In the wake of the third presidential debate, I am left with social media feeds full of jokes about binders, bayonets, Big Bird, and more. While it is tempting to laugh at the memes, the imaginative Tumblrs, the relevant Twitter accounts and more, it became clear to me last night after watching Brene Brown’s new Ted Talk “The Price of Invulnerability” that there is something deeply troubling about our liberal responses to the debates.
As Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and Food Empowerment Project director Lauren Ornelas points out in her wonderful blog “Appetite For Justice,” there are are several categories of responses to injustice and hate: “You have those who speak hate and vitriol, those who listen and are uncomfortable with it but laugh as they do not know what to say, those who agree and those who speak against it.” As Lauren’s categories suggest, some are in the Romney camp and agree with what he shares, and others speak out against his policies, but so many of the rest of us are left feeling what Brene Brown calls “numb to vulnerability.” The possibilities of the election turnout and the discussion of whether or not we will all be treated as equal Americans feels emotionally significant and makes our communities literally vulnerable. Will our families be safe and treated equally under the laws?
Brene Brown says the danger of going numb is that it negates the possibility for positive emotions and, most importantly to this election, the emotions that result in our communities coming together to make change. By numbing ourselves to the horrific policies proposed by Romney-Ryan through reducing them to the latest humor gossip, we stifle ourselves and ultimately our activism suffers on all levels. For our individual wellbeing we need to feel and access our emotions, and ultimately this will enable us to build healthier communities.
I admit that at times I have resorted to numbness in the face of Romeny’s campaign. I have joked with my friends and posted on social media that “binders full of women” is perhaps a jab at FTM folks, and made light of the emotional video of a brave gay Vietnam veteran taking issue with Romney’s views on same sex rights. But I have come to realize that these things are a result of my defense system working at full tilt. After all, is this election not an emotional issue for our LGBTQ communities, women communities, veteran communities, minority communities, and, let’s face it, the majority of Americans from whom Romney would attempt to strip rights and resources if elected? Does laughing make it slightly more tolerable, somehow, to imagine a man striking down the healthcare reforms Obama and so many others worked for? At least he would make us laugh, like George W. Bush did! We could pretend to feel less hurt by it, and his rule would be fodder for our yuks and at least we would have that. Otherwise, what would we have? We would have sorrow. Are our communities too scared to be vulnerable to that?
Today, I let myself really feel how sad I would be if Romney came to power. I felt the turning of my stomach, the sinking feeling that so many women would no longer have access to affordable cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, and that I may never get to marry my partner in my home state if Romney chips away at my rights like he has expressed he has every intention to do.
If I am really honest, Mitt Romney and the policies he supports all just make me want to cry. But allowing myself to feel things, to get angry, to feel heartbroken, and sick, and cry, and feel sad, allows me to work through these emotions on a healthy level. Tuning into my body’s responses to the potential for great loss resulting from Romney coming to power better informs my activist response. At least for me, relying on humor at a time like this feels like an aborted fight or flight response. Yes, we can laugh at Big Bird jabs, but we cannot let laughter take the place of good old-fashioned upset.
I believe that to react intelligently to Romeny’s proposed leadership means to react feelingly. Yes, it is ok to laugh at the absurdity of hatred, but then let us use this opportunity to access our vulnerability to how it all feels. Let our grief and sadness turn into righteous action, and allow our feelings to give us the strength needed in our communities to help the elderly in the community get transport to the polls, to help our loved ones figure out how to send in absentee ballots, to help our students and teachers take the necessary time off to vote. Let us come together in this time of difficulty to take a stand for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and equality for all human- and non-human animals!
As our nation progresses towards greater equality for same-sex Americans than it has ever known, this man intends to take us back to the closet, back to the “we’re just friends” era where being gay was shameful and the law failed to recognize our love and families as equal. We have shows like Glee and Modern Family that tell us that the new future, the New Normal, is upon us. And then we turn on the debates and there is no mention of same-sex issues whatsoever. We were erased from the discussion for reasons I can only guess, and that upset me (and I know many others).
Obama is far from perfect, and I take issue with several of his policies, particularly those relating to the military. When he gets re-elected, I expect to exercise my American right to dissent, and press him to continue to make the changes he has promised. I agree with my LGBTQ community members who feel same-sex marriage will never be the only issue needed to heal the economic and social injustices within our diverse communities, and I will fight for those issues once Obama is slated for another four years. But right now, Obama needs our support to continue his presidency into another term. As we support each other, we must access our true feelings and allow them to inform our activism. Laughing alone won’t get Obama re-elected.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Lauren Orenelas’ blog: “We must use our collective voices to speak out against all forms of injustice if we think we can ever chip away at it.”