150 years ago yesterday, President Abraham Lincoln released his draft Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." NPR has a brief exploration of some little-known history here, including this:
Faced with being despised and threatened, the normal human instinct is to hide. You keep your head down. You pass, if you can. If you can’t, you try not to draw attention to whatever it is about you that your government and your neighbors believe is evil. Throughout history, those who’ve tried to pass have had mixed success. Think about the maranos and conversos, the Portuguese and Spanish Jews who, facing the Inquisition, publicly converted to Christianity but privately still observed Jewish law.
Two weeks ago, I heard from Andy Kopsa, an American reporter in Uganda whom I know glancingly as a colleague. While in Kampala reporting for The Washington Monthly on U.S. funding for faith-based organizations there, Kopsa found herself helping “a trans woman [who] was beaten to a pulp”—and who, Kopsa told me, had difficulty getting appropriate medical or police attention, again because she was trans. The beating was brutal, as you’ll read below. One man started it, and bystanders joined in. The police wouldn’t help. Doctors wouldn’t help. All these things are shocking to Americans. But as you will read later in this series, the only thing that stands out about this incident is that the transwoman, Mich, was willing to seek help.
Every era has its great narrative art form, stories delivered via the au courant medium that simultaneously show us the small characters of individuals and the vast social panoramas that limn their decisions and lives. The Anglo-Saxons and ancient Greeks had epic poetry, its tropes, rhythms, and assonances perfect for delivery via roving troubador or bard. Urban Greeks and Elizabethans saw the peaks of their cultures’ theatrical drama, where everyone from the aristocracy to the masses gathered for social and moral insight peppered with bawdy jokes. Nineteenth-century England had its sweeping novels, ranging from Austen to ; the 1970s gave us Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Nashville, and their kin.
Relax, folks. I don’t have any firsthand experience with Naomi Wolf's Vagina, carnal or otherwise. Everything I know about it comes from what other people have told me. And let me tell you, am I ever grateful for those reviews, which tell me I never want to put my hands on it. In fact, as far as I can tell, the entire public purpose of Naomi Wolf, at this point in her brilliant career, is to be the target of other folks’ smart sentences.
I've mentioned here before that I'm an enormous fan of rising young editor Ann Friedman, whom I met when she was both an editor here at the Prospect and was involved in WAM! (Women, Action, and Media). Several people told me she was going to change the world, and I have come to believe it. She left the Prospect to become the editor of GOOD magazine, and made making it a must-read location on the interwebs until the owners of that online community changed its direction and fired most of the editorial staff. Since running a magazine wasn't enough to keep her occupied, she also created many smaller online projects that instantly went viral.
I've been looking at the crisp blue sky and remembering when the world went silent. The unspeakable images—which we have not yet shown to our son—are seared into all of us who were adults, then. How strange is it that a generation of young people has come of age who were sitting on school buses or in schoolrooms that day, who didn't watch as hundreds of people burned cruelly to death, as New York City was coated with human ash?
Have you ever heard of Ben Swann, a Toledo reporter/analyst on local Fox news? I hadn't. But someone pointed me to one of Swann's recent four-minute segments, "Reality Check," in which he asks Obama how he justified having a kill list that includes American citizens who've never been charged with a crime—and then concisely analyzes both the constitutional issues and the reasons the national news media are giving Obama a pass. It is well worth your four minutes of watching time.
So the DNC gave us a week that got more and more sober as it went on. By last night, we were down and dirty with tough choices and grim policies. Foreign policy dominated the early part of the evening, with a salute to military veterans that had many in my Twitter feed commenting on how strange it was that the parties have switched places. The Republicans hadn’t even mentioned the wars or the veterans; as conservative Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted, “Really was malpractice, and wrong, for Romney not to mention troops in Iraq, Afghanistan in convention speech.” And so for a night the Democrats became the party of LBJ again, the party of a strong military and uncompromising attack.
The early part of last night’s DNC TV show couldn’t match Tuesday night. As I wrote yesterday, that first night rocked out over the body issues: health care for all, equal pay for women, open LGBT military service, repro rights, equal marriage laws—the human values of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. The speakers preached, and the crowd roared. The night was, as Robert Kuttner writes, a full-on embrace of the social issues that the Republicans have been attacking for decades. You hate homos? We love them! You think women are lying sluts? We believe in women’s integrity! It was awe-inspiring and energizing.
Did you watch it last night? It was an amazing night of TV, of Twitter (that instant snark convo), and of politics. My twitter feed was full of journos saying to each other: Wow, there’s a lot of energy here! Don’t you feel more buzz than in Tampa? I thought this was supposed to be the dispirited convention, but these folks are excited. You could see that in every breakaway shot of the convention floor: Folks were cheering, nodding, yelling back in witness. Over and over again, the Dems boasted proudly about standing up for health care, equal pay, LGBT rights (including the freedom to marry), and yes, reproductive rights, without apology.
As predicted, when the Democratic National Convention rolled out its platform today, we learned that one of the planks calls for marriage equality, along with a call for federal protection from being fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The marriage-equality plank signals a significant shift in the Democratic Party, a decision to work on behalf of me and my gal, for which I am deeply grateful.
Watching the Republican and Democratic conventions, with the stark visual contrast in the kinds of people on those different floors, always gets me thinking about how we vote, in part, by tribe. Those people just don’t look like my people, I can’t help thinking, and I’m sure those people think the same thing about my people. Large swaths of the country trust and identify with the convention of those who are overwhelmingly white, blond, neatly suited, perfectly coiffed, and highly shaved. Others find those faces terrifying, and trust the multicolored, untucked, multi-patterned hordes, many of whom appear never to have met a razor or a hairbrush, who will gather next week.
Last night, I realized that God invented Twitter specifically so that political conventions would be entertaining to watch. Listening to the speeches last night while watching my Twitter feed was like watching it with a ballroom full of snarky friends, all rolling their eyes and emitting their one-liners.
E.J. Graff writes on social-justice and human-rights issues, particularly discrimination and violence against women and children; marriage and family policy; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lives. She is a resident scholar at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center and the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution (Beacon Press, 1999, 2004).