Out of some strange show of politeness, I used to pretend to be surprised when the Grand Old Party voted down domestic violence legislation, used its more public voices to slander and degrade women, and called for social rights legislation that infringes upon all those individual rights that the gun lobby – and corporations – hold so dear. I used to be surprised when the Democrats turned around and complained and milked each failure for money. I used to be surprised. That ends today. I’m going to stop pretending to be surprised. I’m going to do it right now. I admit it. I’m not surprised.
I’m not surprised that a senator sitting on the House Science and Technology Committee said rape can’t lead to pregnancy. I’m not surprised that women in Texas are now going to Mexico to get reproductive healthcare. I’m not surprised that Paul Ryan, who uses Ayn Rand’s name with disgusting frequency, takes what he can get from her philosophy for himself and casually discards the positions she took that could endow women with power. I’m not even surprised by the four fundraising emails I got yesterday about the GOP’s “war on women.” I’m not surprised that it’s less of a war and more of a slaughter.
I’m not surprised that countries with far less resources than the US have had multiple women sit in the highest seats of power. I’m not even surprised that tremendously book-smart women would defend the men who have created these policies and these positions.
I’m. Just. Not. Surprised. Anymore. And I’m going to say it out loud this time on behalf of my niece. She’s three years old. She lives in Texas. For the sake of sentimentality, let me tell you about her. She’s extremely stubborn. If she carries a purse, there are cars inside it, and even though she sings Annie she loves to play ninjas too, because in her world there are no walls, no shoulds, no buts. I don’t think this is a new story. I think it’s the story of every little girl at some nascent point in her life–the real little girls, who are really growing up in the world we are creating for them now–before the trumpets blow and the walls come a-tumbling down.
In our culture, in our society, we treat the “bad things” that happen to women as though they are imaginary or theoretical, as though what they are really are excuses to push an agenda. It’s not actually about the world our children inhabit, or how we could make it better; it’s not actually about my rights, or my choices; it’s about how the Democrats and Republicans can make my body and my rights a battleground for the debate about the function of government and the place of moral values within it.
So once and for all, let me be extremely, precisely clear with you: my body is not an agenda. It is not your agenda. It is not the Christian Right’s agenda. It is not the agenda of the Liberal Media. My niece’s tiny toddler body, full of promise, is not your agenda. Our bodies come from the bodies of women who scrapped out the Dust Bowl in tiny Texas towns, and before that, from women who came across seas searching for a new world. My body fought for voting rights and equal rights.
My body is an American body with American rights, and I lay claim to that hope and that fierceness and that dream. That’s right. I am putting in my claim for America. I am cashing it in right now. I am demanding that someone in public life actually stand up for American values. I don’t mean the bullshit values that are pushed on us like products from special interest groups. I don’t mean the values that exclude or accuse or wrong others. I mean the American values that insist we can live together in a society and profoundly disagree – and, in fact, I insist that we disagree and that we still treat one another with deep respect and love. I mean the American values that rank the call for a better world over being right, rank the strong heart of a nation over fleeting victory in an election.
When I listen to public discourse now, when I look at what is happening in this nation around me, what I see is an echo chamber of ego and lies. That is not the America I know. That is not the America I was raised in, and it is not the America I dream about. I am ashamed of how little integrity the so-called leaders of this nation have, from its public voices to its politicians. I am calling them to task, right now. It’s time to come into work.
My ancestors rolled up their sleeves and built the infrastructure of this country with their bare hands, so I know it can be done. My ancestors were bluestockings and marchers and farmers and fighters, so I know, I know it can be done. I’m here, watching my niece grow inch by inch, and I am insisting, right now, that by the time she’s tall, we make this world a better one for her to live in.