It’s Now or Never
It was not customary for a woman to go for a walk alone in the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad, Pakistan where my parents were living. When I did, the hostile looks I received made me feel both vulnerable and defiant, yet I stopped going on walks. As a Bangladeshi-American woman, I can imagine the justified fears that some people in the US have that they will be stopped, frisked, detained, or killed with impunity. I think about all the things one decides not to do. An unacknowledged consequence of rising authoritarianism is self-censorship.
Justine Andronici has written an insightful piece in Ms. magazine which outlines how the tactics of Trump’s presidency (lying, gaslighting, intimidating, creating chaos, isolation, instability and distraction) amount to the abuse of an entire country: “Our expectations have sunk lower than perhaps any time in American history. Our institutions are weaker, our civil society is polarized, and our basic respect for human dignity, at least in terms of how it is expressed through our institutions of government, is heavily eroded. Years of unrelenting near constant psychological, emotional — and, for some members of our society, physical abuse — has left the country in a truly victimized and exceptionally dangerous position.”
I see a range of emotional responses to this abuse amongst our electorate, leading to withdrawal and silencing in oneself or in others:
- Denial and disengagement: When I have spoken about Elizabeth Warren to progressive friends, some have told me they like and respect her but aren’t ready to commit to any candidate. Their priority is to defeat Trump, with the implication that Warren isn’t strong enough to do that. But waiting to support her candidacy makes this a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since her campaign is entirely grass-roots funded, there’s no waiting for other powerful people to keep her candidacy afloat.
- Anxiety and Paralysis: These are the hand-wringers who pay close attention to articles and debates, but are paralyzed by doubt. They run the risk of letting other people, cable news pundits and op-ed columnists, shape the conversation and the race. We know how biased towards the center, and against women, the mainstream media narrative is. Both biases hurt Warren, whereas only one bias hurts Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar. Case in point: watch David Brooks say on PBS that it is not relevant to talk about whether Warren is facing any kind of gender bias in this election, moments after saying Biden had a great debate because “he got through it.” (If you don’t believe that you or the media has unconscious internalized sexism and racism, visit the project of psychologist Mahzarin Banaji and takes some bias tests, and read Rebecca Solnit’s excellent article on how bias plays out in elections.)
- Cross-Bullying: Victims of abuse can start to abuse others. When Michelle Obama famously said “when they go low, we go high,” people cheered, but after Trump’s election, her position understandably rang hollow. But yet, what is the alternative? I think it’s healthy to debate the ideas, approaches, and records of each of the Democratic candidates and I stand in strong solidarity with Bernie Sanders and the vast majority of his supporters, but I find myself defending Warren’s ‘honor’ and trustworthiness to Sanders’ supporters who sincerely post Bloomberg news articles questioning Warren’s motives. (If you have any questions about Warren’s authenticity as well as the media’s inability to reckon with its own shortcomings, listen as NPR’s Asma Khalid says without irony how ‘fascinating’ it is that all the people, across the political spectrum, who have worked closely with Warren over the years see authenticity as her core trait, while many at a distance mark her as inauthentic.) The liar taunts and snake emojis on twitter are the most extreme examples of character smear. But sadder still, some courageous women writers who are known for publicly discussing the difficult topics of activism, race, and gender have told me they have hesitated to continue to write pro-Warren pieces, or point out aggressive behavior by some Sanders supporters, because it elicits more hatred. I seriously hesitated to write this as a public post because of what may come: yet haters will only prove my point.
I too worried at the launch of Warren’s campaign that she couldn’t get elected because, well, a lefty woman couldn’t possibly stand up against the misogyny, racist slurs, money and power of Trump and the Republican Party. I realize that my own reticence to support Warren was entangled with how sexism and internalized misogyny operate so I work hard now to pronounce my support for Warren loud and proud. Alas, there may be other ‘shy’ Warren voters out there: people who feel, like I once did, that to support her, to invest in her candidacy opens them up to the potential of unbearable heartbreak. Yet a much more insidious, internalized heartbreak is the slow, soul crushing self-censorship and unfreedom that happens under authoritarianism.
If you are pro-Warren at heart, but still second guessing, I call on you to proudly get into this grass-roots fight with me. Passionate and positive action is the only response that can break the cycle. Volunteering by phone-banking and canvassing has opened up a space in my heart and psyche that can only be called hope in the transformative sense. These live conversations are the antidote to the pointless social media spats and endless, baseless punditry, and if I devote an hour or more to each calling session, I’m bound to reach at least one open and kind-hearted person who’s interested in having a real conversation about things that matter to both of us. Imagine that.
I see Warren as the most proven and prepared person to root out corruption in our government, and her insider/outsider strategy as the most brilliant framework to reform and unite the Democratic Party to defeat Donald Trump. I relate to her sly humor and her joyful compassion. Her style of transparency, listening, and accountability are not only ethical, but also demonstrate the most effective model for governance that I have ever seen in a presidential candidate. She considers the ‘how’ as much as the ‘why.’ As an artist, educator, and thinker for the last 20 years, I’ve recently realized that my life’s work has been to articulate and embody the urgent ethical need to bring the how and why closer together. Warren’s “big structural change” approach resonates deeply with me, so as much as I also admire Bernie, my heart is with Warren.
To the deniers, the hand wringers, and those on the attack, we have little time left: even if you have clear vision, sound analysis, and pure intentions, now is our time to exercise the courage, self-awareness and vulnerability that doing something about it requires. Indeed that’s why I support Warren: she’s about both the why and the how.
Each of my pro-Warren political posts will now carry this progressive unity statement: I know I have a lot of Bernie friends — that’s awesome and I’m with you. I’m in support of the only two grass-roots funded candidates and sincerely hope we can stop the move toward oligarchy that Bloomberg represents. NOW is the time to support Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. Period. Worse than anything is apathy and cynicism, sitting on the sidelines. Also pretty awful: Warren and Sanders supporters attacking each of the candidates’ characters or each other, when we will all eventually need to come together to defeat oligarchy and authoritarianism.