Screaming into the Void: Or, a Letter to Senator Cruz

In light of recent events.  How useless do we feel “in light of recent events”?  Especially when there is little we feel, as individuals, can do against well funded special interest groups?  Especially when we feel, as individuals, we see the same things happening over and again, with nothing done to address these “recent events,” events which are just the latest in a long string of the same kind of event?

In light of recent events, I’m screaming into the void again.  That is to say, I’m writing to my red-state representatives.  I’m posting the body of a letter I’m sending to Senator Cruz, who received an A+ rating from the NRA, and whose campaigns received considerable financial support from the group.

As your constituent, I am writing to you to urge you to take action to ban assault weapons.

I might have begun by saying “In light of recent events,” but that would imply the presence of assault weapons and ease of access to them is a recent development. You know this is not the case.

You know the devastating history of murder involving assault weapons and that shootings involving them will continue if we as a nation do nothing to curb their availability. I don’t need to outline any of the recent terror involving such weapons in this letter: you know the details.

Given your A+ rating from the NRA, I realize that you won’t heed my concerns–I’m only one of your constituents, not one of your donors.

But let me remind you that you were not elected to represent special interest groups. You were not elected to represent groups whose ideology runs counter to the safety and well being of your constituency.

You were elected to represent the citizens of Texas.

Stand up for us, please. Stand up for your constituents and act to ban assault weapons.

If you find any of this letter useful, feel free to copy and modify as needed to send to your representatives.  In light of recent events, we need to keep screaming into the void.  And in November, those of us in Texas need to vote Cruz out.

On Writing: Drafting, Revising, and the Critique of an Ever-Shifting Present

One of the perils of writing–or, more specifically, revising–the sort of near-future science fiction that I write in the slow manner that I tend to write it is that the issue that sparked the story often changes significantly by the time I get around to polishing up said story.

Stepping back a bit: I’m in the camp that believes that one of the purposes of science fiction (and really, any form of literature) is to critique some element of the present. Yes, these stories should be full of interesting characters having interesting conflicts while doing interesting things. But there should also be something that grounds readers to the present, or something through which they can view that present.

But what happens when that present suddenly and dramatically shifts?

What got me thinking about this is that I recently came back to a story that I drafted in 2014, a near-future SF story about a young new mother whose repressive family twists the circumstances and narrative around her child’s birth. Back in 2014, I wanted to explore the collision between recent research on altering memories and the usual reproductive rights issues that find their way into my fiction.

And then in 2015, we saw a religious backlash in the US to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, a backlash that gave a platform to certain southern judges and county clerks.

And then in 2016, the current US administration was elected, sort of.

And then in 2017, the Texas legislature passed laws that allow child welfare agencies to deny adoptions and discriminate against prospective parents based on the agencies’ “religious freedom.”

And so on.

Which left me wondering, should events in the intervening years affect the story? Or the world-building around it? Given the damage done to reproductive rights in Texas in the last legislative session and the real threats to religious freedoms handed down from the state and federal levels, should I alter the society as I’ve imagined it?

The readers of the story will be inhabitants of 2018 (or 2019 as publishing schedules usually go), so it makes sense for me to address anything that no longer works with current policy and so forth.

But ultimately, the question must be what will make for the best story? If I just want to explore the consequences of a given law, then I should just write an essay or a blog post. If I want to write fiction and affect readers, then any changes have to be in service to that end. The critique has to be secondary.

After all, if no one is moved or intrigued or delighted or enraged by a character, then what’s the point of telling her story?

From Around the Web: 23 October 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

Dreamers, Teachers, and State and National Politics

The underfunded public school system here in Texas is about to face another problem: should Dreamers be forced out of the US, children across the state–and the nation as a whole–will be affected by their absence.  From The Dallas Morning News:

Texas stands to lose about 2,000 teachers who are in the DACA program, and as many as 20,000 such teachers would be affected nationwide. The clock is ticking, and without a legislative reprieve, within a few years it will be illegal for these teachers to  work in the U.S. Their loss would hit bilingual education, where there’s a constant dearth of educators, especially hard.

The lack of adequate funding for public schools in Texas is already forcing some schools to close and others to hire fewer teachers.  Funding bills passed during the 2017 legislative session did little to address these issues.   Should Texas lose as many teachers as is estimated, can we expect the state to do much about this loss during the 2019 legislative session?

From Around the Web: 9 October 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

Hurricane Harvey: The Cost of Evacuating and the Cost of Staying

One refrain among the distressing stories coming out of the Texas Gulf Coast is that many people wanted to evacuate before Hurricane Harvey struck.  But they couldn’t leave.  They didn’t have the resources necessary to go.  From Think Progress:

The BBC recently interviewed residents in Rockport, Texas about why they decided to stay. [….] One woman, Judie, said she stayed because she had nowhere to go and didn’t have the money to leave.

As A. Mechele Dickerson concludes in a commentary in Fortune:

“To pay the costs—including transportation, housing, food, and other expenses—associated with an evacuation, the evacuee needs either savings, ample disposable income, or the capacity to finance an evacuation using short-term debt. [….] People stayed because they could not afford to leave.”

Evacuations in themselves can be expensive and dangerous.  But given that global warming may lead to stronger hurricanes and that the current US federal government is unlikely to do anything to mitigate climate change, perhaps we should be asking ourselves if we need to reevaluate our approach toward disasters such as these.

The question that I return to (from, admittedly, my dry vantage point up here in the northern part of the Lone Star State) is what we as a state and as a nation need to do to make available resources so that people who want to leave before a storm hits can do so.

Which really is a question of how to raise this issue with our elected officials.  In a state as conservative as Texas, where the ideas of fiscal responsibility and self-reliance permeate any sort of political decision, we’re not likely to find a receptive audience.

Do we really need to turn this into an argument about the cost of evacuation versus the greater cost of rescue and recovery missions?

Perhaps Harvey will spark more discussion of what we need to do to prepare for future storms.  But first, we may need to figure out the ways we need to talk about it in order to get a more humane response from our elected officials who are eager to put into place discriminatory regulation because it’s the “right thing to do,” but who are reluctant to do the right thing when it comes to helping out before actual threats.

 

No Major Democratic Challenger in 2018 Race for Texas Governor

The prospects for a Democratic candidate seriously challenging the Republican incumbent for governor in 2018 are dismal here in the Lone Star State.  From PBS Newshour:

“Democratic leaders haven’t yet lined up a substantial name to represent the party and its message despite months of trying. Any continued faith in a Democratic turnaround in Texas is now colliding with pessimism that it will happen anytime soon.”

Gov. Abbott has $41 million in his re-election fund already, and he has no significant Republican challengers, which makes his July re-election campaign launch focus all the more worrying.  From a July AP report run in U.S. News:

“Abbott formally announced his run for re-election Friday and is reviving anti-abortion measures, school finance reforms and a ‘bathroom bill’ targeting transgender people in a special legislative session that begins Tuesday.”

Moderate Republicans in the Texas House helped defeat the 2017 attempts at passing the “bathroom bill,” given pressure from business and testimony from Texans who would face discrimination should the bill have passed.  But Gov. Abbott hasn’t given up on the idea.  And he’s recently proven his opposition to reproductive rights, signing two bills in the special legislative session that hinder access to abortion in the state.

According to Houston Public Media (again, back in July), “The state Democratic Party says it’s talking to several possible candidates, and, ‘an announcement will come at the appropriate time.'”  We’re waiting.

Compiling Symbols of the Confederacy

Texas, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is second only to Virginia in its number of Confederate symbols, and the folks at The Texas Tribune are compiling a list of symbols around the state:

“The list at the bottom of this page outlines known Confederate symbols in Texas. Most of this list, which is incomplete, comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Several monuments, schools and roads have been added through reader submissions. Help us further fill this list by sending us the name of Confederate symbols we’re missing.”

The first step in removing these symbols is finding them.

While there’s progress–the University of Texas at Austin just removed Confederate statues around campus–there’s much work to be done.

No Bathroom Bill for Texas!

In 2017, that is. But for now, conservative leaders’ efforts to push the “bathroom bill” through the special legislative session in Texas have failed.

And it’s looking like there won’t be a second special session in which proponents can try again. From The Hill:

[Gov.] Abbott’s office did not say whether the governor would call a second special session, but [Lt. Gov.] Patrick seemed to suggest there is no new session in the offing.

Here’s hoping we don’t see a repeat of this bill when the Texas legislature reconvenes in 2019.

 

The Texas Bathroom Bill: An Update

The Texas Legislature’s Special Session isn’t quite over yet, but it’s looking like efforts to pass the “Bathroom Bill” may have failed yet again.  From The Texas Tribune:

With just days left in the 30-day special legislative session, controversial proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans appear to have no clear path to the governor’s desk. As was the case during the regular legislative session that concluded in May, efforts to pass any sort of bathroom bill — a divisive issue pitting Republicans against business leaders, LGBT advocates, law enforcement and even fellow Republicans — have stalled in the Texas House.

And it’s unlikely that will change in the coming days.

Big business, LGBT advocacy groups, and moderate Republicans all contributed to the failure of the extreme right-wing faction of the state’s legislature to pass the bill.  Though this particular attempt at passing the “Bathroom Bill” may not have succeeded, the faction behind this discriminatory bill isn’t giving up.  From The Advocate:

“Still, Equality Texas, the state’s main LGBT rights group, is urging opponents to keep up the pressure. The House is also sitting on two other “bathroom bills,” the group notes, and Abbott could even call another special session.”

As philosopher Jean Kazez concludes in her recent Op-Ed in The Dallas Morning News: “I suspect [the bathroom bill] simply functions to allow conservatives to express outrage about a phenomenon that they don’t understand and can’t (yet) get used to.”  Which leaves us wondering if they ever will.