get another chance.