Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Social Media and the Sacred Web of Relationships

I had an epiphany in a ceremony this weekend. Social media is making me miserable. 

I was skeptical of social media and resistant to active use of it for years. It seemed like such a phony way of interacting and offered a seemingly dangerous illusion of community with few roots. My perspective shifted when Proposition 8 passed in 2008 and my rights as a queer person were voted away by my fellow Californians. I was outraged. So were a lot of other people and within a few days there was a group on Facebook, One Struggle, One Fight, which successfully organized several acts of civil disobedience and ongoing resistance to the injustice of this proposition. As I was arrested with clergy members and activists two weeks after voting day in 2008, I was sold on social media. There were a lot of new activists involved with this group—it seemed that Facebook was an extremely useful tool in organizing these new activists.

Fast forward several years to the explosion of the “Occupy” movement. Again, I saw networks like Twitter and Facebook serve as extremely useful tools in bringing people together. Personally, I decided to try my hand at online dating and fell in love with someone whom I would have never met outside of the internet. But the relationship didn't work out as they are apt to do (we really didn't have enough in common) and the energy around the “One Struggle, One Fight” began to wane as social justice groups are also apt to do. 

As the wheel of the year turns and the days grow shorter and the sun begins to shine with less intensity on this end of the earth, I have found myself struggling with more sadness than I normally live with. Part of me knows that it's normal to turn inward as the earth around me turns inward as well. And part of me has been struggling to find answers to the question of what in my life is calling in this sadness? As I prayed in ceremony this weekend, for release from the sadness, I had an epiphany.

It's the web that I am weaving through the strands of the internet that is causing me pain.  With facebook, we swim through images of the people we know and the people we love that reflect a slice of reality. We put our best face forward, sharing happy pictures of ourselves and our families. We comment on each others status, offering laughs, words of advice, and even support. And while this can be comforting, I feel like it can in the same moment be isolating. I find myself not reaching out to my community in the “real world” because I have the illusion of the web of the internet providing me comfort. Instead of calling a friend or cooking for a loved one, I comment on their status or like something they posted. I found myself spending more energy on my FB relationships that I have been on my live, in person, relationships.  The web created through facebook is sucking energy away from the sacred web that we spin when we hold each other, laugh together, and provide witness for one another in body and spirit.

As I reflected, I realized this pattern was true in my journey to find a partner to walk with on this life journey. Online dating is about connecting people and all that good stuff, but more than that it's about profit.  It's designed to keep you searching, keep you constantly wanting more.  Online dating is an industry and it's selling us the idea of love, true love. The perfect partner, parent of your child, superb lover who always wants more, totally hot, _________ (insert details of your dream partner here) is just a click away.  You can change the restrictions of your searches in an attempt to get more and more specific about your dream lover and we consumers are convinced that just one more click and we just might find true love.

And my anti-capitalist ass is eating it up like a pig in shit. Because, like so many in this increasingly isolated modern society, I am lonely. I log into Facebook and it's difficult not to compare my life with the lives of my peers and feel dissatisfied with where I am at. All the while, I'm being spoon fed advertisements selling me a illusion of what happiness is that cater to my exact dreams and desires because these online companies are collecting information about me and people who fit into my demographic categories with every click.  And with each dream filled click we provide them with data to increase the effectiveness of their advertising and their products. And their products are more effective if I feel dissatisfied with my life. As my friend said the other night, “You're being used”.

In ceremony, within the quiet space for reflection where spirit is so close, I realized life is good. I have so much to be grateful for. I am exactly where I need to be and I am on the right path. I've been sold the idea that just one more click will bring me happiness. I've been sold the hope that if I just keep searching I'll find my soul mate. And I've been eating that shit up. I don't know how it got me but it did. 

I got home that night and I deleted my online dating profile. I told my Facebook friends I'm taking a break. From here on out, I'm going to put my energy into relationships that are tangible. I'm going to call a friend and invite them over for dinner when I feel lonely rather than sitting down at the computer and scrolling through Facebook or searching through online profiles. I'm going to ask that cute guy at the cafe for his phone number or walk up to that hot gal after the organizing meeting and ask her to expand upon her ideas about the campaign. I'm not going to let these companies manage my relationships anymore.

I'm not saying there isn't good to come from social networking. I have seen the ways that Facebook can be a tool to bring people together to organize for change. I know people who have found their life partner through internet dating. I'm just saying that it's worth pausing to consider how much of your energy is spent on relationships in the here and now and how much is spent online. I'm saying it's worth thinking about who's profiting from our using the tools of social networking. 

Are we using these tools or are they using us?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Election Reflections: Hope, Solidarity, and Liberation

I'm still surprised at how different the universe seems today from the way it looked one week ago.  Last week, the world seemed bleak.  The media was offering reports that Mitt Romney had a good shot at winning the presidency, that Republicans could take over the House and the Senate, and that we were going to lose in big ways on the ballot initiatives in California.  For me Election Day was hellish.  I woke up feeling sick and riddled with anxiety, which just increased as the day wore on.

But there was a tremendous shift some point in the evening.  For me, it was a text from my father back in Virginia who told me that Ohio had been called for Obama.  I immediately called him back, "Dad, don't speak too soon!  Don't you remember 2000?".  He said, "No, you don't understand.  Virginia's going to go blue too.  They've counted the votes from everywhere except parts of the Norfolk and Fairfax".  My heart skipped a beat.  These are two traditionally more liberal parts of Virginia.  These are places where the votes would likely be around 60% for Obama.  Shortly thereafter the votes started officially rolling in, and a wave of blue like the morning sky spread across the swing states.

This election has marked a serious shift.  There's been all kinds of victories.  Victories that 4 years ago I would have never imagined possible.  Americans have voted to end marriage discrimination, legalize Marijuana, and supported all kinds of progressive issues.  I could go on for a while about all the important victories, but I won't.  You can read about them other places.  Instead I'm going to talk about two key elements of this election that give me hope.

The fight to label genetically modified food in California

"But wait, we lost that vote.  How does that give a pagan environmentalist against corporate domination of our food hope?", you ask.

Yes, it is indeed a tragedy that we lost this vote.  But proposition 37 was the first time there has been an electoral effort targeting Monsanto and protecting the health and vitality of our food on the ballot.  That's pretty exciting if you ask me.  And if you look at the numbers 47% of Californians voted yes on this initiative!  Those are some pretty amazing numbers considering the millions of dollars that corporations like Monsanto poured into the campaign against 37.  And I also want to note that in the context of this election, 47% seems to be a magical number that points you to eventual victory. Thanks Mother Jones! ;)

This is an amazing start.  And that's exactly what it is.  It's a beginning.  This is the beginning of a long fight that we will win.  I think about where we were 4 years ago when Proposition 8 passed in California.  I remember how my excitement for Obama's first term was made heavy with the fact that Californians had just voted to take away my rights and the rights of queer people across this state.  It was a bittersweet moment to say the least.  But look where we are today?  We have 4 states which voted to repeal discrimination and support marriage equality.  We have more and more openly gay politicians elected to leadership roles.  Four years ago, this did not seem possible.  In my heart, I know that if we continue this fight we can win and we will win.  If we continue to organize and talk to our neighbors and friends about the dangers of Monsanto and genetically modified foods on both our health and the health of the earth, we can build the momentum that will shift our relationship with our food and our relationship with the land.

Mark Takano is the first openly gay person of color elected to the House of Representatives.

This victory has been overlooked by much of the coverage of Gay Marriage and the exciting victory of Tammy Baldwin, the first openly lesbian Senator in US history.  But to me, this is HUGE.  Mark Takano is a progressive democrat, a former public school teacher, and the newest representative of the 41st District in California.  He grew up in Riverside California and comes from a Japanese family that was sent to the internment camps during WWII.  And he's gay.

Representative Mark Takano, the United States first openly gay person of color elected to the House of Representatives talking to constituents

This is a historic victory in the gay rights movement and I have to admit that I'm pretty frustrated that this moment is not receiving more news coverage and publicity.  Perhaps it's because Rep. Takano hasn't placed a lot of emphasis on his sexuality in his campaign--it's been a side note of sorts.  But I think it's more likely getting less coverage because our media is racist.  Rep. Takano's leadership throws a wrench in the story that popular culture likes to convey that gayness is a "white thing". 

As marginalized people we must not forget that our struggles for liberation are interconnected.  The election of another progressive person of color to the US House of Representatives is a queer victory.  A step towards the reflection of the diversity of our LGBT family in the House is a critical step in dismantling the invisibility of queer people of color from the dominant narrative in US culture.  It's a critical step towards building a movement that recognizes the ways that the fight for queer liberation and the fight to dismantle racism are the same fight.

This is a tremendous moment in US history and in Queer history.  I want to dedicate this blog post to this historic moment and I hope that you will honor this moment too.   Please take a min and write a letter to the editor of your local paper and/or gay media source honoring Representative Takano.  Copy and paste the image below and post it on your facebook page.  Let your friends know about this historic election and don't let the media define what queer liberation looks like.