No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I follow the rules and play the game, a man who works a fraction as hard will always succeed before I do simply because I'm a woman and people don't like women who have power, especially when they seek power.
Look, we can argue about whether the above statement is objectively true all the time...I know there are exceptions....but this *is* the rule. There are study after study after study on the double bind women face that makes this the truth not just emotionally but experientially. Yes, for all women. This is the rule under which being female in America operates and something about the Presidency following this rule to the painfully egregious degree it did in the wake of November 2016's election made me confront its truth more directly than I had before. And the bottomless indecency, the relentless corruption, and the endless circus going on because of the current occupant of the White House reminds me daily of the inequality and unfairness I face as a woman because of this steadfast and oppressive rule of life.
In the wake of not being able to be in denial, what happened to me was a psychological and philosophical shift that will stay with me for the rest of my life, summed up as: "never again". I believe we got this outcome because like everyone else I know, I bottled up truths and swept them under the rug. I focused on optimism. We all tried to live in a state of denial and belief that equality is inevitable on the long arc of the moral universe. And we could comfort ourselves with famous words telling us that arc bends towards justice. Just nobody ask what forces actually bend that arc. Keep it to a superficial catch phrase, don't look deeper into what Nobel peace prize winner Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr really said.
But today I don't want to focus on the people in power or reflect on the inherent inequity of the situation. We do a lot of that, all the time. Today I want to talk about the passive way in which we respond to the courage of whistleblowers who disrupt that script. How we discount the actions by the people who come forward first, who testify at great risk to their livelihoods and sometimes their life to speak truth to power.
We talk about power being held to account as something obvious and inevitable. Abstractly it always is talked about with phrases like "of course", as though naturally everyone does it in real life all day every day.
Look, not to go all hard-core Nazi history on you this early in a post, but everyone thinks they are Oskar Schindler and no one wants to admit they would've been in the Nazi party even though that math equation can't work out. More importantly, the majority of people would've been bystanders during that era of Germany: not actively perpetrating crimes against humanity, probably knowledgeable enough that something was amiss, and doing nothing about it. Go along to get along. That's human nature yo. That's where we're at.
So why do we persist in talking about whistleblowers as something run-of-the-mill we expect? Like their courage is so every day and common? I think that's because being righteous against oppressive power is so deeply in the narrative we have as Americans that it's part of our cultural DNA. Our country was founded by patriots who pushed back against a monarchy...who held power to account and founded a nation based on democratic principles and liberty, with a first amendment enshrining our freedom of speech and freedom of the press. We learn about that history in textbooks sanitized of not only the impact to indigenous communities and erasing the stories of non-white males who helped create that history, but more importantly, erased of the struggle to get there. We downplay the sacrifice because we know the outcome. We all know that the colonies defeat the British, that the North wins the Civil War and slavery ends, and we know that America and our Allies defeat the Nazis. Why focus on the messy middle when we have to get through 200 years of history in 2 months? Next decade please!
Today I want to reflect on the time periods when those outcomes were most unlikely and most uncertain. Because in order to truly appreciate the courage of someone speaking truth to hold power accountable, we have to marinate ourselves in the moments where its not inevitable at all and soak in the truth of how systems of power protect themselves. In order to understand the bravery it takes, we have to empathize with how much fear and abject terror a person has to overcome to speak up in the first place. The more powerful the person who is doing wrong, the more important it is to come forward, obviously. But also the higher the stakes, the scarier the threats towards the person who might speak out and the greater likelihood of irreversible, negative impact to that whistleblower.
And I'm not writing this down abstractly as a citizen. I'm writing this as a way to explain my absence from blogging these past few months. You see, I personally experienced something I knew was wrong in mid-June, a much worse second example that showed a pattern, and through a series of things that happened the week after, forces converged in my conscience and I was confronted with the choice every person in a situation like that faces: "do I speak up at great risk to myself and my future, or do I stay quiet and go along to get along".
Courage is one of my top five values and given the severe nature of the situation, I chose to speak up. This post isn't about whether I experienced this because of the organizations I volunteer with or where I worship or where I work. It's not about who I went to in reporting it. I want to level up to something more universal about the experience that applies to any power situation where speaking truth is somewhere in the range of hard to dangerous. Here's what I've learned in the still ongoing, painful aftermath of my decision to speak up....