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A Letter to Young Adults after the Election of 2020

Honestly, I originally wrote this letter to my fellow peer counselors, but I sometimes think you all are the more worthy audience.

My beloved young adults,

I send you love on this day of celebration. If we have never met, my name is Leonie Barkakati and I am a 28-year-old woman of South Asian decent. I want to spend just a little bit of your time to share what is on my mind now that the election is over.

Four years ago, when Donald Trump was elected, I was 24 years old. At that time, in a state of hopelessness, I was convinced Trump would be a two-term president. Both consciously and subconsciously, there were futures of mine that I let go of. I was convinced I should not reach for dreams, take big risks, or hope for anything more than the status quo. I gave up on the idea of marrying at a time when that could put me at risk of being legally bound to someone who might lose healthcare or be kicked out of the country. Perhaps this was a cowardly way to live, but it seemed far too great a risk to put my heart in that position. I gave up on the idea of bringing a child into this world for possibly 8 years. I did not want to raise a young person in a world that would take away any hope parents might have and doom a child to live with heavy, heavy oppressions.

Yet, here we are only 4 years later, in a very different capacity than we were 4 years ago. I may have to re-evaluate a great many choices I made since I was 24. I may have to admit that all is not lost. We have thousands of (mostly young) people to thank, who made sure people had access to mail-in ballots and fought to protect polls. How many of them must have been working, probably overworked and underpaid, in red and swing states like Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan, to ensure ballots made it into the hands of women, the working class, people of color, and young people?

Surely, you cannot still believe you are insignificant. 141 million people participated in this election, a 66.8 percent turnout rate. This is the highest turnout rate since 1900, when 73.7 percent of voters re-elected William McKinley. Whether or not we can see it, the wide world believes. They believe in themselves, they believe in the goodness of other people. Good people went out in the world and convinced other good people, and they set the world straight.

You have no excuses anymore. This is the time to put forth ideas. You are good enough to make suggestions, both in the wide world and in [any organization your are part of]. Speak up. Share the thoughts you never share (I’m looking at you, people of color who stew in your anger about racism. [And queer folks who stew in your anger about homophobia and transphobia.] Tell your leaders what you see. Tell them what would make things right). Take a stand against any victimization patterns you have. You are too valuable to be hiding in the dark, forgotten. You are too intelligent for us to not be listening.

I want us to rise to great heights these next four years. I want us to make it so that we never have to choose the lesser of two evils again. We have that power. In the next election, I want to see two or more worthy candidates. I want to see two human beings whose hearts are intact. I want to see two human beings that blow us away with their kindness and commitment to humanity. I want to see two human beings who have integrity and fight for what they believe in. It is possible.

And I want even more than that. I want news stations to report on things like Philadelphia Housing Action, that won a case which deeded 50 vacant houses to a land trust so that homeless people could live in them. I want to see the work of organizations like the Dream Defenders on the news, who have worked since 2012 to fight police brutality and the school-to-prison pipeline in Florida and beyond. I want climate change solutions to be public knowledge so that people can back them in every possible way. I want to cover stories about my own friends, the ones who work to help undocumented people live lives with dignity in Atlanta, the ones who want to run for office themselves, the ones who help microfinance small businesses in India, the ones who keep people from getting evicted in Michigan. These things are no longer the realm of just non-profit or charity. This is what it means to back the poor and working classes, and POC. This has become part of the liberal agenda, and if this is the fad among progressives, I will hold them to our expectations. I hope you will join me.

It is all possible. I want to bring you stories of hope every day, so that you do not give up on your dreams and you will never give up on what is possible.

Be with me, y’all. Bring forth your ideas. Our newest president claims he wants to see an America that works together and heals. This is the time to make our demands heard. We want the same things, Joe Biden and us. I don’t often say this about politicians, but he might even listen to us.

Furthermore, we have this organization, the IRCC. There is opportunity here, too. RC claims to want to hear the voices of young adults and POGM, to put them in leadership. We need to help this organization live up to its potential. Nothing will ever change if we do not come forward. Nothing will happen if we do not speak up.

I urge you to not endure the patterns of our elders simply because it is easy. I love them very much, and this is what they brought us into the world and into RC for. It will not be easy to convince them that you are the right person for any job. Convince them anyway. It will not be easy to overcome the fear of repercussions and mistakes and embarrassment and punishment. Do it anyway. It will not be easy to remember the rest of us are with you when you fight the battles. Fight anyway. [When the feelings come up, call me]. We will back you no matter what happens.

Remember, we did not start this to get something “good enough”. We started it for liberation, to gain back our full humanity. I do not intend to stop until we get there.

Fiercely committed,

Leonie

Affirmation

This is a post for all the women who put their sweat, blood and tears into work that goes unappreciated, unrecognized, underpaid, and taken for granted. For you who feel you are alone. I see you.
This post is to be read as a self-affirmation.

I am the person who gives chances. I come back again and again to the same place to fight the battle in the hopes of winning.

I am the one who reaches.

I am the one who returns to hope after years.

I am the one who organizes.

I am the one who remembers the good.

I am naive.

I am the one who believes people will change.

I am the one who has hope.

And one day, I will triumph.

I will be the one who triumphs.

I will be the one who succeeds.

I will be victorious in the end.

In the end, there are no sides.

You were mine all along.

In the end, I will triumph.

Letter to my Patrons

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Tampa Skyline

Dear Patrons,

Yes, patrons, as in the ones who pay me for my labor. I am thankful to my followers as well, especially those of you who read regularly. I hope that if this is a financially stable period of your life, you will be so kind as to subscribe to my Patreon page. Any amount is greatly appreciated.

But I’m thanking my patrons specifically because this marks a significant development in my career as a writer. This month, for the first time, I am being paid for my writing, which is a big deal considering I have been writing for time immemorial (okay, perhaps not that long, but it feels like most of my life), and I have received almost no compensation all this time for the work.

It is scary how easy it is for women of color to internalize a feeling of unworthiness. I discovered I was a good writer when I was very young. At the age of five, I could already write sentences in English. Throughout elementary school, I was told by one teacher after another that I was an incredibly talented writer. Somewhere along the way, I arrived at the conclusion that writing must be easy. After all, I was good at it. I, a simple little brown girl to whom teachers could hardly be bothered to give attention, had mastered that skill even without their help. (This is the honest truth. My immigrant parents from India taught me more than my school teachers in the Southern public school system.) How hard could it be?

Only after I entered graduate school, and now as a writing tutor, I realized this act that I think is so simple is actually really, really complicated. I’ve been asked time and again by close friends–brilliant, talented people who I admire–to look over their papers before they are submitted. Marginalization in the academy has a lot to do with how you are perceived. Many of the writers of color I know have not been told a fraction of the amount I have that they are brilliant, talented people. In fact, most have been told the exact opposite. A lot of them fear that they will be perceived as incompetent when they write.

Writing is a delicate art. The messages we internalize show up throughout the writing process. For me, it is just a way to put our ideas on paper, but for people who are never told that their ideas matter, writing is painful and tedious.

I have a complicated relationship with humility. When I talk about how I became a good writer, it sounds to me as though I’m bragging. In truth, writing has been my saving grace in many ways. As a child, I was terribly shy. I deeply internalized the idea that most people don’t want to hear women speak. Only in recent years did I become capable of breaking down my communication barriers and making an effort to actually tell people the depths of my thoughts. In place of the spoken word, I leaned on the written word to express myself. In that context, I became a versatile writer. Writing had to do everything for me that speaking does for everyone else.

The feeling of knowing that people around the world read this blog is hard to describe. I think the response my brain usually comes up with is “why?”, a response that probably came from years of harmful messages about my “place” in the world. I can name this much: I am thrilled to have your readership. I thank you for allowing me to be my authentic self in this context, and I look forward to sharing more with you.

Irreverently yours,

Leonie

Day 12, Post-election

Many thanks to Robert Zando for making this post possible.

As you all know, we have a new president.

For the sake of my own safety, I am not going to use his name on this website. There is no telling whether or not people are keeping track of who is using his name and for what purposes. I know that sounds like some Voldemort shit, but this is not a joke. Nothing is off the table any more.

I will instead be using the moniker Mr. Chapped Lips to refer to him. Among his many identifying features, his lips seem to be in particular need of some Vaseline. In spite of his billions, I don’t think the man has ever heard of chapstick.

I’ll also admit, the next few posts may not have any clear direction, other than to document what I’ve been experiencing as a woman of color in a Southern state in these times. If it helps anyone out there, even just as a fellow human who is experiencing the same emotions, that’s enough for me.

If I’m being honest, I knew this would happen. I think the Brexit vote is what tipped me, though I had felt something bad was coming long before that. It has felt as though America has been going this way for a while. I have been seeing reports of Black churches burning since 2014. Throughout this year, I told my feelings to a number of people that can attest. I accurately predicted the results of this election.

Even then, I can’t deny that the first week after the election was hard for me. It had been hard for a while. All this time, while people were paying rapt attention to television screens blasting arguments for Hillary or against Mr. Chapped Lips (because let’s be real, those actually were the only two things the media was doing for this election), I had been itching for marginalized communities to organize. I thought it would be in our best interests to be as prepared as possible if the worst were to happen. It turns out, I was right.

People find this habit of mine annoying, but I actually don’t like to be the person who says “I told you so”. If you have ever been that person, perhaps you know the feeling. I don’t like being right about the worst scenario. I wish hope and progress were as powerful as people think they are. The fact of the matter is, we balance on little more than a thin web of optimism, and that was recently destroyed.

I went to a rally last Sunday that seems to have jostled my brain back into its usual groove. I’m glad it happened quickly. It would have been foolish of me to pretend that anyone else takes things like this as seriously as I do. Anyway, I was in St. Petersburg, FL for a Not My President rally. It was the usual, cliché garbage: lots of white people running around chanting “Love Trumps Hate” in queer pride t-shirts while journalists eagerly snapped photos and took videos of the love fest. Admittedly, I was there more so to drive a friend who I went with than I was to actually partake.

What I found most notable about the whole ordeal was the rally at the end. Specifically, there were two moments when the white people, specifically, elderly white women, in the audience very audibly tried to silence two of the speakers. The first was when a very visibly Muslim woman (wearing a hijab) spoke up about how the people who were present should also stand for a free Palestine. I thought it was brave of her to say that, and brave of her to continue after the white women responded. The white women said something like, “Why are you bringing other countries into this? Stick to talking about [Mr. Chapped Lips] and the United States.” There were other things, too, of course. I didn’t catch everything.

Clearly, Zionists have no place in an anti-racist rally.

The second was when someone who looked Latina (and I think she was representing the International Socialist Organization) spoke about divesting from the two-party system. She was basically calling bullshit about how the Democrats are now saying things like “we should work with Republicans” and “allow the man to lead,” arguing that there is no negotiating with genocidal fascists. Inevitably, white women had something to say about that as well. I imagine it’s very difficult for white women to oppose a group that enfranchises them at the expense of people of color. I imagine it must be so hard for them to hear people of color calling for folks to mobilize when all they want to do is hold one another and cry.

This is the point at which I make an expansive gesture accompanied by the clause “Look at all the fucks I give [for white women’s feelings].”

It was a wake-up call. I realized, I am not part of these protests. Other people can continue to take part in symbolic protest, patting themselves on the back and feeling good about themselves, when these protests literally do nothing to protect the hijabis, Latinxs and Black folks being targeted in the streets. I will not participate in allowing white people to feel good about themselves.

I have been collecting links to resources that provide concrete steps of action for marginalized groups. I have posted them to my Facebook page, but I have received little response from people in that realm. They are eager to like and repost the knee-jerk, emotional-response Biden jokes going around, and all the quotes and cutesy shit, completely lacking in substance, that imply a symbolic commitment to advocating for marginalized communities, with no binding or explicit action. But they are rarely willing to engage with the work that is being done by strategists: the warnings, the lists of items to stockpile, the encouragement to channel their money in effective ways.

It is my urgent request to radical people to put their bleeding hearts aside for this particular moment of history. I understand that the election results were actually unexpected and upsetting for many who trusted the deceptive television coverage of this election. However, an organizer I know at UMass recently said that we do not have two years to mobilize. Trans youth are committing suicide now. Hijabis are being attacked now. Black churches are burning now. AND FUCK YOUR DAMN TRIGGER WARNINGS. The KKK is assembling. Those people are armed and strategic. AND THEY WILL NOT TRIGGER WARN YOU WHEN THEY ATTACK.

Get your shit together. This is a time to be practical. Be alert. Get everything done that you need to in the next two months. Travel in groups. And for god’s sake, don’t do anything stupid. I would excuse it during the last administration, when being stupid was a human right. But nothing is off the table. Nothing. Not civil war, not revolution, not terrorist attack. This is not a joke. Your life is not a joke. Do not treat it like one.