Statement - A Tough Occupation
The United States is in the middle of a long-overdue reckoning. One which, if you are a direct participant or victim, has been particularly visceral for the last six or seven months. By now, there have been dozens of articles and podcasts and news clips of insiders and pundits pontificating and opining on what caused the insurrection at the Capitol nearly three weeks ago. And while the Inauguration has come and gone, and it seems as though many in the security field have pressed on with the ever-mounting threats to American peace and prosperity from both abroad and within our borders, I find that I am still paused - that I feel much the same as I did watching in real-time as the Capitol walls were scaled and I sat on my couch feeling at once helpless, livid, and indignant. So while, yes, we must move on, I will be indulging in a bit of a Zack Morris "Time Out" to break my own fourth wall and speak to you - not about what caused the riot, but what we can learn from it.
So, why was the attack on the Capitol meaningful? Not only was it an historical insurgency that brought ghosts of the Confederacy closer to the Capitol than the Civil War ever did, not only did it tragically cost the lives of five individuals, not only did it test the resiliency of our democracy, but perhaps what has gone more unacknowledged was the revelation of the insidious and varied forms of gaslighting which have been taking place. I mean this in the theatrical sense as I am referring to the 1938 play from which the term was coined, not the psychological diagnosis. In the play Gas Light, Jack Manningham (the husband) goes out of his way to convince his wife Bella that she is delusional and all-out crazy by telling her that she is imagining the gas lights dimming in their home or footsteps in the ceiling. Without writing a full synopsis (because I highly advise you all to at least watch the movie adaptations), it is not until a detective comes to the house and explains to Bella that she is not only not crazy, but her anxiety and "delusions" were actually the result of her perceptions and subtle but growing awareness of her husband's shady deeds. For a more recent example, think of Ms. Amy Cooper from this summer. For many Black people, she was essentially our Detective Rough - revealing what many of us have perceived and raised the alarm about (i.e. the historical precedent of some white people purposefully utilizing their privilege, race, gender as a weapon against Black bodies). The Capitol Attack served a similar function.
For years, many have been raising the alarm regarding the growing conspiracies, division, hatred, and violence from a certain portion of our citizenry to no avail. And as the Capitol walls were scaled, windows busted, doors broken, chambers overrun... for many of us, it felt like Amy Cooper all over again - a painful acknowledgment that we were not hysterical, or hyperbolic. Instead, that we were, to our utter devastation, correct. The double standards of policing, the blatant white supremacism, the xenophobia and tainted nationalism... we’d seen it all. The problem I face that prohibits me from moving on just yet is that as a student of history I am aware that if the adage is off and history does not fully repeat itself, then it certainly does rhyme. Thus, action is needed to prevent a repeat of this. As an organization, WIIS West encourages the following:
1) Quality over quantity - As a women-led and woman-focused organization, we want to highlight the importance of not falling into the trap of focusing solely on demographic-representation. I have had a few conversations with those who laud how many women are featured in the Biden administration. While that is fantastic, I have to remind those same people that the preceding administration also had many women performing in varied roles, including Gina Haspel who was the first woman to head the CIA. Heck, 2 senators and 17 representatives were women that voted to overturn the 2020 election results.
The idea that because women are part of a minority, and thus have felt and understand to varying degrees oppression, unfair circumstances, and how to push through and succeed despite them cannot be relied upon as a through and through fact. It is not about how many women or PoC or "insert demographic here" are present, but rather the quality and competency of those individuals which need to be lauded. Seek to build a community of quality people.
2) Broaden your scope - Conspiracies and misinformation are everywhere, and they spread with deadly speed partially due to how many of us inhabit echo chambers. It is time to pop your bubble, and build a pentakis dodecahedron (think of those glass bubble-looking Amazon headquarters in Seattle. They are actually pentagonal hexecontahedrons, but that is not the point and I digress). We've all heard of the "social media bubble", and I think by this point there is a consensus to some degree that we all exist in one. However, how I have been approaching my friends, family, and community since 2018 - and the way that WIIS West promotes - is to not be in a bubble but something more complex. A pentakis dodecahedron is spherical, but it has 60 symmetrical faces. Regardless of where you are looking, you will never see the same angle, and they form a composite reality.
There are different ways of seeing the same thing. Make a point to surround yourself with varied points of view so you can form a composite, informed opinion. No more radicalization - there is no excuse.
When I was younger and wanted to be a photojournalist, my appetite for reading anything and everything detailing all aspects of the human experience was insatiable. It is a hunger that I've carried with me to this day. In particular, I remember researching and reading the works of Martha Gellhorn. Some of you may know her as one of Ernest Hemmingway's wives, but I knew her as the famous feminist, author, and steadfast war-time correspondent. In fact, she landed with our troops on D-Day at Normandy (the only woman to do so). She once said, "Citizenship is a tough occupation which obliges the citizen to make his own informed opinion and stand by it". She was correct then, and is almost impossibly on the nose now. Here at WIIS West, we aim to not only elevate and highlight the innovative ideas and actions of our community here in the West, but to also assist our members and partners in continuing the good work of being an active, informed, and participative citizen.
One of my other great influences, Dr. Angela Davis, said something that has quickly become the guiding mantra for my life: "You have to act as if it is possible to radically transform the world, and you have to do it all the time". I want to confirm for anyone doubting it, that these things matter. What you are passionate about, what you fear, what you want to overcome, the future you seek... they all matter. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed to show how deeply you care.
We will continue to persist.
Let us proceed.