Where to Start?

Note: I’m posting about my political or social justice activities thoughts each week. It’s not an invitation to debate in the comments sections. If you yell at me online, I’ll just delete the comment. If you’d like to have a conversation about any of my ideas, I’m pretty easy to find. Let’s do it in person. I’ll buy the first cup of coffee. We’ll get along famously in person. In return, I promise not to yell at you online, too. Internet comments don’t solve anything.

Although it wasn’t the most active week for me, I was struck by a few thoughts that might shape how I view the impending Trump administration.

  1. Propaganda. A lot of people are calling it “fake news.” From now on, I’m going to have to call it like I see it: propaganda. So full of lies, so full of unrelenting awfulness of pretty much every stripe, that to call it “fake” or simply “clickbait” is naive. I’ve read some articles this week about what motivates these propaganda sites, and the common denominator seems to be an immense amount of advertising money. They are dangerous. There seems to be very little difference between what is found there and some more common examples of propaganda.
  2. HERE and HERE are two links to lists of propaganda sites you might want to peruse. I haven’t checked every one of the sources, so my keyword will be watchfulness. I must study where my news is coming from. I suppose there are some who will argue that we can’t trust any media source, but I’m not one of those people. The newspapers I subscribe to are The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Seacoast Online and The Nation. The news websites I’ve been visiting are: ProPublica, NPR, Mother Jones, Slate (HERE is an excellent article about what the roadmap forward may look like), and Salon. Newspaper sites I’ve been visiting include: The Des Moines Register, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, and The Kansas City Star. I’m sure all of these publications will draw ire from someone. That’s fine. What I would suggest is that it is imperative to read as much news from as many sources as possible. None of these sites are propaganda sites, no matter what their individual points-of-views or editorial flaws may be.
  3. I’m still astounded by the amount of craziness I see in the comment sections or pretty much any news article. It’s like the country has been holding back vast reserves of craziness and the levee has broken and it’s all flooding into the comment sections. And I know it was bad before. It just seems exponentially worse. Trump’s victory has emboldened those at the very edges in new and profound ways (THIS for example). It’s difficult to disengage from commenting. For instance, my school, The University of New Hampshire, came under fire this week from some alt-right hit squads for what a couple of our professors said in personal Facebook posts. You would have thought our faculty was burning copies of the constitution on T-Hall lawn. Our president issued a statement outlining our school’s commitment to dealing swiftly and severely with incidents of hate speech or hate assault. That’s a no-brainer, right? Isn’t that the way it should be? We had an African American student spit on and our response was to say, “these are things we will not tolerate.” But to read the comment section on our Facebook page? You’d have thought we were some vast liberal enclave that was systematically beating Trump supporters and expelling anyone who didn’t vote for Hillary (one commenter actually posted the latter). None of this, it should go without saying, is true. We are a relatively large and complex state university with students representing all points of the political spectrum. The worst thing about the comments is that it was glaringly obvious that most of the posters hadn’t even read the statement from the president. I can only assume they were working off of “hunches” about what a bunch of elitist college folk might say about hate speech. Worried about what colleges are doing to the kids? Come take a class. Come find out what is really happening.
  4. The one thing I haven’t done yet is make phone calls to my elected officials. I don’t know why this has been difficult for me. Mostly, I’m better on the page and I’ve never liked talking on the phone. But that’s a cop-out. I’ve read that letters and emails get filed and looked at according to some algorithm. So this week, I will try to do better to get on the phone. It’s a small action that I should get used to. It seems like I’ll have the opportunity to make many such phone calls over the next few years. The first phone calls need to be about the group of extreme (insane?) people filling out Trump’s cabinet. Throughout the election, I thought over and over that “he can’t get any crazier than he already is” and yet he did. Now, I keep thinking that “he can’t pick anyone worse than the last person he picked.” But he has. It’s an appalling group of people. It’s says something that the mention of Mitt Romney as a potential Secretary of State calms me somewhat.
  5. “Fidel Castro is dead!” That tweet from our President-Elect is a four word proof that the man isn’t qualified to lead our country. No matter what you think of Castro, of his politics, of the violence of his revolution, of his country, of communism—to write with such obvious glee about the death of a head of state is not normal. There are maybe a thousand ways to acknowledge in 140 characters that Castro had died that would have been more sensitive to Cuba, the Cuban people (including Cuban immigrants who are understandably anti-Castro), and the international community without pretending that he felt Castro was a great leader or person. Here’s one that I thought of in about twenty seconds: “Despite the differences between us, I extend sympathies from the US to Fidel Castro’s family and country at the time of his death.” Can Trump be any less articulate? Can he be any more coarse? I would say no, but I fear he’d prove me wrong. I know that there are voters who voted for Trump as a representative for change—but does change mean that we aren’t able to speak like grown-ups? Whatever you may think of him or his policies, President Obama has been one of the most eloquent and dignified leaders in my lifetime. The prospect of Trump comforting a community after a mass shooting (Potential tweet: “If they had guns, maybe they’d be alive! Second Amendment!”) or after a natural disaster (Tweet: “Sad. So much property damage. Weather is unpredictable.”) is so disheartening. This is just one of the many reasons a Trump presidency cannot be normalized. There is no normalizing a man with no shame.
  6. Books: I’m reading John Lewis’s Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the movement. HERE is a link to the book on Goodreads, if you’d like to see what it’s all about, or perhaps read along. I figure we are beginning a new phase of the same movement so it’s important to understand the larger picture.
  7. Thanks for reading. More next week.

A Week oF Gearing Up

I’m going to be posting something about my political or social justice activities each week. I’m posting on my blog http://www.clarkknowles.com, on Medium, and on Facebook. It’s not an invitation to debate in the comments sections. If you yell at me on any of those platforms, I’ll just delete the comment without additional comment. If you’d like to have a conversation about any of my ideas here, I’m pretty easy to find. Let’s do it in person. I’ll even buy the first cup of coffee. Yes, I’m wicked liberal, but we’d probably get along famously in person. And in return, I promise not to yell at you online, too. Deal? Internet comments never solved anything.

This has been an interesting week. On Monday, I came out of my post-election funk. Either that or I ran out of 30 Rock episodes to watch in order to avoid despair, and my brain kicked me back into the ring. I had a lot of catch up work to do for school. I met with my classes, allowed the election process/results be part of the conversation, but we also got back to work. On Tuesday, the University of New Hampshire Democrats staged a walk-out and gathering on the T-Hall lawn (Thompson Hall is our flagship structure—the oldest, most visible building, and it is surrounded by a massive green). I encouraged my students to participate but said that I’d be hanging around for those that wanted to stay and write and talk about fiction. I left the room to get water and when I came back, five students remained and we did our work as we might on any other day. They are all good and bright and hardworking people.

The next day, the Union Leader (our state’s biggest conservative newspaper) wrote a story which quoted Republican State Chairman Jennifer Horne, who was angry that our Women’s Studies Program posted on Facebook telling students that if they wanted to come by and make posters with supplies in the office, that they’d be open till 4:30. The problem, according to Horne, is that the markers and poster board were bought with tax-payer money. This is unconfirmed, of course, and if the WS program is anything like the English Department, I’m suspecting that staffers there routinely by their own markers. Chairman Horne got pretty angry that a group of students who study women might want to make signs protesting against Trump, a man who has been routinely awful towards women in pretty much every way imaginable. I found her anger spurious and partisan at best, purposely distracting at worst (news of Trump’s lawsuit settlement broke the following day). I’ll be bringing a box of Sharpies and poster board over to the Women’s Studies Department so that they’ll have “non-tax payer supplies” to use next time. If I see any of those students who made signs in the Women’s Study Office, I’m going to thank them for participating in the process. The walk-out and protest, was not an “anti-Trump” rally, as the newspaper article stated. Here is the description from the Facebook invite: “This is to show our solidarity with all people who are at risk of getting their rights taken away by a Trump presidency, and to ensure that it is known that Trump’s hateful rhetoric does not represent our generation and we will not allow any anti-climate, racist, sexist, or xenophobic policies to win through.” Also, the comments on the Union Leader article were enough to make me want to start 30 Rock all over again and hide in a hole until the bombs start going off.

Also on our campus this week:

An anti-walk-out protest by two people. One in a Richard Nixon mask and one in a Gorilla costume. I heard reports that these two anti-protesters were handing out pacifiers to the folks with the signs. Although I understand the “Dick’s out for Harambe” gist of the thing, I’m not sure what these protesters were actually trying to say. My gut feeling is that the gorilla was meant as a racist comment, but Nixon? Unclear. Perhaps these two students should have gone to the Women’s Study Office and made some signs? They need to learn to use their words.

Also, an African American female student was taunted by male students with Trump signs and spit upon. There is no joke to mediate this point. It’s awful in just about every possible way. Our President, Mark Huddleston issued a statement two days after the election encouraging kindness and inclusiveness across the campus during what are obviously divisive times. Although I doubt it was his intent in the letter, it does have that “normalizing” tone that much of the power structure in the country (including the President) seem to be adopting toward the president elect and his increasingly frightening cabinet and staff. As an institution, and as a country, we cannot abide inclusion of racist, hateful, misogynistic, authoritarian, fascist points of view. We must stand up to those base qualities wherever we find them. My hope is that Mr. Huddleston will issue another statement that is perhaps more direct in its language, saying something to the effect that our school will have zero tolerance for intolerance, and that any attacks on students—verbally, physical, or in social media—will be answered swiftly with expulsion. I know the university president’s job is tough. He has to balance on a pretty thin line to keep the place (and its mass of personalities, opinions, and needs both intellectual and financial) running smoothly. And I do believe that student health and well-being is very important to him, but I would like to encourage him to speak more forcefully on this subject, and to address any hate-crime head-on, immediately. We cannot allow for one moment this sort of new-world fascism to be our new-normal.

On the personal side: I’ve subscribed to digital versions of the NY Times, the Boston Globe, and The Seacoast Online. I’ve been investigating newspapers from the middle of the country, too. Des Moines. Salt Lake City. Tulsa. I haven’t ordered subscriptions, but I want to see how the news is reported in those cities. If those states are so overwhelmingly red in population, they are definitely seeing a different sort of news. I’ve also begun reading ProPublica. I’ve donated to NH-AAUP and Planned Parenthood. I’ve been wearing my big-ass safety pin. There has been a lot of backlash about the safety pin, but if our president and vice-presidents elect or their white supremacist staff, need a safe place to go to talk about how the theater people are abusing them and making them feel bad about their homophobia and general alt-right agenda, I want them to know that they can come to me.

On a serious note—to anyone, but to students at the Durham Campus of the University of New Hampshire in particular: if you are feeling threatened, marginalized, afraid, uncomfortable, or if you’ve been the victim of hate-speech or action and you don’t know where to turn? You are not alone. That safety pin on my jacket is just a symbol, but it means that I’m someone you can talk to and that I will help you find the real help you need. Until next week—


Things to Do in Light of the Recent Election

Okay, I was poleaxed by the election. I’ve spent the last six days reading and thinking. Okay, not really. I’ve spent much of the last six days streaming 30 Rock on a constant loop so I wouldn’t have to think. But, I did a lot of reading, too. Cross my heart. This post will outline some things I’ve learned and some things I’m going to try to do. This isn’t an invitation to debate, because I don’t want to be yelled at on Facebook. If you want to have a conversation with me about anything I write here, super. I’m pretty easy to find. But if you yell at me on Facebook, I’ll just delete the comment. In return, I promise not to yell at you on Facebook either. Deal? I’ve seen this viral-video of some British guy yelling while standing in front of an infinity screen. He waves his arms a lot and has cool, hip, messy hair. He tries to look like he’s not looking at himself. He blames people like me for losing the election because of the liberal bubble. Maybe some of what he says is true—I do live in a liberal town, teach at a University (although certainly not a traditionally liberal school), and have a ton of liberal friends. But I read. A lot. I also teach critical writing and I get news from a number of sources (almost exclusively text, I watch very little cable or network news.). I’m on the side of honest debate, factual reporting, facts in general, truth, critical thought, non-reductive reasoning, social justice, climate change urgency, anti-racism, anti-misogyny—well, you get the picture. It’s not difficult to see where I stand. That’s my bubble. So be it. I don’t know if that means I helped elect Donald Trump. But that’s what the yelling-man with the cool, messy hair tells me I’ve done. I find his rant condescending. I find his reasoning reductive and abstract. Plus, he talks about being “lynched” like he’s not aware of the racial connotations, or, worse, he’s using the word “lynched” so he’ll seem edgy or cool. So, screw that guy. He pleads for people to “talk to him” but he’s too loud and obnoxious. What is needed is action. I’m late to the party. I’ve stood on the sidelines for too long. Here are some thoughts about how I’m going to get active as we run up to the inauguration of the new president.

  • I’m going to write to my congresswomen and representatives to urge them to oppose Steve Bannon taking any job in the White House. A cursory glance at his publishing record should scare any average voter, Republican or Democrat. His extremist views are abhorrent. He shouldn’t be allowed a janitorial position on the staff, let alone Chief Strategist. We need to keep this man away from our White House.
  • I’m going to subscribe to at least two newspapers, maybe three. I’m thinking Boston Globe, Washington Post, and New York Times. But if there is a notable paper that you’d suggest, I’d consider that too. It’s important to support our press in this new era of hostility toward good old-fashioned journalism.
  • I’m going to join the NH-ACLU and set up a recurring donation to the National ACLU. At a time when our civil liberties are being threatened, I want to be a part of an organization that will fight for all of our rights.
  • I am going to challenge every racist, misogynistic, or anti-LGTBQ action or word I see in the world (but not on social media, because no mind is changed by internet comment sections). I hope that I am strong enough to do this. With the immediate rise of hate-speech and hate-crime in the wake of the election, I know that I must stand up for any group that may be marginalized or feel threatened. If I can use my privilege as a shield in some way to help a victim of even a micro-aggression, I will.
  • And yup, I’m going to wear a safety pin. Put a safety pin on my office door. Put a safety pin on the front door of my home. In my car. On each jacket. On my teaching notebooks. Maybe even hang one from my glasses. It’s just a symbol, but so is the American Flag.
  • I’m going to try to extend love in all directions. That sounds hippyish and abstract, and I haven’t figured out what it means for every situation, but I know that it’s my only path. That doesn’t mean I won’t get angry. And that doesn’t mean I think a racist, misogynistic, bully for a president is “normal” in any way. But I can’t go forward from a place of hate. It has to be love. I have friends I know voted for Trump. You know who you are. I love you too. I can’t change anything but me.
  • I will not consider Trump’s administration “normal.” Period.
  • I’m going to continue to teach critical thinking and reading skills as best I can in the First Year Writing Course I teach almost every semester. Who knows if any of that stuff sticks (exhausted looking 8am students, you’d know better than me). But if I continue to demand critical thinking, reading, and writing, that is positive forward motion.
  • I’m going to continue to teach the creative process and creative writing in the Introductory and Intermediate and Advanced Fiction writing courses I teach. What is more hopeful than creating something? Every time a student writes about a person not themselves, they learn about the world through a different set of eyes. Maybe a stated goal of those classes should be “developing the empathetic palette.” I will ask them to read stories that show the world from a wide range of vantage points, in particular those of the populations of folks threatened by or fearful of a Trump presidency.
  • I will read more myself. I already choose my books from a broad spectrum, but for the upcoming year, I will read at least one extra book per month that deals with some issue or population that is in danger under a Trump Presidency.
  • I will write more about these subjects and post more on my website. For several years, my website has lacked focus. I post relatively infrequently. But now, Clarkknowles.com will have a purpose. It won’t be all posts like this. But each week, I will write and post on a subject that pertains to my country and this new president and/or his policies and how they effect the people.
  • I will join an organization on the University of New Hampshire’s campus that promotes social justice. I don’t know which one, yet. I have to do a little research.
  • I will look into how I can best help insure that the mid-term elections are more aligned to the core values to which our founding documents aspire. Conversely, I will speak out against the notion that our white-male-property-and-slave-owning founding fathers are people we should fetishize as we imagine a better tomorrow. The documents, yes, the men, no.
  • So, as we move toward the inauguration, I will begin these things. It’s the only way I can see to go forward—action, even on this small scale, is the only path away from total despair. Through action, I can envision renaissance instead of apocalypse. I hope that you’ll join me in some form of action as we work to protect those who most need our protection.

How to change my thinking

We have failed our children.

We must show our children strength in adversity.

We have failed the earth.

We must fight for our planet.

We have failed our LGBTQ community.

We must tell our gay men, our lesbian women, our trans brothers&sisters, that we will not stop fighting for them.

We have failed our women, our minorities, our immigrants.

We must honor the sacrifices made in the long, long arc of the moral universe as it bend slowly towards justice. We must continue what those who came before us started. We must not falter.

We have underestimated the power of fear and ignorance and hate.

We must extend love in all directions.

We have failed as educators.

We must educate.

We have elected a bully.

We must not be bullied.

There is no hope, only despair.

Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

It’s late and this is long:

So what’s it all mean? The election certainly didn’t go the way I expected. I never, ever, would have thought we’d elect a man so thoroughly repugnant. Although the word “values” is more often than not a coded word for intolerance and misogyny, I am grateful for those basic lessons instilled in me by my parents. A good chunk of how I live my life now comes from the Boy Scout Law: a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. I have my problems with the Boy Scouts as an organization, but I can’t fault that Law. It’s a group of abstract nouns that help me gauge the general quality of my life and how my life effects those around me. I don’t know about our next president. He scares me. His rhetoric scares me. His fascist tendencies and authoritarianism scare me. But I’m powerless tonight over anything but my own actions. So I’m coming to this blank page to see if I can chart a path. Words are, after all, my trade. Tomorrow, I’m going to get up, tell my daughter and my wife that I love them, go to yoga, go to work, come home and make dinner for my family, go be with my tribe at my normal Wednesday night gathering, and ask myself what I can do to make the world a better place. In short, I’m going to try to live by many of those Law tenants. I so want to hide my head in the sand for a while. I so want to just go about things as if nothing has changed. But the only antidote is action. I don’t know what that action is yet. I don’t know what it is that I can do in my community to help this ugly haze dissipate, but I know it involves being with my community. I know it involves the work I do teaching. I know it involves the people I know at yoga, in my town, in my recovery groups. I know it means I need to read even more. I know it involves more learning. I know it involves work, physical and mental and emotional. I know it involves discovering a deeper awareness of all things relating to social justice. I know it involves kindness and love in all directions. When I was watching the election results, I called one person on the television a “pile of shit.” My daughter was in the room. As soon as it left my mouth, I knew how awful it was that she had to hear me say those words. How had I become that guy? The guy that calls other human beings such vile names? That sort of thinking or speaking cannot be the answer. I’m going to need to be better than that. Love in all directions. It sounds phony and hippyish, butI can’t see any other way through. Hey, I’m a fifty year old white guy. Things probably won’t change too much for me, at least not right away. At least not if the new president doesn’t nuke something in his first 100 days. I’ll probably lose a lot of that retirement money I’ve been socking away. The economy will probably keep going just enough that I can keep my job. But it’s not me that I’m worried about. I’m worried for my daughter—our daughters—and for anyone with dark skin or anyone who came here hoping to find a better life but might not be here legally yet. Hell, I’m worried about a lot of stuff. But I was worried about a lot of other stuff last week, and worrying didn’t help anything then either. I’ll have to work on an antidote to worry, too. It’s going to be a tough four years. I know I’m rambling. It’s late. I’m tired. I’m trying to fight off despair. So forgive me this late-night missive. The sun’s going to come up in a handful of hours. And I’m going to get up with it and see if I can get busy doing the things that need to be done.


img_3879I’ve been sitting in the dark, waiting, waiting beneath the window with the cracked pane in the lower left square, flies on the windowsill dead from the cold. Isn’t it funny how you can walk out of a room on a cold morning and then the sun hits the window just a bit and warms the glass and then there are full grown flies just crawling everywhere. Minny says they are hiding in the hollow where the sash weights hang, just waiting for the warm air, but Mr. Capshaw says it’s eggs hatching. Anyway you won’t ever see it because it only happens when there’s no one watching. Mr. Capshaw says that if you look at something, it changes the way that something acts. Isn’t that strange? I thought it was strange as heck. I can’t remember how he said it exactly, I mean his exact words were all scientific. He said that observation affects the observed. Minny shook her head. We sit at that front desk, the one with the broken eye-wash sink with tape over the faucet. She looked at her pencil and it didn’t move and she said to Mr. Capshaw, I just looked at my pencil and it didn’t do anything different. Mr. Capshaw said, How you do you know it didn’t? Minny looked up at him and shook her head. Later, in Mrs. Simmons classroom, she stood over by the globe and spun it around but I didn’t know what she was looking for. I’ve been up in the attic waiting for someone to turn on the lights. There are the boxes from before we moved, still taped shut: Barry’s books, Barry’s clothes, Barry’s knick-knacks. A box of spices. Plates. Towels. Linens. All of the stuff we never opened up. I stared at the flies for a time. I stared out the crack in the window, first I closed my left eye. Then the right. With my left eye, I could see the big tree at the end of the driveway. With my right, I could see the dirt patch where I imagine Barry’s car parked. I almost can’t remember the car now. It had that long sloping back window. I could lay across the back of the seat when we were driving and close my eyes and it was like we was flying. Then when I look with both eyes, I could only see the crack in the glass. Then I started looking at the light. I started thinking that if I looked at it long enough, I could make it turn on. Please, I keep saying in my head, please, please, please.