Category Archives: 2016 Elections

Channeling Our Anger to Bend the Arc

BY MICHELLE E. BROWN

Published 5/18/2017 in Between The Lines Newspaper issue 2520

It’s been over 100 days and I’m still angry. I’ve been angry since November. It’s not sour grapes just because my candidate did not win. This is anger, righteous indignation!

I’m angry that the promise, the American dream, is not just a dream deferred but – for millions seeking equality, justice, refuge from oppression, poverty and war – it’s a dream that got flushed down the political crapper.

I’m angry that on an almost daily basis, something comes out of Washington, D.C. that not only insults my intelligence but the intelligence of the global community.

I’m angry that despite the sheer madness of these activities a deluded group of partisan politicos continue to support and fail to do what they were sent to Washington to do.

I’m angry that the bearers of these daily mad tidings – the decision makers, the mansplainers and stepford-wife/fembots – not only don’t look like my neighbors, family and community, but haven’t a clue about our lives.

I’m angry that the same level of political dysfunction extends beyond Washington, D.C. and is equally rampant in state houses across the country.

I’m angry that after struggling without healthcare before the Affordable Care Act, I’m rushing around now trying to get procedures done because I’m afraid that I will be one of the 24 million Americans unable to afford insurance under Trumpcare – that is if I am even able to get coverage because of my preexisting conditions. I remember those days without healthcare – putting off standard procedures, deciding which every day expense was more important than my medicine, and the overwhelming burden of medical expenses for an uninsured visit to the emergency room – too many of us remember.

AIDS/HIV, Alcohol or drug abuse, Alzheimer’s/dementia, Anorexia, Arthritis, Bulimia, Cancer, Cerebral palsy, Congestive heart failure, Coronary artery/heart disease/bypass surgery, Crohn’s disease, Diabetes, Epilepsy, Hemophilia, Hepatitis, Kidney disease/renal failure, Lupus, Mental disorders (including Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder and Depression), Multiple sclerosis, Muscular dystrophy, Obesity, Organ transplant, Paraplegia, Paralysis, Parkinson’s disease, Pneumocystic pneumonia, Pregnancy, Sleep apnea, Stroke, Transsexualism are just some conditions considered pre-existing conditions.

Who doesn’t have or know of someone who has one of these conditions? So, what are we to do with our friends, families even ourselves if we have one of these pre-existing conditions?

But the vote wasn’t about the health and welfare of the American people. It was just another notch in the political maelstrom of this new GOP reality. And then they got on busses to head to the White House and drink beer to celebrate pushing through the AHCA that, for the most part, none of the GOP Congressmen had even read – oh hell yeah I’m angry!

I’m angry that millions are spent for trips to and security for unauthorized white houses (i.e. Trump properties in New York, Florida, New Jersey, etc.) while families in Flint, MI and other urban areas don’t have safe water. Money that could prevent cuts to programs like meals-on-wheels. Meals that aren’t gourmet fare – just basic meals – that provide low income, and often homebound seniors a hot, nutritious meal delivered to their doorstep. Money that could go to federally funded after-school programs that can boost academic performance, reduce risky behaviors, promote physical health, and provide a safe, structured environment for the children of working parents.

I’m angry that every frigging week-end, instead of putting my dancing shoes on, I’m lacing up my boots and taking it to the streets marching – for women, for science, for immigration rights, for education, for the environment, for LGBTQ rights, for families, for Planned parenthood, etc.

I mean it’s every damn weekend for basic human rights, for battles we thought we had already fought and won.

Yes, I’m angry but I’m still lacing up my shoes and marching. I’m taking a deep breath and having conversations with folks who didn’t vote or voted for Stein or Sanders. I’ve even had a conversation with a repentant trump supporter who admitted voting on one issue – abortion – and now realized the short sightedness in her decision.

I hear Howard Beale’s words from the movie NETWORK echoing in my head “I’m mad as Hell

and I’m not going to take this anymore!” But this isn’t a movie, its real life right now in America.

As an African American, queer, woman, parent, environmentalist, artist, activist and so much more, I stand in the crosshairs of my intersectionality. I can’t stay safely in any one lane of my multiple identities and hope the rest will work itself out. They’ve put a bull’s eye on my back so doing nothing simply is NOT an option.

I’m having conversations with folks across lines of race, gender, class, ethnicity, religion, ages, sexual orientation and gender identity. Conversations that connect the dots across our varying identities to form a picture of our humanity. Our lives are not a one-lane road. They are an intersectional multi-laned superhighway and if we all want to make it to the finish line for the world, the environment and our humanity, we had damned well better learn how to navigate.

So in the face of opposition, obstacles and discouraging lack of leadership we must PERSIST even if that means marching every day, every weekend, every month. To borrow

from a gospel hymn we can’t feel no ways tired. We’ve come too far from where we started from. Nobody told us that the road would be easy.

When they try to give us fake news, double talk and straight up lies we must INSIST on accountability, demand our legislators do the job we elected them to do. That means showing up at their offices, signing petitions, writing letters, making phone calls, sending faxes and if they still ignore us, exercising our power and voting them out of office.

2018 elections are right around the corner. Your vote can count but you have to vote for it to count!

And more than ever we must RESIST. Resist the urge to give up and be silent. Resist apathy and despair. Resist the urge to only cast blame and not find solutions. But most importantly resist giving up our humanity and succumbing to the fear, polarization and vitriolic rhetoric that brought us to this place.

When receiving the “Profile in Courage Award” President Barack Obama said “I believe

what

Dr. King said, that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” but I’ve also said it does not bend on its own. It bends because we bend it, because we put our hand on that arch, and we move it in the direction of justice and freedom and equality and kindness and generosity. It doesn’t happen on its own.”

It’s time we step up our efforts and put our hearts, minds and spirits on that arch.

Let’s PERSIST, INSIST and RESIST and bend it once again in the direction of justice, freedom and equality for all.

Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. Her weekly podcast “Collections by Michelle Brown” airs every Thursday at 7 p.m. and can be heard on Blog Talk Radio, ITunes, Stitcher and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook at Collections by Michelle Brown.

Posted in 2016 Elections, 2017 Politics, Health and Happiness, Social Justice Issues, Women, Womens March 2017, World events | Tagged | Leave a comment

My Speech from the Women’s March Ann Arbor – January 21, 2017

Hello Ann Arbor!!

It is an honor to stand in solidarity with the 66 million Americans across the country and, dare I say more than a few nasty women, for the protection of our rights, our safety, and our communities.

Many of us woke up that Wednesday morning in November and wondered what the hell had happened.

We have worked and lived our lives to build a world that could be what our children might see.

A world where healthcare is the right of every man, woman and child regardless of their ability to pay.

Where access to procedures, medications and research is not driven by big pharmaceutical profits but by the need of the patient.

Where women are the keepers and decision makers for their own bodies.

A world where every person has a right to equal opportunities for employment with a fair living wage and an equal pay based on the work done not by their gender.

Where the glass ceiling exists only to let the sunshine in on our best and brightest minds.

A world where our families are respected because LOVE IS LOVE!!

Where we recognize that the union of two people as partners in a loving committed relationship is marriage and the law of the land.

A world where we recognize Diversity means respecting the individual while recognizing our differences make up the whole of America. Not demonizing and attacking whole groups of people because of their religion, ethnicity or country of origin.

A world where every child is protected and allowed to reach their full potential.

Where they have access to excellence in education, clean water, safe streets, affordable housing and the right to live their authentic lives whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning without the fear of bullying, harassment, attacks and even death.

Black lives, Trans Lives, Women’s Lives, Our children’s lives matter!

Even though our government is now under the grip of an apocalyptic orange horseman and his henchmen of billionaires, bigots, climate deniers and conserva-fools who promise to attack, overturn or deny all that we hold dear,

we stand here and across the nation in solidarity to say in this country WE are the people and say in one loud, resounding voice that women’s rights are human rights; no human is illegal, science is real, all lives matter and we will fight for all that we hold dear.

To borrow from that great civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, we will fight until hell freezes over;

And because we are strong resilient citizens, and more than a few nasty women, when hell freezes over we will sharpen our ice skates and fjght on, .because – each of us regardless of race, creed, country of origin, sexual orientation or gender expression – is her

and I’m still with her.

Posted in 2016 Elections, Abortion, Black women, Love, marriage equality, Queer, Voting Rights, Women, Womens March 2017, World events | Leave a comment

Make America Great Again? Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That Rhetoric!

Originally printed 8/25/2016 in Between The Lines issue 2434

Waiting in line at a popular restaurant, I overheard another patron (Caucasian male around 70) approach the hostess and say “Where’s the men’s room or should I just use the ladies’ room? That’s what they want, right?”

The hostess blushed, pointed and, with a sheepish smile, said “The men’s room is over there.” Her body language said his comment made her feel uncomfortable but she said nothing. She then turned to us and said “How many” and led us to our table.

As for me well – as my mother would say – if looks could kill, orange would be my new black!! I was beyond pissed and contemplating what action I was going to take when the man rejoined his group which, remarkably, was seated at the next table from us. There are no coincidences in life – IJS!!

My partner had not heard the full comment, so I enlightened her. Trying to talk me down off my “angry activist” ledge, (after moving all the sharp utensils from my reach) she commented that the man was just a dinosaur whose time was running out.

True but those words that tone. Words have power. You say what you mean and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, you mean what you say.

Words, like ashes from a fire, can remain incendiary long after they’ve been uttered with unintended consequences long after the media firestorm has died down.

Those words – that off-handed bathroom remark alluding to transgender bathroom rights – were just a reminder that many have similar feelings about the place of African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, LGBTQ people and others in our society as second class citizens.

I get it, he was/is just a dinosaur, but the rhetoric of the 2016 political season has, for many of these dinosaurs, defined their last stand. Sadly they have found a gladiator willing to wield all the hate-filled rhetoric used historically to divide those of us in the 99% and extend their hold on power just a little longer.

You would think in this age of “Google,” instant fact-checking, and 24/7 media coverage, we would be a smarter electorate.

However, I’ve seen too much injustice, hatred and inequality to find solace in the fact that the days for his ilk are numbered or that change will come merely by our hoping for the best while remaining silent when confronted by bigotry and ignorance.

I’ve also lived enough years to recognize that greatness is a relative term and for the vast majority of Americans the greatness talked about by Trump-ites has never been a reality only, at best, a dream.

It’s not an impossible dream! It is dream held and passed down – regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or gender expression – through the generations.

It is the dream best articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. and, despite many advancements, still a dream deferred.

The Langston Hughes’ poem “Montage of a Dream Deferred” begs the question of how a people might react if they have a cherished dream for many generations that has failed to come true. It reads:

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore — And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

Hughes was writing at a time when African Americans were still suffering the injustice of Jim Crow laws. Fast forward to 2016, and although Jim Crow may be gone, the net of inequality lives on and has been expanded to include not just African Americans but other communities of color, has crossed boundaries of gender, sexual orientation, race and class and includes the many immigrants who answer Lady Liberty’s call to the “tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

So here we stand at this moment in time. On one side there’s a demand for inclusivity, attention to issues of social justice/equity and the beginning of a social revolution. It did not end when Bernie Sanders was not the nominee but was the beginning of conversations, actions and a movement that might ultimately bring about real change.

On the other side, well there’s that call to “make America great again” building upon racist, bigoted, and xenophobic tactics that historically have only diminished the country not made it great – NEVER!

Grace Lee Boggs once said, “We urgently need to bring to our communities the limitless capacity to love, serve, and create for and with each other.” We are stronger not just in our communities, our country and our world when we work to attain not just the American dream but a global dream of equality, social, environmental and economic justice for all instead of kicking the can down the road on the backs of those less fortunate or different from the status quo.

Any crackpot can make statements in the media that fan the flames of hatred, insecurity and fear. Words have power. Even if retracted, walked back or claimed to be sarcasm, once uttered words take on a life of their own and the results can be divisive, tragic and even fatal.

As Sweet Brown (no relation) said in her infamous You Tube Video “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!!”

Let’s be stronger together, not just at the polls in November, but each and every day. Stand up for what you believe in; push back against hate speech; fight for all our dreams; love who you love boldly, proudly and unapologetically. Claim your space in this expanding, intersectional world and be OUT!! There’s room on our rainbow wave for every one because we ARE stronger together.

Posted in 2016 Elections, Arts & Entertainment, Creating Change, lgbt, literature, Poetry, Pop Culture, Queer, Social Justice Issues, Transgender, World events | Leave a comment

Orlando, Sit-Ins and Our Vanishing Illusion of Safety

I know exactly where I was when I heard about Orlando. I was in the South, the Bible-belt South, the red South where I was seeing more Trump signs and Confederate flags than I ever had planned or wanted to see in my entire life.

It was a place where, as an African American, not overtly religious, queer woman from the North, I was feeling like the proverbial fish out of water. After I’d been there a few hours, one of the first things I asked was “Is there a gay bar around here?” I needed my tribe, my temple not just for a “good time” but to feel safe and secure.

In our post-Obergefel world, images of LGBTQ people are more common, but it’s still only in the sanctity of the club where we can dance, laugh, and even kiss with freedom. Freedom to be brand-new, awkward in our coming out with the knowledge that someone shares an equally awkward coming out story. We can turn off the gay-dar and flirt outrageously. Whether you are newly out or have been living out for years, gay venues provide a space where we can relax, and generally let our hair down without wondering about reactions from onlookers and checking for safety. Gay venues, especially bars and discos, are the places where you stop being the “odd one” out in the group.

Even though as an African American, queer woman I have no illusions about being safe from violence in this world, in moments of insecurity I find joy, happiness and safety in queer spaces. The massacre at PULSE shattered that last illusion of safety

Bad things have been happening in our world violating our safe spaces – Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Charleston, San Bernardino. According to the Gun Violence Archive, a “mass shooting” is any incident where four or more people are wounded or killed.  By that definition, there have been 136 mass shootings in the first 164 days of this year. In the first six months of 2016, 273 children under age 11 have been killed/injured. 1,388 teenagers have been killed/injured. In the first six months of 2016, the murders of 14 transgender people have been reported.

People – women, children, young, old, gay, straight and transgender – are dying, being murdered often in spaces once considered safe – schools, churches, neighborhoods, workplaces and now a gay bars. We are not safe!!

But rather than looking at the root cause of violence we have strapped up, citing our 2nd amendment right to bear arms, erroneously believing that if we all had guns we would all be safer.

Now I am not anti-gun, but the proliferation of guns, from hand guns to assault rifles, and the mounting number of deaths from kids getting accidently shot by unsecured guns, to random street violence (gangs, road rage, etc.) to mass shootings have made me feel less secure.

The vigils, the reading of names, the photos in the media every day – I’m cried out, almost numb and more than a little angry. And our legislators (many receiving thousands of dollars from the gun lobby) after taking a moment of silence have gone on to do nothing. All talk and no action. No wonder so many have been turned off by politics.

While still trying to cope with the loss of 49 lives in Orlando, remembering the senseless massacre of the Charleston 9 the previous year, after watching Congress again fail to take action on measures to expand background checks for gun purchases and prevent suspected terrorists from buying the weapons, something amazing happened.

Led by Civil Rights hero, Congressman John Lewis, House democrats began a sit-in on the House floor demanding action on gun control that lasted more than 24-hours.

After Speaker Ryan turned the cameras off, House Democrats turned to social media broadcasting from cell phones, tablets and iPads with feeds picked up for broadcast to the nation by C-SPAN. Democrats did not succeed in securing a vote on the gun-control measures they had hoped for in staging the protest but, amidst the chants of No Bill, No Break, you heard real talk about the consequences of our armed society.

There were stories of loved ones who had committed suicide by gun or survived suicide attempts because they didn’t have a gun and had time to rethink and refocus.  There were stories of neighborhoods ravaged by gun violence; families who lives had been forever changed following Sandy Hook. There was a statement from Gabby Giffords.

And then there was the remarkable words of Illinois Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez. A man of Puerto Rican ancestry, who spoke about grappling with his Catholic upbringing, dealing with his own prejudice and bigotry, to becoming an ally to the LGBTQ community, of the loss he felt as a member of the Puerto Rican community for the lives at PULSE, 23 of whom were Puerto Rican.

We are not safe not because of guns but because of hatred, inequality, indifference and inaction.

In leading the sit-in Congressman John Lewis said ” Sometimes, you have to do something out of the ordinary; sometimes you have to make a way out of no way.”

We may not see the vote on gun control but with this sit-in perhaps, just maybe, a change is going to come. As Rep. John Lewis said “Don’t give up, don’t give in!”

Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. You can follow her writing and activities at http://www.mychangeiam.com and onhttp://www.twitter.com/mychangeiam

Posted in 2016 Elections, Abortion, Creating Change, Gun Control, hate crime, lgbt, Queer, Social Justice Issues, State of the Union 2016, Voting Rights, Women | Leave a comment

Digging Deep, Pulling Together and Doing Whatever it Takes

Published 4/7/2016 in issue 2414 of Between The Lines Newspaper

The win for marriage equality was our high point, but we knew it would not be smooth sailing ahead with this victory. We knew there would remain opposition. We knew there would be push back, but I doubt anyone could have predicted the magnitude of the efforts to turn back the hands of equality.

Last year lawmakers introduced more than 85 anti-LGBT bills in 28 state Legislatures. There was the stunning defeat that crushed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), an LGBT nondiscrimination law. And as the race to the White House heats up, threats to our rights continue.

Trump, the GOP front runner, has been a consistent opponent of marriage equality and has expressed support for the so-called First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) which would expose us to more discrimination. His closest rivals, Cruz and Kasich, promise no brighter future for LGBTQ Americans if they are successful. Both have consistently opposed our equal rights. And just when it looked like things couldn’t get more toxic, onerous anti-LGBTQ laws were passed in North Carolina and Mississippi.

So here we are approaching the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision. While some are planning weddings, others are girding our loins to continue the battle — recognizing that it’s not enough to be able to wed on Saturday if we can still be fired on Monday, and even worse to see some, if not all, of our rights turned back come November.

Okay, so no one says “gird your loins” anymore, but you get the drift. We must get ready for perilous times. Unfortunately it seems that some folks, at least on the progressive/liberal side, still don’t see how serious this stuff is.

Unlike the scared, misguided and/or lunatic fringe on the right willing to overlook the hypocrisy; vote against their own best interests; hold their nose; and fall in line behind whichever one of the three stooges heads the GOP ticket, our team is still working things out.

Some who are feeling the “Bern” hint that they will sit it out if it is not their candidate. Even worse, some Sanders supporters, most notably actress and activist Susan Sarandon, say they don’t know if they can bring themselves to vote for any candidate but Sanders. Sarandon went so far as to imply that Trump might be better for America than Hillary Clinton. Seriously?

Well, maybe in her world. Maybe in a wealthy, white, heterosexual world with the means and opportunities to seek refuge in greener pastures is that a good move, but for the other 99 percent, those of us in the LGBTQ community and especially those in communities of color, we need to be more thoughtful and strategic.

This does not mean a cakewalk, no matter how historic a Clinton candidacy might be. She has had her missteps and communication gaffs. There is too much information available, too many living witnesses to the past horrors, too many still suffering for ANYONE to be misinformed, misspeak or whitewash history.

Any candidate wanting progressive, LGBTQ and/or POC votes must be vetted fully and schooled on our issues like yesterday. We must ask more than, “What have you done for us lately?” but also, “What haven’t you done for us in the past?” and “Do you understand the consequences of your actions/inactions?” We need to ask them if they understand today’s world or are they still living with outdated values and views.

Having a social media presence and being on late night television might make you seem cool, but we need more than sound bites and slogans. We can’t hope that candidates will educate themselves — we must ask the hard questions and hold their feet to the fire to make sure they get it right and keep it right. That’s the relatively easy part. The pulling up not the girding up, the heavy lifting.

No politician, neither Hillary nor Bernie, can do that. They’re just the standard bearers. We must set and raise the standards which takes us back to the Them vs. Us reality.

They have done a pretty good job of raising a specter of doom and gloom, of portraying a scary future that only a return to their values can redeem — a message so powerful that many would vote against their own best interest to see fulfilled.

Us — well, not so much. Despite the fact that 12 years after marriage in Massachusetts the state hasn’t fallen into the sea (or burst into flames), that the country survived the enactment of the Affordable Care Act and more Americans now have health coverage, and after seven years of an Obama presidency the economy is in a far better place. We/Us still can’t get people to the polls to vote. We/Us haven’t directly or indirectly influenced enough of our friends/neighbors to realize our equality does not mean inequality for them.

When we have come together and raised our voices we have changed the nation again and again. We did this not by holding hands singing “Kumbaya” but by raising our voices in a song for freedom.

Now it’s the time to gird up our loins, to man-up and flex our ovaries and do whatever we have to do to focus not on our differences but on what will make a better world for us all — black/white, gay/straight, everyone. So, to borrow the words of the immortal Bob Marley, “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom? It’s all we’ll ever have.”

Posted in 2016 Elections, Creating Change, hate crime, lgbt, marriage equality, Pop Culture, State of the Union 2016, Transgender, Women, World events | Leave a comment