Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Standing Rock Protesters Need Your Money, Not Your Castoffs

The situation at Standing Rock -- the site of month-long protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline -- has gotten dire. 

Police are now blasting protesters with water cannons despite the freezing temperatures. Extreme hypothermia and death under such conditions is a real threat. The conduct of our government -- from local law enforcement on the scene to a President who refuses to speak out against the the DAPL or the treatment of the protesters -- has been appalling. 

But that's not what this post is about. 

A few weeks ago, a hoax went around Facebook claiming that by using Facebook to "check in" to Standing Rock, people could show solidarity and confuse local police who were using social media to track down and persecute the people who were attending. This didn't make sense for a number of reasons which Snopes is better equipped to explain than I am. However, the Sacred Stone Camp did thank everyone who had participated for showing solidarity and creating enough of a media shitstorm to finally get them more of the national attention that these protests desperately need. With mounting pressure from journalists, it's possible that the President may finally step in to condemn the pipeline.

Unfortunately, it's not enough. People are out there freezing their asses off while we wait for the government to act, and sharing a Facebook check-in from the comfort of your own home is not enough.

A while ago, I posted about the Ice Bucket Challenge that was super popular to hate on social media -- but, surprise surprise, it actually worked. Getting people to participate in a viral game is a much better way of raising money than simply asking for donations. I worked in a call center asking for donations in college, and I can attest that people are shitty, and people are never shittier than when you are asking them for money. People need to feel personally invested in a charitable cause in order to care enough to give their money to it.

The Standing Rock site has posted a list of their needs, a link to their legal defense fund, and an Amazon wish list. They have had to request that people stop sending clothes due to a surplus -- unless it is warm winter wear, specifically made for freezing conditions, they do not need it. 

This is where "charity that makes sense with reality" and "charity that makes people feel good" starts to break down. Sending your old clothes to Standing Rock is easy -- there's always shit you can't wear anymore -- and lends that little personal touch. It's also free. You don't have to spend $50+ on a low-temperature, military-grade sleeping bag or jacket. You feel like a little piece of you is going to Standing Rock: one of the protesters might be wearing one of your old pairs of jeans, and that's practically like you're there yourself. 

It makes you feel a part of things, while doing the least work and committing the least personal expense possible. 

Well, that's nice, but they don't need your damn castoffs. They need your money. 

When I worked calling prospective donors, people always wanted to give to causes that felt good. We gave them the option to designate their gifts, which many people took -- giving to the library, or to programs and scholarships they remembered liking, or occasionally to something that they wanted to put their name on. 

Which, theoretically, is fine. I'll even admit to using the designated gift offer in order to get people more invested. People like to know where their money is going. People are more willing to give to a cause if it's for something that makes them feel happy inside, rather than a general fund which might go to an unromantic if necessary cause like fixing the freshman dormitory elevator.

But what you need to understand is that when you do that, the organization cannot touch that money for anything else. Likewise, when you send your old clothes or knitted hats to Standing Rock, they can't magically convert them into money that they can use to buy the things they actually need.

As of the time I left that job, we had over $1,000 sitting in a fund for the swimming pool. A swimming pool which my alma mater no longer has. Now there's a sum of money sitting in a designated account that we can never touch, because we don't have a swimming pool, and we can't use it for anything else but the nonexistent swimming pool. 

I'm sure whoever donated to that cause thought they were helping. But, again, intent is not enough.

Likewise, over the holidays, homeless shelters are often inundated with castoffs when what they really need are things like toothpaste and feminine products and deodorant. But the menstruation and body odor of homeless people are icky to think about -- and more importantly, going out and buying tampons and toothpaste costs money. Money that people aren't motivated enough to spend.

Which brings me back to Standing Rock. Sending your clothes might help when they need to burn the extra donations to keep warm, but it's a largely useless gesture. So if you want to donate to the Standing Rock cause this winter -- to any charity, for that matter -- don't donate in a way that makes you feel good. Ask what they need, and give them that

And, I promise, what they need is money. 

There's a stigma surrounding money in our society. Asking for money either means you're weak or you're greedy and grasping. During my stint asking for donations, I talked with some very nice, generous people. I also had people hurl verbal abuse at me and threaten my family. Again, people are never shittier than when you ask them for money -- as if the very idea of giving out cash cheapens them somehow. There's also this idea that giving money means you can't be bothered take the time to make a personalized gift like a hand-knitted hat. 

But this is not the fucking family holiday party, and this is not about your fucking ego. Is your hat going to hold up in subzero temperatures? No? Then put the money you were about to use on yarn into an Amazon gift card and mail it to Standing Rock. 

If you can't give a ton of money, that's fine. It's a cliche, but even a little bit helps. Imagine if everyone who had shared that Facebook check-in had donated $5 to the legal defense fund, for instance.

If you want to help, the absolute best thing you can do is give to their legal defense fund or send them a check or cash or gift card -- and let the people who are on the ground, doing the work, and seeing the needs of their fellow protesters spend your money in the way that will best help them and their cause. 

Tl;dr: This is not about you. Your gift doesn't need to feel good. It needs to be effective.



Image result for standing rock amazon wish list

Supplies, cash, or check donations can be sent to:
Sacred Stone Camp P.O. Box 1011, Fort Yates, ND 58538
202 Main Street Fort Yates, ND 58538

Thursday, November 10, 2016

It's Hard to Create Right Now

It's the month of NaNoWriMo. It's also the month that Donald Trump became President-elect, despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. 

A few days ago, I was ahead on my writing goals. Now, I can't bring myself to open the word doc. 

My hands are cold and shaky. The blood has gone to my heart and my stomach in a warm wave in preparation for a fight or flight response. I think that, even though my mind has accepted the outcome, my body is undergoing some kind of prolonged shock response. 

Image result for hillary clinton concession speech meme

Sometimes, escaping into the creation of a fictional world is helpful. It's a distraction. Right now, I'm not sure I can create that distraction for myself. The effort, vulnerability, creativity, and stamina needed to create a thing seem beyond my reach at the moment. The emotional wherewithal to stave off the inevitable self-hatred that comes with first-drafting is something that I don't know I can muster.

A bunch of people across the country just said, "You're worthless," when they voted to elect Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton has told me that I represent the best of America, that I'm valuable and deserving of every chance in the world to pursue and achieve my own dreams. For what it's worth, I know the slim majority agrees with Hillary, since she won the popular vote. But the tension between what the two of them have said is mentally immobilizing me.

It's hard to create right now. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Last Time I Voted, We Thought This Was the Worst It Could Get

The last time I voted in a Presidential election, it was 2012 and I was in a college undergraduate production of Chicago at my all-women's university.

Rehearsal doesn't stop for election day (although I seem to remember several of the company making half-hearted pleas for the night off). It was a tense election cycle. Benghazi had happened on September 11 of that year. People hadn't moved on to being nostalgic for Obama yet; many resented him and felt he'd fallen short of the promise of his first campaign. It's difficult to countenance now, but in 2012, there was a real fear that he would not be elected to a second term. 

I want to talk about that election night tonight because I've wanted to for a very long time. I've held back before, because it's not a feel-good story, but let's be real, nobody in America feels good right now. 

We were in costume: black and red lingerie, 20's dress, the works. Every time we left the stage, we rushed back to the computer-lab-that-doubled-as-our-low-budget-women's-dressing-room to check on the election results. The election had been the center of conversations for weeks. As women, people of color, queer people, and lovers of the arts and education and general hippy-dippy liberal arts ideals (I say with love), the stakes were extremely high for everyone in the room. 

There was a lot of fear in that room. The excitement of the rehearsal only heightened everyone's emotions. People were near tears as we watched the progression of the vote. I felt numb and detached, not really in my body at all. And when Obama finally won reelection, someone sprinted from the room to inform the director.

But it wasn't a sure thing. And feeling that fear now, multiplied a thousand times, I'm reminded of 2012.

I recall one conversation I had with a castmate before election day as we were walking back from rehearsal one night. She went off on the state of healthcare in America, relating her previous attempt to get coverage. "They won't cover me now because I'm single, but they'll cover me if I get knocked up?" she fumed. Healthcare reform was one of the few things she liked about Obama.

But remember, Benghazi had just happened. The country was still reeling from the scandal. "I went into that voting booth and I sat there," she said. "And I finally voted, but I was not happy about it. There was no reason those people had to die. But, you know, I have so many gay friends. And I had to vote for their lives."

I remember that conversation, and I remember the same-sex couple in the cast sobbing and hugging each other with relief in the dressing room after Obama won the presidency, and it is so, so difficult to be patient with my friends who preach high and mighty about voting third party on principle. Or voting Trump because Hillary is the devil. Or, or, or. 

It is so hard to listen to anyone who has never experienced that fear talk about this election. It is very difficult to watch my friend post about how they're terrified to make a road trip alone through Trump country because they're trans, and to run down the laundry list in my head of trans people murdered this year, and then to see some clueless, well-meaning do-gooder sing the praises of Gary Fucking Johnson in the comments. 

Voting on principle is a powerful argument. Voting for the candidate whom you feel best represents you and your values, even if it's just throwing your vote away, feels good. It feels like you have the moral high ground. It's a choice that, in a free and fair and equal world, would be absolutely compelling and right and just. 

But we don't live in a free and fair and equal world. 

Fuck, I used to be a libertarian. But gradually, I came to realize that it's not enough to just leave it up to the states and the corporations to decide whether all people deserve equal rights and equal treatment under the law. I came to believe that we have a moral responsibility to vote in a way that will protect our most vulnerable citizens from the irrational hatred of the "silent majority."

Hatred for the "other" has only grown during the Obama presidency, and we are in the grip of a so-called "alt-right" reactionist movement to a Black president and the strides towards equality made under his term. I'm not naive enough to believe that electing Hillary Clinton will fix all the problems. But we have a chance here to say, "No. This level of open hatred is not OK. We will not tolerate it."

That is the hope I cling to tonight. And watching the neck and neck Florida race, and seeing third party votes take the edge away from a Clinton victory there, I feel that hope slipping away. 

This post focuses on LGBTQIA+ rights because that was my big takeaway from the memory of the 2012 election night. But I could talk about other things. About being a female-type person, about the inhumanity of mass deportation and threats of mass bans on entire religions, about the economy, hell, about nuclear weapons. 

But some fears are more remote, and some are personal. And if you've never felt that fear, I don't want to hear your opinion on this election, because frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. 

Sincerely, a liberal who lives in a Southern swing state. 

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