I am a very decisive person. Probably because I frequently have an eye toward the future. I do not struggle to imagine future outcomes and I am well practiced at taking those future outcomes and walking them back to connect with the options of the present moment. Does the group need to pick a place for dinner? No problem, I have a method. Trying to arrange couches in your new space? Easy peasy, try this and see if you like it. Responsible for crafting a health and safety policy in the midst of the ever-changing Covid situation? I got you, here's a framework.
As adept at decision-making as I am, I still sometimes get stuck in an OODA loop. OODA is short for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It describes one kind of decision making process humans go through. First we see or notice the situation (we observe). Then we orient ourselves to it, drawing on past knowledge and experience. Once orientated, we can decide what to do about it. Finally, we take the action we decided to do. It's a concept I have written about before and explored in a martial arts context.
One way I enjoy taking advantage of this natural human process in sparring is to shift my attack strategy constantly so my partner can never fully orient to what I'm doing. If I can switch-up my timing, speed, intensity, or strikes in an irregular pattern, my partner will have just oriented to one thing when I'm throwing something completely different and they have to orient all over again. If they never get to the decision part, they probably won't get to the act part and I can score a point before they fully realize what's happening.
These days, a lot of political "discourse" feels more like sparring than conversation. Maybe it always did, depending on who you ask. But for me (and a lot of other people), trying to engage in a discussion with someone who holds conservative political or social views is like being stuck in an OODA loop. I have tried to engage with curiosity, but they switch tact at the speed of light employing one logical fallacy after the next. Just trying to stay on-topic is a mammoth task, let alone untangling the spaghettimess of logic holding a dehumanizing worldview together.
And it's difficult not to lose patience with that process. I have definitely given up on some people who are determined not to meet me anywhere remotely near common ground, ultimately deciding it wasn't worth continuing to beat my head against a wall. But what about the times when giving up is not an option? Take the current situation in the PAWMA martial arts community I wrote about recently. The current board continues to insist their nonsensical tale is the full explanation of what's really happening, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The board has attempted, in an increasingly desperate manner, to control the discourse within the community and silence dissent instead of engaging with the honest inquiry from membership who can see their story doesn't add-up. They have also tried making "positive only" posts in the Facebook group to drown-out the posts and comments from the membership asking for accountability, transparency, and explanations. It isn't working because pretending you don't need to answer to the community doesn't make the community stop having questions.
I called the tone of one such "positive" post into question and the author edited it to include the statement "this is not political." She is clearly failing to understand that everything she does (or doesn't do) in the community space is political, whether she wants it to be or not. The situation is highly contentious and she is in a position of power and influence. Pretending the problem is something different than it is and giving all dissenting voices the electronic silent treatment is a political statement no matter what inspirational videos or memes you post.
The board continues to make incorrect or harmful statements, so I have to continue pointing out the problems. In the public discourse, I am basically playing the role of broken record: your explanation includes inaccuracies, your statements don't make sense, please be accountable and transparent, please accept this loving feedback and consider the consequences of your actions for our fellow community members. It's important for someone to be doing this part of the work because combating injustice requires diversity of tactics, but this battle of rhetoric alone cannot resolve the issue.
Ultimately, there needs to be a power shift. How to accomplish that with the community intact is the challenge. To explore some options, I joined a discussion group for the book "From Conflict to Community" by Gwendolyn Olton. It's a book about resolving conflicts in ways other than simply outsourcing resolution to an authority. One of the major take-aways I have from this book is that it's only possible to use a different system if the parties in a conflict all agree to try something different. Unfortunately with PAWMA, the current board started out by wielding their power and engaging an outside authority.
In an oppressive system, you can only engage in change-making through peace if the oppressor agrees to participate. Otherwise, you're left speaking softly to a wall. That's why everything we do is political. No one in modern society has the luxury of abstaining from the system. It's critical you remember that every choice you make furthers a particular outcome. Whether that's an outcome you want to create or just what eventually happens, it's the culmination of your every action and inaction. You don't have to change the world all by yourself. Fortunately, all our individual choices add together with everyone else's choices. Please make sure your contributions are the ones you want to be contributing.
Information and Inspiration
Yesterday I spent the morning doing something entirely different than what was on my calendar. I sat in city hall watching a City Council work meeting. If you haven't already heard, two members of Portland City Council want to make some last-minute changes to the new city charter we all voted on last November now that it's been mostly implemented. Their timing is terrible. Instead of waiting to see how it works out and making any adjustments based on actual results, Rene Gonzalez and Dan Ryan want to break it before we even have a chance to try it. What's worse is they want to call a special election to do it.
For almost three hours I watched all the experts and city employees explain to the Council members that their proposal to make changes now is going to end badly. Calling a special election for November will cost the city over $600,000. There won't be enough time to educate voters on the proposed measurers. All the concerns Gonzalez and Ryan have with the new charter were discussed at length in the time leading up to the last election when it was on the ballot. The way they want to change the ranked-choice voting will result in more confusion for both candidates and voters. Almost all the work to implement the new system has already been done.
A whole commission of smart and capable folks spent two years working on the question of how to reshape Portland city government. They heard from (and listening to) Portlanders from across the city, and spent time crafting a proposal for a structure that took into account all their concerns and hopes for city government. The result of all that work was 26-228, which 57% of voters said yes to. Now these two individuals who happen to be on the current City Council are discounting all that effort and thoughtfulness. They seem to want to make the new structure resemble the old structure as much as possible.
I think it’s because the current system is working for them. They are scared they might not be re-elected under the new system. If we make elected office too accessible then the political elite in our town won’t have a strangle-hold on governance and policy-making. If they allow the unwashed masses to govern ourselves, how will they maintain the status quo that protects the interests of the wealthy and propertied? The current City Council cannot seem to solve the very pressing issues facing our city. The answer is more representation from a broader swath of the city, not the same in-group that keeps managing to hold a majority of council seats. When we voted-in the new city charter, we voted for a shift away from how things have been done to date.
Gonzalez and Ryan were concerned about a 12-member City Council being too many seats because it would be difficult to "find enough quality candidates." I wish I were exaggerating. But those words came out of their mouths... multiple times. They also wanted everyone to know that because there are non-white people and one non-man person on the City Council, Portland doesn't have a problem with representation. They even made a powerpoint presentation showing the racial make-up of City Council and comparing it to the racial makeup of Portland to show we don't have an all-white council. Maybe they forgot Jo Ann Hardesty was the first black woman ever elected to Portland City Council and that only happened in 2018. Too bad they didn't do a breakdown by income or wealth. Or by physical or mental ability. Or queerness.
I witnessed a particular phenomenon during that work session which I see most often from men with some kind of privilege in positions of power or authority. In voicing their concerns it was as if these two city counselors were saying I wasn’t in-charge of this thing so it can’t possibly have been done in the most best way - there’s no way whoever put this thing together would have considered all the most important considerations because it wasn’t me. Staaaaaaaaahp already. A group of smart, capable people spent a lot of time and followed an intensive process to craft the thing we all voted on and which passed definitively.
This kind of I know best attitude plays out in a variety of ways all over society, most of them with dire consequences. Like the Italian judge who determined a school caretaker's groping of a teenage student was not a crime because it lasted only 10 seconds. 10 seconds that student will remember for the rest of her life. This is why representation matters. This is why we need to hear from everyone in the room, even if they are children.
Equally disturbing to me is that as a society we have decided it's okay for doctors or parents to decide how to reshape the genitalia of babies born with multiple or ambiguous sex presentation. So it's okay to mutilate the bodies of children who don’t fit into the current gender body classification before they even know they exist, but we can’t bring ourselves to believe that children know a little bit about who they are when they’re old enough to tell us? We need to majorly re-examine how we allow people with authority to make decisions that impact the lives of our fellow human beings.
Another unnerving example is all the anti-aging work currently being done by doctors and technologists. I recently heard an interview with one such doctor on the BBC program OS. He is a member of the Live Forever Club, an organization formed to "research practical ways of living long enough to live forever and to promote equal access to longevity treatments to all human beings." On its face, that sounds fascinating and future-focused.
But to me it begs the question: what makes you think YOU living longer is such a good thing? What are you doing to make the world such a better place that it seems like a good idea for you to stick around it for a lot longer? The only hope I have for a better world sometimes is that a lot of people currently in positions of power who are constantly working to maintain the problematic status quo will eventually die, taking their horrid anti-humanity worldviews with them. Their absence won't solve any problems, but it will make space for other people to try something new.
Information and Inspiration
A few weeks ago I was on my way to meet a friend for coffee, listening to the news while navigating morning traffic and a story came on about Afghanistan. The suicide rate for Afghan women is up drastically since the return of the Taliban. Of course it is, I thought to myself. One minute you’re a person with hopes and dreams and a future going about your life, the next moment you’re not allowed out of your house. And there’s no end in sight. Empty promise after empty promise from the Taliban about how and where they will let women and girls participate in society. Just last week the Taliban ordered beauty salons to close. One less place women are allowed to exist.
I want to think all these women killing themselves would get the Taliban’s attention. That this incredible travesty would convince them to reconsider their policies. But no. That would require thinking about women as people instead of as objects, which the Taliban is clearly not about to start doing. From the moment they returned to power they have systematically removed women from all parts of public life while blatantly lying to the international community with vague intentions of things that sound kind of like equality.
The BBC interviewer asked one Afghan psychologist what they are saying to their patients to help them cope. "I ask 'who is your hero?'" they explained. Nelson Mandela is a common response, so the psychologist offers, "Nelson Mandela spent a long time in prison, but he was eventually freed and went on to change the world. He survived and so can you." The reality of the survival option the psychologist presented to these women and girls breaks my heart. 27 years is too long to ask someone to keep hoping for freedom without any method or opportunity to affect their own circumstance.
At this point I can only hold the most cynical view: the Taliban are doing it on purpose. The women who are killing themselves in isolation are the ones the Taliban doesn’t want around. The independent thinkers, the people with aspirations and ideas and dreams that have been crushed. The once future leaders of a more gender-inclusive Afghanistan. Without even getting their own hands dirty, the Taliban are culling the herd. Culling the hers. It makes me sick.
But it's critical to acknowledge that this group of people in power is seeing this outcome of their actions and is taking further action not to mitigate but to make it worse. When a pattern presents itself, it does us no good to consider each compounding incident in isolation. Like every horrid assault the previous US president has ever perpetrated publicly. And just like the entirety of the American food and healthcare systems.
There are countless foods (or food components) sold freely in the US that are banned in other countries. For example, 160 countries have banned US pork because of the growth hormones given to almost all pigs raised in the US for food. There are only about 200 countries in the whole world. That means roughly 80% of the countries across the entire planet have determined US pork is too harmful to consume as food. That's most of the rest of the world. And our own Food and Drug Administration has no problem with our poisoned pork. That's absurd.
If we're going to allow such toxicity in our food, it would be nice if we had a robust healthcare system to treat all the resulting ailments people develop from a lifetime of eating US food. Obviously we do not. Quite the opposite, in fact: our healthcare system is downright predatory. Insurance companies bend over backwards to avoid paying for reasonable or necessary procedures and medication. Doctors, hospitals, and other providers send inflated bills to patients, who over-pay for service because they are unaware they can (and should) question the charges. Providers rely on consumer ignorance of the incredibly complex system (they helped create), so it sure seems like they are doing this on purpose.
A more localized example of potentially intentional malfeasance recently came to my attention. It's no secret that people without indoor housing is a big problem in Portland. It's a big problem in a lot of places because capitalism sucks for most people in most places, and it's especially true after the pandemic obliterated a lot of people's livelihoods. What's new is an organization called Loving One Another that appears at first glance like they are doing something to help. They provide food to people living on the street and connect those people with shelters.
That sounds great, people without food and shelter need access to food and shelter. The problem is this religious non-profit organization is owned by the same guy who owns a private security company. The same private security company on contract with many downtown businesses and the Pearl District neighborhood group. And a new rule just came into effect that punishes anyone camping on Portland sidewalks who refuses to move to a shelter with fines or jail time. Aside from the utter absurdity of fining someone who can't afford housing, this poses a giant conflict of interest issue.
Now the pairing of one capitalist's for-profit private security firm and his non-profit religious organization are in the perfect position as both carrot and stick. The non-profit outreach team can offer a person a trip to a shelter, and if they don’t want to go for whatever reason (like they get harassed there or worse), the enforcement squad can just detain that person instead of leaving them alone. But private security are not cops, so the (very minimal) protections of the current judicial system won’t even be there to help someone who is already vulnerable avoid mistreatment by these private enforcers.
It's a situation rich with opportunity for extortion and exploitation. Just plain profiteering off the housing crisis would be distasteful. But this guy has gone a few steps further and is playing both sides in a way that will ultimately exacerbate the problem since getting people out of doorways and into temporary shelters does not address the root cause of homelessness. All it really does is make it look like someone is doing something so the city council members can pat themselves on the back while people starve and go un-cared-for in a slightly less visible way. And all because the City Council refuses to do the difficult and necessary work of actually taking care of people and solving the problems of poverty. Almost like they're avoiding that work on purpose.
Information and Inspiration
The past few weeks have been especially challenging for me. One of the places I thought was safe from a certain kind of bigotry turns out to be just as in-danger as everywhere else and it exploded my head a little. There's so much anti-trans hate and hate-fueled anti-trans legislation all over the country, but all of that is happening outside my personal bubble of trans-loving, queer-centered existence. So when this time the call came from inside the house it was like stepping on a rock I thought was solid and ending up neck-deep in the icy river.
At the end of last year's PAWMA camp I was excited the community decided to address what it means to be a "women's organization" serving a community that includes non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming folks. In true martial arts fashion, we planned to face that question directly. A gender justice committee was formed to guide us all through these challenging and important considerations and the new board included some folks who were non-binary or trans (or both). It seemed like as a community we were setting ourselves up to journey together into a more inclusive future.
And then everything went horribly wrong.
After just a couple months, half the board resigned rather than suffer bigotry and abuse from their fellow board members. The half that remained manufactured a crisis to cover up their problematic behavior and overshadow their incompetence. The community initially tried to come together to help solve the issue, but the board refused. They refused information, they refused to sit down with other community members and talk it all out, and they refused accountability. Instead, they used organizational funds to hire a lawyer who sent out letters instructing certain people to shut-up about PAWMA, which was supposed to start a dialogue (their words, not mine).
To hear the current board tell it, some Bad Actor tried to forcibly take over the organization and they heroically thwarted the plot and saved the day. In reality, they made-up an imaginary hostile take-over which they "stopped" by performing a hostile take-over... the irony is not lost on me or anyone else in the community. The board battened down the hatches and then told everyone there was a storm coming. None of the explanations they provided for their behavior make any sense at all, but they just keep insisting their version of reality is what's actually happening.
The whole thing is absurd. If it wasn't unfolding before my very eyes, it would be unbelievable. It's like the plot of a bad made-for-tv movie. The board finally held a community meeting where their "experts" gave mini presentations that also didn't make much sense and mostly failed to address the matter at hand. It was a complete fiasco. And it made their narrative make even less sense. But somehow all the push-back and honest inquiry from the community they claim to be working on behalf of has not shaken their resolve to die bravely on this hill of poor choices they built themselves.
So that's what I've been working on in all my spare time (and a bunch of my non-spare time) over the last few weeks. Standing up for justice and accountability in one small place I may have a little bit of influence. Initially I didn't want to write about this situation because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to. I didn't want to tarnish PAWMA's reputation unnecessarily. I have come to realize this is necessary. Keeping quiet only serves to further invisibilize the people who were harmed in their service to this community and discount their experience.
Part of why it took half the board resigning and a pretend-data-breach for the majority of us to catch wind of what was happening is because those people didn't speak up about what was happening while it was happening. And I don't blame them. They probably didn't know whether the community would take their accusations seriously and provide them support, or do what happens in a lot of the rest of society and try to convince them the oppression they were experiencing wasn't real and it was all a big misunderstanding.
I should have known sooner. We all should have. And once we kick these bigoted folks off their current perches of power, we will have to put some systems in place to prevent bigots from running away with the organization ever again in the future. And we'll have to do it all out in the open. There is no such thing as saving face with this issue at this time during this moment in history. The only way for PAWMA to survive this scandal is by acknowledging the totality of this dirty, rotten, TERFy mess and restructuring to address and eliminate any future potential for its resurgence.
Maybe we could have accomplished the same ends with less collateral damage if the Gender Justice Committee had been allowed to do its work. Maybe they would have performed the mission the community tasked them with last fall. Maybe not. Maybe the community didn't understand how real and pressing this issue is inside our magical PAWMAland and it would have always erupted into an out-sized mess. Regardless of what could have been, this is where we are now: playing catch-up.
Catch-up seems to be the theme of this whole year so far. I thought it was just me until I came up for air and talked to some other folks experiencing a similar thing. All the authorities say the pandemic is officially over, so now it's time to actually process all the worry and fear and frustration and whatever other feelings we set aside during lockdown so we could make it through each day. That's a whole lot on top of regular, everyday life in modern times.
I also put a lot of personal life things on stand-by between January and May because tax season was off-the-charts busy this year. I barely had time to eat and sleep most days; I couldn't even fathom socializing. So the last two months I've been trying to re-learn how to exist in social spaces. I'm trying to be a human in the world who isn't working 100% of my waking hours and it's been a surprisingly challenging transition. And because I'm trying not to lean-in to my old protocols of control and containment, I'm sometimes not sure what to do with myself.
I'm trying to be gentle with myself about not yet getting to all the things I haven't gotten to yet. A lot of those old survival techniques included not letting anyone else know anything was wrong - a technique known as masking. Because I'm trying to reroute my survival systems, my default masking protocol doesn't always match up perfectly with what's happening, so the mask has been dropping itself in some unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Which is both new and scary in a good way and also sometimes makes it hard for me to just get shit done like I'm used to.
That and all the new catastrophes that just keep popping up. It would be super great if folks could stop finding new ways to set the world on fire for like five minutes so I could get all the way through my to-do list and take a nap. Then you can fire z missiles. So don't mind me, I'll just be over here crying for seemingly no reason and working through the backlog. If you also have a backlog, I hope you're being gentle and kind with yourself while you work your way through it.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.