Decisions Are Made By Those Who Show Up: Why Voting and Calling Congress Isn’t a Waste of Time

your vote counts buttonWhen I first wrote this piece a few years ago, I wrote it specifically to encourage people to call or email their Congresspeople or other elected representatives. But it applies just as well to voting. So I’m recycling it here today. I’m concerned that progressives in the U.S. may not turn out very heavily in tomorrow’s election, since a lot of progressives are very disillusioned with politics and government right now. I don’t care. Vote anyway. This piece talks about why. Just replace “calling Congress” with “voting.”

Okay. The title is a bit off. A more accurate title would be, “Why Calling Or Emailing Congress, The President, And Your Other Elected Officials Not Only Isn’t A Waste Of Time, But Is One Of The Most Important Things We Can Do To Take Back Our Supposedly Democratically Elected Government.” But the Writer’s Union would have my head if I went with a title like that…

cel phoneI’m writing today to ask you to write and/or email your Senator, your Congressperson, your President. Your governor. Your mayor. Your city council. Your school board. If you don’t live in the U.S.: Your Prime Minister, your Premiere, your MP, your Assemblymember, your Deputy, whatever.

Not on any particular issue. Just in general. On whatever issue you care about.

And I want to argue that this is not a waste of time. I want to argue that this is one of the single most effective political actions we can take: not just to change this policy or that policy, but to change the entire way our government works, and the amount of power we have in it.

When I wrote my recent piece exhorting readers to call/ email Congress and the President about the public option for health care, many of you followed through, with a heartening degree of enthusiasm. But a surprising number of politically aware, politically astute people were strongly resistant: not to the public option for health care, but to the very idea of contacting their elected officials at all. They thought their voices wouldn’t be heard or cared about. They thought it was a waste of time.

I want to persuade you that it is not a waste of time.

And I want to persuade myself as well. I don’t call or email my representatives nearly as much as I think I should, and I’m writing this partly to remind myself to do it more.

Here is my thesis.

empty voting boothsThe fact that Americans feel so alienated from our government? The fact that so many people don’t vote? The fact that most people don’t call or email the President or their Congresspeople to tell them how they feel about important issues? The fact that so many people think politicians don’t care about them anyway, so there’s no reason they should bother getting involved?

This plays directly into the hands of the very people we don’t want running the show.

This is one of the main reasons government is so much more responsive to hard-line extremists and big-money corporate interests than it is to the majority of people it’s representing.

This is one of the main reasons government is so screwed up.

When very few people get involved in politics — when very few people even bother to vote, and even fewer bother to call or email their elected representatives — then the few people who do bother are the ones who get listened to. The hard-line extremists get to set the terms of the debate. Them, and the people with money.

baptizing of americaWhy do you think the extreme religious right was so successful, for so long, in setting this country’s political agenda? They were successful, in large part, because they had an extraordinarily well-oiled machine of millions of inspired people who would make phone calls and write letters at the drop of a hat. When the folks on the mailing lists of the religious right got a call for action telling them to call or write their Congressperson, they didn’t lapse into cynicism about how no politician really cares about them — and they didn’t lapse into soul-searching about whether they were sufficiently educated on this issue to express their opinion. They bloody well picked up the phone and called.

Decisions are made by those who show up.

And if we want to be making the decisions, we have to show up.

There’s a larger, more systemic way that this plays out, too. The fact that people feel jaded and alienated by politics and government? It’s a textbook example of a vicious circle. The less that people get involved in their government, the less politicians have to worry about the voters — and the more they can suck up to big money contributors. And the more that politicians suck up to big money contributors, the more alienated and jaded people get about government… and the less likely they are to get involved.

figures moving computer mouseThis circle isn’t going to get broken by elected officials. And it sure as hell isn’t going to get broken by corporate interests. The only way it’s going to get broken is by citizens picking up their phones or getting on their computers and telling their elected officials, “If you want my vote ever again, you freaking well better vote for X.” And then Y. And then Z. Over, and over, and over again. The only people who can break this circle are you and me.

Not getting involved doesn’t make government better. It makes government worse. It plays right into the hands of the corporate interests, who find it easier to get laws written their way when there aren’t all those pesky citizens to worry about.

And it plays right into the right-wing “keep government small and taxes low” rhetoric — otherwise translated as, “Keep taxes on rich people and big corporations low; keep regulations on business to a bare minimum if that; and keep government services for poor and middle- class people stripped to the bone.” People’s cynicism about government, their belief that it never helps them and doesn’t have anything to do with them unless it’s screwing them over, and it’s always better to have it small and weak since it sucks so badly? That’s one of the strongest cards in the right wing’s hand.

firefightersI’ve written about this before, and I’ll write it again: Government is — in theory, and at least some of the time in practice — the way a society pools some of its resources, to provide itself with structures and services that make that society function smoothly and that promote the common good. And it’s the way a society decides how those pooled resources should be used. It’s one of the main ways that a society shares, cooperates, works together, takes care of each other — all those great ideals we learned in kindergarten. Government is roads, parks, fire departments, street sweepers, public health educators, emergency services, sewers, schools. Government is not Them. Government — democratic government, anyway — is Us.

But for government to do all this and be all this, not just in theory but in practice, we need to start seeing government as Us.

control keyAnd calling/ emailing your President, your Senators, your Congressperson, your governor and your mayor and your dogcatcher, is one of the most powerful things we can do to turn government from Them into Us. It reminds our elected officials that they work for Us, that they’re there to represent Us. And maybe just as importantly, it reminds us of that, too.

If you want to look at it idealistically: Many elected officials get into politics because they want to make a difference, and want to represent the will of their voters. And those officials are desperately wishing for citizens to kick up a stink on important issues: it makes it easier for them to fight special interests, and it lets them know that we’ve got their back. (It’s a whole lot easier to tell your big campaign contributors, “No,” when you can say, “I’m really sorry, but my phone is ringing off the hook about this one, and if I don’t support/ oppose it my voters will have my head.”)

But you can also see this in a completely venal, Machiavellian view… and still come to the same conclusion. Squeaky wheels. Grease. Many elected officials don’t much care about making a difference… but they bloody well care about getting re-elected. Politicians assume that if people care enough about an issue to call or write about it, they’ll care enough to vote the bums out on election day. If enough people call or write, it can override the voice of big- money special interests — even for the most self-serving politician in the world.

pigs at the trough book coverI get that it’s easy to be cynical about politics. Boy, howdy, do I get it. You don’t have to tell me about the massive role that big money and corporate lobbying plays in government and policy; or about the short attention span of citizens and how easily distracted they can be by the Drama of the Day; or about the great advantage incumbents have over challengers and how it contributes to inertia and indifference in politicians; or about how easy it is for voters to be manipulated by fear. I am 47 years old, and I’ve been participating in my government for almost three decades and observing it for longer than that, and I am under no illusions about how deeply sucky government can be. I get it.

But I also think that cynicism is the easy way out. Cynicism is just a way of not having to care, so you don’t risk being disappointed. Not calling or emailing an elected official, because you think they don’t care and won’t listen, is like never asking out the girl or guy you think is really cute, because you’re afraid they’ll say no. It’s giving up before you’ve even started.

I keep thinking about that quote from Voltaire: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Politics is never, ever, ever perfect. Politics is the art of compromise… and the art of compromise is often an ugly, messy, dumb art.

But giving up is not the answer. Giving up is not going to make government better. Giving up is actively making it worse. Giving up on government because we can’t make it perfect is the enemy of making it good. Or at least, making it better.

And better is… well, better. As my friend Nosmo King points out: The lesser of two evils is less evil. How is that a hard decision?

This isn’t idealism. It’s harm reduction.

cynicism from diogenes to dilbert book coverStay cynical if you want to. Keep being a jaded, cynical hard-ass who thinks all government officials are selfish, power-hungry jerks. But be a jaded, cynical hard-ass who thinks all government officials are selfish, power-hungry jerks… and who calls or emails them to tell them what jerks they’re being, and what exactly you expect them to do to be marginally less jerky.

Be a jaded, cynical hard-ass. But don’t be a nihilist. Don’t give up. People fought and died for the idea of participatory democracy: not just in the United States, but all over the world. In many parts of the world, they’re still fighting and dying for it. You’re lucky. You don’t have to fight and die to keep this idea alive. You just have to call or email your elected officials. And you just have to vote.

So that’s the general principle. Participatory democracy. You know, the principle that this country fought a revolution for.

And yet a lot of people who agree with the principle still don’t follow through in practice. A lot of people who passionately support the idea of participatory democracy still don’t pick up the phone or get on the computer to, you know, participate in it. (Including me a lot of the time.)

Why is that?

I posted this question on Facebook the other day. I asked, “If someone asks you to email your Congressperson, and you don’t, even if you care about the issue — what stops you?”

I wasn’t asking to judge or criticize. Hell, I do this, too. I decide that I’m too tired, too busy, that if I responded to every “Call your Congressperson” email I got I’d never get anything else done. But it does bug me. It’s such a simple thing to do, and it can make such a huge difference, and I’m trying to figure out what, specifically, keeps us from doing it.

So now — again, for my own benefit as much as anybody else’s — I want to respond to some of the answers I got to this question. I want to remind myself, and anyone else reading this, that the reasons for not calling or emailing your elected officials, as understandable as they may be, simply aren’t anywhere near as compelling as the reasons for calling and emailing.

(Here’s Part 2 of the original.) Again, it talks more about calling elected officials than it does about voting… but I think it’s still relevant.

5 Reasons to Stop Talking Sh*t About People From the South and Midwest

united states map divided by regions“If I ever hear another elitist jerk use the term flyover people, I’ll punch him in the mouth.” -John Waters, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America

I don’t approve of threats of physical violence. Not even hyperbolic ones. But I absolutely know where John Waters is coming from. And while I don’t intend to punch anyone in the mouth, I completely understand — and share — his anger at this bullshit notion of “flyover country.”

I recently did a speaking tour of the Midwest, promoting my new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. This isn’t new for me: I’ve been doing public speaking for years, and I do it a lot in the Midwest and South. And every time I come home from one of these trips, I bring back a huge suitcase full of respect for people in the Midwest and South — and a hearty desire to say “Fuck You” to anyone who makes snotty remarks about “flyover country” or “flyover people.” Not all progressives do this, of course — but I hear it often enough that I need to say something. Here are five reasons coastal progressives need to permanently purge these phrases from their vocabulary.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 5 Reasons to Stop Talking Sh*t About People From the South and Midwest. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!


Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

Why, Despite the Incredibly Discouraging Crap That’s Been Going On in Recent Weeks and Months and Years, I Still Have Hope for Organized Atheism

Cologne_Germany_Cologne-Gay-Pride-cheerleadersI know. Here comes Greta, the eternal optimist, the relentless Pollyanna cheerleader, always holding out for hope. Stay with me. I really think I’m right about this.

Yes, the recent weeks in organized atheism have been incredibly discouraging, disheartening, disillusioning, demoralizing, dis- and de- just about every good thing that keeps people engaged in activism. Heck, the recent months and years in organized atheism have often been discouraging. Our most visible representatives are saying and doing horrible things: they’re perpetuating horrible sexist and racist ideas, they’re trivializing rape and making excuses for it and blaming the victims of it, they’re apparently committing sexual assault. The online hatred and harassment squad has been in full force. The defenses, denials, rationalizations, trivializations, and victim-blaming about all of this have been in full force. And in the last few weeks, all of this has been in overdrive. I can totally understand why some people, even people who have been in organized atheism for years — strike that, especially people who have been in organized atheism for years — would be losing hope. I’m feeling it, too.

And I’m not going to say for a second that the awful shit isn’t awful. I’m certainly not going to say that we shouldn’t talk about it just because it’s giving people a sad. I’m not going to tell anyone else that they’re bad or wrong for being disheartened — or even that they have any obligation to stay in organized atheism.

What I’m going to say is that I have hope. And I’m going to explain why. [Read more…]

Columbus Day

Found on Facebook:

Columbus Day ecard

Let’s celebrate Columbus Day by walking into someone’s house and telling them we live there now.

Let’s celebrate Columbus Day by walking into someone’s house and telling them we live there now. And shooting them when they don’t leave. And giving them small-pox infested blankets. And giving them new, crappy houses — which we then move into at gunpoint. And doing that again. And again.

Sigh.

Missouri GOP Chief: Registering Voters “Disgusting” and “Inappropriate”

By Eric W. Dolan at The Raw Story:

The head of the Missouri Republican Party said Tuesday that efforts to register voters in Ferguson, Missouri, were “disgusting” and unhelpful.

“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills told Breitbart News. “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”

Wills was responding to reports that Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other civil rights activists had set up voter registration booths following the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black teenager who was killed by a Ferguson police officer.

Right. Because encouraging people who have been grossly mistreated by their government to take peaceful, legal action to change that government — that’s disgusting and inappropriate. But they’re also not supposed to protest loudly in the streets. So what are people supposed to do when they’ve been grossly mistreated by their government?

Oh, right. Nothing. They are supposed to do nothing. This is not their government, and they are not supposed to push for it to change in any way.

Just in case we needed any more evidence that the Republican Party is the party that is actively opposed to the very idea of democracy

Fuck you, Republican Party.



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

Michael Brown and Ferguson: My Greatest Fears for My Friends

Please note: This blog post has a different comment policy from my usual one. It appears at the end of the post.

I keep not writing about this. I keep saying to myself, “This isn’t a good day — I have a deadline; I’m traveling; I just got home from traveling.” I keep saying to myself, “I don’t know enough about it; I haven’t been following it closely enough; other people are already saying what I want to say about it, more eloquently and with better information.”

And I keep realizing that this is bullshit. I keep not writing about this because it’s painful. And that is a bullshit excuse. Any pain I might have about this is completely trivial. And it doesn’t matter that others have written about it. This is one of those times when it doesn’t matter if my voice is original. This is one of those times when being one more person saying, “This is not acceptable, I do not consent to this” is what matters.

*****

I keep thinking about the children in my life, and the young adults in my life. I keep thinking about what my fears are for most of them: global warming, gross economic disparity hand in hand with political corruption, loss of anything resembling privacy.

And then I think about the black male children in my life, and the young black men in my life. And I realize that my greatest fear for them is that they’ll get shot by a cop.

Howard University Mike Brown protest hands up don't shootMy greatest fear for them is that they will get into a car accident, go to a house for help, and get shot by a cop. My greatest fear is that they will pick up a BB gun in a Wal-Mart, and get shot by cops. My greatest fear is that they walk home from a convenience store with a bag of candy, and get shot by neighborhood watch. My greatest fear is that they will get into a fight on a train platform, get restrained face down on that platform, and get shot in the back by a cop. My greatest fear is that they will be walking in broad daylight, and get shot by a copsix times, when they have their hands in the air, and are pleading, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!”

Actually — that’s not even it. My greatest fear for the black male children in my life, and the young black men in my life, is that they’ll get shot by a cop — and will get no justice.

My greatest fear is that is that they’ll get shot by a cop, and that their body will be left in the street for hours. My greatest fear is that people protesting their death will be met with militarized police behaving like an occupying army — stalking the streets with drawn weapons, firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and screaming at them, “Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!” My greatest fear is that reporters covering their death, and the protests against their death, will be arrested, and that cops will assault them and threaten them with macing or shooting.

My greatest fear is that they’ll get shot by a cop for the crime of existing while black, while elsewhere in the country, white people openly defy the law, threaten armed revolt against the government, and point guns at law enforcement officials — and the government fires no guns, fires no tear gas, and eventually retreats and concedes the ground.

My greatest fear is that, despite a well-documented pattern of unarmed black men getting shot by cops again and again and again, despite four unarmed black men being killed by cops in the last month alone, millions of people commenting on their death will contort themselves into hyper-skeptical pretzels trying to explain why their shooting had nothing to with race.

And my greatest fear is that nothing they do in their life will protect them from any this. My greatest fear is that they will play by every rule they’re told to play by — play sports, do volunteer work, get married, go to college — and that none of it will protect them.

A few days ago, a friend and colleague of mine — an African American woman with a young black son — was asking on Facebook where she should seek asylum. Canada? New Zealand? Sweden? No part of me even considered saying, “That’s ridiculous, the United States is as safe for you and your son as any place in the world.” I didn’t even ask her what she was talking about. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

Back when I was young and naive, I used to play a pointless game in my head of comparing and contrasting marginalizations. And when I was pondering homophobia, I would say to myself, “Well, there are certainly many ways that other bigotries are worse — but being gay is literally against the law. It’s never been literally against the law to be female, to be poor, to be black.”

I don’t say that anymore.

For all intents and purposes, it is against the law in the United States to be a young black man. To be a young black man in the United States is a crime — punishable by summary execution.


The comment policy on this post is the same as it was on my Trayvon Martin post: I am not willing to host a debate about this on my blog. I am willing to host many debates on my blog, about many issues. I am willing to make my blog into a place for people to express many ideas and opinions with which I passionately disagree. This is not one of those issues, and this is not one of those times. If you have anything at all to say about this that even remotely hints at implying that Michael Brown’s murder was justified or that the police response has been reasonable and proportionate — do not comment in my blog. Now, or ever. Do not read my blog. Do not follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Do not attend my talks. Do not buy my books. Get the fuck out of my life, now. Thank you.



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

Anger, Tone Policing, and Some Thoughts on Good Cop, Bad Cop

So what works better to change people’s minds? Calm, respectful, patient empathetic engagement that offers solutions and is open to compromise — or snarky, uncompromising anger?

I’m going to offer up a data point of one here — that data point being myself.

Back in 2010, I wrote a piece about body policing in popular culture, examining how celebrity gossip magazines give contradictory and impossible-to-follow messages about dieting and bodies, and how they applaud celebrities for staying rail-thin while at the same time gasping in horror about disordered eating. I titled the piece “Don’t Feed the Stars!: Celebrity Bodies and Gossip’s New Schizophrenia.”

I immediately got pushback on that title from more than one person, who complained that using the word “schizophrenia” as a pejorative was insulting to mentally ill people and contributed to their marginalization. One person in the conversation, Kit Whitfield, was very patient with me: they politely asked me to reconsider using the word; calmly explained why it was a problem; made it clear that they basically liked and respected me and just wanted to point out this one problem; stuck with me throughout several rounds of back-and-forth; and stuck with me even when I was getting snippy and defensive.

Sara K., on the other hand, just got angry — not only at my original post, but at my conversation with Kit. In a very snarky tone, she called me out on my privilege, and on how screwed-up it was for me to be telling a marginalized person how to talk about their marginalization with a privileged person. She made it clear that she basically liked and respected me, but she made it every bit as clear that she had lost some of that respect.

At the time, my reaction was to think, “Sara’s being a mean jerk! Kit is so awesome! It’s hard to hear people tell you you’re wrong, but it’s so much easier when they’re being nice and patient! Why can’t everyone be more like Kit?” (I know, I know. You don’t have to tell me. What can I say: I wasn’t as good at the social justice stuff back then.)

But in retrospect, it’s clear that both of these people were important in changing my mind.

I definitely valued Kit’s patience, their sympathy, their willingness to stay focused on the content and to overlook when I was getting impatient and snippy. But it was Sara who made me realize that this was important. It was Sara who made me realize that people were really being hurt by this — hurt enough to get angry, hurt about to get unpleasant with someone they basically liked and respected.

In the moment that this conversation was happening, I was getting that hot, defensive flush that you get when you’re doing something wrong and don’t want to admit it. You know — the Cognitive Dissonance Contortion Tango. So in the moment, of course I was happier with the person who was being all reassuring about how I wasn’t a bad person. But in order to take this seriously, I also needed the person who wasn’t reassuring me; who was forcing that cognitive dissonance on me; who was making me realize that I was not in fact being a good person, and that if I wanted to be a good person, I needed to change.

It took me a little while, but I am now being much more careful about using language that marginalizes the mentally ill. I am being much more careful about using words like “crazy” or “nuts” in a pejorative way, and about using words like “schizophrenic” to mean anything other than “having been diagnosed with the illness of schizophrenia.” And in fact, this conversation, and others like it, helped me accept the reality of my own mental illness. In realizing that my language was “other”-ing, and in working to not do that, I found it easier to not see mentally ill people as “other” — which made it easier to accept myself as one of them.

My point: “Good cop, bad cop” works.

Yes, in that hot, flushed moment when we’re doing the Cognitive Dissonance Tango, we respond more positively to the good cop. But that doesn’t mean the bad cop isn’t having an effect.

So when people are telling us things we don’t want to hear, the best reaction probably isn’t, “Why can’t you be nicer about it?” It’s an admission that we’ve lost the argument anyway: if all we can say is “You’d be more convincing if you were nicer,” and we’re not actually addressing their content, we might as well throw in the towel and not dig ourselves in deeper. (With our towel. Okay, I think I need to abandon that mixed metaphor.) But it’s also just not true. The good cops show us that we can be better people, and help show us how to do it. The bad cops show us that we’re screwing up at this “being a good person” thing, and they help show us exactly how. As uncomfortable as it is, we need both.

So belated thanks, to both Kit Whitfield and Sara K. I’m a better person now, thanks to you both.



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

#KnitABrick Knits the Secular Community Together in Response to Hobby Lobby: Guest Post from Amanda Metskas

This is a guest post from Amanda K. Metskas, President of the Secular Coalition for America.

When I learned to knit more than 10 years ago, I never envisioned it would be relevant in my professional life. But with the results of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, now I am knitting to make a difference.

The #KnitABrick campaign came to us at the Secular Coalition for America in a staff meeting as we were brainstorming ways to raise awareness. We wanted to encourage people to do something productive, and since Hobby Lobby is a chain of craft stores, we soon had the idea to encourage “secular craftivism.” You can join us on our Facebook event, and craft and mail bricks to our office.

Secular craftivism includes buying your craft supplies somewhere other than Hobby Lobby and putting your needles and yarn to use to make a statement about real religious freedom: health care shouldn’t be based on an employer’s religious beliefs. We needed a clever hashtag to get attention for our campaign on social media and with that, #KnitABrick was born.

Since, our little campaign has burgeoned into a real movement. We’ve been mentioned in the Washington Post and the National Review, among other publications. People have responded in droves with bricks pouring into our office from all over the world – from places as far away as South Korea and Switzerland.

It has been incredibly touching and exciting to see who is sending in the bricks and why. We’ve gotten heartfelt letters from women and men all over the globe about why reproductive rights and true religious freedom are important to them and their partners.

We’ve gotten bricks knitted by 9-year-old boys. The Secular Coalition for Rhode Island came together and sent us 30 bricks. We’ve received bricks that are quilted, crocheted, and made from yarn that is every color in the rainbow. We’ve gotten bricks from people who learned to knit just so they could #KnitABrick, and we’ve gotten bricks with amazing detail work from expert craftivists.

It has gotten so that our favorite time of day at the office is when the mail arrives and we open up the packages of bricks—we’ve had days where we received more than 75 at a time. And as of yesterday we’ve officially surpassed our first goal of 400 bricks.

People of the less fibre-arts-oriented persuasion have been sponsoring bricks – including 11 awesome people who sponsored me to knit a brick for $100 each, and many more who sponsored interns and staff members to knit bricks for $10 or $25.

Our campaign goes until August 5th, 2014, which happens to be my birthday. For my birthday, please make me #KnitABrick for you. We’ll post a picture with your brick to our Facebook event.

Once we have the bricks in, we’re going to invite people to our office to seam them together – we’re joining as a secular community to rebuild the wall of separation between church and state, one knitted brick at a time.

Some people may say this is silly, and that knitting is not going to change anything, but they are wrong. It’s easy to feel powerless and disillusioned as we browse Facebook and feel outraged about problems that seem beyond our ability to influence. The #KnitABrick campaign is a way to creatively come together and fight that feeling of powerlessness. This campaign concretely demonstrates the ability of regular people all over this country to come together and send a message to our government.

So join us – #KnitABrick, sponsor a brick, share your #KnitABrick story online. You can knit the secular community together with your craftivism. Send bricks to 1012 14th St. NW, Suite 205, Washington, DC 20005.

Amanda Metskas #Knitabrick 1

#knitabrick map 1

#knitabrick map 2

Amanda K. Metskas is the President of the Secular Coalition for America and currently serves as the acting chief executive, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Coalition on an interim basis. Metskas has served on the Secular Coalition Board of Directors since 2009, including in roles as Vice President (2013) and President beginning in January of 2014. Metskas has served as the Executive Director of Camp Quest, one of the Secular Coalition’s voting member organizations, and Vice President of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio. In 2009, Metskas co-authored “Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief”, with Dale McGowan, Molleen Matsumura and Jan Devor. She holds an M.A. in political science from The Ohio State University, and a B.A. in international relations and psychology from Brown University.

Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court, and the Toxic Notion of Corporate Personhood

Do you remember back in 2008, when Sarah Palin was asked which Supreme Court decisions she didn’t agree with other than Roe v. Wade, and she couldn’t think of any? I remember it became sort of a game among some of us: as ordinary citizens who were not running for the second highest public office in the country, how many Supreme Court decisions could we think of that we didn’t agree with? I came up with about half a dozen right off the top of my head. Dred Scott, obviously. Plessy v. Ferguson. Bowers v. Hardwick. Bush v. Gore. (Chime in with your own in the comments!)

And — very importantly, so important that I would rank it as one of the most disastrous events in our country’s history, with profound and far-reaching toxic effects touching every aspect of everyone’s lives on a day-to-day basis — Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, in which the Court determined that corporations are legally people, with constitutional rights comparable to those of actual people.

the-corporation-book coverIt’s been pointed out, by many people before me, that if for-profit corporations really were human beings, they would be sociopaths. Their primary motivation is entirely self-serving — in fact, they’re legally required to prioritize maximizing profit over all other concerns. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his Citizens United dissent, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” And it’s been pointed out, by many people before me, that corporate personhood tips the balance of power in the U.S. — since corporations have Constitutional rights that actual people have, and they have enormous amounts of wealth that most actual people don’t, they can effectively control the entire political process. Corporate personhood doesn’t just tip the balance of power. It plants a giant Godzilla foot on one side of the balance of power. It crushes the entire scale of justice. Again, to quote Justice Stevens’ Citizens United dissent: “A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”

And now, corporations don’t just have the right to donate as much money to political campaigns as they want to, thus entirely controlling the political process, because money equals free speech and corporations are people with the right to free speech.

They now have the right to religious freedom. With the Hobby Lobby decision, corporations don’t have to obey the law and cover birth control in their health insurance plans, if the corporation’s religious beliefs oppose it.

“The corporation’s religious beliefs.” Roll that phrase over in your head a few times.

Now, here’s the thing. An actual individual person’s right to religious freedom mostly just affects their own actions. They can wear a cross, avoid pork and shellfish, pray to Mecca five times a day. Their religious freedom doesn’t give them the right to control other people’s actions. The only exception I can think of is a parent’s rights to determine their children’s religious upbringing — and even that has limits in most states. It’s true that actual religious organizations, such as churches or synagogues or religious schools, have some rights to control what their employees and participants in their programs can do: they can hire and fire on the basis of religious ideology, demand that students adhere to a religious moral code, etc. But religious organizations have special limits and responsibilities. They can’t endorse political candidates, for one thing (not if they want to stay tax-exempt). And very importantly, they’re expected to have religion as their primary motivation — not the maximization of profit.

But a corporation’s “right” to religious freedom doesn’t only affect their own practices. A corporation’s “right” to religious freedom gives them the right to control, not only their own decisions, but the decisions of the people who work for them. The owners of Hobby Lobby now not only have the right to choose for themselves whether to use birth control — they have the right to make that decision for their employees. The Hobby Lobby decision essentially gives corporations the same rights as religious organizations — with none of the special limits or responsibilities.

You might argue that people don’t have to work for Hobby Lobby if they don’t like their policies. You might argue that Hobby Lobby employees can pay for their own birth control, separate from the health insurance provided by their employers. The problem with that is that we have a shitty economy, in which huge numbers of people are financially unstable and insecure at best. We have an antiquated health insurance system in which health care is tied, for absurd reasons rooted in obsolete historical quirks, to employment. We have a country in which “take this job and shove it” is, for huge numbers of people, simply not an option. And we have all this, again, largely because of laws and policies controlled by corporate money.

Lt. Angela Banks draws blood from a mannequin during training for antilogous blood transfusionThere are religions that permit, and even demand, discrimination on the basis of race. Can corporations now fire black employees, or refuse to serve black customers, if they claim that it’s part of their religion? There are religions that permit, and even demand, segregation by gender. Can corporations now fire women, or refuse to serve women customers, or demand that women employees and customers work and shop separately from men, if they claim that it’s part of their religion? Can corporations now fire employees, or refuse to serve customers, based on their religion — or lack thereof? As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “Would the exemption… extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]… Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

Corporations in the United States have nearly unlimited power. And with today’s Hobby Lobby ruling, corporations now have the rights of individuals, and the rights of religious organizations, and the rights of… well, of corporations. Plus they have massive wealth. And because they control the political process, they have the power to keep expanding that power. (If you think the Supreme Court is beyond the reach of corporations — think about who appoints and approves them.) They have nearly unlimited power. They have the power to keep expanding that power. And they are required by law to maximize their self-interest over all other concerns.

Does that seem like a good idea?

There is a serious movement happening to amend the Constitution and overturn corporate personhood. Please support Move to Amend and Wolf PAC: sign their petitions, support the organizations, and spread the word. And obviously: Boycott Hobby Lobby.

New Game: Social Justice Autocorrect!

I need a break from horribleness. Let’s play a game! Let’s play Social Justice Autocorrect!

Do you ever find that your assorted autocorrect thingies (phone, word processing, blogging software) don’t recognize social justice terminology? Do they come up with amusing autocorrect suggestions?

This came up during a Twitter conversation with Not All Misandrists (@artfulscientist). They were clearly attempting to ask someone to stop mansplaining, but it got turned into “plz stop mans plainsong.” I said that “mans plainsong” was my new favorite autocorrect — and they said that their autocorrect had also turned “dogwhistle” into “doge buster.” (To which I replied, of course, “Who ya gonna call? DOGE BUSTER!”)

So what are your favorite social justice terminology autocorrects? I’ll collect my favorites and repost them. Your time starts… now!