At the Guardian today, I saw the following headline: US Navy: for first time in history four women of color command war ships; Kimberly Jones, LaDonna Simpson, Kristel O’Cañas and Kathryn Wijnaldum break new ground in white and male-dominated field.
Are we supposed to love the military because more women of color are reaching positions of command?
Don’t get me wrong: this is a good thing. My boss at my last job in the Air Force was a Black female colonel. Serving in the U.S. military, I saw and befriended plenty of “diverse” people during my career. (In today’s military-media context, I guess “diverse” means anything but your standard white male.) Few people seemed to care about gender, race, sex, color, ethnicity, and so on as long as the person was competent. Good bosses come in all shapes, shades, and sizes — and so do bad ones.
So, I don’t want to join Tucker Carlson in a misinformed and ridiculous rant against an alleged feminization of the U.S. military. For a military and a country that is supposedly too feminine or too soft or whatever, we still spend more on war than the next ten countries combined (and most of those countries are America’s allies); we continue to have a global network of 800 or so military bases; we still dominate the world’s trade in deadly weaponry; we still throw our weight around like bullies and fancy ourselves the world’s lone superpower. Are any of these facts changed or softened because more women or more people of color are reaching high rank within that military?
That the Secretary of Defense is a Black male doesn’t seem to have affected policy decisions in any meaningful way. Why should it, when he spent his life in the U.S. military and then joined Raytheon and profited greatly after retiring?
Again, it’s a good thing that people of color aren’t as hamstrung as they used to be in reaching positions of command in the U.S. military. But does it change anything if the Hellfire missiles that kill civilians in Afghanistan are launched from a Reaper drone by a Black female pilot rather than a white guy?
I remember during this year’s Super Bowl festivities that the lead B-2 bomber pilot was a woman. Good for her! But if she pilots a B-2 into a nuclear war, will anyone be pleased that a city gets nuked by a woman rather than a man?
The only “diversity” the Pentagon seemingly rejects is anyone who wants to pursue a new, more peaceful, course, in which the military is not the primary tool of U.S. foreign policy. How about some “diverse” people who will put an end to the war in Afghanistan? Who will argue for less spending on wars and weapons?
Women can be warriors too. We get it. The Greeks had Athena. The Romans had Bellona. This is not new. As others have said, it’s not enough to put Black faces in high places. Or for women to shatter glass ceilings. Not if the policies and power arrangements stay the same.
Last night, I caught a snippet of MSNBC as the panelists talked about the upcoming debates between two white men in their late seventies. Nobody mentioned that a woman of color in her late thirties had also qualified for these debates, and an Iraq war veteran to boot: Tulsi Gabbard.
Today, I saw an article at the New York Times with the plaintive title: “Was It Always Going to Be the Last Men Standing?” Here’s the online summary of the article:
The senator’s exit essentially winnows what had been a diverse Democratic field to two white men, and the debate over an enduring question — can a woman win the presidency? — remains unresolved, our politics reporter Lisa Lerer writes in a news analysis.
I like that little caveat of “essentially winnows.” Because Tulsi Gabbard is still in the race, has qualified for the debates (under the old rules), and is being treated like a non-person by the cynical, corporate, manipulative, and dishonest Democratic National Committee.
People are still telling me to “vote blue no matter who,” even as Tulsi is denied her right to be heard, and even as the DNC conspired to eliminate all moderate challengers to Joe Biden so that they could block Bernie Sanders.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden, to put it gently, has shown serious signs of decline and will be 82 years of age in 2024. He has called for cuts to social security and has been a water boy for decades for credit card companies and their usurious interest rates. He voted for the Iraq War, supported job-eliminating trade agreements, and is a servant of Big Pharma and the health insurance industry. among other faults. And has everyone suddenly forgot his creepy tendency to touch women, to sniff their hair, and otherwise to invade their personal space?
If only we had a woman of substance to challenge these two ageing white men, Biden and Sanders. If only she was principled, perhaps even a different religion (Hindu?), perhaps even a woman of color, perhaps even a war veteran, perhaps even principled in her stance against wasteful, regime-change wars.
But where are we to find such a woman? Because I’m sure the DNC would embrace such a paragon of diversity committed to truth-telling. Wouldn’t they?
Update (5:05 PM EST): Tulsi eliminated from the final two debates with a new DNC rule:
For what it’s worth, I posted this personal note on social media:
I know politics is divisive or boring to many. But here’s the story. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has changed its rules to muzzle Tulsi Gabbard, eliminating her from future debates. Remember when the DNC rewrote its rules to allow billionaire Mike Bloomberg to debate?
We’re left with two old white guys, aged 78 and 77, to represent Democratic diversity and “wokeness.” Meanwhile, Tulsi, a woman, an Iraq war veteran, and a Hindu, is cast into the darkness. And while I like Bernie Sanders, I would love to hear a young woman speak against the stupidity and wastefulness of America’s wars, which is the core of Tulsi’s message.
And, of course, look when the DNC announces this rule change: late on a Friday afternoon, when they assume it will go unnoticed. It’s all so cynical and sad.
When the Democrats lose to Trump again in November, remember this moment, among so many other cynical decisions by the DNC.
Editor’s Intro: Linda Roller is a good friend who owns one of those used bookstores that bibliophiles dream about, complete with cats and books and ephemera and located in an old church in the middle of rural Pennsylvania. It’s an area that went for Trump in last year’s election; it’s not an area associated with political activism for progressive causes. Yet Linda’s community filled three buses of concerned citizens, all willing to sacrifice their time to make a statement in a March on Washington that was, in a word common to last year’s election, huge. Can the momentum for a true people’s movement be sustained? With powerful women like Linda on the march, I am hopeful. W.J. Astore
Check out Linda’s bookstore at this link. She has a great selection of used books at low prices.
I Went Down to The Demonstration…
The March on Washington can be seen — six hours of it — on You Tube. I almost tuned in the other day, but I resisted until I had a chance to write down what I saw there. For I never saw the speeches, heard the words. I never saw the jumbotrons. And I never got to the elliptical. But that’s okay. That was recorded, and what I saw was the stuff that is not covered by any media, but was important to me and will be with me forever.
Waiting on the World to Change…
Perhaps the first inkling that this was going to be far more than “a bus ride and a demonstration” was the early morning in a Sears parking lot in Muncy, Pennsylvania. A sea of cars was there, just waiting for the three buses from our rural, conservative, suspicious of outsiders (both people and ideas) area. It wasn’t just the people who demonstrate here, and who identify themselves as “true Progressives.” Frankly, that group wouldn’t fill a bus. It was really a diverse lot of folks, and although there were many older, white women, there were African-American women from Williamsport, and even a good percentage of people under 40. The women who organized this trip were not the “usual suspects,” which may account for the different people on the buses.
The trip started with a glitch. Two of the three buses were late — the buses organized through the national group. This could have led to defections, but … people waited. The local bus left to collect the women from down the Susquehanna valley. The other arrived an hour later.
The chief organizer here is a woman who owns her own little yarn and knitting shop, and has never done anything like this before. But the knitting connection was the catalyst for all members who wanted to get a “pussy hat.” She had hats from around the globe, the last shipment being from Australia. Mine was knitted by Lori in Indianapolis, and it warmed me to know that another woman from a conservative state felt strongly enough to knit for others. Both buses stopped at a rather small service station, with a small women’s restroom. We discovered that the men’s room was even smaller, as we commandeered it for the over 75 women who had to use it in less than 30 minutes. One guy tried to assert his rights, and we were apologetic but firm.
Normally, leaving from here at 5:20am on a weekend morning would get you to DC by 9:30 or so on a charter bus. But traffic was amazingly heavy, and we got in a little late. The bus captains went over safety tips, non-confrontation issues, how not to be arrested—and that the buses were leaving at 6:30pm, with or without us. And then we got off the bus.
Fired Up! — Ready to Go!!
Off the bus in an ocean of buses…from everywhere! The first woman I met was from San Francisco, visiting family in Delaware and marching. We had been told that the metro was too full, even though the Mayor of DC had brought all lines up to rush hour levels to accommodate the march. I saw an older woman in a walker headed to the metro stop at RFK stadium from the buses, with the kind of determination that moves mountains. And with that, our group of four headed to the National Mall, a little over two miles away. Although our group were the only people that I could locate from the bus at that moment, we were hardly alone. We were simply part of a river streaming ahead, north and west to the center. And we were not invisible. We were met early by DC traffic safety, who reminded us to mind the roads near RFK, to block some roads, and with a smile welcoming us to DC. “We’re glad you’re here!”
Indeed, it seemed as though all the good citizens of the District were out to welcome the marchers, as we blocked their streets and removed any way for these folks to move cars and go about a normal Saturday. They waved, said “Thank you for coming!” Members of Capitol Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church stood on the steps and chanted, and the minister came down and shook marchers’ hands, as we disrupted their day of worship. About halfway to the National Mall, the signs with quotes from Martin Luther King popped up everywhere, for MLK day was less than a week ago. Music poured out of windows for the marchers — “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”… (as in Fundamental Rights).
And with that it began to feel like something even bigger—it all began to take on echoes of other marches, other days, other people. By now, we were chanting, and really marching. Five blocks out, and we were already there, doing the work we came to DC to do. And then we got to the US Capitol Building, and the enormity of it all washed over our group of marchers. Before us, there was an ocean of people—people who were deeply concerned, and here to stand. To stand for Women’s Equality, for immigrants who feel threatened, for people of every race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, and for a sense of justice. And yes, to show concern and anger at President Trump’s statements and actions. But the overall feeling was that we stood in solidarity with one another, even if we did not totally agree on all the issues.
Before I left, I did a small piece on Facebook about why I marched, and one of the things that I said was that I marched for those who could not. Time and time again, people talked about a mother, a sister, a friend that was symbolically with the marcher. One woman I saw had a placard on her back with over 50 names of women she marched for. It was simply staggering.
Standing on the Side of Love
Like I said, I never saw the stage, or heard the addresses of the day. There was no chance that I could get there. I never saw the jumbotrons where proceedings were broadcast. That’s okay. I saw and talked to people just like me from all over the country, and people just like me but different. They had different clothes, different hair, different skin, different religion, different age—but the same heartfelt wishes, the same fears for the future, the same willingness to stand and be here today.
And those of us who made a march were kind to each other — all our Mommas had made polite people on this day. And that was tested—as there were few places to sit, no places to get a bite to eat or drink, and in many places on the National Mall, no place even to stand. At one point, the four of us were crushed against a barrier, and could not move. A woman in the crowd began to have a claustrophobic reaction, and the people made a tunnel for her and her people to get out of there, even when so many others would have liked to move. We apologized for stepping on toes, we allowed people in and around, and most importantly, we talked to each other, asked where we were from, and regarded each other as people. And at noon, a group of Muslim women unfolded blankets and prayed, while others gave them space and peace.
Sure, I saw some great signs. One person knitted a 4-5 foot uterus as a sign. That’s dedication. A group walked about with a 10-12 foot globe and chanted. That’s heavy lifting. Lots of humorous signs, signs of exasperation. Organized signs. Disorganized signs. Signs made by people for weeks, signs made by people after they got there, on scraps of cardboard. And the “official” signs were incredibly artistic and you could download them for free and print them.
There was some “cosplay” too. I marched beside Wonder Woman for about 3 minutes. WW must have been cold in the outfit, and I have no idea who it was. I saw a few Superwoman socks – the ones with the capes on them. Since most of us marched around 10 miles if we walked from RFK, I think we all were worthy of a set of those. I saw some Power Rangers get photographed, and on the top of pallet stacks, people climbed and tried to help the rest of us see where people were needed. People on lampposts tried to give directions, but that was mostly futile.
Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like…This is What Democracy Looks Like!!!
In some sense, the wheels had fallen off this wagon. The planned speeches and march were simply dwarfed by the numbers of people. We couldn’t march the planned route. It was full, as were many other streets. We couldn’t get to the Washington Monument. The way there was full of people – and in that sense, it was a complete, perpetual march around everything by all of us.
The most common chant was “This is what democracy looks like.” Indeed. It is the look of citizens– concerned, aroused citizens. It was a whole lot of a gentle, angry people. Some more gentle, some more angry—and all of them chanting for a country they all deeply believe in. That this march was so large had an impact that transcended the original plans. And while we marched, information about all the other marches all over the world swirled through the National Mall to waves of cheers.
Finally, it was the witching hour – the time to go back to the bus. We worked our way out of the mall and began the slog up to RFK. We were so hungry, with sore feet. A beer in a pub would have been heaven, but heaven was already claimed by others, and the wait was too long for us to meet the bus. We eventually found a coffee shop. Nancy got us a chai latte, and nothing ever tasted so good or felt so warm. I sat on the curb outside, just for a chance to sit. And I sat with others from the march, and we talked, waited for a little bit of food, took the chance to relax, and talked about the march – but not in a “processed” sort of way.
It was as if the event was too big to be contained inside us. Cars going by honked and waved. On the way to try for a beer, we crossed in front of a car, filled with people we did not know. But the windows rolled down, and we talked to each other. They were not even involved in the march, just locals. But the signs and buttons made us approachable, and the day of talking to so many people in the march had our skills oiled up, too. At the coffee shop, we all decided that if we could get a cab or uber, we would take a ride for the 2 miles. It wasn’t long before we had that cab, and then got up to RFK. And that move allowed some shirt buying, a round of great hot dogs, and then the ½ mile from the actual stadium to the bus.
Laura and Nancy had a much better idea of where our bus was than I did and there we were—near the back of the lot. All the people on our bus made it back by 6:30, but we waited for a couple people in the second bus, who ended up taking a taxi back. On the road by 7PM. Nancy organized a better bus stop at a different location, where there were two large gas/convenience store/restrooms. We talked a bit, but surprisingly we slept, even though we thought we were too excited to do that.
The days since have been “processing days”—time to think about what happened and time to begin the plan beyond the march. The march was a mountaintop moment. It was a place and time, a gathering of like-minded people, a time to feel connected, and a time to feel the power of the people. Now the hard work of creating and recreating the vision continues.
I have not been an activist for many years. I feel that demonstrations are performance art. I am more at home in the life of the mind. But as the sign says,
“Thank you, President Trump.
You have created an activist in me.”
Linda Roller is a writer and owner of a used bookstore in Avis, PA. Be sure to visit her shop (link here) and browse her selection of used books at great prices.
The other day my wife and I were watching Wadjda, a terrific film about a spirited Saudi girl who dreams of buying and riding her very own bicycle. The film does a great job of highlighting the constraints put on women in traditional Saudi and Islamic culture. Women are not allowed to drive, they must veil themselves whenever they can be seen by men, they are trained to be subservient and not to attract attention to themselves, and so on.
Watching the constraints under which Saudi women live their lives, my spirited wife uttered the following aphorism:
Religion – written by men, for men. And that’s all you need to know.
Having been raised Catholic, it’s hard to disagree with her. The Catholic Church has historically been misogynist. It was Eve, after all, who tempted Adam. She was “the weaker vessel” who was cursed with the pain of childbirth because of her “original sin.” The Church itself, to state the obvious, is run entirely by men. Even the woman most respected by the Church, the Virgin Mary, is an unattainable ideal. A woman who gets pregnant without losing her virtue and virginity? Try aspiring to that.
Whenever a religion, no matter if it’s Islam or Catholicism or some other faith or sect, places half of humanity in inferior and subservient roles, we must question very closely its true intent and inspiration. Surely a just and compassionate God would not sanction a religion that subordinates women to the whims of men.
Obviously, I know many believers, women as well as men, will disagree with this. They will point to their faith, their holy books, the power of tradition. Or they will try to explain how their religion really doesn’t discriminate against women and so on.
Here I recall a saying that Temple Grandin says she will never forget: “Men will wrangle for religion, write for it, fight for it, die for it, anything but live for it.”
How true. And I’d add that any religion worth living for is one that treats men and women equally as believers. I don’t think God, if He or She (!) exists, would want it any other way.