Pretty Eyes

Paul Ryan

 

Such pretty eyes
big, limpid pools that seem both vulnerable
and searching
I could actually stare at them forever.
Well….

Yes, pretty eyes…
and I wonder what the world looks like
looking out of those big baby blues?
looking past the black and brown people
who are all looking at him for a clue
as to how they will eat
protect their families
or just feel safe…
like one might while falling in love with
those pretty, pretty eyes.

Pretty eyes,
that see the world
as a battle between good and evil
…good that doesn’t see me
and would sell me down the river
rather than look in my eyes.

Oh, those eyes
look past me
they look past so many
they look past anyone they don’t want to see
they only cast their sky pale glow
toward places already so well lit.

Don’t be fooled by pretty eyes,
those glistening mirrors
are fringed with darkness
that sprouts from a heart of coal
…such pretty, pretty eyes.
Intoxicating.
Exhilarating.
Reflecting the real darkness of a soul.

Today, House Speaker, Paul Ryan released his party’s agenda for creating a better plan to fight poverty in the United States.  No mention of the systemic barriers of race, gender, country of origin (and certainly not anything about LGBTQ people.)  Check out the snapshot here: A Better Way: Snapshot (full text: HERE)

And now have a look at some real solutions and strategies: PolicyLink: Equitable Economy

Click here to read more about my new collection of poetry “Love Beyond God”

Coming Soon…All Out Adam!

Soon I will be launching my second blog: All Out Adam.  This new blog will be a space to focus entirely on gay men and race.  My hope is to also use this  as a collaborative space, where my brilliant friends and colleagues who are part of this conversation can contribute as well.  Stay tuned!

ALL OUT ADAM

Spring Will Not Be Silent in North Carolina

HKonJ-FB-Profile-pic“While [Rachel] Carson knew that one book could not alter the dynamic of the capitalist system, an environmental movement grew from her challenge, led by a public that demanded that science and government be held accountable.  Carson remains an example of what one committed individual can do to change the direction of society.  She was a revolutionary spokesperson for the rights of all life.  She dared to speak out and confront the issue of the destruction of nature and to frame it as a debate over the quality of all life.”  – Linda Lear, Introduction to the 40th Anniversary edition of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

On February 8, 2014, activists, clergy and concerned citizens will gather in Raleigh, North Carolina for the Moral March on Raleigh also known as HKonJ (Historic Thousands on Jones Street). This march is threatening to be “bigger than Selma” and is part of the wave of reaction to a Republican minority driving the North Carolina government toward exclusionary policies that hinder opportunity for all the poor and primarily the largely Democratic people of color of North Carolina.  These shocking policies,  most specifically around voting rights,  harken back, not just to the days of Jim Crow, but to the Slave Codes of the late 19th century.  Although not related to environmental justice on the surface, the call to action is the same:  we must fight back against short sighted public policies that serve to enrich an already wealthy minority while killing the larger population…and the time to fight back is now!

Silent Spring caused a firestorm of controversy around the use of pesticides when it was released in 1962.  Penned by celebrated author and pioneering biologist, Rachel Carson, the book called into question the entire biochemical industrial complex.  She made the powerful case for the toxic effects of biochemicals on all creatures, most of all on human beings, linking certain types of cancers directly to the production and use of chemical pesticides.  This was despite popular scientific theory of the time that claimed humans had “tolerances” and “adaptabilities” that surpassed these toxicities.  Her conjecture flew in the face of the greedy, ego driven, arrogant and entirely male dominated world of pesticide and chemical development.  Initially she was dismissed as a “hysterical woman” with no real scientific foundation for her claims.  But ultimately, when President John F. Kennedy took notice of her writing, things began to change.  Eventually, through public pressure, the government was compelled to investigate her theories finding them to be an understatement of the gravity of the actual situation.  Her work would lead to the creation of the EPA and domestic bans on DDT and other advances in the control, limitation and elimination of certain toxic biochemicals.  Her battle was not just for the masses, but rather personal.  Unknown to many at the time, while she worked on Silent Spring, she was battling breast cancer.  She would die in 1964 before seeing the full fruits of her labor.

Today, we still wrestle with big business and government interest around the environment, our food supply and ecosystems.  The battle for ecological justice is far from won, rather, it continues in earnest as the greed of a few continue to push Genetically Modified Organisms into our bodies and minds, with claims that they will be “better for us” in the long run.  The struggle will continue as long as the powerful, wealthy few live in fear of losing their power and wealth. Sadly, it is the same with the state of civil rights in North Carolina and other localities that are feeling the effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling on key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights act last year.  But what is most shocking is the hubris of conservative politicians to assume that they are immune to the toxic political environment they have created. At the very least it is irresponsible, at its worst self destructive.  Reflecting back on Carson’s perspective on the environment, Lear goes on to state that Silent Spring:

…proved that our bodies are not boundaries.  Chemical corruption of the globe affects us from conception to death.  Like the rest of nature, we are vulnerable to pesticides; we too are permeable.  All forms of life are more alike than different. 

Similarly, the restrictive public policies that the Moral March is highlighting ultimately bring down not just people of color and the poor in general, but all North Carolinians and ultimately all people of this nation.  Like the rest of nature…we too are permeable to the pesticides of class and race politics.  We are all susceptible to the poison of public policies that benefit only the very few.  The benefits for those few will only last a short time; the illness and cultural cancers for the many will and have lasted for generations.  Ultimately, greed multiplied by fear is the most toxic poison to the cultural soul.

But there is hope.  We  have seen the images from the struggle for voting rights in the 1960’s: black people…children going to prison, adults being attacked by dogs, or assaulted with hoses and brutalized by police.  But there was also Unitarian Universalist minister and pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., James Reeb, a white man, who was beaten to death in Selma, Alabama for showing his solidarity with blacks in 1965.  His martyrdom and the actions of all the Civil Rights activists, black, white, gay, straight, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and non-religious combine to inspire a new generation of leaders and community organizers who believe that equality is not just for people who look like one group of people or speak the same language or come from the same economic class.  They believe, and the science of Rachel Carson and the science of nature itself, back this up: real social equity is something in which we all must make a deep investment.  It is the only antidote to the poison that permeates the current political climate in North Carolina and it is the only real cure to stop it’s insidious spread to the rest of our nation and maybe even the world.

This spring in North Carolina will not be silent.  March on, march on!

Update: The Moral March drew thousands on a cold rainy Saturday.  Despite conservative media challenges, the movement is poised for much greater national action (READ HERE)

Links:

Historic Thousands on Jones

Standing on the Side of Love

America’s Tomorrow – via PolicyLink

Equity Blog – via PolicyLink

Twitter: #MoralMarch

American Men Can’t Win the “War on Poverty”

Vitruvian $Reading commentary by Angela Glover Blackwell (CEO and Founder of PolicyLink) in the New York Times on the 50th anniversary of the start of the War on Poverty, I am more than ever convinced that we cannot win with our current mode of attack.  In the piece, she points out that it is “not a war” but an “Equitable Economy” that is necessary.  What she says is absoluely true.  We currently live by systems that grossly favor the already rich and ignore those who are poor or not connected to big corporate systems.  These systems are too numerous and out of the scope of my personal study and position as a theologically based writer to offer meaningful insight on, but I can appreciate her expert analysis and thoughtful direction toward tangible solutions.  Indeed, it is not a “war” that is necessary.  But the strategy she presents, although highly effective, could benefit by also addressing the deep cultural issue at hand.  Within an Equitable Economy and certainly more important than a “war”, there is something much more basic that needs to shift.

Lyndon Johnson coined the phrase “War on Poverty” as a battle cry:

“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.  It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

These words, delivered during his state of the union address in 1964 on the heels of the Kennedy Assassination, were deliberate propaganda on the part of a skillful politician and orator.  This language tapped into not only a very real revenge mentality that was felt by a deeply wounded America in the wake of tragedy, but also the obsession with our place as the “richest nation on earth.”  The country had been at serious odds with itself in terms of race and opportunity and now Johnson, a white southerner seen as a turncoat by the segregationist “Dixiecrats,” was ironically in a position as leader of the United States to champion real and sweeping changes in government services that would benefit those that his fellow Southerners had fought against for so long.  But he needed an army; and that army was the American people.  He needed weapons; and those weapons were sweeping progressive legislation.

But saying that we need to win a “war on poverty” is like saying we need to win a war on Tuesdays.  Tuesday is not something that consciously decided to place itself between Monday and Wednesday, forever separating these two days in the week.  Tuesday happened as part of a measure of time; it is a result of the human need to order itself in the temporal arc.  Likewise, poverty is not something that lifted up its head and said to black men, disabled people and single women “I am going to oppress you…now!”  Poverty is a result of inequity which comes from human behavior, from both the oppressors and the oppressed.  Poverty is the measure of the problem of inequity and not necessarily the real problem at all.

Looking more closely then, the human behavior that sits at the heart of the problem of inequity and results in poverty is the male ego within the American dream.  Consider this: if the ‘founding fathers’ had been less concerned with their individual rights as men (We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….) and more interested in community, shared resources and collective mutual benefit for all human beings when they set out to establish this nation, we would have a very different picture indeed.  The name of the seminal document from which these words come says it all: the “Declaration of Independence.”  Rather than being a “Declaration of Community” or a “Declaration of Unity” it is a document that seeks, by differentiating a nation from one oppressive regime, to foster individual differentiation within a new regime so that no individual man is oppressed.  This model of individuation is above all rooted in a male centric domination concept of self importance where every man is his own ruler (king of his castle) and it is a mentality that permeates all aspects of the “American dream.”  Individual house/land ownership, upward mobility, career progress, financial growth, providing family security without public support, winning a spouse to create ones own offspring…each of these symbolize what it means in the classic sense to be an American and more specifically, what it means to be an American male.

Today, this is not just restricted to white men either.  Certainly, the founding fathers of this country were white men.  Historical and institutionalized oppression by white men in America of the indigenous tribes of this country, of immigrants, of blacks and Jews and women of all races, has been well enough documented without going on about it at length here.  However, the issue has evolved into one where, as oppressed groups continue to lift out of downtrodden positions, even slightly, they are adopting the same goals and pursuits of their oppressors.  This is why a “war on poverty” cannot be only about rich white men holding everyone else back.  Whether or not it started with white men, everyone…black, white, Latino, disabled, female, LGBTQ…are all now seeking to be in the position of privilege that is rooted in colonial style male dominance.  Everyone is looking for the individual goals of the American dream and no one is talking about how this type of individuality is based on a model of masculinity that is in itself the biggest culprit of oppressive behavior.

As we consider real solutions to poverty to achieve an Equitable Economy, we must also consider real solutions to archaic male dominance.  We need to progress from the language of “war, conquering and oppression” to a language of “respect, engagement and interdependence.”  Frequently, our culture looks at these latter qualities as being weak or submissive, but these are the same powerful qualities that bind tribes together and keep families strong.  If the “house divided against itself cannot stand” (Lincoln, 1858), why do we culturally attempt to build separate rooms?  If we can let go of the idealized male identity that is frequently defined by its ability to stand alone and conquer or rule individually defiant over evil and instead seek new gender identities that are based in a broader concept of self than the self alone, we might just stand a chance.

We absolutely need an Equitable Economy, but there really is no “war on poverty” to be won.  The only way that we will create a truly Equitable Economy is if we are able to craft new cultural identities that are liberated from classic ‘American dream’ masculinities: head of household, provider, primary breadwinner…master, President, King.  It is our challenge to make these labels obsolete in order to free not only those who have been oppressed by them but to free all men from the burden of feeling it necessary to start and then trying to win “wars” that only serve to destroy them in the end.