Sunday, October 01, 2017

A follow up letter to Gary Schiff

Because so many of you read the first letter, I am including this response to the conversation about the letter that took place on the e-democracy list for Powderhorn Park.

Hey neighbors,

I’ve taken some time just to read your responses on the e-democracy listserv and listen without jumping in and commenting on each point. Some of what I’ve heard in what you’ve written includes concerns about limiting democracy or concerns about political leaders being asked to run or not run based on their race. Some of you have also voiced frustration with how Councilmember Cano has or hasn’t shown up and responded to calls. And then others shared moments of agreement with points I raised in my letter.

I started the letter by naming it as a love letter. It still is. I agree with each of you who shared any concerns about limiting how democracy operates by any kind of exclusion including race. The vision of democracy has got to be a place where any person can enter, offer to represent a constituency and then be in real conversation with that constituency so that we can decide whether or not they represent us. This is the ideal and I feel fiercely about it.

Which is why my letter to Gary was a spiritual letter or a moral letter or a values letter before it was anything else. It’s why it started with love because this letter feels, to me, like reaching out to kin to say, hey! I see you. I have heard you share your values with us for a lot of years and I am telling you, this feels like a contradiction in your values.

We all act in ways that contradict our core values from time to time. Such is the way of living in a complex world. Such is the way of living alongside structures of deep oppression and colonization. I act in contradiction all of the time and, when I do, I trust the people I am in relationship with to lovingly and responsibly hold me accountable. For example, my partner read the final version of my letter after it had been published. She laughed and said, “ Yeah, Susan, so you are talking about racial justice but look at what you did at exactly the same time! You ended your letter by implying that 19 year olds are immature!”

OOf! Right there. In my push to write about racial justice, I inscribed an assumption about age and maturity that I don’t actually believe. Contradiction.

I blustered for a minute, “well, I didn’t mean that… “ with all of the self-defensive posturing that always seems to come up most intensely with my partner who I love and trust. And then I took a deep breath and said, “Crap. You’re right. “ Because she was. There are way too many 19 year olds who out-mature a lot of the 50 somethings like me. My partner knows me. She knows my values (hi Rocki!). The ending sentence of my letter contradicted the values I hold and I needed someone to show that to me. Period.

Our experience tells us that institutions such as schools, courts and the media are negatively biased towards indigenous people, people of color and immigrants. Data and research proves that experience again and again. It is a contradiction in our core values if we then refuse to do the work of changing those system, both in the intimate individual moments and at a larger scale. When people who have access to the benefits of these systems compete for public resources and electoral positions on platforms that name equity as a value, it is a contradiction to then take away the leadership and power of people of color and marginalized people who are fighting for justice. In doing this, we repeat the violence and inequality of the systems that got us here. This is not simply an individual misstep. It is the remaking of a collective wrong. When someone who benefits from unequal systems runs against someone who does not, we face a collective spiritual contradiction. A morals and values contradiction. It happens. It doesn’t make someone a bad person. Naming it isn’t an attack or a performance. It’s just an act of being in accountable relationship. It’s how we hold each other accountable within love and community.

That’s what I’m doing right now with you, Gary. I’m just looking at you and saying, “Hey there, neighbor. You can do this differently. What does it mean for you to recognize the complexity of how power and access has impacted the political system and then make a personal moral choice to engage with that history differently?”

I would still love to sit down with you, just the two of us, and talk about this. Because these are, to me, the hard moral and spiritual choices that reach towards the potential for a new and different world where democracy becomes a practice of love and community and agency and reparations and justice and possibility… and perhaps even freedom.

Warmly, even though it’s cold in our ward today,

Susan Raffo

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