Becoming the Party of the People

In a week that included the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, the shooting of a 13 year old Adam Toledo by the Chicago police, and the murder of Daunte Wright, a young black man shot by a veteran white female cop who claimed to have mistaken her gun for her taser, I am tired, heart-sick, and angry about a problem that we are still debating rather than fixing. As a 62-year-old privileged, middle-class white woman I know that my anger, fear, exhaustion, despair is infinitesimal compared to the rightful pain, grief, anger and exhaustion of black women and men in this country. And yet here we are with more examples of racism, violence against POC, hate, sexism, inequality, oppression and still people don’t see it.

We live in a world that has confused racism and sexism with discrimination, but they are about power. About power over – the power of some groups of people over other groups of people. They are about the power that oppresses. They put power into the hands of the few, based on their skin color and gender, to oppress others, based on their skin color and gender. Any system of oppression always finds multiples reasons to oppress people. A white supremacist patriarchy oppresses people of color and women. It also oppresses trans people and gay people and poor people and immigrants and people with disabilities and people who aren’t Christian. This list goes on and on and on. And when one is a black, trans, poor, woman the oppression multiplies.

People hate the words white supremacy and patriarchy. We don’t want to have to think about them. We live in a white supremacist, patriarchal society that endows white men with the power to oppress black and brown people and women and we are afraid to call it that. We are accused of hating all white people, of oppressing white people, of hating men, or of oppressing men. When we point out institutional racism and police violence against people of color we are accused of hating the police. Even women cringe when you say “patriarchy.” They equate it with hating all men. We argue about what language to use that calls for change but doesn’t offend too many people – not realizing that change, in fact, is bound to offend someone, particularly those in power. We spend so much time arguing semantics that we never get to the point of talking about the inherent problems of a system that endows one group of people with power over another group of people simply because of their skin color, their gender, their economic status, or their profession.

Which is why when Ted Cruz harasses Kristen Clarke at her senate confirmation hearing, it’s not just about Cruz being an idiot, or trying to misrepresent both Clarke and her views, it’s about a rich powerful white man dismissing, misrepresenting, and denigrating a black woman. It confirms that he is a product of our white supremacist, patriarchal culture, and it exposes the flaws of our society. Cruz’s questioning says more about him, then it does about Clarke.

For a moment, when the verdict came down in the trial of Derek Chauvin, I think many of us thought finally things we’re going to begin to change. And then in rapid succession so many more black lives were lost by being killed by the police, including Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16 year old girl. Right now, it feels like voting, letters to the editor, joining book clubs to learn about and discuss anti-racism, even joining protests aren’t enough. Do we need to tear down the doors of the halls of justice to fix this? Whether or not you hate the term “defund the police,” it’s time to realize this is a system that cannot be “fixed”. There are not incremental steps, there are no tweaks here or there, that will uproot institutionalized racism and oppression within our system of justice. It’s ironic that feminist white women like myself love the memes and t-shirts about “dismantling,” “crushing,” and “burning down,” the patriarchy, yet somehow we balk at “defund the police,” even though it’s actually saying the same thing. The system is broken beyond repair. We need to start over and build new.

Deepak Chopra words, “What you give your attention to grows,” are oft repeated by the new age, self-help, personal enlightenment crowd. Yet, when it comes to defund the police, Chopra’s words have never been truer. What you put your time, energy, and money into exists, grows, continues to be your institution, your system, your society. The politicians you fund, are the politicians you get. The institutions you fund, are the institutions you get. If we want something new, something not based on racism and sexism, on oppression and hate, we need to build it from the ground up. We don’t fix something that’s off plumb, out of whack, or leaning like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We start fresh and build a society where equity undergirds everything. We need to stop fighting the semantics and start creating the world we want, school by school, community by community, institution by institution, politician by politician–because that’s the only way to end this violence. The violence and murder of black people at the hands of police. The violence against women that invades our society. The acts of hate and violence against Asian-Americans that are growing. The violence against immigrants, trans-people, all of the people who are othered and oppressed.

The Democratic party needs more historically marginalized people running for office, bringing diverse experiences, visions, and talents to the creation of this new world. The Democratic party needs to be acting on our values, to be living them.  Any Democratic politician we support, any institution we support, any initiative we support, anything we give energy, money, and consideration to, must actually live and act on our values. In order to actually create a world based on caring and diversity, equality and equity, justice, stewardship and knowledge, we have to demand those values of our representatives and our institutions. Only then will we manage to separate ourselves from the Republicans and truly become the party of the people, not the party of the powerful.