Wednesday, November 03, 2004

My Confession Speech

I'm in a nostalgic mood today so bear with me. Fifteen years ago I was a woman (not a goddess in this story) excited about her new job and friends and family, and in general optimistic about the world. Politics was something other people did and it seemed a little smelly and quite inelegant to me. Politics was something that involved talking about sewer pipes and trade agreements and whether taxes should go down or up, and this didn't have much to do with my life. So...aggressive.

Then something happened. I had always been an avid reader and I started reading more political news. And by doing this I found out about the American radical right. It sounded like a joke to me, it really did, and I probably laughed at the funniest bits. But of course the number of similar messages kept rising, and they were echoed by distant thunderings in other countries, largely Islamic ones. Then slowly, drip by drip, the same messages seeped into what I then thought was the mainstream media, but by now so carefully distorted and camouflaged that it took a real effort to decipher them and see them for what they were. And a different stream of messages joined the first fundamentalist ones: messages of hesitation and doubt about most of the advances the Western nations have made during the last hundred years in human rights. Wasn't affirmative action truly every bit as bad as any past act of vicious racial oppression? Wasn't feminism a failure; a movement that gave women nothing but the double-shift days? Something was changing, something that was born in the shady corners of radical right, carefully nurtured and fed in the Republican think tanks and then released in a disguised form to be absorbed in the innocent-seeming articles and columns of newspapers and women's magazines, to be added to movies and tv sitcoms as this odd almost unnoticeable twist which left the moral of the ending reversed from the one it seemed to be?

At first I decided I was imagining things, then I prayed that I was imagining things. Then I accepted that I wasn't imagining anything, and started doing research on the radical right. What I learned left me so scared that I couldn't sleep for several nights. Yet I could not make anyone else see the danger looming at the horizon; in fact, I lost friends during this stage of frantic scrambling towards truth. The truth, as is now pretty clear, was that a large number of people in this country, as well as in countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan and so on were turning into religious literalists, largely as a response to the human rights developments that I had so treasured. These people desired a world which would be run on the basis of opinions written two thousand years ago by members of various nomadic herders in the Middle East. I could not breathe in such a world. What to do? What can any of us do alone?

So I became politicized and learned more than I had ever wanted to know what the Republican party wants to achieve in this country, and none of it is pretty. The long-term platform includes the complete abolition of the social safety-nets, the cancelation of civil rights protections, the very eradication of the government except for two reasons: to provide military protection and to enforce laws for the protection of Christianity and the assets of the wealthy. The Republicans are not shy about the existence of this platform, either. Every tiny move they make is a step down this path, from the so-called Faith initiative to the destruction of the public schools.

Even without George Bush in the White House, I became an activist, but a nice and polite one. I wrote carefully researched treatises based on facts and had very pleasant debates with various conservatives. I thought I won all these arguments, but of course the fight has never been about facts. It has always been about our whole way of life and about who has the right to wield power. So most of my effort was for nothing, and I grew more despondent.

Fast forward to last year or so. Someone gave me a ring in the form of a writhing snake. Such an odd present, I thought. Then I got a framed photograph of a snake in the mail, and a friend bought me snake bookmark. One day in the library I opened a book at random and started reading about Echidne, the Greek snake goddess. As I stood there in the stacks, reading, my hair rose up and began undulating. Each tip of each individual hair acquired a forked tongue, and they were all hissing. I couldn't see or move for what felt like an eternity but was probably only a second or two.

From that day onwards I have accepted that my role in this battle is to be the voice of the snake goddess and all that she represents.
And right now she is angry, very angry, and the earth is shaking under her feet. She is energized and she is ready to strike. For justice. For peace. For a better world for most of us.