Monday, November 23, 2015

Why Was I So Angry? (Reflections on Springfield MO, Burnett and GO:61)

As the year begins to wind down, I'm looking back at what all has happened and drafting my end of the year post. A whole lot of crazy stuff has happened, for sure. A lot of people think I'm this raging activist and I swear I'm not. This year, however, I was angrier than I have ever been. Ever, in my whole life. And I'm still angry, it just burns deeper and makes coals that fuel what I do. Today, while time stood still in the waiting room from hell, I identified a core problem that has manifested itself in a thousand smaller problems. And one question I have never really answered was the one everyone asked: why are you so angry?

It wasn't ever about nipples. And for me personally, it was about so many things I had to really dig deep to puzzle it through. Today I had hours to kill today in a waiting room, so I finally had that kind of time. I mean, it wasn't blind rage, I had good reasons to be angry. But I had not taken my time to really work through the whole "tweets of fury" thing and analyze it to understand it thoroughly. This is only from the angle of why was I so angry. There will be "why were you so skeptical" and "why did you punch so hard" posts to come later that will tell it from those perspectives. Because this was only a tiny part of my problems with what went down in our local government and charities putting out unverified information. This is just about why I was so angry that it came off me in waves.

Ultimately, my rage comes back to this: I am furious because people want me to be afraid. On a small scale, I've been threatened this year alone with being raped into making sense, beaten into making sense, and being held against my will while someone coerced me into agreeing with them. On a bigger scale, the world wants me to be powerful but "ladylike" (a word whose definition changes from person to person so I'm encouraged to play it safe and not risk offending anyone), strong but not so strong I make anyone uncomfortable, and intelligent but not show up the wrong people by speaking my mind if I know better. I was supposed to sit in the back row, be quiet and courteous and if I played just right, maybe someone would listen to me if I followed all the subliminal cues and asked nicely.

Ain't nobody got time for that. And I found out the day my city voted against me as a full citizen and learned that Burnett was going to use this new tool to squash a legal protest, that I just gave my last fuck about what someone might think of me. I was going to say what I thought, and own the consequences. There came a point when I committed and decided I would rather go down fighting than stand by and do nothing. We were suddenly lesser people by our own city's law, and that could not go unchallenged. Women pay the same amount of taxes, but now we have to make sure we don't cause "affront or alarm" or we risked having our morals judged and sentenced on a whim. The fact that our rights were even being voted on was sickening to thousands of women who watched and hoped and were eventually let down. They literally created a fashion police to keep women obedient.

This understanding of trying to scare women into obedient submission is the root of a problem that has held us back for... well, since forever, since that conditioning starts in childhood. Then my city passed a law that said making people uncomfortable with my choices in dress was illegal. IF they decided to enforce it. The "if" was supposed to make "the right ones" feel better while "the bad women" had a lingering threat to keep them in line. Then Burnett recommended a half-baked charity that among its many claims stated that women could be ordered up like pizzas. Helpless women, stupid and needing rescued, those defenseless little things. Except they never produced a single woman who vouched for their service or the quality of help received. Still, women's credibility as capable beings took a ding while nearly everyone swallowed this load of bull without question. Though GO:61 has shown themselves to be cowards who consider questions like "how much money has been donated this year?" and "how much of that goes out in direct aid?" too aggressive. Well, no. I disagree. If someone is going to assert that 600 women are for sale like pizzas and that is double from the month before, that person had better be ready to show their math. They refused.

I had a good friend tell me when she spoke to her husband about discrimination she experiences, and he simply dismissed it with "no, you don't." That was it, subject closed. In his superior knowledge, he had the nerve to tell his life partner what her experiences are in a workplace he has never seen. Dismissed without a bit of thought about the possibility that she knew something he didn't about it. Because it was her own fucking story she was telling him, I'm just guessing she had some facts to impart. That kind of dismissal happens all the time. Each one hurts like hell. "I know something." "No, you don't. Go make me a sandwich." RInse and repeat and wonder why we get so emotional. More of that conditioning for you. And this was from a nice guy, I should mention. One of the good ones, so imagine what all the wives of average and subpar husbands deal with.

All of those things happened in a two week span. No. NO. Never, no, no fucking way.

I decided to fight back by refusing to give in. I am not afraid someone is going to scoop me up and take me away. I'm not afraid of some stupid flashing light on my cell phone and would never blame an innocent business for my hysteria. I refuse to be cowed and I will not back down. I'll call a bluff every time, because I have earned that right. I am competent, strong and a fully developed person in my own right. I don't owe the world my best outfit every day and a smile when I don't feel like it. I am held to the same standards as men, and therefore I demand the same rights. When my very own councilman tried to make me worry that my boobs might get me arrested, I had finally hit my limit. So I put it to the test.

I was (partly) right, too. The first thing that hit was a wall of intimidation. Threats by the gazillions flooded my Facebook inbox, where the bulk of this took place. Some came through my site, but the worst were always through Facebook. I didn't take it to heart, I just blocked them if they crossed crazy lines and went on. But I read every single one, because I feel obligated to read every word sent to me. It was hard as hell to not be afraid of that, especially when it was at its peak. But when I decided I wasn't going to be afraid and held it, they quickly ran out of ammo and faded away. And that was it. A flutter, a scream, and dead silence afterwards. Some tried to keep a banter going, but they were weeded out quickly.

So now I know what to do to combat the source of my rage. I'm going to wear whatever I want, say whatever I want, and I goddamn dare someone to try to stop me. Because if my mailbag had any themes in common, it was thanks for giving words to the ideas that many women were thinking, and secondly for standing up and saying "oh hell no." Women I've never met still write to me regularly, taking baby steps in standing up for themselves, and it all started with one little dipshit who can't understand the difference between scripture and law for all citizens of all types. After the ACLU is done with this, it will likely all be rolled back to how it was before. What will have changed is that there are new people paying attention to what goes on around here.

I guess I'll shut up and get back to it. When you find yourself waiting for hours, some people sleep and some people write the mother of all blog posts on their phones. But here's one that I feel I can answer and do it justice. This all happened so fast, and there were so many things I said I'd answer when I could take some time to do it right.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The "Journalism Style" Talk - Mission Statement

I have been spending a lot of time on Facebook, but I still post things over here (and will be doing even more soon!). I'm going to start parking several posts about my writing and online work for reference. For example, when I am about to write something I plan to link back to many times, like the cussing talk.  I have recently responded to many remarks about my style and my approach. I'm going to explain myself one more time, and try to say it all in one place. Not just for the people who are new to my feed, but for myself.

Let this suffice as my future mission statement and an explanation for why I write the way that I do.

I'm direct. I don't apologize, and I'm not going to start. It's how I am in real life, and it's going to be how I am online as well. There are enough perky blond fluffballs and serious old white men telling the news in the same polished tone of voice. I'm over it. I'm going to say it in my voice, and those who don't like it can simply tune in to a channel they prefer. I don't feel that it's my job to make information palatable or comfortable, and I'm relieved at how many responded positively to this. We're adults. Let's just fish out the facts first, then decide how we feel about them. When I write about my feelings - and I will - I will write it separately and make a point to better separate the two. My Facebook is where I write my thoughts. My articles are where I publish my findings. Those two have mingled poorly in the past when I have written about my thoughts and it be confused with my factual writing. This is one of many things I have noted and will correct.

I am not going to sugarcoat or sell anyone on what I do. Those who like it have stuck around, those who do not have moved on, and that's how it should be. I'm really happy to see how many have stuck around. I sorely miss some of those who have left, but I respect their decision.

Unlike the people I have been writing about lately, I want to point out that I work completely in public view. I don't hide what I do, and you are here to see every triumph and every mistake. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but this is the thing I am most proud of, for The Bon Project and for myself. It takes all the nerve I can muster to work in front of friends and readers I don't want to disappoint and critics I can never please all at the same time, and I've done okay so far. It has kept me honest and diligent and I like that. I believe in transparency, period.  I'm proactively living up to my ideals by putting my future career on the line. I walk an unconventional path and I wouldn't have it any other way. I've been rewarded with a lot of trust and love, and smacked with a lot of criticism. I've listened to both very carefully and I implement aspects of both. I do not chase approval, but I can tell when I've rightly been called out and I do my best to take that to heart.

The people who don't like my methods regarding GO:61 have to at least admit I have taken full responsibility of my every action, which is something they cannot say. I was bold, I asked questions, then I demanded answers when nothing added up. I don't feel it's my job to make them comfortable for failing to provide information they are legally obligated to provide or operate in such a way that their purpose and results are clear. Those who disagree have said their piece and were not censored. Unlike councilman Justin Burnett, I have left the entire record stand on my Facebook feed for public scrutiny. I have taken ownership of my words, and I stand behind every single one. When I made a statement I provided the evidence or full train of logic for comment. I did my homework, and thanks to tips and public support I got many leads to check out. That was a first for me, and it changed everything.

As I'm rather fond of pointing out, I'm an acquired taste. I'm not for everyone. However, I do promise to be myself at all times. I have been myself all along, as my friends can attest. My rage is real, when I'm angry. My sadness is deeply felt, when I write about some of the things we want to pretend don't exist. My happiness is genuine when I get to report something that tells us the world is doing something right. I do not get paid for my coverage of local events. I pay out of pocket for all of my costs, including upcoming Sunshine Law requests. If I ever write for conventional press, my editor will have a lot of say in what I write and how. This may be the only time I may ever truly own my voice. I'm going to use it for the ideals I support, and I'm not going to try to sound like everyone else. I'm going to write millions of words in my life. I want to come back to here and remember these days, when I worked full-time and was in school, not sleeping because there was one more thing to look up. This was when I fell in love with what I do and decided to go about it my own way. The flirtation became the lifelong commitment. Journalism, I love you, even when you're an asshole or make me get up before sunrise on my day off.

On a serious note, I'm not going to always write what people want to hear. Or get to write what I want to say. Sometimes I have to write the truth even when it sucks, and the work isn't very fun. But I get so many messages from people saying thank you for researching an issue, or for giving them the words they wanted to frame their own thoughts, that makes it worth it every time. I keep them all, and when I need to read some comfort I bring out the praise. When I worry I may be going down a path I don't like, I read my criticism and remember how the people who don't appreciate my particular style view me. It helps me be aware of what I can do better, and I feel like I can focus more on getting it right.

I've learned SO MUCH during this process. I had a lot of help and folks who helped me think things through, and this has given me insight I can use for the rest of my life. No classroom could prepare a person for the things I've seen.  One story at a time, I am going to find issues that matter, that affect people, and I am going to stick with it until it's done. I enjoy the narrow focus that lets me really work best. Even if there is no conclusion to be made, I will at least fully prepare and publish my work and have thoroughly checked it out. That's my mission. When there is an issue that nobody else will cover or want to dive into, let that be my groundwork. Let me learn from these so I can complete my education and do a good job going forward. When this wraps up and I take on my next project, I have a long list of things to do to help me do this better. If I had to boil this down to one lesson, I'll say this experience has taught me to ask every single question no matter how simple it might seem.

The thing that makes me the person I am has to add a few conditions. God help the person I catch harming another, because I will not hold back. I will have no mercy for the cruel or the people who take advantage of the helpless or the gullible. I will look down every path, even when I don't want to, and record my findings objectively and thoroughly. Then I will ponder what I find. Then I'm going to say what I think about it, evenif I don't like where the investigation has taken me, and whatever heat I take is not going to stop me. I will do all of those things every single time. Those who choose to disagree with my analysis are welcome to do so, but I hope my fact finding and sharing of resources also shows my dedication by letting people look at my work and grade it. Whatever path this takes me down, I will go gratefully and happily.

If you can take an occasional jag of cat pictures and an occasional (and by occasional I mean frequent) F bombs, I hope we can have a good time here on social media while I write what I feel compelled to say. But if you can't, I understand, and I wish you well on your journey.