There’s been a lot of news to absorb this past week: Mizzou, the Republican presidential debate, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision on President Obama’s immigration program, the Supreme Court granting review in Whole Women’s Health v. Cole. Then, Friday night, the attacks in Paris jolted much of the world’s attention to the return of terror to one of the world’s most iconic cities. It is a lot to take in.
I started work on this post before Friday. I was looking forward to the chance to share my take on the week’s events from a more personal point of view, with the hope of making you laugh a little about what we’re dealing with here in Texas, major issues like Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s rawhide underwear and his unexpected development into an elected official who is concerned about consumers’ rights. Now that candidates are filing their paperwork for next year’s election (filing period got underway yesterday and goes through December 14), my other goal was to get you primed about what’s coming down the pike on March 1, 2016: the Battle Royale, the Texas Republican primary.
However, on Friday the news hit me like a one-two punch. The real world did its ugly head-rearing thing, again. Genevieve Cato’s excellent analysis of what’s at stake when the Supreme Court’s rules on Whole Women’s Health v. Cole explains why this good news makes me so nervous. HB2 still threatens to become the law of the land, placing dangerous and unnecessary restrictions on access to abortion care and endangering the health of women across the country. As for the news about Paris, like so many people, I first learned about it on Facebook when a dear friend’s status floated up on my wall, like all the other bubbles of news that surface and pop throughout the day. This friend was and is safe; she lives far from Paris now. However, I feel a strong connection to Paris through her, my own history tethered to a friend’s more recent and deeper tie. The news was going to hit me hard but coming from my friend, it seemed harder.
This post (and new Sunday column) is titled “On a Personal Note.” I’m going to venture into somewhat unfamiliar territory for me when writing for Burnt Orange Report. Before going any further, let me say that my personal feelings about Friday’s news are certainly are not unique. Rather, I think it’s worth looking at my experience in the context of how we get our news these days and what we’re able to do with it.
I’ll start with with the news I heard first. Any news about HB2 makes me, at the very least, uneasy. Again, I realize that I am not unique in this. Millions of Texans want the Supreme Court to strike down HB2. Inevitably, news about HB2 dredges up the intensity of June and July 2013. For most progressive Texans, it was a time of great excitement and community, an incredible moment when we came together and stood up to the powers that be. However, for me personally, it was two of the most demanding and draining months I’ve ever lived through.
At the time I was president of Capital Area Democratic Women, and Rep. Jessica Farrar asked me to get people from across the state to Austin for hearings and to help them understand and participate in the legislative process. In a very unexpected turn of events, my picture ended up on MSNBC as the face of “The People’s Filibuster” after the first night of hearings in House State Affairs, the one when Chairman Byron Cook told the witnesses that their personal stories had become repetitive. From that moment on, I felt a deep responsibility to stand up for the hundreds of people who traveled to Austin to stand with and for Texas women. The weeks that followed made me only more fierce. By the final days, when the Capitol was full of bused-in, blue-shirted zealots and Texas Rangers were posted at every turn, I felt more like a warrior than an organizer.
The summer of 2013 and HB2 were constantly on my mind as the events at the University of Missouri unfolded this week. Like most of you, I followed the news from Mizzou via Facebook and Twitter, and my heart was in my throat the whole time. I knew that the organizers were dealing with situations and threats none of us could imagine and that they felt as desperate to keep people safe as I had felt in the Capitol. Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike demonstrated a level of bravery and personal grace that I’m still not able to fully comprehend. And, in my opinion, combating racism is the most difficult social justice work there is in this country.
But that’s not the only reason my heart was in my mouth. Every once in a while, between the articles and the hashtags and the uncomfortably targeted ads, I would see a Facebook status update about Mizzou from a friend I’ve know since first grade. She’s on the faculty at Missouri and her posts were like a bell ringing, “Pay attention to Mizzou. Now.” I read the articles she shared. I liked everything she posted. At one point, another childhood friend asked about Jonathan Butler’s well-being in a comment on my wall. Our Mizzou friend answered right away, in the next comment. It felt like she was looking out for us, wanting us to know the answer and not to worry.
The current state of news-and-relationship, of news “happening” within personal, online relationships, fascinates me. I’m 51 years old. For the first thirty years of my life, I could never have imagined learning about and understanding world events in real time through friends and aquaintances across the world. Yes, it’s always been possible to get news from people you know but now that exchange is immediate. Reports flash and spread on social media before The New York Times hits send on the notification. It may be a three-minute lag but it can feel like hours, especially when a friend is involved. At these moments, it seems as though the barriers of time and space no longer constrain or affect communication. To someone of my generation, it can feel like a new and exhilarating world.
But as the discussion of the Paris attacks continued, it became clear that other barriers not only persist but deepen as the experience of world events shifts to social media. Reaction to the lack of reporting and awareness of the Beirut attacks and discussion of the implications filled my Facebook stream Saturday afternoon. At the same time, a tri-coulour filter swept over my friends’ profile pictures, a instant sign of solidarité. But the anger and hurt I witnessed made me decide that the filter was not right for me, even though a love for all things French has been one of the things that define me since I was five years old.
I was comforted when friends shared the sentiment that it was time for us to pray for the world. In their thinking, the disconnect in awareness and reaction between the two attacks meant that we can no longer open our hearts to just one city or just one country. It’s time to be open to the world, to all people, everywhere.
But this positive, universalizing message will not get us there in itself. The criticism of the rush to support Paris as Beirut reeled from attacks from the same enemy has a point and purpose. We need to take a hard look at why we react to one and not the other, to what this disconnect perpetuates, and to the role we play individually.
Not surprisingly, another Facebook friend made this point when she shared “Paris, Beirut,” a post in Joey Ayoub’s “Politically Incorrect Blog” Hummus for Thought. After describing deep connection to both Beirut and Paris, Ayoub writes,
It’s a hard thing to realize that for all that was said, for all the rhetoric of progressive thought that we have managed to create as a seemingly united human voice, most of us, most of us members of this curious species, are still excluded from the dominant concerns of the ‘world’.
But never before have I understood what Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote when he spoke of the Black Body in America. I think there is a story to be told with the Arab Body as well. The Native American Body. The Indigenous Body. The Latin American Body. The Indian Body. The Kurdish Body. The Pakistani Body. The Chinese Body. And so many other bodies.
What does it say about me that I did not know about the attacks in Beirut until the backlash began to show up on my Facebook wall? Right now, it means I have to be very careful when I get news on Facebook. My visceral reaction to news I learn from friends can make me even more likely to not see other news. Being connected comes with a new responsibility. I have to intentionally look for what I cannot see. Fortunately, I do believe that I’ll get by with a little help from my friends. But I have to know I need it.