Political Essays

The Rise of the Neo-Liberal and the Death of Political Discourse

I think one of the things I hate most about Trump has been what he has done to this country. And I don’t mean his policies and the way he excites his base. I’m talking about what he has done to my friends. I’m talking about what he has done to liberals. I’m finding it harder and harder to talk to my liberal friends every day that this reckless and dangerous administration teeters more into absurdity. I’m finding that some of my closest friends have become so blind with rage at the man that they have become hysterical and are acting irrationally. I see it in the rise of a kneejerk political correctness and the invasion of censorship. Suddenly, we have become a bunch of entitled and delicate jerks that no one can say anything around, and common decency and respect for diversity isn’t enough. I’m not talking about the good kind of political correctness, where we banish hate speech and bigotry. I’m talking about the kind of virulent political correctness that goes after well-meaning people and attacks free speech. Now we have to police everything we say, shut down productive public discourse, and punish everyone who thinks differently than us. Nowadays, you have a right to your opinion, just so long as you share mine. Voltaire is often credited with saying, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Fittingly, this quote is erroneously credited to Voltaire, when it was actually a female writer named Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing ABOUT Voltaire. The point is, the Left has somehow become the party of censorship and the shutting down of free speech. This ties into identity politics, which has similarly hijacked the party. The Democrats used to be the party of social justice and advocating for the poor. It used to be about healthcare and gender parity. It used to be something entirely different than it is now.

 

I’m not suggesting that Trump started this movement. This has been gaining momentum since the ‘90s, at least. However, Donald Trump took advantage of this weakness and exploited it for his own power and political ends.

 

We have become a party of petty vigilantes, who seek to shut down political discourse, and silence our opponents. We have lost the ability to have civil discourse, and we have become course and undignified in our rhetoric. I was inspired to write this essay as a response to newly elected Representative Rashida Tlaib calling Donald Trump a “motherfucker” and vowing to impeach him on her first day in office. I find this troubling on many levels. Firstly, it is her first day in office and there’s nothing like calling for impeachment when we don’t have all the facts yet. It’s illogical on many levels. For one thing, we haven’t seen the results of the Mueller probe yet, and those will certainly shed some light on any impeachable offenses. Secondly, there is no way impeachment would make it through the Senate, where 67 votes are needed to impeach a sitting president. In my opinion, it’s a fool’s errand at this point. Lastly, this was her first day in office. There is no better way to signal your partisanship and shut down discourse and compromise than to make such a brash statement on your first day. She instantly set the tone and tenor of her time in office. She came across as someone who is going to be combative and unprepared to work across the aisle for her stay in Congress. This is not the kind of precedent you want to set on your very first day.

 

As for the vulgarity, there is no place for that in politics. Ad hominem attacks are uncalled for, and frankly, beneath the office. However, whenever I express such sentiment, my neo-liberal friends cry out that Trump and the Republicans have said much worse. This is another instance of “what aboutism” where politicians justify their rude and boorish behavior by pointing out that their adversaries have said and done far worse. Of course they have. No one is arguing that the Right have distorted facts and used underhanded methods to discredit and smear the Left. They have also used foul language, and shamefully pandered to their base. Trump has sworn on numerous occasions, and continues to demonstrate his lack of civility and manners. So why should we sink to his level, and do the same? Why should we go low, just because they have? As the saying goes, “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.” And of course, the Republicans like it. They feign fake outrage, and condemn the language, but it only furthers their agenda and helps energize their base. By using this kind of language, we are not only lowering ourselves to their course demeanor, we are also giving them plenty of ammunition. This is the kind of rhetoric that fills their coffers and motivates them to vote for the opposition. Just as identity politics alienates the mainstream blue-collar voter, so does language like this. It comes across as desperate and partisan, and it only manages to send more votes to the other side. This kind of course and combative language is supremely unhelpful, and only undermines our message. One of the reasons the Obamas are so well liked and respected, is because they never sunk to such depths. The Right may have hated Obama and obstructed his efforts, but they could never claim that he pandered to his base by attacking his adversaries with such vulgarity. As Michelle Obama famously quipped, “When they go low, we go high.” And that is a principle that the nation observed firsthand. Barack Obama was a gentleman, and he valued civility in politics. We undermine the high road and erode our values when we use such language. Representative Rashida Tlaib was wrong to stoop to such levels.

 

We have become a divided country, where extremism wins the day and civility is vanquished. No one is willing to compromise anymore, and both sides blame the other for obstruction and gridlock in Washington. The Left has been hijacked by identity politics and has become isolated from mainstream America. The Right is obsessed with lowering taxes, while insisting on building a wall to ensure America’s safety. Republicans are using scare tactics and demonstrably false arguments to justify cruelty in the name of national security. The Right are in the pockets of the NRA and big business, and all of their legislation reflects that. Meanwhile, the Left is also beholden to their donors, and is equally corrupted by money and big business. We have reached an impasse, where neither side is willing to budge, and where we are reduced to name-calling and pointing fingers.

 

One of the most troubling developments in recent years is the rise of the neo-liberal. This is a word I use to describe progressive liberals who have taken extreme views and steered the party into a polarity that rarely values compromise and civility. The Republicans have taken such extreme views on abortion, reproductive rights, gay marriage, gun control, immigration, and tax breaks for the wealthy, the Left has been forced to react in a similarly extreme way, and has moved so far left, it has alienated much of the electorate. The Democratic party used to be a party that valued universal healthcare, fought for the poor and middle class, endorsed sensible gun laws, and advocated for social programs that aided the poor, the vulnerable, and marginalized groups in this country. However, in recent years, the party that historically stood for free speech and civil discourse has become the party of censorship and vigilante justice. The rise of identity politics has alienated middle America and many working people across the country, who rightly thought their party was fighting for their livelihood and economic prosperity. These were blue-collar voters who were often members of unions and worked hard to support their families and put food on the table. For years, this block of voters had been reliable votes for the Democrats, and they trusted in the party to advocate for them and their interests. And yet, we only need to look back to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton to see a candidate who took this voting block for granted, and falsely believed that she still had their votes. These average Americans came to resent the Left for abandoning their promise of economic prosperity and protections, and for focusing so much on identity politics and political correctness. They were alienated and isolated, and opened the door for a man like Donald Trump to exploit their worse fears and foment their worse instincts. Trump preyed on their concerns about losing jobs to immigrants and their fears of security. He used fake news and false statements to inflate their risks and promised to deliver them from poverty and ensure the safety of their families. And many of these fears were real. The middle class was suffering, and paychecks were not keeping up with escalating costs. People were losing their jobs. But Trump blamed the Democrats and crippling regulations for their despair, and promised to bring coal back, while dismissing the reality of climate change. In reality, many of these jobs were being loss to atomization and industries that simply were not viable anymore. But Trump wasn’t about to admit such truths. Trump exploited their fears and sold them a false bill of goods. That, coupled with the Democrats seemingly abandoning them made for a powder keg, and directly led to his election.

 

While Trump was winning hearts and minds, the Democrats were ignoring the economy and the interests of the working class. The party had become obsessed with social justice and stamping out inequities everywhere. And don’t get me wrong: these were noble pursuits, and certainly had been integral to the party for years. Since the New Deal, and the evolution of the Democratic Party, social justice had been part and parcel of the party’s platform. However, now it was taking a front seat, and most Democrats weren’t talking about the economy anymore. Many of the blue-collar workers who had made up their base for generations were feeling marginalized and forgotten about. Trump pandered to these fears, and exploited their latent racism, homophobia, and xenophobia, and skillfully pitted the white worker against the immigrant and other people of color.

 

The neo-liberal has become a thing of scorn, and has managed to erode its base and alienate much of its own party. They have become obsessed with policing the thoughts and actions of Americans – many well meaning and natural allies – to push forth an untenable agenda. We should rightly be advocating for people of color and encouraging diversity, economic parity, and gender equality, but not so virulently attacking our potential allies. We do so at our own peril. By isolating the average American, we come across as elitist and bicoastal, and we unnecessarily fracture our party and pit groups against one another. One reason why the Republicans have been so successful is that they always stay on message and are loyal to the party above everything else. They may squabble and fight during primaries, but as soon as one of their own is nominated, they fall in line and support their man. Lindsey Graham was one of Donald Trump’s harshest critics, but as soon as Trump became President, Graham became one of his most ardent supporters. The Republicans are inordinately better at organization and towing the party line, while Democrats continue to fracture themselves beyond recognition.  Democrats have become so polarized, they’ve abandoned the working person, and been undone by their own best intentions. The moderate Democrat has become obsolete, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone left to negotiate with the other party.

 

When the neo-liberals become distracted by perceived injustices, they often take the argument too far, and drown in their social activism. The Right has labeled these people “Social Justice Warriors” and “Snowflakes” and rightfully derides their movement for its utter absurdity. While workers in the Midwest are fighting to keep their jobs and we are losing a trade war to China, these neo-liberals are attacking songs like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and vehemently condemning it as a rape anthem. There are calls to boycott the song, and radio stations across the country bowed to their demands, and pulled the song from their playlist. These are the absurd and petty diversions that the Left has become enchanted by, and what fuels their sense of social justice. There are people all across this country fighting for their livelihoods, and these neo-liberals are winning skirmishes, while losing voters. In the grand scheme of things, issues like songs and patriarchal reading lists seem minor when compared to the real challenges that lie ahead in a radically changing economy. Promoting social justice and equity are important goals, but we must do so in demonstrably positive ways, and use legislation and economic initiatives to raise people out of poverty, fix our critical infrastructure, repair our substandard education system, and fight racism and homophobia through legitimate means. We become distracted and bogged down with every little perceived injustice, and we alienate voters when we seem to forget their justified concerns and focus on the little things. When we play the game of identity politics, we fracture the party and foment adversarial relationships rather than forge alliances.

 

Many people blame Millennials and the younger generations for taking the party in this direction. This argument does have merit, as we’ve become a society of petty injustices, hurt feelings, and stubborn alliances. We’ve become a nation of victims, who seem to value participation trophies over personal initiative. That’s not to say that there aren’t real disparities and inequities in minority populations. It is very true that we don’t all start from the same place of privilege. Marginalized groups have less access to healthcare, quality education, and resources that seem to favor white males. This is a reality. But rather than pit one group against another, we must strive to combat poverty and injustice in meaningful ways. Social Justice Warriors are not contributing to the discussion; they are shutting it down completely. When a society is made up of individuals who all feel entitled, but none feel accountable, we start blaming others for our own weaknesses. Of course, we must advocate for the marginalized and vulnerable, but we play a dangerous game when we start pointing fingers rather than come up with real and lasting change. There is no doubt that white privilege exists, and that we continue to be entrenched in a white Christian patriarchy. However, it is supremely unhelpful when we point to white middle class or blue-collar workers, and indict them on charges of racism, privilege, and sexism. It’s true that many of these people do fall victim to such trappings of bigotry, but rather than act as their executioners, we must try and understand where they are coming from. That’s not the same thing as endorsing bigotry or intolerance, but it is about building bridges to better understanding. We must pour our best intentions into these people who may have voted for Trump, but may also be woefully undereducated, misinformed, and isolated from others who may look and worship differently than they do. The neo-liberals seem to think that they can ignore this part of the populace and can’t seem to understand how we could have elected a man like Donald Trump. It’s because he spoke to them. He didn’t blame them. He ostensibly sympathized with them. These people don’t need to hear about white privilege and how they’re to blame for the sins of their ancestors. They need real solutions. It is only through education and economic prosperity that we can hope to capture the hearts of these Americans, and make lasting inroads to their intolerance and prejudice.

 

When neo-liberals attack authors, politicians, and artists from the past who they perceive as racist, sexist, or antithetical to their egalitarian belief system, they belie a misunderstanding of historical perspective and cultural context. I recently saw articles attacking Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Winston Churchill, and demonizing anyone who celebrated these traditional heroes of injustice. Scott Kelly, a retired American astronaut with multiple space flights under his belt, apologized recently after quoting Winston Churchill and calling the 20th century British prime minister “one of the greatest leaders of modern times.” He came under withering criticism for admiring a man who many perceive as a racist and unapologetic colonialist. Kelly was forced to apologize, and retract his praise, all because his words offended some people who see Churchill as a monster. The problem with such condemnation is that we do it at our own peril. These neo-liberals have no sense of context, and cannot possibly see past their contemporary enlightenment. It’s not fair to hold figures of the past up to our own standards of decency, and negate all the good that they did. It’s not reasonable to condemn historical figures for not being as enlightened and evolved as we are today. It’s a slippery slope when we start demanding our artists, politicians, authors, and thinkers be as culturally sensitive as we are today. After all, who would make the cut? If you can’t appreciate the good deeds of men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who can you revere? The problem is, Social Justice Warriors, as they’re often called, have no sense of humor, no perspective, and no ability to contextualize anyone who came before them. They are iconoclasts, who seek to overthrow the patriarchy and everyone who fashioned it, and abandon anyone who doesn’t directly speak for them. These people have no sense of history, and would rather tear down men like our Founding Fathers, rather than try to understand them and put them in their time and place. When it comes down to it, everyone from the past is complicated and flawed. No one could withstand such withering scrutiny. But they don’t seem to understand that. They can’t possibly conceive that a hundred years from now, their own thoughts and motivations may be condemned as backward and intolerant, and that we are all on a timeline with inherent flaws. It is therefore necessary to put things in perspective and put things in their historical context. If we don’t, we risk missing an opportunity to learn from history, and make course adjustments in our own timeline.

 

The neo-liberal is a problematic figure of contemporary culture. Their intentions are just and their heart is in the right place, but their methods are flawed and ineffective. Rather than stimulate discussion and open doors of discourse, they have managed to shut down conversations and outlawed disagreement. Rather than try and understand their adversaries, they have either dismissed them outright or viciously attacked or maligned them for their ignorance and bigotry. They seem preoccupied with fighting battles over inconsequential things, and have such a sense of entitlement, they punish anyone who disagrees with them. They are not accountable to anyone, and they have no understanding of history and context. They are utterly humorless and have little sense of irony. Theirs is a battle for social justice and equity, but they go about it in ways that alienate groups and demonize potential allies. Rather than see us all as one nation with each our own flaws and shortcomings, they back themselves into a corner and use extreme and inflammatory language to attack their enemies. They are radical activists, who have no interest in compromise, but seek to beat and berate our society into compliance and tolerance. Egalitarian societies don’t emerge from derision and scorn, but from education and tolerance of diverse opinion. Neo-liberals don’t believe in gray areas, but live in a black and white world, where you’re either with me or against me, and it’s a zero sum game to the top. Despite their protestations of tolerance, they are one of the most intolerant groups in the nation. As they spiral down their rabbit hole of blame and derision, they continue to lose supporters and manage to alienate vast portions of this country. With their strident voices, there is little hope for genuine discourse and meaningful compromise. It is solely a fight to the bottom.

 

All my life, I have considered myself a progressive liberal. I have advocated for social justice, and have sought to build bridges between cultures and opposing viewpoints. I have vehemently defended free speech, and supported open dialogue in colleges and universities, and in the public forum. I don’t think we benefit from shutting down speech, while we still encourage respectful and appropriate language. I do not endorse racism, homophobia, xenophobia, or any other form of bigotry, and have spent my life working to overcome such obstacles. I believe in gender equality, economic parity, and social programs that aid the poor and vulnerable. I strongly believe that education is the key to tolerance and building a verdant and just society, and I believe that eradicating poverty is the answer for most social ills. I am very vocal in my support for universal healthcare, and think that healthcare and access to education are fundamental rights in any just society. My values have traditionally aligned with the Democratic Party, and as I said, I have always considered myself a liberal. However, today, I question my own allegiance, as the party has moved away from me, and become radicalized and extremist in its views. There are few moderates left, and I find the party has become hysterical and insensible in its views. I believe in compromise and working across the aisle, but I see very little of that mentality, as Congresswoman are using expletives and waging war on their first day of office. I sometimes think I’m not liberal enough for the Left, and too progressive for the Right. I am a dying breed of moderate liberals, who believe in social justice and all the platforms of the party, but question the direction it’s heading. I feel alienated and put off by the words and actions of these so-called neo-liberals, and I feel increasingly marginalized in my own party. While on social media, I have come under attack by my liberal friends, who I simply don’t recognize anymore. They have become frothing extremists in my view, and their rage is palpable. And so is mine. I hate Donald Trump, and want to see our country fulfill its potential and become great – not again – but once and for all. That means justice and tolerance and access to the American Dream for ALL. But I have little faith that these neo-liberals have the answers or the means to deliver us to that genteel and hopeful Promised Land. And so, in the end, I am a man without a party, and although I still consider myself a Democrat, I abhor and detest many of its adherents and the actions of many of its members. I am a moderate. The last of a dying breed. I seek compromise, civility, and cooperation. These days, those seem like dirty words. I hope this changes sometime soon.

A Brief History of Disability: A Response to the Teen Vogue article: “Saying Stephen Hawking Is ‘Free’ From His Wheelchair Is Ableist “

I recently read the article, Saying Stephen Hawking Is “Free” From His Wheelchair Is Ableist published in Teen Vogue. Initially, I had very mixed feelings about this article. In theory, I understand the spirit of saying, “The fact of the matter is that Stephen did all of his amazing work with his disability — not in spite of it.” We shouldn’t try and erase someone’s disability, and it is certainly part of them. I fully understand the idea that Ableism makes people unnecessarily ashamed to have a disability, and we must embrace the whole person, not try and strip them of their disability. However, as someone who is ON disability and LIVES with a disability, I would also challenge most people who have disabilities to honestly ask themselves whether they would choose to have that disability. I have no doubt that Stephen Hawking embraced his disability, and was successful with it and not in spite of it, but if given the choice, I wonder if he would have chosen to stand up and walk out of that wheelchair at any given time.

I know I would not choose to live with debilitating mental illness. Obviously, I don’t like the sentiment that death is a noble escape from disability. That’s reductive and diminishing. Clearly, disabled people can achieve nearly anything an able-bodied person can. But there are great obstacles. Huge challenges. I think its disingenuous to assert that people with disabilities would PREFER to have been born with, or develop a disability. Let’s be honest with ourselves. And yes, I’m sure this post will come under fire, and some people may even assert that I don’t have a qualifying disability because I’m not in a wheelchair. Yet, I still qualify as disabled. Doesn’t that qualify me to speak on the subject?

In this increasingly fractured and divisive time of identity politics, I sometimes wonder if  we take these movements too far. To say I’m disabled, and proud is great. You should be. But is saying, “I’m disabled, and proud” the same as saying, “I’m black, and proud?” There’s nothing innately broken, disabled, or wrong with being black. Yet society seems to suggest there is something wrong with being disabled. Granted, no one chose to be black, just as no one chose to be disabled. But in our society, being black should be life-affirming, proud, and wonderful. Obviously, we live in a society plagued by Institutional Racism, and being black is unfortunately a liability much of the time. We live in an inequitable age, where women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and minorities still face unenviable challenges. Many of them would rightfully suggest that racism, bigotry, and discrimination is a prejudice not unlike being disabled.  However, for those of us who can rationally analyze what it means to be any race (as much as any of us can, given our pre-conditioning and stubborn socialization), we would embrace the fact that there is no inferior race, and that we are all human and blessed with an ineffable beauty. The same can be said about gender and orientation. And yet, in many people’s eyes, being disabled is somehow a state of being “half-formed” or “broken.” How could we not feel that way? Why would we be spending billions of R&D money trying to fix us? Being disabled is a social justice issue, just like being black in America is, but it’s not exactly the same thing. It’s hard not to feel inferior when your disability is trying to be fixed. Sure, there are plenty of people trying to “fix” black people or trans people, but no one worth listening to. Those people are just right, just the way they are. And we want to say that disabled people are too, but it is challenging, when to be disabled also means something or someone in need of a fix. It’s hard to directly compare disability with other social justice issues. No one in their right mind would try to fix being a woman. Or being born black. (although many people have tried) Yet, every day, we try and fix being disabled.

If we are truly honest with ourselves, we must also acknowledge that few people – if given the choice – would actually choose to have their disability. That may not be true for all, but I would venture to guess that a good many of us would. At the same time, I also allow that this thinking might be considered “Institutional Ableism” and that I have been socialized to see disability as “lacking,” “inadequate,” or somehow “broken” or “incomplete.” I accept that. I suppose there is a certain degree of self-loathing when it comes to having a disability, and many of us with challenges are “blessed” with the ignominious defeat of shame coupled with low self-esteem. I don’t deny that. I know that I am plagued by shame and guilt. Much of this undoubtedly stems from my disability. (A challenge, I might add, that has undoubtedly been with me since adolescence, but only recently diagnosed.) Does this ingrained and internalized guilt and shame manifest itself in self-loathing ways? Undoubtedly. I have no doubt that society’s view of disability and being in some way “broken” has worked its way into my subconscious. Hell, it’s right there in my conscious mind. I know what it feels like to feel broken. To be half-formed. To be somehow incomplete. Am I part of the problem?

I’ve sometimes wondered if developing a disability late in life may be more challenging than being born with one. That’s not to say that it isn’t as difficult dealing with the challenges from birth. However, I wonder if those who were born with a disability, and have known no other life, have an easier time accepting themselves and their circumstances. I sometimes wonder if it’s like the famous saying, “Time + Tragedy = Comedy.” Does Time + Disability = Acceptance and Self Love? For those of us who developed these disabilities after having lived a life without them (or without being diagnosed with them), it may take getting used to, and there may be an extended period of denial and/or shame. And grief, at the lives we perceive we lost. I may very well fall into that category. Perhaps I haven’t fully embraced my disability, and I am still entrenched in shame. If I truly felt blessed with my disability, perhaps I wouldn’t be so quick to try and shed it or profess the desire to have been born without this debilitating disease. Maybe I wouldn’t naturally assume that those with disabilities would choose NOT to have them, if given the choice. If my disability has in fact shaped me – as has my intellect, my height, or any other characteristic I have no control over – than perhaps I shouldn’t see it as a deficit, but rather, a trait not unlike the others. It is inescapably and indivisibly a part of me, and my identity. Maybe I would choose it.

In truth, Ableism is the stigma that keeps us from talking about mental health or averting our eyes from those in wheelchairs. It is the proverbial albatross around society’s necks, and one thing that prevents us from talking honestly about the emotional toll our averted gazes, furtive glances, and hushed whispers truly betray. As a society, we must grapple with the paradox that as we try to find cures for diseases like ALS or Bipolar Disorder, we are not trying to unduly cure the person suffering from those diseases of being who they truly are. How do we separate the person from the disease? Or do we? Can we love the whole person, while simultaneously attempting to cure them or their “disorder?” Is it even proper to call it a disorder? If “order” is normal and preferable, than surely disorder is broken and in need of a mend. I suffer from Bipolar Disorder. Am I in need of order? Probably. But is my life broken beyond repair, or is my condition just one of the many traits that make me unique and unquestionably loveable? I don’t know the answer to that question. I would hope it’s the latter.

The point is, the words we choose do matter. My initial reaction to this article was wrong. I was wrong to have a knee-jerk reaction to someone insisting it was Ableist to imply Stephen Hawking might choose death over his disability. Perhaps he might have. Perhaps he wouldn’t have chosen his disability. But he had one, and he chose to live his life fully and in a meaningful way. Maybe none of us would choose our disabilities, but for reasons unknown, they chose us. We weren’t cursed or smote by God, but by genetics, heredity, fate, circumstance, randomness, or whatever else you want to call it. It happened to us without our control, and we can either wallow in shame, or embrace what we’ve been given. Should we reject ourselves because of this? No! Is it okay to wish we weren’t burdened with these diseases? Yes. It’s okay. It has to be. We didn’t choose this. But we can choose how we think about our disability. Maybe we wouldn’t choose the disability. But it must stop there. The words we choose to describe our disabilities matter. We must be careful not to assume that someone would choose death over a disability. Or even that they wouldn’t choose it. Maybe they would. After all, it has made them who they are. Those are strong people, and something I aspire to.

What I do know is that I have a difficult time accepting my disability in its entirety, and I would find it surprising if anyone who suffers from a disability truly – in their heart of hearts – would choose to suffer with their disability or live without the pain, inconvenience, and accompanying heartache that disability inevitably brings. Maybe they would. I long to be that person who is so comfortable in their skin, that even their perceived deficits are seen as unique advantages. Perhaps one day, I will accomplish all the things I hope to accomplish not in spite of my disability, but because of it. With it. With all of me.

The words we choose matter. To be disabled is not to be broken. Even if deep down, I still harbor those hateful thoughts about myself. Even as medicine and science tries to cure us of our disabilities, we must cure ourselves…from the inside out. We must learn to embrace our disabilities, and accept ourselves for who we are. Only then, perhaps, we will choose to stay in the chair. Or learn to walk on our own. Society must learn to see us WITH our disabilities, and not be so hasty to change who we are and what we represent. The stigma is real. And if we cannot love ourselves first, it’s hard to imagine how we can expect others to see us fully and embrace us wholly. It’s a reciprocal relationship, and society needs to change, while we need to embrace our disabilities.

Maybe Stephen Hawking would have chosen the chair. Maybe he wouldn’t. But it’s not for us to decide.

We still have a long way to go. Perhaps me more than anyone.

To Belittle is to Be Little: Mansplaining & Our Words of Oppression

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So my mom was just telling me about a man she knows who sometimes talks to her like she was stupid and says sexist things from time to time. I quickly responded that he was “mansplaining” to her. She had never heard that expression. I then proceeded to explain it to her, while also being hyper-aware and vigilant about not doing the very thing I was preaching against.

I realized that this kind of hyper-vigilance is exactly what we all need to practice every day and in every circumstance. No matter who we’re talking to – friend, family, or foe. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about basic human decency and respect. We should always be able to disagree, but it’s about how we do so. 

I honestly think half the problems in this world aren’t necessarily caused by WHAT we say to each other and what we disagree about, but HOW we say it. How we talk to each other matters. It should be discourse built on an unspoken agreement of respect and civility. It’s about empathy.

The next time I talk to a woman, or a child, or a minority, or someone perhaps less formally educated- but no less intelligent, or ANYONE, I hope I remember what I learned today: words matter. Charity begins at home, and the way we talk to each other is the first step towards truly listening. And that’s where true compromise lies.

My Story: Living With Bipolar Disorder & Giving Voice to the Voiceless

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My name is Jon, and I live with mental illness. For over thirty years, I have worked as a professional actor, director, writer, and educator. I have taught high school, university, and adult education. As a writer, I write reviews, political essays, social commentary, and have been published on several websites. Despite my many accomplishments, five years ago – at the age of 35 – I was diagnosed with severe Bipolar I Disorder and ADHD, and it changed my life forever. Tonight, I am here to describe my journey into the abyss, but also to share my resilient story of hope and recovery, and how I am living proof that it is possible to live a purposeful and rewarding life while living with mental illness.

Five years ago, I was living in Chicago, and finishing up a Master of Fine Arts degree in Directing. During my three years of grad school, I had been arrested for DUI, faced jail time and thousands of dollars in fines, lost my driver’s license and totaled a new car, gone through a painful breakup, abused drugs and alcohol, and suffered the deaths of two close friends – one of whom had Schizophrenia, and took his own life. On top of all this, I was put on probation in my theatre department, and nearly kicked out of the program. Not because of my grades – I had a 4.0 and was at the top of my class. It was because I was having interpersonal conflicts, and couldn’t effectively collaborate with my peers. I didn’t know how to deal with stress, and was driven by an unrealistic need for perfection in myself and in those around me. I couldn’t handle rejection and criticism, and often lashed out in defensive ways.

In my final semester of grad school, I was working as an assistant director at a theatre in Chicago, with three very famous actors. I was living the dream. What I didn’t know then, was that I was also living with mental illness. Quickly, the pain and stress of those three long years began to catch up with me, and I suddenly had a complete psychotic break. And yet, I felt greater than I had in years. I was sleeping only about an hour a night, but I was accomplishing so much! I was more creative than I had ever been, and began writing books, plays, and keeping a daily journal –which I would scribble in all throughout the day. I thought I was the next Hemingway. I had delusions of grandeur, and pictured myself writing the next great American novel or a hit Broadway show! I was juggling dozens of creative projects, including painting, drawing, and sculpting, and had transformed an entire room in my apartment into an artist’s studio, where I furiously created art around the clock.

I also started spending all my money on frivolous things. In addition to creating art, I was also buying antiques and collectibles at a local thrift store, and selling them online at a business I had created for charity. Soon, I began working as a head chef at a local bar and grill, and somehow I imagined that I was on the verge of launching the next hit restaurant in Chicago.

But there was also a dark side. I was becoming increasingly erratic. I began to hallucinate and hear voices, and came to believe that I was the Son of God—sent here to save humanity. I let my hair and beard grow, and began walking through the streets of Chicago barefoot, giving sermons on street corners and preaching to prostitutes. I walked alone through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, and nearly got shot more than once.

When I wasn’t in the streets, I was preaching crazy ideas on Facebook, and no one had any idea what I was talking about. I was completely unstable, and began fighting with people on social media. I lost a lot of friends during that time. Many people thought that I was just being a terrible person, without realizing I was having a complete psychotic breakdown. The few friends and family I had left were worried about me, but for many, this was the first time they had ever seen someone in crisis, and didn’t know what to do. After several failed attempts to get me help in Chicago, my family finally flew me back to Maine to receive the treatment I needed. There’s no telling how much longer I would have survived in Chicago. By the time I left, I was convinced the CIA were watching me, and planning my assassination. I was a danger to myself.

Within three days of arriving in Bangor, I was at PCHC (Penobscot Community Health Center), and had seen a primary care doctor, therapist, and med manager. Before long, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder and ADHD, and put on several medications. I was also referred to the NAMI Bangor (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group, and a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class, to receive lessons in mindfulness and dealing with interpersonal conflict. All of this saved my life.

But make no mistake. I thought my life had ended. As scary as my time in Chicago might sound to you, for me, it was thrilling and exciting. Those three months of mania had been the most stimulating in my life, and I had never been so inspired or productive. I thought I was God, and now, here I was back in Maine, on disability, and living in my parents’ basement. All I wanted to do was die.

When I first got back, I attempted to teach and work in local theatre, but once again, I had serious conflicts with my colleagues, and gave up altogether. I became increasingly depressed, withdrew from friends and family, and rarely left the basement. I was overly medicated and could hardly function. I used to be a passionate and articulate person, but now here I was, drooling and could hardly feel a thing. I became suicidal, and made several attempts on my life.

For ADHD, I was put on Ritalin, and before long, I was snorting it for the high. It was the only time I felt creative and alive—like I had felt in Chicago. I was snorting an entire month’s supply in a week, which would make me manic, and not allow me to sleep for six or seven days at a time. My life was spiraling out of control, and I prayed every day that it would just end.

And it nearly did.

But about a year and a half ago, everything changed.

I was addicted to Ritalin, had gained nearly 80 pounds, and had been rushed to the emergency room several times. I finally said to myself: “You gotta get busy living, or get busy dying.” I realized I was trying to kill myself slowly, and things had to change. I decided to get busy living. But I needed to find purpose again. I had been on disability for over three years, and knew I couldn’t work. Yet, all my life, my work in theatre and education had given me all the purpose I needed. After all, I had sacrificed nearly everything—including a wife and kids—for my career. For the first time in over thirty years, I could no longer work, and had to find a new purpose for living. Before I could even get healthy, I needed a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I needed to find something I loved again. One semester during college, I had lived in a castle in the Netherlands, and had traveled all throughout Europe. However, I had never made it to Portugal—the country where my family came from. I decided that whatever it took, I was going to take a trip there.

You have to understand that I hadn’t been on a plane in four years, and was absolutely terrified. I have claustrophobia and severe social anxiety, and I was worried about trying to navigate language, culture, and transportation in a foreign country. I was concerned about breaking from my routine, and becoming disoriented in a strange and unfamiliar place. Every day, I went back and forth between thrilling excitement and absolute crippling terror.

In order to ensure that I was safe and had a good time, I knew that I had to plan this trip very carefully. I spent hours each day pouring over maps, watching travel videos, reading books, researching the culture, and carefully constructing a detailed travel itinerary. By the time I arrived in Lisbon, I knew that city like the back of my hand, and didn’t even need a map to find my way around. My trip was a resounding success! I had no problem with the flights, communicating, or staying on schedule. You see, despite the limitations of my disease, I had managed to turn an unfamiliar place INTO a familiar place, and Portugal became like a second home. Living with mental illness doesn’t mean you have to stop living, it just means you have to plan better!

When I came back from Portugal, I was a new man. I had a renewed sense of purpose, and a feeling of accomplishment. For years, I had been crippled by insecurity and low self-esteem, but after my trip, I had nothing but confidence.

The first thing I did was quit Ritalin. Next, I renewed my gym membership, and started swimming and working out 3-4 times a week. I changed my diet, and lost over 40 pounds. I worked with my doctors to get me off the more sedating medications, and found just the right combination of meds. I started walking several miles each day. And after years of being told I should volunteer, I finally did. Within weeks of my return, I began volunteering for NAMI Bangor, where I currently serve as a Media and PR Assistant, and help the President—Betsy—with outreach and advertising for all our NAMI events—including this one. I enrolled in a training program at Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, and now tutor and mentor adult literacy students, as well as work with children reading and distributing books. As a tutor, I spend hours each week creating lesson plans and instructing adult literacy students.

I also researched and learned as much as I could about Bipolar, and soon realized that having a daily schedule and routine was vital for my survival. I started planning my days, and keeping a strict calendar. Every morning, I wake up at 6 am, do yoga, make coffee, drink a smoothie, and listen to NPR. I work out, relax in the sauna, swim, eat healthy, and attend weekly NAMI meetings and weekly therapy sessions. I devote a few hours to reading and writing, and a couple hours to watching tv. I craft lesson plans, teach students, coordinate NAMI business, and volunteer on political campaigns. The point is…I stay busy. I finally got out of that basement.

I can’t tell you how much NAMI has meant to me as an organization. It literally saved my life. In group, I talk with other people suffering from mental illness, learn coping skills, get advice, and have access to helpful resources. I’ve made deep and lasting friendships, and found fellowship with others who have been where I’ve been. After years of trying to convince my parents to attend a family meeting, they finally did last month, and they loved it. It allowed them to talk with other parents, and get a little bit of perspective about me and my disease. They were finally able to vent, and to grieve, and to seek the advice of others who knew the pain of having to care for a loved one. They are now committed to attending every month, and I’m happy to say that they are here with us tonight.

Recently, I switched to a new therapist, and I’ve made more progress in two short months than I had in over four years! I cannot express how important it is to find a good therapist, and I would recommend it for everyone, whether you suffer from mental illness or not. There is something deeply profound and therapeutic about taking to someone who knows what they are doing. If you’re interested, NAMI can help you find the services you’re looking for.

I’ve also decided to move back to Boston, and return to work again. Over the next year, I plan on applying for college teaching jobs and to start directing again. However, I will never stop volunteering. It gives my life purpose.

I want to say that despite the fact that I have made significant steps in my recovery, I still have bad days. Even bad weeks. In fact, these last few weeks have been tough for me. Every so often, I go through a brief, but deep depression. There are times when I still have fleeting thoughts of suicide. When I don’t get enough sleep, I am always at risk of becoming manic. It’s important to understand that there is no cure for mental illness. Only management. Those of us in recovery are each on our own path to wellness, and realistically, that means times of dizzying success, and times of great struggle. There are relapses and stumbles along the road, and there are times when I honestly don’t know if I’m gonna make it. There is no silver bullet for mental illness, and it’s something I will live with for the rest of my life. I will always be susceptible to the darkness. However, it is treatable, and with planning and vigilance, it is possible to lead a healthy and productive life. It takes work. A LOT of work. But as they say in AA, it works, if you work it.

Since being diagnosed, it has taken a lot of courage for me to admit that I live with mental illness. At first, I was scared and ashamed, and didn’t tell anyone. Over the years, I’ve slowly “come out” to friends and family, and three months ago, I revealed my illness on Facebook, where I’ve received nothing but love and support. Tonight is the first time I have ever publicly spoken about my disease. But it won’t be my last. It’s time we end the stigma of mental illness, and I am personally committed to a life of advocacy. Most people had no idea that I was suffering in silence. And that’s the point. That’s why I’m here tonight. And that’s why I will continue to speak all over the state and the nation, to small groups and large, to community organizations and in front of legislators who have the power to fund mental health care and reform our broken system.

But I’m also here to ask for YOUR help. If you’re afflicted with mental illness, I encourage you to seek therapy, and perhaps attend a NAMI support group. If you suffer in silence, as I once did, I would ask you to consider being open and honest about your condition, and living out loud and proud. It’s not easy. There is still much work to be done. But the more of us who come forward with our stories, the more people will realize how common mental illness truly is, and the easier it will become to accept. The more we normalize mental illness, the closer we get to treating it as you would any other disease of the body. Like every great social justice issue, SILENCE IS DEADLY, and we have lost too many people to mental illness. Every day, in this country, we lose 22 veterans to suicide and undiagnosed PTSD. Over 40,00 people take their own lives every year in this country. For those of you who have friends and family who suffer—and I guarantee you do—I would ask that you educate yourself about their disease, and look for ways that you can advocate for all of us. This is an epidemic, and we need your voice and support. It starts as small as offering aid to a friend in crisis, but it doesn’t have to end there. We here at NAMI have several resources to help, and I encourage you to seek us out. You’ve already made the first step in coming here, and I thank you for listening to my story.

A House Divided Cannot Stand, But Should It? Is This Nation Too Broken To Mend?

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In the last two weeks, I have been to a Clinton rally with Bernie Sanders and a Trump rally with Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump, and I must say that I am really frightened and saddened by the state of our nation. We live in two different Americas, and I cannot help but think that perhaps it would have been best if Lincoln hadn’t preserved the nation. What would have happened if we had not fought The Civil War? I know that it’s practically blasphemous or treasonous to even suggest such a thing. And I also know that even with the Mason-Dixon line, there still was no easy way to divide the nation then, and would be nearly impossible today. These days, we have red states next to blue states, and then all kinds of purple states, and then within states, we have large swaths of red rural areas, and dense blue urban areas. Undoubtedly, it would be impossible to somehow divide the country along ideological lines. It’s just not logistically possible. However, in some ways — and on some days — it seems like it would be a hell of a lot easier than healing the divide in this country, which seems ominously close to tearing us asunder.
 
And I know all you eternal optimists will reject my words, and just say we need to all work together, and put the nation first. Sure. I’m sorry, but from what I have seen over the last two weeks, we are not even speaking the same language. We have VASTLY different ideas about which direction this country should go in. WE LIVE IN TWO AMERICAS! And neither side is willing to see the decency and good in the other, and neither is willing to budge an inch. I am not optimistic.
 
I don’t believe Hillary will win in a landslide, but I do believe she’ll win. However, I still think she loses. If we thought Congress was obstructionist and didn’t work under the Obama Administration, I shudder to think about how broken it will be under a Hillary Presidency. Whether I vote for her or not, or like her or not, there is no arguing that she is a deeply divisive and polarizing figure. Just as he is. I hate to say it, but we got the election we deserve. Sure, we could have put up better candidates, folks, but that is NOT what the electorate wanted. That is not who we are as a country at this time. We are a deeply divided and polarized nation of extreme viewpoints, and we nominated exactly who we thought could fight our battles. We wanted two polarizing figures, who were sharply divided on the issues, and spoke our minds. And we got them.
 
Donald Trump will slowly fade from our memory, and eventually be a sad footnote in history. But I’m sad to say, we must share this nation with his supporters for generations to come. He has exposed an ugly underbelly, and given voice to hatred and bigotry. He has somehow empowered the poor working white man, and given legitimacy to their fears of foreigners and other people they see as threats. If you had been at that Trump rally yesterday, you would have seen how scary this portion of the electorate is. Sure, there are good people voting for Trump, and bad people voting for Hillary. There are bad apples in every bunch. But don’t confuse the two parties and candidates. Hillary may have her obvious faults and has clearly made some poor decisions, but Donald Trump is a sociopath, and many of his followers are legitimately dangerous. Don’t sit there and try and tell me that they are two sides of the same coin. Remember, I have been at both rallies. The Clinton rally had no metal detectors, was extremely peaceful, had no protesters, and was ALWAYS respectful. Bernie mostly talked specific policy points, and rarely spoke of Donald Trump. When he did, it was never personal, and it was always respectful. He spoke of why Trump would be bad for this country, but never did he hurl insults or epithets. There was no name calling or calls to “Lock him up!” or “Jail the Rapist” or any other such nonsense. The crowd was rational and even-tempered throughout.
 
On the other hand, the Trump rally was scary. There was OVERT racism and sexism, with all sorts of nasty and misogynistic chants from the crowd. I heard awful and disgusting things yelled in that auditorium, just as we were surrounded by young boys and girls, and their frothing, hateful parents. I saw disgusting tee-shirts with not only hateful and abusive language, but violent depictions of what they should do to Hillary. These were people not only calling for her imprisonment, but demanding she be raped and murdered. Don’t for a minute confuse these two groups of voters. Those people at that Trump rally may not represent all of Trump’s fans. I know there are good and decent people voting AGAINST Hillary, and are admittedly holding their nose, and voting for Trump. But I’m sorry, that’s almost as bad. By voting for this man, you are endorsing him and all his bad behavior. You are giving him your mandate, and you might as well be one of his rabid, frothing followers. You are rubber-stamping a monster. At least with his hateful bigoted supporters, I know where they stand, and who to look out for. I’m more frightened of his silent supporters. If you think it’s just a small segment of the electorate, think again. Consider all the more moderate Republicans who refused to rebuke him or unendorse the man. Men like Paul Ryan. Yes, the Speaker of the House. The third in line to succeed the President, in case of emergency, and a tremendously powerful figure in Congress. He has refused to pull his endorsement of Trump despite blatant xenophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, racism, and bigotry. Even in the face of charges of sexual assault and misconduct. I honestly believe Trump could rape and kill someone on camera, and not lose a single supporter. Could he harm a child, and get away with it? At this point, I think so. 
 
We live in two different Americas. And I have very little hope that they will get along and work together any time soon. A victory for Hillary will not end this “election nightmare.” I’m afraid this is just a prelude to a much more troubling road ahead.
 
Sorry to be such a bummer. 😦

Art May Be Its Own Reward, But Artists Need to be Paid

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Art is its own reward.
 
As Shakespeare once said about mercy:
 
“It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.”
 
Now don’t get me wrong. For those of us who make a living in the arts, we want to be fairly paid for our services. Many of my colleagues and I resent the fact that so many artists are not paid for their services, and are expected to ‘suffer’ or ‘starve for our art.’ Many in Congress and in the greater public believe that because we love what we do, we naturally would do it one way or another, and ultimately for free. And the sad thing is…that’s true. We do it for free every day. But for those of us who make our living off our art, it isn’t enough. We have bills to pay. We have rent and mortgages. We have families, and need to put food on our tables as well.
 
The difficult thing about having a career in the arts is that because nearly all of us began painting with our fingers, or sat through piano lessons, or dabbled in writing bad poetry, or maybe even landed the lead in the high school musical, we all think — to some extent — that we are artists. And you wouldn’t exactly be wrong. But you wouldn’t exactly be right either. Everyone has an artist within them, and all of us are capable of expression. To live a life of art is to love wildly, and to throw yourself into whatever you do. As human beings, we make art every day. No one should be denied the right to consider themselves an artist, and to put as much beauty into the world as they possibly can.
 
For some, art is a hobby. And that’s okay. Your mother may take art lessons, and enjoy painting on the side. Perhaps you’ve taken an improv class, and get a thrill every time you perform in your local improv troupe. And what community would be complete, without its share of committed amateur actors performing regularly in community theatre shows?
 
Yet, for those of us who make our living in the arts, we must not be confused with those who dabble. We must not be confused with those who have full time jobs, and enjoy creating art on the side. That is not to say that their efforts are any less than ours, but only that we have dedicated our lives to our craft, and spent countless hours — and money — becoming the artists that we are today.
 
I have three university degrees in theatre. I have worked in the business for well over 30 years. I have been in over 200 productions, and directed nearly 50. I have designed sets, and lights, and worked countless hours building scenery and hanging lights. The writer Malcolm Gladwell once said that to be an expert in any field, you must have spent at least 10,000 hours solely dedicated to the deliberate practice of your field. I have spent well over that many hours in the theatre. I have been doing this practically non-stop since I was six-years-old. I am an artist.
 
For me, art is a way of life. I have spent my life in pursuit of a dream. I have spent my life creating art, and constantly evaluating and reevaluating myself as an artist, and evolving in my craft. You see, that is the sign of an artist. There is nothing wrong with performing show after show, and getting a high off performing for your peers. But what separates the professional artist from the amateur, is that the artist must constantly evaluate, evolve, and hone their craft to perfection. Of course, there is no such thing. I mean, perfection in the way that Plato meant it, and how we as human beings aspire to it. We must allow themselves to be vulnerable, accept honest constructive feedback, and evaluate how effective our art is, and how we can always strive to be better. It takes hours and hours of self-reflection, and the kind of time and resources that others may not have. Or desire to give.
 
For those of us in the arts, we must be paid for our many hours of service to the field. This is not just a hobby for us — this is a way of life. I would never say that someone wasn’t an artist who creates art. But I would say that for many of us, we have committed every fiber of our being to making great art, and constantly having to reinvent ourselves as artists — and as people. We ‘suffer’ for our art, because it allows us to never be complacent, and always working to get better, and to produce more. It is not an easy or romantic life. It perhaps knows more hardship and rejection, than triumph and reward. Yet, we know no other life, and cannot imagine doing anything else.
 
There is art for art’s sake, and art is its own reward. But for those of us who make our living at it, we appreciate your support in helping us continue. By supporting the arts, you are blessing your lives with what we endeavored to create, and you are blessing us with the means to continue putting more beauty out into the world. By all means, keep creating, and sculpting your own piece of wonderment for this planet, but never confuse what some may do for free with what so many do for food. Because like you, we would do it for free. But we still need to pay the bills.
 
Please support the arts and pay your artists. ❤

What’s Past Is Prologue: Why Verifiable Reality Can’t Even Stop Donald Trump

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I was just having a conversation with my friend about how unbelievable Donald Trump is in denying he said and did certain things, that are so easily proven otherwise. Like…um…there’s a paper, video, and audio trail, sir. Nope. Doesn’t faze him. Some might think that he is completely disassociated from reality. I’d like to think that, but I think it’s even worse. At least in that case, he’d have an excuse beyond just being a complete narcissist.

To me, I find it unfathomable that someone who is so skilled at using social media and the press to his advantage, could be so defiant in the face of demonstrable video and audio that is irrefutable and damning. I don’t think he’s disassociated from reality. I believe he knows that cameras have caught him in lies and ensnared him in inconsistencies. I just think he’s a man that has gotten his way his entire life, and flies in the face of reason and doubt, that would most certainly make the rest of us apologetic and contrite. His reversals and refusals would cripple anyone else, but in Trump, they only make him MORE resolute and defiant. He ALWAYS doubles down. He has such a force of will, that he is defiant in the face of inarguable truth. I have never seen an actual human being demonstrate the concept of Hubris more than Trump — like you would find in a Greek Tragedy. He puts Oedipus to shame. He puts Nixon to shame. He is so proud and singularly focused, he doesn’t need physics and reality to get in his way. It’s stunning.

Donald Trump is so convinced of his own greatness, he honestly believes that he can will facts and evidence out of existence. He believes his cult of personality can honestly erase all of his many flaws and inconsistencies. And why not? Despite a media that constantly point out his many gaffes, his own supporters see him as flawless and always consistent in reinforcing his message of hate. Those who love him refuse to hold him accountable, and therefore, he never has to contemplate change, self-reflection, or regret. As he has said repeatedly, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” I honestly believe there could be video of him raping, torturing, or killing someone, and he would probably still not lose any voters. It’s unprecedented.

Trump has the ability to make US all feel crazy for trying to use HIS words against him, and prove that it’s not us who are insane. My friend, Tammi, put it best: “It’s like Donald Trump is Gaslighting the entire nation.” Yup. That’s exactly it.

Colin Kaepernick & Captain America: Two Caps Fighting Their Own Civil Wars

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Have you ever thought about the similarities between Colin Kaepernick and Captain America, who are both referred to as Cap (Kap)? Stay with me. I know it’s a stretch, but if you’ve seen Civil War, you know that Captain America defies popular public opinion, and defends a known criminal, openly defying Congress’s call to register all superheroes and “profile” America’s defenders. His opinion is not a popular one, and this once popular superhero becomes labeled a traitor and demonized by a large portion of America. However, he does have his commited defenders, and this is why the superheroes are split, and the reason the film and comic story arc is called “Civil War.” How appropriate. 

Colin Kaepernick was once a hero of the NFL, and he has decided to stand up to police brutality by taking a knee. He has had an overwhelming majority of negative press, and people calling him a traitor and un-American, but he also has a large group of supporters, not unlike Captain America.

Whatever you may think of Colin Kaepernick or Captain America, they both represent the best of America. It just depends on what you see when you look at our nation. Do you see it as a perfect and flawless nation that we should make great “again” or a great nation in need of improvement, and the ongoing effort to “form a more perfect union” — for every American?

I think they are both superheroes, and saying I support Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter does not mean I hate cops or don’t support “all lives” or “Blue Lives.” 151 years later, we are still fighting the Civil War.

 

Photo Credit: Drawing by Dave Rappoccio

How Serving In AmeriCorps National Service Changed My Life

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Today is the Millionth Member Celebration of AmeriCorps National Service, celebrating its one millionth member serving communities in need all over this great nation. AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.

When I was 24 years old, I was living in Los Angeles, and feeling miserable about my life and my failed acting career. I was working at a bank, and trying to find acting work, with very little luck. I felt so selfish and unfulfilled, and was volunteering my time at a soup kitchen just to try and at least help someone else — if I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to give back, and finally made the difficult decision to leave Hollywood, and put my acting dreams aside…at least for a bit. I decided that I wanted to live a life of service. Three months later, I enlisted in AmeriCorps National Service, and was assigned to an inner-city high school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The year I served in AmeriCorps was one of the best years of my life. I tutored and mentored at-risk inner city kids, and at the end of the year, I wrote and directed a play with them for my community service project. It dealt with racism, sexism, homophobia, and other social issues. It had a huge impact on the community! Many of my students’ parents had never even seen a play in their lives before! They were incredibly warm, and receptive, and some of those students still tell me how much that moment meant to them. It was unforgettable. It was also the first play I ever directed. It wouldn’t be my last.

The school was so impressed with my service, they hired me to teach English and Theatre the very next year. I went back to school, and earned a second degree in Theatre Education. I went on to teach high school for four more years, and later, I taught at a university. I eventually went on to earn my Master of Fine Arts degree — in Directing — something I had learned to love during my year of service.

AmeriCorps changed my life, folks! And I’m not even exaggerating. I may never have gone back to school, and gone on to a life in education. I may never have discovered my love for directing, and gone on to get my MFA. I may never have had that close contact with the African American community, and learned to love that culture — for all it’s triumphs and challenges. I also made some best friends for life. AmeriCorps gave me the experience and tools I needed to be an educator and director, and to live a life of service. I still teach and direct, and perhaps even more importantly, I am still an active volunteer in my community. I currently volunteer as a Media/ PR/ Marketing Assistant for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, tutor and mentor adult literacy students, and work on several local and state political campaigns. AmeriCorps helps change lives…starting with your own!

If you want to give back, and live a life of service, I would suggest you consider serving in AmeriCorps for 1-2 years. Apply today!

To apply, please go to www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps.

#AmeriCorpsWorks  #1of1Million

Why Hillary Clinton Will Lose the Debate, Even if She Wins…by Jon Ferreira

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I’ve heard many people preemptively declare Hillary Clinton the presumptive winner of tonight’s debate against Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Many view her intelligence, grasp of policy, superior debating skills, and Presidential demeanor to be so vastly superior to his, that there is no way he could possibly compete with her on stage.

After all, Donald Trump is easily baited, and is completely unstable and unpredictable when faced with adversity and challenges on stage and on the campaign trail. He is known for his outspoken and unapologetic bigotry, misogyny, sexism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and many other seemingly insurmountable deficits and short-fallings. Donald Trump is perhaps the most publicly reviled Presidential candidate in history, and one would think, the easiest target to take down. Simply put, Donald Trump has been his own worst enemy, and in any other campaign, it would have taken only a handful of the gaffes he has made to end his run, but not so with Trump.

When Ronald Reagan was President, his critics and detractors called him “the Teflon president”- a nickname that was coined by Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, reflecting how a plethora of scandals surrounding his presidency seemed to have no effect on his individual popularity with the public. Seemingly, nothing could stick to President Reagan, and he left office as wildly popular – if not more – than when he came in. If Reagan was considered the “Teflon President,” than surely Donald Trump has been the “Teflon Candidate.” Despite a 24/7 constant media obsession with every boneheaded, racist, and dangerous thing he has ever said and done, Donald Trump still managed to beat out 17 other Republican hopefuls, gained millions of rabid supporters, won over thousands of independents and disenfranchised voters, and closed the gap between him and Hillary Clinton. Currently, the two are neck and neck in the polls. Trump has done the unthinkable: he has used the hateful rhetoric of an authoritarian demagogue and fascist to demonize huge swaths of the American public, and used divisive language to incite violence and hatred, YET still managed to win over nearly half the electorate. This hatemonger is actually a viable candidate for President of the United States – arguably, the most powerful and influential job on the planet.

Donald Trump’s supporters admit that he sticks his foot in his mouth repeatedly, although they admire him for “telling it like it is” and for speaking the truth to power. They want a candidate who is willfully Anti-Political Correctness, and who flies in the face of traditional politics and convenient policy soundbites. They want someone they perceive to be like them, and Hillary Clinton is decidedly NOT that.

For those on the Left and in support of Hillary Clinton, it would seem that she has all the preternatural abilities and advantages going into tonight’s debate. She has been active in politics for over 30 years, and has spent a lifetime in service to the poor, to children, and to middle class families everywhere. She is the former First Lady and spouse of a former President, and knows the workings of the White House and Capitol Hill. Clinton is an experienced ex-Senator and former Secretary of State, who had very high favorability ratings while in office. Hillary also has a wonkish understanding of policy and the nuances of Government. If anything, Hillary Clinton may be the most capable politician to ever run for the Office. Her grasp of policy and governance is stunning, even to the most veteran of politicians. She also has a practical knowledge of how Washington works, and knows full well what it means to collaborate and work across the aisle. For good or for bad, Hillary Clinton is a career politician and a Washington insider, who has an infinite number of connections and alliances. She also has many enemies and detractors, but what politician doesn’t? It is undeniable that Mrs. Clinton knows how to get things done, and possesses a good deal of political capital. Hillary Clinton may be one of the most experienced, intelligent, and capable people to ever run for the office of the Presidency.

And yet…and yet…she may still lose. Even despite the enormous deficits of her polarizing challenger, and all her many strengths and capabilities, there is still something undeniably looming underneath Hillary Clinton’s Presidential run. There are still huge obstacles to her being elected. It’s something we’ve heard about for months, but it’s something that will inevitably rear its ugly head in the debates specifically. You see, it’s not her grasp of facts and figures, Hillary’s comprehension of policy, or her innate ability to debate that worries me. Clinton obviously has all those strengths in spades, and perhaps in a normal debate, against a more traditional candidate, those would all be huge assets. Yet, even against a more orthodox candidate, as a woman, I still think Hillary has the unenviable task of having to win over people who society has predisposed to dislike her. Her intellect, poise, and debating skills have NEVER been the problem with Hillary Clinton. IT’S ALL ABOUT LIKABILITY.

Men are praised for power, and women are praised for how they look, and for being demure. If she attacks too much or gets too animated, she is labeled a “crazed and shrill bitch.” If she lays back and debates the finer nuances of policy, she’s an “egghead wonk, and completely unrelatable.” And the worst possible scenario is if she appears wonkish and elitist, and seems to be patronizing and haughty at Trump’s inevitable ignorance and perceived stupidity. Remember Al Gore’s loud sighs in his debates against George W. Bush? He was expressing the frustration the rest of us Liberals were feeling at Bush’s lack of policy knowledge and superficial understanding of government. Gore was sighing because he was a smart and capable politician, with years of experience and a firm grasp of how to govern this country. Gore was sighing for all of us, and for everyone who recognized that Bush was simply unsuited for the job of President. Yet, as we soon realized, his justified sighs were patronizing and haughty, and only served to alienate the public and humanize George W. Bush. Those sighs not only made Gore unlikable, they made Bush imminently likable and avuncular. As was oft repeated, many Americans felt that they would enjoy sitting down and drinking a beer with Bush. He was one of them. Those sighs ultimately humanized Bush, and made him instantly relatable. Well, those sighs would be even worse coming from a woman.

I hate to say it, but I think Hillary is — and always has been — in a lose-lose situation. She’s a woman, and sadly, judged by an irrational and woefully sexist patriarchal standard of how a woman should behave. But more so, whereas men are judged positively and worthwhile for being aggressive and confident, women are seen as “bitches” – or worse – for showing the exact same temerity. On the other hand, if she comes across as too wonky and knowledgable, she’s simply a “know-it-all nerd” who nobody likes. If a smart and capable man like Al Gore had trouble seeming relatable, comfortable, and likable, it is a thousand times worse for ANY woman, and especially a woman like Hillary Clinton – with all her perceived baggage – real or imagined.

I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen Hillary Clinton to be our nominee, but I like Hillary. I think she is deeply flawed, and has made some catastrophic mistakes, but which of us hasn’t? What politician doesn’t come with baggage? I liked Bernie Sanders, but Hillary is much more electable in today’s political climate. Even if I don’t always think she represents herself well, I know Hillary Clinton is smart, capable, experienced, and passionate about the same issues I care about. But sadly, I also think she’s in a practically no-win scenario when debating this cocky sociopath. I do think Hillary Clinton may narrowly win the Presidency, but in many ways, she will never be “America’s President.” As you know, no candidate will ever receive the mandate of the vast majority of the people ever again, as was sometimes the case in the past. Our society is currently too divided and polarized. However, Hillary Clinton, if elected, will undoubtedly be the most unpopular candidate to ever win the Presidency. If she can nearly be beaten by a man as grotesque and deplorable as Donald Trump, there is something clearly deeper than her past mistakes in Benghazi and email servers at work. This is more than emails and Whitewater. Hillary Clinton is a woman, and although she may become the first female President of the United States, she will never “WIN” a debate. She can’t. We won’t allow her too. It’s not Hillary Clinton I’m worried about tonight. It’s everybody else.