Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inaugural Address

As we await the inauguration of our 45th President, many feel as though this is the eve of destruction. I hope instead that this is a moment in which we begin to destroy those things within ourselves that led us here. The words legitimacy, normalizing, and resistance have been thrown around a lot lately. We need to think of these words not just as bombs we throw as weapons at targets of our fear, anger, and frustration, but as lenses through which we view ourselves. 

We, as a society, have legitimized apathy and normalized inaction. We have resisted participating in our democracy. We've normalized cynicism. We've legitimized silence. We've normalized making excuses for staying in our comfort zones. We've resisted preparing, empowering, and inspiring our young people to be knowledgeable, active citizens and leaders. We've legitimized making it harder for our citizens to vote.

We have normalized violence against women. We've legitimized allowing women to be treated as second class citizens. We've resisted granting women equal rights and protections under the Constitution. We might pay lip service to ideas like consent, but when consent is given we normalize shame and when it is withheld we normalize casting a woman and all her worth aside, as if the gift of her heart and soul is not enough unless she is willing to give her body as well. We talk about equality, but resist including women and respecting women if their appearance, backgrounds, identities, disabilities, or individual choices and opinions don't align with our ideas of womanhood.

We've normalized thinking that just because LGBTQ+ citizens can get married to who we love that further vigilance and action aren't required to protect that right and to ensure we have all the other rights and protections afforded to others. We've legitimized allowing people to say they love or respect LGBTQ+ people but then tell us to sit down and shut up when we express our fears or stand up for our rights. We've resisted making sure the identities of all human beings are not delegitimized by being dismissed as lifestyle choices or something to be ashamed of or cured like a disease.

White people have legitimized the idea that whether or not black lives really matter is just another matter of opinion. We've normalized the exclusion of black history from all lives. We've legitimized allowing white people to determine which black lives are celebrated and which black lives remain hidden figures. We've resisted entering black spaces and letting the legitimate emotion of black struggles enter our spaces because it makes us uncomfortable.

We've resisted the moral imperative to ensure all citizens have access to food, clean water, housing, and health care, the most basic human needs. We've normalized inequality in access to quality education and the re-segregation of our schools. We've legitimized judging who is deserving of what so many of us take for granted and have normalized taking for granted what so many do not dare dream of having. We've resisted welcoming refugees and immigrants and ensuring they feel the same sense of security and are part of the same promise we make to children who were born here. We've normalized shirking our duty as one of the great and prosperous nations to protect the planet we all share.

We've normalized ignorance. We've resisted sharing knowledge and ideas of substance over what just so happens to illicit the most base responses from an audience at large. We've legitimized the making up of facts. We've normalized forming an opinion over a headline instead of evaluating information with critical thought. We've legitimized choosing to be entertained over being informed.

The time has come to leave the path that led us here and for each of us to quarry, chisel, and lay our stones to pave a new way. We must smooth the road of democracy to make it easier for our neighbors to travel and make sure they have good maps to help guide them. It's easy to call out a president, a senator, an organization, people on the Internet. Let us instead look within ourselves and move out from there to those closest to us, for it is what we accept as normal and legitimate in ourselves and from those we interact with every day that will be reflected as normal and legitimate in a nation built on We the People.

We have a choice as to whether we sit on the eve of destruction or stand in the dawn of awakening. To whom and to what will we transfer our power? To what ideals will we pledge our allegiance and to what ends will we go to uphold and defend them? We must choose whether we will look outwardly for heroes to save us and villains to blame or inward to transform ourselves into defenders of democracy, allies of the oppressed, vanquishers of inequality, and champions of justice. We choose whether we wish to be antagonists through inaction or protagonists in the great American story.

"Do not go gently into that good night...rage, rage against the dying of the light." - Dylan Thomas

Friday, November 11, 2016

Forward Together

When I was 12 years old, I was scared about some of the things going on in my state. I went to a Moral Monday event. I've been to many others since then. It was there I first met Rev. Dr. William Barber and it was he who first showed me how to fight.

Yes, this is a sermon and no, I am not religious, but listen to these words. The work we are about to undertake is going to require us to not allow things like our religion, our class, our gender, our political party, or any other label to divide those of us who are serious about the work we are called to undertake. Take some time when you can, listen to these words, and ask yourself where you fit into this message. 

I know a lot of people are scared right now. Many are angry. I share those feelings with you. But we can't allow those feelings to overcome us and allow them to paralyze us into inaction. It is inaction that got us here in the first place. We also cannot allow these feelings to influence wrong actions.

Make no mistake, the fights we may very well be facing soon will not be easy and results will not be quick. But we can make a difference. 

So let me get back to Moral Monday and the Forward Together Movement for a moment. A lot of people might be tempted to see our gatherings as protests, but they are so much more. These are opportunities to organize around issues. Representatives of organizations and people directly impacted by legislation speak to inform. We have teach-ins where people gather in small groups to share ideas on taking action. We meet new people and network with each other. We contact our legislators. We practice peaceful, non-violent, civil disobedience when our legislators, the people who are elected to represent us, refuse to listen to us and communicate with us. We mobilize people to vote. We can follow this model now, nationwide.

When it comes to my state legislature, Senate, and House of Representatives, I know how to watch them in session and when I can't watch, I know who to follow to get updates on issues. I know how to look up bills and find out who voted how and what districts those people represent.

I see a lot of people talking about elections in two years or in four years. We have elections next year. What and who is going to be on the ballot in that election in your area? Where is justice going to be on the ballot next November in your area? What is happening in your area to get justice on the ballot? What is happening in your area to allow and encourage as many people as possible to vote for justice on the ballot?

What we need to do now is organize and take action. We need to focus on issues. We need to hold our lawmakers accountable and tell them what we expect. The time for excuses as to why we can't do this is over. There is a difference between I can't and I don't want to. There is a difference between I don't know how and I'd rather stay in my comfort zone where things are easy. There is a difference between I don't have time and I'd rather spend my time doing something else.

Instead of arguing with people, gather with those people who share your vision and mobilize. Sharing productive things on social media is great to find more people to gather with you, but also share your feelings and ideas with legislators. Call them. Email them. Show up at their offices. Find organizations that work for social justice and work to help vulnerable populations, join them, and get to work.

We need to tell our legislators what we expect and give them the opportunity to do right. Even if they have done wrong in the past, we need to allow them the opportunity to hear us and change and do right. When they do wrong, they need to hear from us, every single time. 

When I was 12, I saw my state legislature remove pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds in a voting reform bill. This was wrong. I spoke out and communicated with legislators. I tried to meet with my Governor. I did not shut up. I kept speaking out. Other people saw me speaking out and decided to speak out too. The issue was brought into Federal Court along with other parts of the voting reform bill. Parts of that bill were struck down by the court and pre-registration was returned. On election day, my state elected a new Governor. That was a three year fight. That was a victory for teenagers who are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. That was a victory for the state and the country as a whole encouraging more people to participate in democracy. That was a victory for justice.

When we organize, when we show up, when we have each other's backs, when we keep our eyes on the prize, when we don't get distracted by those who want to work against us, the victories will come. They will not come easy. They will not come fast. They will not come all at once, but they will come.

We need to be the change we want to see. We need to take the moral high ground when they don't. If we want them to change their behavior, we have to change ours. There will be people from across the political spectrum who will stand up with us. Not all people will join with us in all areas, but we have to go issue by issue, forming coalitions of support and working. Now is not the time to focus on red or blue, liberal or conservative. Now is the time to focus on right and wrong.

We have to be brave and stand up boldly with the courage of our convictions.We must try to do this in every area of our lives. At work, at school, at home, in our relationships. We must stand for those who are weak. We must stand for those who are persecuted. We must stand for those who are in danger. We do not ask for justice, we demand it. We demand it with our words and with our actions, but most importantly with our actions.

Who will stand up with me today and lead? I'm not giving up. Forward together, not one step back.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

I was brought up to respect the office of President of the United States. As a voting rights activist, I deeply respect and revere the opportunity we have as Americans, that has come as a result of great service and sacrifice, to exercise our most sacred civic duty and choose who represents us in government. I congratulate you on being elected to the highest office in our nation.

In your election night speech, you said, “For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so we can unify our great country.”

I did not support you in this election. Today, I am taking you at your word.

A transgender teenager I’m connected to on social media committed suicide at 4 AM Wednesday morning. One of my best friends went to school on Wednesday where other students were walking up to one of his Muslim classmates saying they hope he gets deported. I got another message from another friend saying that a boy grabbed a fellow student’s crotch while other boys laughed and shouted, “Make America great again.” Many kids and teenagers are very scared right now all over America, and many of their parents are scared for them. I myself am scared for my safety and my future.

While I do respect the office of President of the United States, I do not respect positions and attitudes that are violent, sexist, racist, bigoted toward the LGBTQ+ community, or discriminatory based on religion or national origin. The actions some people have chosen that result from these positions and attitudes are unacceptable and have no place in a great America. On this, I hope we can agree.

I would like to offer you some guidance and help today in unifying our great country, sir. I would like to invite you to join with me in offering the leadership our nation needs right now. This starts with denouncing, very vocally and prominently, the positions and attitudes that threaten the equality, well-being, security, and lives of our fellow citizens, especially our children and teenagers.

I know firsthand that the political world is tough. I know how hard it is to personally struggle through feelings and attitudes that aren’t in the best interest of our country or its people. I know that saying what you know will be attention-getting or well-received by your audience is easy, but digging down after deep reflection of what’s right is much harder. The past several hours have been incredibly hard for me. My audience would probably much rather read some very different words from me right now. But my country needs me now, and sir, it needs you too.

I would also like to let you, and anyone reading this, to know that it is in large part because of Hillary Clinton I am able to look forward today. It is because of her leadership and what I’ve learned while working on this campaign that I am able to put my country first today. I hope that, in your desire to unify our country, you can look past the ways in which you might differ with Secretary Clinton on policy and look to some of her outstanding examples of inclusive leadership that have, and continue to, offer hope to millions of us.

I am not religious, but I believe in forgiveness and redemption. I believe that people have the ability to change. I believe now that the time for campaigning is over and the time for governing nears, you can look at some of the rhetoric that has led to my friends reaching out to me in fear, anger, and despair and reflect on the kind of leadership these young people need from you right now. Your silence and failure to act in the face of this turmoil is complicity.

I promise you this. Moving forward, I will do my best to focus on the words you use and actions you take from this day forth and not dwell on the words and actions of the past. I promise to help my President and First Lady in any efforts to encourage our young people to actively participate in our democracy in positive ways. I’m sure there will be times when we do not agree on policy, but it is my hope that we move through the next four years agreeing on what constitutes common decency and the importance of providing positive leadership for our young people. I also promise you that I will do my duty as a citizen to continue to speak up for the young people of this country and fight for their freedom, equality, and opportunities and I will hold my lawmakers accountable for their words and actions. In the times my lawmakers fail to step up, I will stand up.

The sun has come up in the morning. Whether the view out of our windows is a shining city on a hill or the burning rubble of destruction is up to both of us, I think. You reached out for help. I am willing to help. I choose this thing not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Forward Together,

Madison Kimrey  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Your Apathy Is Killing Us

When you're an activist of any type, you know that those moments when mainstream media covers your issue, whatever it is, you've got a very small window to get the viewers and readers of those stories to turn from passive consumers into action takers. It's very easy to get people to comment on stories. It's a little harder to get people to share information. It's really, really hard to get people to take action and contact a legislator. It should not be this hard.

When a big story hits, your inbox goes crazy. Mixed in with information about what other people in your networks are doing and people asking you legitimate questions are some of the most vile and disgusting messages. These range from the ridiculous to rape threats and death threats.

Worse than this are the people who know you and actively try to discourage you. Yesterday, an activist I know got messages that she was going overboard with her gunsense information and call to action posts, in the wake of a great tragedy and on a day when it was especially important to get as much legislative contact from the public at large as possible.

Worse than this is the silence from people who, when you need them to show up, are nowhere to be found.

People need us now. They need you now. They need you every day. They need you to show up.

Young activists are tired of you talking about the future. We are here and now and trying to make a difference right now. Where are you?

There are those in the LGBTQ+ community who are scared and hurt. Some of these people are out and some are not, but knowing that someone cares about them enough to publicly take action on their behalf to show support could be the ray of sunshine that cuts through the clouds and reminds them that someone cares and helps them go on. Where are you?

If you are tired of excuses from our legislators as to why they can't do anything, where are you?

Stop making excuses. Stop being a coward. Inform yourself and take just one moment out of your life to do something. Have somebody's back. Show somebody you have their back.

Here are the emails, phone numbers, and Twitter handles of every member of Congress:

This is the easiest thing in the world you can do.

This will take less than five minutes.

Seriously, all you have to do is call or email or tweet and say "I care about this thing."

What do you care about? What important things do you care about? Show up.

Thoughts and prayers are for you. Do something for somebody else.

Your silence hurts. Your silence kills.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Call Me a Bitch

This quote is about the situations women face involving inappropriate behavior, such as catcalling, unwanted touching, and other forms of male aggression.

I posted this quote and received the following comment:
"But then people get on you for being a bitch and it becomes another problem. Gotta find a middle ground."

No. No women don't have to find middle ground when faced with sexism and misogyny. Finding middle ground requires respect. No one who calls me a bitch for standing up for myself is interested in finding middle ground. This comment also implies that when a man calls a woman a female dog, she should internalize that comment and adjust her behavior to his liking.

Some men have the audacity, as a result of growing up in a society that endows them with privilege, to believe that they can treat women any way they want without consequence. They believe that degrading women by calling them names or otherwise implying that a woman who commands or demands respect is undesirable is a legitimate way to empower themselves. When women talk about the issues we face, they come in to our spaces to argue against the importance or even the existence of these issues.

A friend of mine posted another quote shortly after I posted the one above.

It's not only the culture mired in patriarchy that contributes to the issues women face; it's a culture mired in ignorance. The same person who implied that being called a bitch is somehow a woman's problem later denied the existence of rape culture but doesn't understand the concept of date rape.

Anyone who is truly interested in furthering the cause of equality and in empowering men and women will take the responsibility to inform themselves seriously. Anyone who expects me to take them seriously will undertake that responsibility with respect. Otherwise, prepare to meet a bitch who doesn't care what you call her.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bathroom Things

While scrolling through my feed this week, I came across a post saying that talking about the "bathroom things" is not good political strategy in one person's opinion. That talking about it, "helps us lose."

In the words of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, "This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and a country, have enacted to protect them - indeed, to protect all of us. And it's about the founding ideals that have led this country - haltingly but inexorably - in the direction of fairness, inclusion, and equality for all Americans."

Republicans are using fear and discrimination to rally support from their base in order to increase their chances of winning in November. They are using the most vulnerable and marginalized among us as their pawns and not caring if they are sacrificed. To them, it's just a game.

We must ask ourselves, is this what we are? Are we merely opponents playing the same game? Are our actions just moves in an attempt to win a round?

Real people are hurt by the "bathroom things." They are hurt by  the bullying and discrimination that leads to depression and suicide and violence. There are people advocating carrying guns and even using pepper spray against transgender people who enter a bathroom. This is not a game.

The battles we've fought for civil rights in this country have never been easy. The victories that have led to expanded rights and opportunities for our neighbors have come from those with the courage to take a stand. They've come as a result of bloodshed and imprisonment. They have come at the expense of lost friendships, broken family bonds, and yes, even lost elections. They've not come instantly, but as a result of being patient and persistent. They've come from those who have had the strength to march on, even when what's right is not what's popular.

Now, our President has shown the courage to talk about the "bathroom things" and stand up for all public school students across the country. In doing this, President Obama has not only shown his willingness to fight against bullying and discrimination, but that he believes in all of us. He believes we will also demonstrate the courage of our convictions and stand up to those who refuse to acknowledge that a trans woman is a woman and a trans man is a man. He believes we will stand up whenever someone starts talking about "boys in the girls' bathroom." President Obama believes that we will march on.

Yes, the stakes in this election are high. We must do our part to elect representatives that will continue to protect and expand civil rights. But we must also look forward to the elections of the future. There was a time when people advocated segregated water fountains. Now, saying something like that in public is almost unheard of because enough people, over time, became members of the chorus of voices speaking out against those kinds of discriminatory actions and attitudes. It took time, but we changed the reality millions of Americans have to deal with in their daily lives, and it has been reflected in our politics.

Regardless of the outcome of this or any election, we will march on. It's not enough to say, "We are not this." We also have to define who we are.

Yes we can.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Go Fish

If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get five percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card." - Donald Trump

Let's play.

The King: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "It's not women's liberation. It's women's and men's liberation."

The Queen: Hillary Clinton, "I have always believed women are not victims; we are agents of change, we are drivers of progress, we are makers of peace- all we need is a fighting chance."

The Jack: Wendy Davis, "Women all over the country deserve leaders that care, that listen, and that work to protect their interests."

The Ace: Gloria Steinem, "Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon."

The 2: Cecile Richards, "If [women] aren't at the table, we're on the menu."

The 3: Madeline Albright, "People everywhere, including the United States, are still prone to accept stereotypes, eager to believe what we want to believe, anxious to believe while others take the lead, seeking to avoid both responsibility and risk."

The 4: Elizabeth Warren, "Do you have any idea what year it is? Did you fall down, hit your head, and woke up in the 1950's? Or the 1890's? Should we call for a doctor?"

The 5: Kirsten Gillibrand, "We need more consensus-builders, we need people who will listen more, who are less ego-driven and partisan."

The 6: Nancy Pelosi, "Women are leaders everywhere you look- from the CEO who runs a Fortune 500 company to the housewife who raises her children and heads her household. Our country was built by strong women, and we will continue to break down walls and defy stereotypes."

The 7: Loretta Lynch, "It's the choices you make and the things you're willing to accept and not accept that define who you are."

The 8: Claire McCaskill, "It’s important to me to encourage more women to run for office…But equally important is encouraging more men to sometimes just shut the hell up. It’s not that women don’t value your thoughts, it’s just that we don’t value all of them."

The 9: Rachel Maddow, "I can't be frustrated with you because you're stupid but I can be mad at you because you're evil."

Go Fish, Donald.