clinic

Sarah takes the clipboard and paperwork the desk attendant abruptly hands her, walks to a seat in the waiting room, and breathes slowly, trying to calm her heartrate. She has dreaded this visit. She looks around, hoping to connect with someone friendly here, but no one makes eye contact with her. She’s new in town, and her body’s been telling her that her blood pressure’s been far too high since she moved here. (She lost the cord to her monitor in the move, so she’s been self-observing for signs.)

She settles into a seat in the waiting room, and looks down at the first sheet on the stack of papers she’s been asked to fill out. First set of questions is about drug use. Huh. She flips the page. Second set of questions is about alcohol use. Really? Flip the page again, and the third set of questions is about her mental health history. All before you get to any questions about her name, her address, or the reason for her visit. She puts the pages with the screening questions unanswered under the rest of the paperwork. The seemingly constant “that will get you in serious trouble here” feeling sits acidly in her gut. She begins filling out the other, more familiar forms.

“The doctor said I need to take two of these in the morning without food.” Sarah looks up and sees the back of the patient standing at the front desk. He’s talking to the woman seated behind the desk.

“I don’t think you understood your doctor. He wants you to eat before you take the medication.” The woman’s voice is hard with authority, forcing attention. Everyone in the waiting room can hear this exchange.

The patient quietly responds, “I think he told me to take them on an empty stomach.”

The desk attendant’s hard tone gets loud and final: “You don’t understand. Do as I say, and you’ll be fine.”

The patient tries one last time: “I think that might be wrong.”

The front desk woman has begun looking at papers in front of her and ignores this response. The patient waits a beat, ready for acknowledgement of his concern about the drug protocol. The woman at the desk looks up, avoids eye contact with the patient, looks past him, and spits “Next,” to the ceiling, and to no one waiting in line.

The patient, slumped over from the beginning of the interaction, shrinks even smaller and walks away toward the exit door. Sarah notices many in the waiting room share that slump. When the door closes behind the departing patient, the room is silent except for the copy machine on the corner of the front desk sliding out replicas.

Sarah finishes her paperwork, puts on a smile, and walks to the front desk.

“Hi! Thank you for fitting me in! Not too busy today?” she offers, making small talk to connect.

The front desk woman takes Sarah’s clipboard. She doesn’t make eye contact with Sarah. She ignores the small talk, and Sarah watches as it splats, lifeless, on the desk between them. The gatekeeper begins looking at the forms Sarah’s filled out on top. She flips through to the blank drug use, alcohol use, and mental health forms at the bottom. Sarah feels the grip of fear, making her gut clench. This is her only health care option. The woman looks up at Sarah, openly apprises her physically, and decides to ignore the noncompleted forms.

“We don’t have a doctor on staff who can help you, but you can see the day nurse. Take a seat and we’ll call you when he’s ready,” she states with finality.

Sarah sits, breathes again, trying to calm her body. Her heart is starting to race with the feeling that her health is in hands that keep all the power for themselves. She feels like she’s not safe here; that her well-being is not their objective. She’s used to desk attendants, nurses, and doctors who talk to her, who put her concerns at the center of their practices. Who respect her and value her privacy. She is used to professionals who share their power with her by making her good health the objective of the interaction. She’s used to professional communication structures that focus the interaction on that goal. That’s normal for her. She is blindsided, finding these unhealthy power relations in a health clinic.

She’s called back to meet with Dan, the day nurse, in a private room. This is Dan’s second to last day. He seems unfocused and very hyper.

“Hey, okay, we need to take your blood pressure.”

“Yes! Thank you so much! I think it’s been really high. I’ve been waking up with a racing heart at 3:30-4 o’clock in the morning every day. I need a blood pressure read and to discuss my meds with the doctor. I’m new here, so I definitely need to get set up with the doc.” She hears her voice pretending to be in a safe place, trying to create that safety out of thin air and desire.

“We’ve got a pediatrician in back who can’t see you, but he gives me advice. Here, let’s do this. Follow me.”

Sarah has no idea what any of that even means, but she is without her own blood pressure monitor, and she needs a reading from the one here. She has no choice. She follows Dan back.

She was right: her blood pressure reading is 228/118. Dan begins screaming. His face is about 2 inches above and in front of her face as she sits on a chair below him.

“Oh, hell! Your blood pressure is so high! We have to get you out of here! You need to go into the city, to the hospital! You could get a brain hemorrhage! And if you’re here, we’re liable! We need to get you out of here, now!”

Her brain is frozen. Her whole body feels frozen. In a flat voice she has never heard before, she tells Dan to try to calm down, to remember who the patient is, that she’s here because her blood pressure is high because of stress. Sarah tells him that his freaking out isn’t helping with her stress. He’s backed up a little from her.

She hears the voice of the man who must be the pediatrician shout from a back room; he calls for Dan, and Dan seems annoyed. He stalks out of the room. During the 3 minutes or so he’s gone, Sarah weights her options. If she has to go to the hospital, what will she do about the kittens? Will she be able to drive herself home? What if they find something worse, what then? She has no one to call here to help. She is very aware she is breathing harder and beginning to panic a little. When Dan returns, he’s calmed slightly, and he has a Clonidine tab in hand. He stands too close to her again.

“Okay, you need to calm down,” he starts.

She almost laughs, but stifles it knowing it’s going to sound a little unhinged. She also knows that she has no choice but to put her life in these hands. She has no choice. And laughing at Dan will only make this worse.

“Take this, lay back, and breathe. I’m going to turn off the lights. I’ll be back in 30 minutes.”

She holds out the palm of her hand and he drops the little peach pill onto it. Dan says nothing, turns, walks to the door, flips the light switch, and closes the door. Sarah feels around on the floor for her water bottle, knocks it over, finds it again, and swallows the pill with a long drag. She didn’t realize how dehydrated she had become. She also takes 10 very deep slow breaths, each settling her into this new rural health care reality.

Maybe the stories were true, she thinks as she lays on the crinkly white paper in the dark room in a world an eternity away from home. Maybe the whispered stories she’s heard about how the health clinic here is killing people are true.

a trail home :: new skin

I sit in the middle of the mess, in a world far away from what I now understand to be my own. I’ve finally set it all down, what I’ve been observing and noting and saving and carrying for three life-changing years. The volumes of notes, the thousands of pictures, all the recorded voices speaking to me from places I could never have imagined before experiencing them, worlds I still struggle to hold. The dozens of documents, all containers for content, all being shaped to share. It sinks in, the strong sense of purpose that the lifetime of meaningful work in front of me represents. I dream of bright sparks of interest, lots of shiny bits of curiosity, and imaginations that can see and feel all the possibilities with me, magically—relationally–making them actual.

The new skin on my right hand is hot and red this morning. The puncture wound mends, the one I accidentally inflicted on myself in a rage at my inability to do anything about the psychosis and obscenity of this ugly new world order. A broken glass candle holder and violent downward force stop—dead—my frustrated intellect’s drive to fix everything, to account for it all, to make any sense of any of it. To redeem itself for having been buried alive and useless when it all went down. In the moment of impact—of glass punching through skin and flesh–the pain and shock of what one part of me has done to another part of me suddenly illuminates, in sharp hard cold white light, a formidable intellect with a lethally overdeveloped sense of responsibility.

(Hey, want to radicalize a human being? Instill at a very early age an overwhelming sense of responsibility, the belief that if he doesn’t do his duty, the world will end as he knows it. Hang a cause around his neck that must be addressed, or his family and friends will perish. Then, isolate and ignore him. Knock him down and tie his hands behind his back. Watch him push himself up, over and over, trying to meet his obligation, only to be punched back down again by those with free hands. Watch his rage rise, righteously. Watch it ignite. Watch it burn.)

I feel my intellect creeping around my emotions this morning, sizing up my newly forming creative process, angling for advantage in its instinctive competitiveness. My intellect’s need to categorize, evaluate, judge—its innate push to convince, control—works in the background, making a hard structure it eagerly waits to clamp down on the soft new pink skin of my reforming self. It is my father’s work, this attempted emotional imprisonment, this effort to show creativity who’s really boss, this aim to annihilate the soft and sensitive.

Over its lifetime, my intellect inflicted wounds–some surface, some deep–on humans it was fundamentally incapable of feeling. Many of those wounds never healed, and I lost all of my human connections. Now, surrounded by artifacts from the last three years on the outside of everything, I remember my little sister. I say her name out loud: “Patty, Patty, Patty.” To make her real in my world, so far from her world. I haven’t said her name in years, but a possibility I didn’t even know existed brought us together recently to try again. To build something new. To see each other with new eyes. To know each other, again. To love.

The deep burning itch in my right hand pulls me out of my daydreams. My hand’s new skin reminds me that even the most profound injuries heal, even stupidly self-inflicted ones.

The scar, though, will be permanent. It is also a reminder.

a “perspective” on power

[Submitted to KQED’s “Perspectives”]

Everything I learned about power-sharing, I learned in San Francisco Bay Area college classrooms.

Growing up, I’d never seen or experienced power done in any other way than how I lived it in my family’s culture: with a father who was the sole authority, and who held and wielded all the power. Who chained the agency of his young children. My father, alone, decided that no one had the power to speak in our family but him. I tried challenging him, twice, and both left a mark.

But in college classrooms in the Bay, professors–humans who seemed like a whole different species to me–invited me to speak, to share the floor. To share their power. Teachers and other learners turned toward me, listened; they saw me. They responded with respect. In those Bay Area college classrooms, I existed for the first time in a world where I was allowed my full range of expression, without fear. It was like magic and it changed everything.

I learned how to do power differently. I learned: how access to accurate information shares power. I learned: how human acknowledgement shares power. I learned: how open processes share power, how listening shares power; how optimism, support, and encouragement share power.

I lived the health and well-being afforded those with the privilege to sit in those democratic classrooms.

Of course, academia isn’t some magic power-sharing place and magical power-sharing classrooms exist beyond the Bay. But, for this Bay Area learner who grew up in an authoritarian family culture, the power-sharing magic in those classrooms happened regularly for me.

I left the East Bay at the end of October 2016 for other worlds. I’m headed home there in November this year. It’s an old cliché, but there really is no place like…the San Francisco Bay Area.

a trail home :: adapt 1

She was a child  
lost in the woods somewhere,
who kept running
behind a light,
hoping that it would take her home
someday, eventually.
~Akshay Vasu

It’s April 2017, and I’m beginning to dig out from under the 30-year storm damage that buried Bello, Sparkles, and me for months: the massive, drought-impacted, snow-covered tree that fell on our new house, putting a hole in the roof that wouldn’t be repaired for months because there was no one to fix it; the bounce that landed the tree on my new SUV, destroying the passenger side and putting a hole in the windshield that wouldn’t be repaired for more than a month because no tow truck company would come to Kerby; the grave I dug for Bello, my love, who was killed early on a Sunday morning on his way to find the duckpond across the icy two-lane highway; the blood pressure in stroke territory and the male nurse at the local health clinic screaming that I’ll probably get an embolism, that the clinic can’t be liable if I die, that I need to go; the eight months without an internet connection at home and none nearby that wasn’t in a place polluted with rebel flags in the parking lot and/or Fox News on the tube inside; the isolation. Like bootcamp for humbling life lessons.

I live a life where the very basics are often threatened—my health, shelter, and transportation; my heart, my mind, my identity, all up for grabs here. Living this way makes it nearly impossible to think or see beyond the most important thing that has to be done this day, a task that will hopefully keep some essential part of my life from just falling apart. (I magnet a note to my fridge: “Keep calm, take care of Sparkles, and take good notes.” That and “no problem, I’ll do it myself” become personal mantras.) I begin to understand that my privilege is not portable; the thousands in the bank, my education, my plans, and my intellect–my old sources of power–will not save me here.

I learn how to adapt. I’m hacking all the time: using what’s available as a tool for my purposes, even though my purposes may not be its. Stopping mid-task, mid-goal; assessing, seeing the direction won’t work, and taking a new approach. Constantly shifting everything in response always new, “no one is going to believe this,” wtf situations.

Daily, hearing, seeing, feeling their rejection of my existence–their (justified) hate for the Californian; experiencing the marginalization, the social isolation, but not holding it; noting it, letting it go, moving past it, and leaving it there. Losing my battle to hold onto my familiar sense of self, and, finally, letting her go.

Seeing the connection to all marginalization, to all those ignored humans; living with the pain and invisibility all outsiders feel, all us bottom-of-the-culture dwellers just trying to get through the day alive and sane. Whole.

Being solo, I open to all the ways the universe is trying to talk to me. I begin believing the universe has got my back, that events I keep calling “lucky” or “coincidences” are a pattern. I feel this first among the trees.

I begin trusting my emotions and imagination to direct me with their creation of possibilities that pull me forward, out of this toxic actuality.

I begin to see past the debilitating passive aggressive power projections fired at me by the scared white humans around me with a little power to protect.

I begin to see that the overwhelming pain I feel daily isn’t earned, not punishment for who I was in a previous life.

I begin to see that the human relational patterns are the work; that the relational dysfunction in which all of us are immersed here is the reason for the work.

I begin to live connections that merge with memories made in a smaller body: how the bottom makes the top possible and how the humans at the bottom can remake that relation, even if they’re little. How they can choose and resist; how they can break the bonds that chain their agency.

The power of purpose finds me. This purpose gives me gifts of seemingly endless energy and optimism, and the strength I need to keep believing and working when, literally, no one else can see what I’m trying to do.

And I begin to understand.

a trail home :: authority

It all started with the “Humans of Cave Junction.” It was my first formal project to participate in the community. I would create an Instagram account (inspired by the NY original) and walk the streets of downtown CJ. I would meet people, share with them that I’m new in town and doing a little project to get to know the humans there. Ask if I might take a moment of their time for a couple of quick questions. Maybe connect with them. I’d make sure it was okay to take a picture, then let them know I’d share the stories and images online. It was a chance to create something beautiful and useful while getting to know this new community.

(You know that dream, the one where you’re in public, naked? That feeling? It stalked me all through the five weeks or so of the project. I’d been in Josephine County for months, living with and processing enough of the new experience to keep moving forward, even though the process was dissolving my sense of self, my identity. I had no position anyone could see, no role I wasn’t giving myself, nothing I wasn’t doing into being. While walking the streets of CJ, the breeze was wafting into some intimate places it’s never visited before in public.)

During those weeks, I met many of the humans without homes in CJ. At the park, behind the grocery store, on the streets, along the Redwood Highway. When I asked to talk, to take pictures, they all said yes. They all just gave me their time, their stories, their privacy. They gave me permission to use all of it, without a second thought. They gave me little pieces of themselves, without asking for anything in return.

I met humans in Southern Josephine County who are used to giving their power in exchange for resources to live, who often tie themselves into knots trying to show how “good” they are, how worthy of support. Authority in this culture has taught them that they are worth nothing unless they produce, unless they stand on their own two feet and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They have been taught that addiction is a personal failing, that mental illness is a weakness. Authority has taught them that this is how things have always been and that this how they ought to be. It also teaches them that nothing ever really changes.

They have been taught that if someone does something “nice” for them, they need to show gratitude, show respect to the person giving them something, sometimes by getting on their knees to say “thank you.” They have been taught that their “bad” position is a result of their badness, their own stupid actions and decisions. They have been taught that authority is the only “good” person here because it always makes the right moves, obviously. They have been taught to obey without questioning authority and to supplicate. There is no audible dissenting opinion from authority here. None.

I have never shared the “Humans of Cave Junction” pictures or recordings, never did populate that IG account. It’s never felt ethical, unless I can share the benefits with the humans whose gave up parts of themselves for a little warmth. (Sure, I met their expectations: I gave them things they needed, like gloves and blankets and hats because the only warming center in town had closed and it was about to get very cold.)

What the humans without homes in Cave Junction gave me was an actual understanding of the humans in the middle.

a trail home :: purge

I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area. I’m still a city girl, but whose home is also in the trees. I went away for a minute, into rural worlds. All the stereotypes I learned in the Bay about rural people were wrong. Every single one of them. Soon, I come back to the Bay with a point of view that I’m afraid most Bay Area peeps won’t be able to feel or even want to understand.

Before I left the Bay, I didn’t know that in the early 1970s, we annihilated rural cultures in the United States. Urban elites, academic elites, media elites. And all those urban, academic, and media soldiers, who followed the orders, whose obligations to debtors kept them locked down in positions that ate their time, their lives. Jobs that absorbed any purpose they might have had when they started. The urban cultural elite army marched by necessity in lockstep with the capitalist drive to obliterate any trace of their poor, white “country cousins.”

We purged rural people’s popular representation. We dropped our universities right down in the middle of their backyards, pushing them to the margins. We used their facilities and their labor en route to somewhere else. We ignored our rural neighbors in favor of studying international rural cultures. We talked about them in the ugliest, smallest terms possible while we dined on the fruits of their labor. We reduced their cultures to the language of economics. Rural places in the U.S. were like the nation’s “junk closets”: we shoved in there what and who we didn’t want to see, didn’t want to deal with and quickly—with some force–closed the door. Then, we went about creating our urban world next to their rural ruins.

Nearly half the U.S. population did not exist in the other half’s world. We ghosted them. The ones we shut out, the ones we ignored, the ones we belittled–their best minds took control. They began to recreate: new worlds, new stories. Not in any big, considered, planned, organized fashion, but as best they could while living in the shambles of their ignored world.

The severing of the rural limb was not painless for those who called it home. The pain, the internalized shame, and the humiliation still sear. But, unable to show that pain, a deep, hot, throbbing untreated wound now underlies their lives. And those with more resources–and with the power to understand and use rural pain—exploit these humans for own their purposes.

I’ve learned a lifetime worth of lessons in a few short years. One of the most important isn’t rural or urban, it’s human: in order to be ethical change agents, we have to understand what we hope to change. Right now, the popular information about rural people–about rural cultures–offers nothing that could nurture the kind of change that matters: relational change between humans.

The point of view this city girl brings home, however, is different.

REFERENCES

a trail home :: guns

I screamed for ten minutes. Standing in the middle of my little house in the trees. I couldn’t stop. My rage and sorrow and shock took aim. All the NRA mfs who’d met for a fund-raising dinner a few weeks before yesterday’s carnage. I screamed at them. All the scared silent white people here, who wouldn’t stand with me to bear witness. Who wouldn’t raise their voices to let the NRA mfs know that we are watching while they dine and plan. To let them know that we know who they are as their gun shops arm an unstable nation. I screamed at them. I screamed until my throat hurt. I screamed until I couldn’t breathe. I screamed so they would hear me. So they would know that I know them.

On October 2nd, 2017, I woke like the rest of the nation to the news that a white man in Las Vegas had shot and killed more than 50 people at a concert. And, in that moment, the people responsible—the people with blood dripping from their hands–were all around me.

Before moving to my new little house in the trees, I used to live in a place that used to be known for murder. Crime, poverty, gangs. Guns everywhere. The people I knew did what they could to keep the gun manufacturers’ deadly products out of their neighborhood, out of their city, their state. Votes for gun control, for background checks–to outlaw obscenely unnecessary firepower–was their way to protect themselves and their families. I understand, now, how they represent one side of a deadly tug-of-war.

The people in this world–so far away from any I knew–vote to keep their guns. There is little crime where I lived, but the poverty is like nothing I’d ever lived in. (And the isolation. Oh, the isolation.) I heard some of my neighbors, across the valley, shooting. I heard them, across the street, shooting. They shoot for fun. Because they’re bored. For something to do. To feel a little power in a place where they have none. For my neighbors there, guns are toys, a way to pass the time. These are not the army of angry armed white supremacists conjured in overheated imaginations and fed by propagandists. These are the vulnerable people they silence. These are the people in the middle.

There are others, though, whose guns are anything but toys. The ones whose high-powered, rapid-fire weapons and small explosives aim to kill, but mostly succeed in silencing those around them. The ones who believe a race war is coming, because everything in their world tells them it’s the truth. They believe the people who think they’re smarter, more educated, more powerful—the gun control people—will try to take their guns, leaving them defenseless against all the black and brown people. They prepare for an army of angry armed black and brown militants conjured in overheated imaginations and fed by propagandists. I understand, now, that this is the other side of the deadly tug-of-war.

REFERENCES

a trail home :: labor day

They’ve sped up. The resident cars that drive by. Since I spoke up, they have sped up. Considerably. Some are easily doing 50 or more – double or more the speed limit – on the street in front of the place I’ve called home for almost a year. It’s the way these humans assert what they believe is their authority. It’s a way for these humans to feel in control. It’s how they are “adults.”

I’m in my bubble now. I’ve stopped looking as an ethnographer. As a human being, I still see, still feel them.

I feel—in my body–their intentional speed past my windows while I work. I feel their flipped birds, the glares from the cars that have stopped in front of my house. They communicate to me without words: “Cover your damn windows. We don’t want to see you. We have tried to ignore you out of existence. We hate that little house and what it stands for. We don’t care what work you’ve done to rehabilitate it. We don’t care that it’s not an eyesore anymore. You have no power here.”

They tell me I’m just an untrustworthy “renter” in the intrusive absurdity of their sudden Labor Day weekend surveillance. The cars full of old white women (whose heads all turn quickly in the other direction when I smile and wave) that have twice driven into the lot of the empty rental next door. To let me know they’re here. To tell me they’re policing me. It’s the way these humans assert what they believe is their authority. It’s a way for these humans to feel in control. It’s how they are “adults.”

Making my personal peace with this place will not be easy. A trust was broken. I have to remember, though, that the place is not the problem: the place is the solution. This part of the California coast–a San Francisco Bay Area resource–has much to teach humans about how to share power, how to live, beautifully and sustainably.

I also have to remember all the lessons I’ve learned in this culture about how power moves in human relations. I’ll remember, too, that the power of this place is universal, far beyond the humans who try to control it and its native nonhuman inhabitants.

For the next few months, I’ll ignore the mindless humans speeding blindly past the truth.

bubble

I have to stop looking. I’m going back into my bubble. I’m drowning in data. I went into my bubble the last two months in Josephine County, too, also drowning in data. Here, I’ll begin building my bubble the same way: I’ll avert my eyes.

All my windows are uncovered, inviting the outside in. The flora and fauna of this beautifully fragile place are not backdrop—I am in them. This little cottage—a Sea Ranch holdout from an earlier age—was built to fit into this landscape. It was built with a small footprint. From simple materials. Simply. It is dwarfed by its neighbors. Its redwood shingles washed out, falling off, show the “owners’” neglect. Still, it stands, functioning, humbly–respectfully–being a part of what it inhabits.

The windows also let the humans in, the ones who walk and drive by on this main drag. (Think of me as the camera in the first half of Roma: still here, still on–experiencing, watching, and recording–after the “main actors” exit the scene.) These humans have been a part of my life for more than a year. The ones whose gait suffers an urban hangover. The ones whose walk makes a runway of the street. The ones who pretend not to see. The ones who believe they can’t be seen. The ones who disappear, then reappear months later. The ones whose cruelty ripped the fabric of my reality right down the middle.

The dozens of other humans I’ve interacted with all over this otherwise nonhuman inhabited place. Also a part of my life. I have let them all in; I have participated. I have more than enough. Now, I let go and move on.

I stopped looking in Josephine County, too. Driving on 199. Those heartbreakingly beat up humans, the throw-away people, the ones the Northern residents scrape as far down the county as possible, into all the others trapped there, between mountain ranges. The ones who are mentally ill, the ones whose disease is addiction, the ones who walk and walk and walk up and down the Redwood Highway, from Grants Pass through Cave Junction and out to Crescent City, looking, everywhere–anywhere–for a little piece of land where they might find shelter. A place to set down the life they carry on their backs. A place maybe with a little privacy. A place to sleep. A place to feel safe, at least for a night. A place they might call home. For a minute, anyway.

I stopped looking in Cave Junction, even though we still have business. I had to; I had no choice. The bubble I made there kept me whole and healthy enough to find a trail out. Here, I don’t have to escape. Here, I don’t have to wait for escrow to close or for my last class to meet. Here, I complete the work and debrief. Here, I create closure. Here, it’s self-evident, the connections between the two rural worlds and what’s happening in bigger worlds.

One more week before the bubble seals, and preparations begin to make my way out of The Sea Ranch on a trail home.

everyday authoritarianiasm

Democracy is a big human experiment in organized power-sharing. In political literature, democracy is both an ideology and a structure. In politically abstract terms, dictatorship is democracy’s opposite.

Authoritarianism is a big human experiment in organized power-stealing and hoarding. In political literature, authoritarianism is both an ideology and a structure. In politically abstract terms, “personal liberty” is authoritarianism’s opposite.  

Everyday authoritarianism, however, is different than an abstract political theory. It exists in human relations, the everyday interactions, the mundane tasks. Living everyday authoritarianism means stealing power from other humans, on a relational level, and hoarding it. Its opposite is agency.

For instance:

  • When your professional processes are not transparent, you steal power I use to understand fully.
  • When you give me inaccurate information, intentionally, you steal power I use to make sound decisions.
  • When you take my time or expect me to use it for your purposes, you steal my power to spend it on what my family needs.
  • When you purposely exclude, you steal power I use to participate.
  • When you refuse acknowledgement, you steal power I use to connect.
  • When your cynicism leads, you steal my power to be openly optimistic.
  • When your doubt blindly stands in front of my credibility, you steal my power to access those benefits
  • When you withhold emotion, you steal power I use to engage.
  • When your fear is weaponized in my direction, you steal power I use to confidently move through the world.
  • When you pretend to know what you don’t, you steal power I use to assess effectively.
  • When you willfully ignore new information and rely on your own outdated assumptions, you steal my power to protect myself from old, poisonous ideas.
  • When you block access to resources, you steal my power to feed my life. 
  • When you refuse to say my name, you steal my power to exist.

When you steal my power, you steal my forward momentum, and my power to progress. When you steal my power and hoard it, you systematically lock down my agency. When enough power is stolen and enough humans’ agency is locked down, everyday authoritarianism supports an authoritarian state, a political culture. Gramsci had it right: we do it to ourselves.

Living democratically every day means sharing power. Living a democratic ethic means moving through the world, authentically engaged, without knowing the outcome. To live democratically is to help create the conditions for the possibility of trust, of vulnerability, of creativity in everyone you meet. To share power on a relational level is to create the conditions for the possibility of unlocking everyone’s agency.

Living democratically means that all of us can make sound decisions, we can understand fully, we are able to spend our time on our purposes; we can participate, connect, live optimistically, move through the world with self-esteem; we are able to engage fully, effectively assess situations, live without fear of poisonous ideas. Living democratically means being able to confidently drive our forward momentum. It means being able to feed our lives. It means a just human existence. It means we all share “the right to pursue happiness.”

Democracy cannot be imposed. It cannot be elected. It cannot be bought. It cannot be attained through prayer. It must be lived in bodies, in relations, in all of us. Every single day.

REFERENCES