Rekindling The Flame: How Bernie Can Refuel And Help To Heal The Dudebro-Dominated Progressive Movement

Math is real. Bernie Sanders is going to lose the Democratic nomination for president. Yes, he is staying in the race and still collecting protest votes, and part of that process means pretending like he can win. But he can’t, and he knows it. We all do.

There have been aspects of his candidacy that are just on fire: The crowds, the youth, the focus on income inequality, the critique on conservative tilts within the Democratic Party, the visible changes in the campaign’s approach to racial justice in response to heckling from Black Lives Matter activists at Netroots Nation last summer. His vision is bold and that rocks. He has made more people believe government can be a force for good, and that’s an admirable and necessary lift after decades of right-wing demonization of public infrastructure and services.

But there are things about his candidacy that are crazy-making! The snide subset of online supporters who will try to gaslight you out of every possible critique one could have of his platform and campaign — like a nightmarish neighborhood White Castle that never closes, they are always there to make you feel sick by informing you the messiah already did that, and your concerns aren’t valid.

The relentless focus on Wall Street is ridonkulous. I have been joking for months that I need to print up some panties that say “THIS IS NOT WALL STREET,” because the very real assault on reproductive rights and the humanitarian crisis that has ensued is but one strong example of how not every urgent problem facing our society can be blamed on a banker. And these issues of inequality that can’t be blamed on Gordon Gekko are not a ‘distraction.’

After admiring Bernie for some time, I transitioned to full-fledged #BernOut a few weeks ago. The wagging finger while Hillary speaks; the comments about her ‘ambition’ and ‘qualifications’ that working women know all too well; the lack of support and visibility for critical races down the ticket. He has not been visibly cultivating relationships with women’s organizations, more often picking fights with them. Bernie has a gender blindspot and it’s big enough that you can drive several semis full of pushy, underpaid, and undervalued women behind him.

It is for these reasons I vom in the back of my throat a little every time I hear the suggestion that Bernie is the figurehead for the future of the progressive movement. I am tired of having white people with dicks lead the thing that gets to be called progressive, while women and people of color who try to break into the top leadership roles are painted as ‘big money’ or ‘establishment’ or ‘under-qualified.’

I am tired of seeing so many supremely qualified women and people of color doing substantive work for the white people with dicks, but never getting promoted to the public seat when the boss retires. There is always another white man who steps in to the wild applause of the good old boys, and hardworking women waiting for the turn that will never come within the party infrastructure.

There is always a 100 percent pro-choice rating for the new guy to brag about and pivot (and by the way, when 100 percent pro-choice rating means someone who never apologies for abortion and refuses to vote for any bill or budget that bans abortion funding, you let me know, and I’ll decide those words mean something other than ‘garden-variety, weak-kneed Democrat.’). The newspapers will quote economic justice advocates, who are almost always white men, who suggest that EMILY’s List and other efforts to elect women into office aren’t really progressive and kind of a relic of the past.

It’s been a few years since I was invited to an event with “the candidates’ wives” but almost all the candidates who make it past my local primaries are still white men. I’m done.

Frankly I cared and still care more about the Democratic primary for the open Senate seat in Maryland than I do the presidential. Last night Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) lost to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). In her concession speech she said that Maryland is about to have “an all-male delegation in a so-called progressive state.” This is a problem all over the country.

And now that Bernie Sanders is going to lose, it’s time for him to look around and consider his second act. Howard Dean took his loss and gave us a Democratic majority at the federal level — and while that group was far from perfect, it enabled huge legislative accomplishments.

Bernie is not that guy. He is the guy that is about building not a majority, but a movement. (Which is no knock, it takes all kinds.) Once the electoral pressures subside it’s time for him to expand that movement.

Just imagine if Bernie continued going around the country after he drops out of the presidential race, this time embarking on a listening tour. If Bernie would take the time to listen to the lived experiences of people who suffer from identity-based discrimination, and bake it into his wonderfully feisty approach to income inequality — just imagine how much better the progressive movement could be.

I don’t just want Bernie to fight for the soul of the Democratic Party; I want him to fight for the soul of a progressive movement that continues to second-tier the concerns of women and people of color. Rightly or wrongly, he is a white man and he will be more listened to when he raises these concerns. After Bernie Sanders drops out he should take on identity-based discrimination with humility, listening tours, and his trademark passion.

How To Be A Better Writer

I get away with things because I write. An ability to write well is power — to lead social change, to challenge assumptions and disrupt the status quo, and to validate your own feelings when other people won’t.

Writing is important to the feminist project for several additional reasons. Historically, writing has provided an outlet for women and marginalized people who had talent but were not eligible for other public roles because discrimination — and to an extent that continues today.

Writing is a way to share experience and theory, imagine alternate realities, and learn from one another. I’ve been saying for years that I believe it’s a radical act each time a woman tells the truth about her own life. Often those radical acts feel more comfortable in written form.

Recently I attended a networking event where a young woman shared that she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after college. I asked about her interests and she said she liked to write. I encouraged her to keep pushing herself in her writing ability — it would serve her well no matter where life took her.

In that spirit, I’m offering my tips for how to be a better writer:

Read. Read books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, lyrics, Tweets, manuals. Read promiscuously. Read outside your ideology. Challenge yourself — I read Ulysses at the gym, sob — and enjoy your teen lit without shame. Buy women authors, because feminism. Just read.

Write. The way to be a writer is to write. If you say that you want to be a writer, you’re either procrastinating or speculating. Anybody who sits the fuck down and writes is a writer. The way to become a better writer is to keep writing.

Give yourself permission to be yourself. This is at least as much life hack as writing tip, but don’t try to be other people/writers! Do not worry that you do not have their perspective! You have your perspective. It matters and you deserve to share it.

Identify your narrative arc.  It can be helpful to crystallize in your mind what drives your writing. Over a decade ago I realized that one of my chief aims as a writer is to expose uncomfortable truth. I believe acknowledging things we’re not supposed to talk about takes power from oppressive systems and redistributes it to individuals. Plus honesty feels great and helps me sleep. Not all of my work fits in the uncomfortable truth category, but I do find it helpful to remind myself why I do this work. In a few words, why are you doing yours?

Do not try to sound smart. If you’re writing to be understood by smart people, you’re lost on the side of a bad road. Make it excruciatingly easy for people to understand what you’re writing. Save the fancy words for standardized tests. (You’re still taking those? I’m sorry.) Do not assume people know the basics of your topic. Organize. Clear, concise, thorough — you win.   

Most descriptive language should go away. Adjectives and adverbs mostly dilute meaning. For that matter, be ruthless in cutting words from your drafts. Say what you mean, and say it with fewer words.

Find your weaknesses. One year I resolved to stop using the word “just,” which was all over my speaking and writing. Are you awkward with commas? Identify your crutches and work on them. Which brings me to my next point:

Invent challenges for yourself. I’ve done so many fun things over the years to keep my writing fresh. Poem-A-Day competitions with friends, National Novel Writing Month. Trying to write a screenplay (holy fail). But the best challenges I invented to directly attacked my weaknesses. For instance, I recognized that in my fiction, my characters sucked. So I took a whole month where I forced myself to write a new character every day. Some days it took the form of a poem, an article, a press release, a speech, a flip book, or more often a short story.

Dabble in other kinds of writing. I’ve taken spoken word poetry classes, fiction writing classes, and workshops on placing columns. Getting out of your lane strengthens your voice in your primary writing arena. It shakes up your thinking and it’s fun. 

Find editors who hate you. Actually please don’t seek out anyone who hates you. But the good editors are the ones who will challenge you to make revisions that make you roll your eyes in irritation. I have learned the most about writing from people who redlined me to tears.

Laugh at your old writing, and celebrate your resilience. I have successfully completed one novel, and that’s the only successful thing about it. It’s so bad I want to present myself to the jail a few miles away to show I’m sorry. I read grandiose things I used to write and cringe. I’ll probably read this post next week and do the same. Life is growth. Keep moving. Thank goodness.

Keep at it, and encourage others to do the same. I was in love with someone who showed me his writing. It was so bad! (To be clear, I’ve loved folks who showed me writing that was intimidatingly good, so please give yourself the benefit of the doubt in the event you’re an ex-lover perusing the blogs I am now writing, at age 35, late on a Friday night.) Yet he was so vulnerable. I didn’t know what to do, so I encouraged him on the few good parts of what he was doing. He actually got a lot better.

We should be so gentle with ourselves. Treat yourself like someone you love — encourage the areas that really work, and turn off the critic that focuses on the shit surrounding it. Coax the good stuff out and rely on what you learn from people who edit you to prune the rest.

Keep writing and you will get better.

Getting Old And Loving It

I turn 36 in a few weeks, and I’m excited.

Aging is cool. It’s the ultimate affirmation of having “made it.”

I have written about loving my first gray hair as a political act, because the whole you’re-old-you’re-done message sucks. It is a privilege to age. I’ve long thought women get prettier as we age; there is something sculptural about the way lines cut a face.

36 feels significant to me because this is literally twice the age at which I thought I might never have another birthday. Today, half my life ago, would have been about the first morning I would ever wake up in the middle of the night to flashlights making sure I wasn’t killing myself, going to the bathroom in front of someone so I couldn’t vomit, and taking a shower observed after my razor was retrieved from the locked cabinet in the back.

You see, both my 18th and 19th birthdays were spent in the hospital because I had been starving myself to death. I think about all the destructive things I did, and all the ways I tormented myself with what I thought was my fatness and unacceptability.

I’m not ashamed that this happened. I’m appalled that society does this to people every day, that gender roles suck as much as they do, that it’s hip to brag about how “good” or “bad” you were with your food or your exercise, that size 00 is a now a thing — like literally, now the size for women to strive for is less than nothing.

I’m significantly larger now than I was before that eating disorder started. And you know what? I am fucking alive and fighting.

As I get ready to go into my later thirties, I’m proud to be alive. I think about loving all of my “imperfections” — including my wrinkles, crows feet, gray hair, C-section scar, cellulite, varicose veins, shoulder scars, and especially the laugh lines.

I remember what it felt like to laugh and cry this hard, to get these lines on my face. The condition of my forehead is intimately related to the number of occasions I’ve had to raise an eyebrow at total bullshit. My stomach and thighs! After so many battles, I am soft, triumphant, and strong enough to run a steep hill.

Loving yourself and your body as it is is truly revolutionary. I’ve spent half of my life on the other side of rock bottom; long enough to learn that the kind of lady I want to be SCREAMS HER AGE, has a belly roll and acknowledges it, and encourages others to do the same.