Thursday, March 13, 2008

privilege

I don't know how to write about yesterday. How to describe. Even where to begin.

I was one of a thousand people at the state house in Augusta, attending a rally to protest the funding cuts that will decimate some of the most critical social services in the state. I've been to many, many rallies at the capitol. I've never, EVER, been to one this big. (Senator John Martin, who has been a legislator up there since, hmmm...the War of 1812...says it's the biggest rally he's ever seen.) Security police threatened to close down the statehouse if the protesters didn't filter into other rooms, and if Governor Baldacci was hiding in his office at 11:30, well, I hope all those very expensive paintings didn't fall off the wall from the rumble and roar and deafening shouts coming out of the Hall of Flags. Mostly I hope the Governor was listening to the most vulnerable of the people he claims to be serving. And shame on him if he wasn't.

It was simply incredible.

Most of the time I'm at one of these rallies/protests/press conferences in Augusta because of a queer issue. In fact as I sit here typing, I can't honestly think of a time I've held a sign in my hand when it wasn't about the LGBT community. Except for yesterday. I'm a little embarrassed about that, maybe even a little ashamed. I am constantly making the case to our straight allies that they need to help us fight in the trenches. I need to live better by my own words.

There were many, many moments yesterday that I won't ever forget, but one in particular is sitting like a lump in my throat. I met a family who is depending on the services of a domestic violence agency. I first noticed them because the mom was holding one of the sweetest babies I've ever seen. This baby, even amid the chaos of a thousand people, was smiling like she didn't have a care in the world. I mean she was just. beaming. The kind of smile that makes your heart fill up in an instant. Boom. You see that smile, and you're done.

Then I spotted her big sister. She was holding a sign, a personal plea to the governor in the hand-writing of a child. I think I said something like, "Hey there...and who are you?" And was then introduced to her by someone who I suspect is her current heroine, (and one of mine), my friend Jill. I bent down to get at eye level with her, and she just looked at me. Didn't say a word.

But her eyes were...

Haunting.

I thought immediately, those eyes have seen too much. Those eyes are far older than the eleven year-old girl they belong to. Those eyes are...too wise. Tired. Scared. . And then Jill said "she wrote a letter to the governor, all by herself." And the little girl reached into her pocket and pulled out a copy, a little tattered, folded and unfolded a hundred times probably. And she handed it to me.

"I get to read it?" A shy nod.

And so I unfolded it, and read every word. And it broke my goddamn heart. She wrote that no kid should have to worry about whether or not their mom is going to get beat up tonight. She wrote about domestic violence statistics and she wrote that she was one of them. It was a beautiful, articulate, gut-wrenching letter, and no kid should ever, EVER, have to carry those kinds of experiences inside of them.

After I read it, she finally started talking...and then couldn't stop. She told me about the shelter, and the people, like Jill, who were helping her family get back on their feet. And then her mom told me about her other child, who was going to come today, but who stayed back at the shelter to help another kid who was having some problems dealing with life. And I said, "wow, you've got some rock star kids."

At which point she said "thanks to the shelter, yeah. My kids are finding their way now. We are. The shelter is saving our lives." And she sounded so grateful. And so goddamn scared.

"I don't know what we'll do...."

And I thought my god, that smiling, beaming baby is so different than her big sister. She won't remember this. But if these cuts go through...she'll end up living it.

Eh. I cannot get that family out of my head.

Yesterday I became acutely aware of the revolving door that is privilege. Walk through one door and you've got none...walk through another, and you're the only one that has any at all. Most of the people I stood next to yesterday were fighting for their lives, quite literally. I don't know how that feels. I have heating oil in the tank. Food in the fridge. A roof over my head. A job, loving family and friends, and I am safe. Privileged indeed.

It's almost embarrassing when you're the one who has it, and you're having a conversation with a family who has...none.

But when you realize it, you also realize you have two choices. You can thank your lucky stars you've got it and walk away and amass some more. Or you can take responsibility and help someone who just needs a little. tiny. bit. of it.

Our Privileged, Republi...oops, I mean Democrat... of a Governor is insisting there is no other way to solve this current budget crisis than to bleed these social services dry. I don't believe that, not for a minute. (Maybe the Governor should sell some of those expensive paintings.) How about adding a penny to sales tax? We won't even notice it, and I promise, tourists don't look up sales tax rates when they decide to take vacations. One goddamn penny.

Are we so selfish, so greedy, that we can look that eleven year-old kid in the eyes and tell her she's not worth a penny?

2 comments:

Jenna said...

So many emotions as I read your post this morning, you had me in tears. First, you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed about for not “being there” previously to support your straight allies or others. There are only so many hours in the day, what matters is, you were there.

Second, you have nothing to be embarrassed about for having food in your fridge and oil in your tank. You don't lead a lavish life (at least as far as I can tell) and you are an amazing person.

Finally, I agree with you about the necessity to keep these important programs going. I also believe the governor is in a tough position. As you know, raising taxes is taboo, especially in a state that has lots of acreage and not enough taxpayers (isn't that why we love it?). Nevertheless, a wrong step in regards to the budget shortfalls would leave a nasty debate during the next election and us all wondering why we have a republican governor/legislature. It wouldn’t take long to be wishing we had someone like governor Balducci back in office. I am not saying I love him, personally, I am ambivalent, but I do think he is in a difficult situation.

The solution is a tough one. The solution is to convince citizens all over the state that they need to give more, both through taxes and charity. A tough order when we continually hear we are one of the highest taxed states in the country. Personally, I never thought I paid too much, but I have always just paid what I have paid, it is part of life. Tougher has been achieved than changing this message. Just as you know you have to get ahead of the marriage "debate" in the media, my advice is get ahead on the media message regarding social programs and change the message from "highest taxed state" to "we take care of those less fortunate, we need your help" (I am sure I can do better if you give me some time). I can see the DVD now :)

Just my two cents.
Jenna

(P.s. maybe I need my own blog)

toklas23 said...

Jenna,

I love you more than cooked food. And that's sayin' something.

Thanks for this very kind, thoughtful and articulate comment. My favorite part: "get ahead on the media message regarding social programs and change the message from "highest taxed state" to "we take care of those less fortunate, we need your help."

You are right on.

And yeah. You should get your own blog. I'd read it every day.

By the way...it was fabulous seeing you on Saturday night.

And thanks for leaving the Super Soakers in the car.

:>

Darlene