Eira Tansey

Posts for the ‘life’ Category

This machine coddles fascists (or, why I’m leaving Twitter)

President Trump has engaged in utterly disturbing verbal threats of nuclear war for months, and on January 2 he escalated it to this:

Despite Twitter’s recent efforts to rein in the hellscape it has created, it still gives a pass to the President because he is noteworthy, because of loopholes created for military and government officials, and because Twitter somehow believes that enabling bellicose threats is part of “necessary discussion.”

If you really want the honest truth of why Twitter will never ban Donald Trump from its service, you don’t need to read their public relations statements. Read what they tell the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Twitter is a company that measures its success by how many active users (measured by both monthly and daily metrics, aka MAUs and DAUs) it has. Looking at their most recent SEC filing, it’s clear that the company is working on increasing daily active user activity – likely because they’ve probably hit saturation points with how many new users are using the system. SEC filings require companies to disclose risks, and Twitter states:

If we fail to grow our user base, or if user engagement or ad engagement on our platform decline, our revenue, business and operating results may be harmed.

The size of our user base and our users’ level of engagement are critical to our success. We had 330 million average MAUs in the three months ended September 30, 2017, representing approximately a 4% increase from 317 million average MAUs in the three months ended September 30, 2016 (see “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations – Note About Our MAU Adjustment” above). DAUs for the three months ended September 30, 2017 increased 14% year over year. Our financial performance has been and will continue to be significantly determined by our success in growing the number of users and increasing their overall level of engagement on our platform as well as the number of ad engagements. We anticipate that our user growth rate will continue to slow over time as the size of our user base increases. […] If people do not perceive our products and services to be useful, reliable and trustworthy, we may not be able to attract users or increase the frequency of their engagement with our platform and the ads that we display.

Twitter then goes on to state the following, something which is so brazen in its denial of the problem it has created, it’s actually kind of amazing (emphasis mine):

“[…]if we are not able to address user concerns regarding the safety and security of our products and services or if we are unable to successfully prevent abusive or other hostile behavior on our platform, the size of our user base and user engagement may decline. We rely on the sale of advertising services for the substantial majority of our revenue and a decline in the number of users, user growth rate, or user engagement, including as a result of the loss of world leaders, government officials, celebrities, athletes, journalists, sports teams, media outlets and brands who generate content on Twitter, advertisers [sic] may deter new advertisers from using our products or services or cause current advertisers to reduce their spending with us or cease doing business with us, which would harm our business and operating results.”

None of this is shocking or surprising for a company that notes the “substantial majority of our revenue is currently generated from third parties advertising on Twitter.” So when I see Twitter banning Next Door Neighbor Nazis and not banning Trump, I see Twitter trying to have it both ways: attempting to show they’re “doing something,” but also doubling-down on the fact that “world leaders and government officials” are the cash cows that keep on driving engagement. In other words, Twitter does not distinguish between any world leaders threatening nuclear annihilation and world leaders attempting to keep us from sliding into the gates of hell. They are simply content generators, like the rest of us, that lead to advertising. Global consequences be damned.


After the 2016 presidential election, many people implored us to determine where our line was. To identify where angels fear to tread among where there be dragons. To draw a line in the sand. We were cautioned against letting the unthinkable become normalized, that doing so would be to cede the grounds of not only the American democratic process, but our basic humanity.

The problem with this framing is that it conjured up scenes of going up against the barricades, of hoping that the US would suddenly be inspired to go on a general strike when most folks had never marched around and chanted. It set up expectations that America’s citizens would run a marathon when most of us were still learning to walk for the first time.

Over the last year I feel like I’ve been plunged back into being a teenager – when my political baptism was protest against the Iraq War. My country invaded Iraq before I could vote. When I was 17, I somehow convinced my boring west-side-of-Cincinnati Episcopal church to kick in some money to help fund a bus of protesters to go to DC. I spent many dreary afternoons shouting chants on a street corner I can see from the windows of the library that I work at 14 years later.

As the war drums start beating again, there is at least one line that has become increasingly uncomfortable for me over the last several days. I can no longer use a platform serving as a propaganda outlet for normalizing and trivializing the horrors of nuclear war. This is why I’m leaving Twitter, after using it regularly for over seven years.

Twitter is clearly committed to amplifying the voice of a racist demagogue with impulse control and the unilateral authority to launch nuclear weapons, and this is in direct conflict with my opposition to war and militarism. The President clearly has many platforms he can use to spread his propaganda besides Twitter – George W. Bush certainly managed to do so well before the advent of social media. By not shutting this down, Twitter is saying is that there is no line in the sand for them; that allowing their service to become a tool of nuclear propaganda is preferable to any possible alternative.

Nuclear proliferation is often discussed in coldly clinical supply-chain terminology. Some state acquired uranium, another is expanding testing of missile delivery systems, etc etc. What gets left out of deterrence game theory bullshit is that banging on the war drums constitutes a form of nuclear proliferation by repeatedly putting the option on the table. As we get further away from the cultural memory of what it means to industrialize war, to efficiently kill thousands (really, millions) of people, joshing about having a nuclear button that is “much bigger,” “more powerful,” and “works” just goes to show that the very person with the unilateral authority to annihilate much of the planet within minutes is treating global holocaust like a fucking game.


Deciding to leave Twitter is not easy. I’ve taken several breaks from Twitter before, typically during Lent. After a while, I don’t miss it that much. But I’ve always hesitated to cut the cord entirely for two reasons: Twitter has undeniably helped me accumulate a lot of social capital in my profession, and it’s been one of the most efficient and fun methods of professional networking I’ve ever found.

Archivist Twitter is a real thing, and it’s been a huge part of my professional identity formation. I joined Twitter right around the time I decided that being an archivist was the career path I would set out on. I used Twitter to follow archives conferences before I started attending them, and then I used Twitter at my first SAA to network. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations that start “hey I follow you on Twitter…”

On Twitter, I’ve found professional development opportunities, cultivated new collaborations, learned so much about my profession’s history and culture, and forged affirming and wonderful friendships that are the real deal, with people I’ve broken bread with offline, who I know will be in my life for a very long time. I strongly suspect that a lot of the public profile I’ve built within my field has been thanks to my presence on Twitter. Walking away from that is really hard.

I know how silly this must sound to people who haven’t had this experience with Twitter. Even though I’ve received some pretty ugly harassment on Twitter, my good experiences outweigh the bad. And that’s why it’s taken me months now to come to terms with exiting a service that clearly does not give a shit about the safety and stability of the world at large. I don’t know what my career will look like without the networking and informational capabilities of Twitter, or how promoting my work will change without Twitter. That’s scary in a culture that emphasizes rapid engagement, developing a voice (the nice writer word for brand), and being easy to reach for any opportunity that might land in your lap.


I’ve been thinking a lot about Quaker war tax resistance. Not because I think my decision is on the level with tax resistance, but because it’s about withdrawing one’s personal participation in the normalization of war machinery. On and off throughout history, many Quakers refused to pay taxes that fund militarism. This has often been at great cost to their livelihoods, liberty, and economic security.

I find the history of tax resistance refreshing within a current leftist atmosphere that tries to decouple personal individual morality from the political organizing work of dismantling larger systems of oppression. It’s a mistake for us to assume that choices made to reflect a personal moral stance are synonymous with the organizing work that dismantles oppression. Sometimes it’s a good thing just to make a moral choice that allows one to live with an easier conscience, even if the only person it “makes a difference to” is a single individual.

The phrase “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is true. But it’s not an excuse to step away from examining one’s life choices, and too many people treat it as one. You must start somewhere.

We’ve confused Twitter for a commons because it is fantastic at helping us find voices we wouldn’t encounter otherwise, which makes it easy to ignore that Twitter has been enclosed from day one because its only real goal is to make money. To continue to participate in the only form of capital it has – regular participation that drives advertising – is to enable its continuance as a platform that trades in bigotry, undermines democratic processes, and now, reaps money from the proliferation of nuclear threats.

Listening to Women

[Content warning: brief references to sexual harassment/assault & current media coverage]

Two or three times a week, I go to the campus rec center early to exercise before work. Even though I love the repetitive monotony of the rowing machines, I generally do not row much these days because the rowing machines are in front of a million televisions playing CNN/Fox/ESPN/NBC/ABC/CBS. The sound is turned off, but the ocean of chyron shit is not how I like to start my day.

So I tend to exercise in the parts of the facility that aren’t in front of a million TVs. I often run on the indoor track, but sometimes when I’m feeling lazy, I walk on a treadmill so I can zone out and listen to a podcast. There are treadmills that don’t face the bank of chyron shit, but unfortunately too many new treadmills are souped up with built-in TVs that start up automatically before you can change it to something more benign, like an image of a stopwatch.

This morning I was in lazy mode, and I scrolled through my always-increasing queue of podcasts. I listen to a lot of current news podcasts, and have racked up several unplayed episodes covering the latest revelations confirming far too many men love power more than they love women. It’s too much, it’s all too much, and like many women who’ve experienced abuse and harassment in my past, I’ve mostly disengaged from the ongoing revelations beyond reading headlines. Engaging any more deeply keeps forcing open the places where I’ve packed my sadness and undiluted anger into a form that allows me to function on a daily basis. I picked a podcast about academic writing and hopped on the treadmill.

And no sooner do I hop on the treadmill than the built-in TV starts up with the TODAY show, and my jaw drops when I see what’s going down. There is no more wild distillation of the period we are in than to see Matt Lauer’s women co-anchors announce why he isn’t there. I grab my phone and take a picture of it because every time I think 2017 can’t get any more intense I take a picture or a screenshot, as if documenting all the bullshit insanity could make it stop.

I thought for a second about posting it on social media, and then I remembered how I don’t want to contribute to the problem I, and many other women, are trying to escape from: that most men (given the overwhelming majorities of women who are abused by an intimate partner or harassed by someone she knows) do not love us, do not value our safety, and do not acknowledge our personhood. We know this, and most of us are not shocked by any of this, because we’ve experienced it from men everyone else thought were “the good ones.”

I don’t know that there has ever been a time in patriarchal culture when it hasn’t been hard to be a woman. But the last two months has been an undeniably difficult period to be a woman. I don’t know how this all will end, and maybe thinking there is an end, as if there is a linear story here, is part of our collective delusion.

Since the post-Weinstein effect got rolling, I think I’ve read virtually every essay about women and anger. They speak to me, and I carry the image of Beyoncé smashing in the windows of men’s cars in my heart, all the time. There is a part of my rage that undeniably takes a small helping of solace knowing that powerful men are scared, that many are nervous that their bill will soon come due. But the fragment that’s stayed with me most was from Rebecca Traister’s essay:

…it’s easy to conclude that this moment actually isn’t radical enough, because it’s limited to sexual grievances. One 60-year-old friend, who is single and in a precarious professional situation, says, “I’m burning with rage watching some assholes pose as good guys just because they never put their hands on a colleague’s thigh, when I know for a fact they’ve run capable women out of workplaces in deeply gendered ways. I’m very frustrated, because I’m not in a position right now to spill some beans.”

Online and offline, I’ve been saying over and over that one of the most important things people can do if they care about women is to proactively consume, cite, and promote the work of women. Because all of these stories are not just about getting your ass grabbed, they’re about who has visibility. They are about who gets more bylines (men), who gets more invitations to keynote (men), who gets more citations (men), who gets installed in the cannon (men). They are the stories of who we listen to, and who we regard as authorities.

You often hear a lot of people say at times like this, “listen to women.” And while yes, obviously, duh…. to my ears, this phrase positions listening to women as a choice. It betrays an acknowledgement of the reality that, as a rule, our culture does not choose to listen to women. It especially does not listen to women of color and poor women.

One of the most underrated beautifully radical things said by a famous woman in the last few years is when Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the Supreme Court would have enough female justices when it has nine of them. I think about this all the time, and it is powerful as fuck because no one has the choice but to listen to the Supreme Court.

When I talk about how people should consider only reading books by women, or some other avenue of basically transferring their attention from the works of men to the works of women, this is what I’m getting at. I’ve recently learned that some men in my life who talk a good game about supporting women are beyond threatened by this idea, implying that I’m advocating shutting out their voices. The insinuation is that women owe men their attention. It isn’t clear in this equation what, exactly, men owe women to overcome generations worth of hoarding intellectual, legal, and cultural authority.

Is it because they are worried they won’t be writing the stories any longer?

That they won’t be the editors?

And that today’s fact-checkers, today’s women, aren’t afraid to demand an honest story?




Semi-Annual Review, June 2017 edition

Someone in library/archives land used to do a periodic review of their life’s work on their website, and while I can’t remember who it was, it’s an idea I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I maintain a detailed yearly activity report for my day job, but no one really sees that beyond a few people. I thought it’d be nice to maintain a public record of what I’ve been busy with that includes not just my salaried work, but the work I do at home and in my local community, which are as much a part of my identity as being an archivist. Sorry (not sorry) that this is long, I’m a busy gal.

Work at UC: A lot of the records management work I do has dramatically shifted in the last several months after I put out the first university-wide general records schedule. It’s been an invaluable resource, and it’s spreading greater awareness of records management obligations at my institution. As a records manager, I frequently get asked to step into interesting roles concerning compliance at the university (like serving on search committees in the administrative side of university life, or reviewing procurement proposals for information systems). I always appreciate that I have a window into higher education administration, because it’s a perspective I don’t think many faculty often see.

I also took over the reins of our library’s Digital Preservation Policy working group recently, and it’s been an exercise in realizing how many digital preservation policies at other institutions are a) based on this model and b) are focus-format driven as opposed to content-driven (I cannot be convinced that format alone should drive appraisal and preservation decisions). I’m kind of throwing out the play book and drafting our own policy, because I want it to serve areas of the library that include both central and decentralized approaches to digitization and born-digital work, and also comprehensible to people who are not digital professionals. Later this summer, I hope to finally write down the workflows I’ve started putting in to place for handling incoming born-digital materials within my unit.

I was recently accepted to ALI, and my practicum proposal is to develop a better method for acquiring student archives, since our university archives is very administration-focused. I’m really excited about spending a week in Berea with a bunch of smart people.

Work in the profession: I’m moving up into Chair this year for SAA’s Records Management Section. I think we’re one of the more active SAA sections, thanks to the recent leadership of recent chairs, especially Beth Cron and Brad Houston. I’m also serving as the Midwest Archives Conference 2018 Chicago Conference program committee co-chair, along with Daria Labinsky. We’re working on getting the CFP out before SAA, and I’m confident it will be an amazing conference.

I’ve been the Resident Caretaker of ProjectARCC (Archivists Responding to Climate Change) since the November presidential election, and for a while was hosting standing monthly conference calls where people could dial in and share what environmental cultural heritage stuff they were working on. I also tried to coordinate a thing called Project mARCCh to get librarians and archivists to turn out at the March for Science and People’s Climate March. Fellow #AdventureArchivist Stephanie Bennett and I marched together in the People’s Climate March in DC which was exactly the form of group therapy and group exercise I hadn’t realized I needed so badly.

People frequently ask “What is ProjectARCC doing about this?” and I have to explain that ProjectARCC isn’t really a cohesive organization right now, but a leaderless entity that people can have the freedom to do whatever they want with, as long as they aren’t assholes about it. For example, I’m seriously considering launching a podcast under the ProjectARCC banner. For the time being though, a couple of us occasionally check the blog and social media accounts. So when folks ask, “Would ProjectARCC consider doing XYZ?” I typically encourage them to write up a plan and go for it. (NB: people are far more likely to suggest things than to follow through on implementing them).

What I’m writing/researching/editing/speaking about:
My main solo writing project at the moment is trying to tease apart the way in which records and the legal emphasis on documentary forms were (are) an integral part of white colonial settlement of American land, pre-and post-Revolution land tenure, and the dispossession of indigenous lands. So I’m learning about things like surveys, land titles, and treaties, all within the context of American history between the 16th-19th century. I quickly realized that I have a shockingly limited understanding of native history, and I’m kind of worried about fucking this up as a non-native white person. So I’m trying to take my time, go slow, and prioritize reading as much material by native writers and scholars as by white historians. The very rough draft will be the paper I give at SAA (Session 107) and I am planning to send off a manuscript by September.

Work continues with my Penn State colleagues on mapping archives’ exposure to climate change. Ben Goldman and I were awarded an SAA Foundation grant to begin building a comprehensive data set of archival repository location data. The museum community is way ahead of the game with the Museum Universe Data File, but there is no analogous data set for archives. Capacity to do spatial analysis of archives is severely hindered without such a data set. The data set we’ve been using for our mapping work comes from OCLC, but it way overrepresents research-institution based archives.

I’ve been speaking a lot this year, which is great because I LOVE doing it, but it’s also a lot of work. I generally do not give the same talk twice (because it’s boring, and because jetting around to give the exact same talk is an appalling waste of fossil fuels), which means whenever I’m asked to do one, I’m writing a new talk, slide deck, etc. I’m really proud of the talks I gave at PASIG and as part of the Beinecke Speaker Series.

I made my first foray into non-academic writing recently, and published this piece about experiencing weird weather as a Midwesterner in Belt. I’ve long admired Belt for providing an incredible outlet for regional writing, and good gravy did it feel good to get paid for my words after only experiencing the gift economy of academic writing. All praise to fellow archivist Stacie Williams who helped me navigate the world of freelance writing.

At home: My husband and I recently bought a beautiful 1930s brick cottage in one of Cincinnati’s old streetcar suburbs. My two main criteria were “must be on a direct bus line to work” and “not in a flood zone.” Transitioning from renting to first-time homebuyers has been a wild experience that provokes a lot of hand-wringing about The Future, permanency, and economic security. Cincinnati has always been my home, and it feels good to put down some permanent roots as I enter my 30s. Our friends are really important to us, and a huge priority in finding a house was enough space for our friends to come over and just hang out. I have a bit of a yard now, and am trying to figure out a long-term plan for landscaping and gardening. We’re considering replacing the front lawn with native plants because a) fuck mowing and b) pollinators need all the help they can get.

In my local community: For the last couple years I’ve been involved with a local Planned Parenthood supporters group, and I’m not exaggerating when I say the women in the group are critical to maintaining my sanity. Ohio has been in dire straits for years now with regards to reproductive healthcare, and it’s probably only going to get worse. We’ve had a noticeable uptick in volunteers and requests for tabling since the election. I’m winding down my 2-year stint at Secretary for my Toastmasters club. I say No to a lot of requests from my local faith, civic, and activist communities in order to protect my non-work time for the decompression I need plus time with my husband/parents/friends. I don’t really feel guilty about it anymore but it does feel kind of weird to be saying No to otherwise very cool projects on a regular basis.

Self-care: I’ve been good about waking up to go to the gym early, but I’m still working on getting to bed early enough every night. But…surprise, somehow I have been doing way less hiking now that I’m not going out once a month like I did last year when I section-hiked the Sheltowee Trace. I’m getting a little squishier around the middle than I typically prefer, and I really miss the forced highly oxygenated focus of being in the woods all day, so I’m planning to re-hike the ST again next year. A friend and I backpacked in a state forest right after the Paris Agreement withdrawal, and it was incredibly therapeutic to sleep in the woods where the wind sings you to sleep and birds wake you up in the morning. It was also a good dry run for a backpacking trip a friend and I have planned in Yosemite next month (yes, we got a permit!!!)

What I’m currently obsessed with: I recently went to the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and it was mind-blowingly great. I didn’t know she sewed many of her clothes, and in my dream world, some woman-owned clothing business would reproduce and sell the beautiful white tunics and shirts she made so I can have a Georgia O’Keefe wardrobe.

I also recently discovered The Effort Report podcast, which features two professors talking about academic work life. The episodes get super into the weeds, and the perspectives are heavily STEM-skewed (a good example is this actually-quite-interesting episode on indirect costs), but the topics are great: time management, research productivity, and prioritizing the various forms of work demanded in a research institution. And in important food news, I finally tried some Albanese gummy bears and they are next level.

Pack Your Bags Archivist Style

Between late March and mid-May, I attended three conferences (Chicago, Omaha, New York), marched in one protest (Washington DC), and gave one invited talk (Yale). I’ve always been a pretty good trip packer, but after all this travel I have it down to a science. Now I feel the need to help people save themselves from their worst packing instincts.

I have always been a light packer (I once traveled an entire week in frigid December Berlin with just a purse and a small duffel bag), and my experience section-hiking a 300+ mile trail last year made me even more ruthless about packing. Hikers take a lot of pride in finding ways to shave ounces off their load, and not bringing home anything they didn’t use at least once (and preferably multiple times) on the trail. I try to apply the same philosophy to packing for any personal or business travel, especially if it involves flying.

Flying is a totally unbelievable hellscape, and packing lightly is one of the few things within one’s increasingly narrow window of control I can make choices about that helps me maintain some notion of sanity. I have the same packing practices whether I’m on vacation or work.

Like IUDs, packing lightly is one of those things people tend to obnoxiously evangelize without realizing it’s not possible for all people (folks with medical equipment, parents with small children, etc). So I should preface this by saying when I pack, I really only have to worry about myself. Whenever I travel with my husband, the most entangled our packing gets is sharing a bottle of contact lens solution.

  • Start with good luggage

Buy the best luggage you can possibly afford, and if you have the physical ability, choose a squishy bag that can convert into a backpack instead of a roll-aboard. I am a big fan of a smaller squishy bag because the gate agent rarely makes you gate check it, you can jam it into the smallest overhead bins, it’s easier to make a mad dash across an airport terminal with something on your back than dragging behind you, and roll-aboards are almost too much room.

Bad luggage eventually becomes demoralizing if you travel often. A few years ago the handle on my crappy roll aboard totally fell apart on the D.C. Metro right before SAA. There are good carry-on rolling suitcases out there, but I prefer to save them for super long trips where I don’t want to do laundry, or road trips. My main MO is to bring my main bag for clothing and shoes, and a smaller everyday bag for my “daily” items. Since I often do not stay at the conference hotel, the everyday bag has to contain my electronics, a water bottle, notebooks, a couple snacks, and room for a light sweater and be light enough to carry for a 15 minute walk from my hotel.

It’s expensive as hell, but I finally started buying good luggage and bags primarily for my work travel. I really like Tom Bihn (and it’s made in the USA), and I’m currently using the Western Flyer and the Co-Pilot.

  • Join the cult of packing cubes

Packing cubes seem like total bullshit until you start using them to corral your clothes (basically anything that can be rolled up like a burrito) and then you NEVER. GO. BACK.

They are like some combination of Felix the Cat’s bag of tricks plus the Chronicles of Narnia wardrobe where you can somehow keep on squeezing things into them that you can’t otherwise squeeze into the intimidatingly narrow space of a small squishy space of your main clothing bag. I have a set of them, but I usually just use 1 or 2.

Because a huge part of my travel experience is informed by “How much will TSA make my life unpleasant at the airport?” Packing cubes have the additional advantage of preventing the indignity of having your underwear catapult itself over some germy inspection table the second you start unzipping your bag.

  • Unless it’s made of paper, pack everything else in pouches or ziploc bags

Just like packing cubes corral all your clothing, you need to corral your other gadgets, tchotchkes, geegaws, and flotsam. I have little zippered pouches I use for makeup, snacks, pencils, cords and chargers, and essentials (wallet/phone/transit card). I store my shoes I’m not wearing in drawstring cloth bags so they don’t get grossness over other stuff. I use two ziploc bags for toiletries (dry and TSA-screening). That bag on the bottom comes from archivist Allana Meyer’s shop where she donates proceeds to the SAA Mosaic Scholarship.

  • If you must be separated from your suitcase, pack a toothbrush and clean pair of underwear in the bag you keep with you.

Once upon a time, I got caught in an awful delay/red-eye/layover mess that almost led to me missing a friends wedding. I didn’t have access to my main luggage, and not being able to change at least one article of clothing or brush my teeth made the entire experience that much more miserable.

  • You don’t need as many outfits as you think

If you are smart about what you pack, immediately hang up your clothes to air out, and hand wash the ones that get stinky, you can often get away with 4 outfits even if you’re at a conference for a week (your plane outfit*, a work-casual outfit, a work-work outfit, and a dressy work outfit). If you really need to, at some point you can do laundry. Many hotels have a washer/dryer, you can find a laundromat, or you can use drop-off service.

Let me explain the plane outfit. This is what you wear from leaving your house to your destination and vice versa. This should strike some combination of comfy enough in case you suddenly find yourself in airport purgatory, flexible enough that if you have to sprint to your gate you can, quick enough to delayer and deshoe at security, but also protective enough that you don’t feel even more violated if TSA pulls you out for a pat-down.

I wear skirts and dresses for probably 3/4 of my waking hours, but I always wear jeans and sneakers when I go to an airport. Once in a while TSA selects me for state-sanctioned bodily assault an enhanced pat-down, and I shudder to think of how much more invasive this would almost certainly be in a skirt.

This is actually what my fully packed suitcase looks like:

  • Rethink what electronics you really need to bring

Laptops are heavy. I’ve stopped bringing mine because it’s not worth the weight. When I’m at a conference, I don’t need that much computing power. And depending on where you fly, you might be restricted from traveling with one anyway.

Are you tired of me talking about TSA yet? Well so am I. You probably know that airports are the new testing ground for how much bullshit the combined powers of capitalism, policing, and surveillance can get away with, whether we’re talking about your right to travel in the first place, your right to not be shamed for your body or groped by some blue-gloved stranger in a uniform, or your right to privacy, especially the privacy of your digital life.

So far, it seems like most of the searches of people’s digital lives are taking place in the context of international flights, through CBP. CBP currently has the legal right to search your personal digital effects due to the greatly expanded powers for doing searches within areas of the US border (PSA: if you want to protect your digital privacy while traveling internationally, this guide from the EFF can help) To be clear, CBP is a different agency from TSA with different policies and procedures, though they are both part of the Department of Homeland Security. That said, my personal experiences with TSA are so abysmal that it would not surprise me if they begin to push for expanded power to search people’s digital lives even for domestic travel.

For the last few months, I’ve been traveling with minimal digital data whenever I have to fly. If you do any kind of activism, or are friends with any activists, please consider carrying only the minimal data you need when you travel lest you find yourself in a situation where the Fourth Amendment no longer seems to apply. You may also want to consider having dedicated travel devices, like a Chromebook or a pay-as-you-go mobile phone.

  • Even if you don’t use cash at home, pack small bills for tipping housekeeping

If you didn’t know you were supposed to tip housekeeping every night of your stay, I’m here to inform you that you really need to do this, no excuses. If you can afford a hotel room, you can afford $5 every day for the people who clean up after you. Especially because those people are usually women who work for shockingly low wages and literally do back breaking work. Tip every day, not just at the end, because you may have different housekeeping staff at the end of your stay than at the beginning.

  • Books are the devil unless they are the size of Oxford Very Short Introductions, bring magazines instead.

I like to bring a trashy magazine along with something that’s a little smarter. I’ll let you guess which one I usually finish first.

  • Pack frou-frou items that make you feel at home (for me, it’s a bathrobe and face masks)

If you aren’t packing a full-length fluffy bathrobe, most knit or silk bathrobes pack down pretty small, and are a really nice item to have around when you want to lounge in your hotel room. My skin always looks like shit when I fly (or maybe just when I go to New York), so I like to pack some bourgie face mask stuff I can put on after I get back to my hotel room. It’s a good excuse to splurge on one of those super creepy mummy-esque sheet masks. I avoid wearing them at home lest I scare the shit out of  my husband and cat.

  • Pack something that offsets a tiny amount of the disposable culture of travel

Travel involves a horrific amount of trash. I always pack my small Nalgene bottle and a coffee mug. I also have this cute little set of reusable bamboo flatware I toss into my snack bag.

  • You are only allowed to overpack one thing, so choose wisely. I choose a couple extra pairs of clean underwear.

‘Nuff said.

What I learned from my third annual social media fast

tl;dr: it’s all bullshit, folks, and it’s bad for ya

This is the third year I’ve done a Lenten social media fast, where I cut myself off from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. With a couple of exceptions I feel OK about, I haven’t purposefully pulled up or logged in to any social media platform services except when really necessary (i.e. I had to get in touch with someone and had no clue how to reach them through phone, email, or snail mail). And unlike past years, this year I really, really, REALLY haven’t missed social media except for a couple of fleeting moments where I thought “Hmm, wonder what archivist twitter thinks about this?” or “Hmm, this would be a really cute picture of my cat to post.” I think 2016 was the year of binging on The Internetz during the election, and in the wake of the (Electoral College) election of (Popular Vote Loser) the 45th President, I needed a fucking break. And this third fast I have felt so unbelievably free and liberated. Let me count the reasons why:

*It feels GLORIOUS to not instantly know what a shithead Trump and his merry band of mediocre white guys are. I still pay attention to the news, but there’s only so many times you can refresh the NYTimes and Guardian apps, whereas Twitter has an endless hot take firehose. Sometimes I do feel behind on the scary shit going down, but the stuff that is truly heinous usually makes it on to my radar in multiple ways (e.g., the passenger that United dragged off the plane), whereas the stuff that is more of a viral outrage du jour (e.g., a tone deaf advertising strategy) sort of shambles onto my radar once or twice before mercifully receding into the viral trash heap. I’m pretty good with the trade-off of not knowing INSTANTLY about everything in order to be able to sustain a slow burn outrage over the truly long-term bullshit that will affect us for decades, like changing the tax code, court cases, and the gutting of environmental and science programs.

*I have far too many shitty experiences with men on social media, including some men I actually know and (used to) respect who act like assholes when there’s a screen between us. I’ve often thought about setting up a folder I share with selected people (i.e. other women) of screenshots titled “Men Explain Things To Me,” but hey, living well is the best revenge. I have been semi-doxxed, insulted, harassed, and had my work erased on every social media platform I’ve ever had an account on, except instagram (probably because I mostly post pictures of my chubby alien cat and trees from my hikes). A lot of what Lindy West said in this interview resonated with me. (Also, in general I love the Twitter quitter genre)

Given that post-election there is emerging evidence of a rise in aggression against women, why should I spend my time in spaces in which women are devalued at best and actively harmed at worst? Shit, who knows when the nukes are going to start launching. I might as well spend my screen time liking instagram photos from my hair stylist who makes me and other curly-haired women around this city feel like goddesses rather than dealing with men who make me feel awful.

*And on the flip side, sometimes I can be the asshole on social media. I like not worrying if I put my foot in my mouth or offended someone because most of what I share on social media is, by default, a first draft. And often it’s a shitty first draft that ends up requiring an apology, slice of humble pie, or deep and exhausting introspection.

*My attention span returned. I can actually sit down and read long and involved complicated books and not get distracted after 5 pages. It’s amazing.

*Unlike that time I tweeted about the Ohio legislature rushing through some totally bullshit abortion legislation and it got retweeted like 2,000 times, I enjoy the feeling of not worrying that something I tweet will go viral and I’ll have to babysit it in case anyone starts making actionable threats.

After my first two social media Lenten fasts, I went right back to my normal interwebz habits. This year I’m putting some protocols in place once Lent is over, because I think I need it to recalibrate my relationship permanently with social media, especially to mentally handle an unending terrible news cycle, and continuing to focus on projects that ultimately bring me joy and meaning, rather than succumbing to an unending exercise in passive horror scrolling.

Ultimately, speaking only to my own personal experience, social media is very similar to alcohol in that it can quickly become too much of a good thing. A few years ago, I dialed back my alcohol consumption, because I didn’t like the way I acted when I drank too much, and dealing with hangovers is a ludicrously stupid waste of time. I have a set of protocols to keep myself in check, and as a result I now enjoy alcohol responsibly without turning into an asshole juggling hangovers and guilt. Similarly, I’ve found that when I’m on social media too much, I don’t like the person I turn into.

I’ve honestly entertained deleting all of my social media accounts entirely (so tempting!) however I’ve noticed that despite my repeated pleas to get my friends to holler at me about upcoming social justice-y type events (whether we’re talking local activism, or library/archives professional stuff), it somehow hasn’t taken, and the vast majority of these things are primarily shared on social media. But I don’t feel lonely – the folks I’m closest to I either see in person, call, email or text back and forth with on a pretty regular basis.

So… I’m trying to figure out what a recalibrated social media experience looks like. I’m not breaking the fast until the protocols are in place. I honestly don’t know what the answer is yet. Maybe it’s logging in once a week to do a brief check-in on upcoming events and actions, maybe it’s deleting some accounts, maybe it’s setting up a metering system to charge myself for social media use (this is probably more tracking than I want to do, but I love the concept – like a micro-tithe to the EFF or something for every time I login to twitter!) And given that social media is designed to be addictive and the favored delivery method via smart phones captures a disturbing amount of our waking hours, I realize that uh, there’s a reason why we hear a lot more about people quitting altogether than saying “Here’s how I use social media less than I did before.”

I don’t really know what the long-term answer is, beyond “whatever works for me,” but I know that this fast was really necessary, and was the reset button my brain desperately needed. I am trying to heed the words of Wendell Berry:

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Citizenship for our sanity and safety, Part 1

During college, I spent a semester abroad in Britain, attending the University of Sheffield, and living in an old house full of students from England and Wales. I was the only American, and it was in 2006, when the Bush administration followed every American abroad with an embarrassing shadow. I will forever be grateful for my time in Sheffield, for the many things I learned inside and outside the classroom. Perhaps one of the most curious things that living for several months in Britain taught me was a new appreciation for America and my American citizenship, something that was often hard to feel in the throes of the Bush administration’s “You’re either with us or against us” calumny that denied the creative imagination that patriotism could be about love for something that can never be tried in a court of law or legislated away. Being the proxy for endless questions about the insanity of the Bush administration during my time abroad helped me discover that my patriotism is a deep and abiding love for the diverse peoples of America, the food of America, the music of America.

I am still in Facebook contact with a handful of my old housemates. When Brexit came down the pike, many of them were devastated, because their work and career plans were dependent on the assumption of continuing close ties with the EU. It was awful and I felt helpless to watch their reactions online. Several months later, it was my turn. I asked a friend of mine who works for the Guardian if he could give any post-Brexit advice for us terrified Americans, and he said he was hoping we wouldn’t screw up our election. Well, fuck.

Last year, two major cases went to the Supreme Court that made me realize how quickly I felt like my rights were being held hostage above a massive federal abyss: the Friedrichs case and the Whole Women’s Health case. This was also happening against the backdrop of the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. The former could have potentially gutted public sector unions across the country. The latter would have been yet another blow against abortion rights by legitimizing the shenanigans of the Texas state legislature.

As someone who has been committed to abortion access since I was a teenager, and as a public sector union member, these cases terrified the shit out of me. It felt like my rights were hanging on by the thinnest of threads, and the truth is… they were. They still are. They probably will be for as long as I inhabit my female body and live in a society in which the presence of capitalism is so ever present it becomes invisible. I was able to catch my breath when Friedrichs tied the court, and the Whole Women’s Health case was decisively reversed, but those feelings have always felt like temporary victories rather than long-term assurances, even when I had hope that Clinton would win (for the record, I thought she would win, but if she did, it would be by the slimmest of margins – which I guess is a kinda sorta true, but painfully absurd, version of how it played out).

I have been trying for weeks to write follow-ups to my immediate post-election post, and I have several half-finished drafts waiting in the wings. Indeed, I think it’s safe to say the majority of the US, if not the world, now has their own version of standing at the edge of the abyss, wondering how far and how devastating the drop will be.

The thing that concerns me above everything else about this new administration is I do not, for one second, trust the new President to protect us from threats foreign and domestic. We know at some point a terrible tragedy will take place during Trump’s administration. If it lasts as long as 4 years, we’ll likely have several. It could be something predictable that the United States seems desperately in denial about ever doing anything about, such as a school shooting with a gun that was more easy to obtain than healthcare, or a devastating hurricane that breaches infrastructure we have deferred maintenance on for far too long because billionaires have more right to shelter their income than pay their fair share to public works. Or the tragedy may take the form of something that will be used as an excuse to erode our civil liberties even further under the guise of protection. We only have to look at the many ways the language of patriotism was coopted by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11 to justify erosion of American civil liberties.

Even in the total absence of any tragedies, we know going forward over the next 4 years that the onslaught on the rights and liberties of those who call America home will be relentless. Before inauguration day, the GOP signaled that they will not take seriously the safety and security of the American people, by setting the stage to repeal the ACA before an adequate replacement has been shown to the public, and by supporting the nomination of a man who is grossly unfamiliar with the dangers of lead contamination. These are just two examples of dozens, but let’s be clear: these examples alone have the potential to gravely affect the health and mortality of millions of American women, men, and children.

Perhaps the most noxious preview we received of how little the new administration gives a shit about basic safety was the under-discussed example of Trump whining about fire code requirements and disgracefully calling into question the competence of fire safety officials that restricted attendance at his rallies because of safety codes. Building safety code requirements only exist because of tragedies in which far too many people have died needless deaths. At the time, many people laughed about Trump just whining because that’s what he does, right? For me, knowing my Cincinnati-area history of local fire and crowd control tragedies, it sent a chill down my spine. That Trump would compromise even the safety of his own supporters during a rally says everything about his regard for the safety and security of the rest of the American public he is now charged to protect.

Tons of people since 11/8 have written numerous guides about how to fight back, how to resist, how to continue fighting against the enormous odds. These are good resources, and I recommend that every patriotic American take inspiration and more importantly, action from these resources. I will continue to do all of these things as well. I also want us to be real: no adults are left in the building who are coming to save us. The Democratic party will not save us, Silicon Valley won’t save us, universities won’t save us. If we’re lucky, local and state governments will do what they can, but even this remains to be seen. We have to rely on ourselves to be patriotic citizens that protect each other from whatever comes that almost no elected leaders or public figures have shown the courage to do so far.

Swing State Voter Report: Some warmed-over hot takes

In recent days, there have been a spate of broadcasts and articles on “here is what historical precedent/constitutional law/the Magic-8 ball on my desk tells us about what to expect from a Trump presidency.” I understand this, and for a minute I was consuming this media as desperately as I refreshed 538 through the campaign. But the problem is we are in truly uncharted territory, where the historical past can only tell us so much about what to expect from the future.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about how we can learn from the Earth, and in particular, what Americans can learn from our relationship with the American landscape. And I had a pretty epic realization the other day, the kind that immediately made me look for the beer with the highest ABV in the fridge: Donald Trump is a lot like climate change itself. Historical data only gives us a baseline to measure how radical things are getting, but it can no longer provide us accurate predictions of the future because what has taken place is so unprecedented. This is why flood insurance maps/flood predictions get so politicized – they are based on historical flooding data, but historical data is no longer predictive of a world with a 2C temperature increase. But regardless of how unthinkable and terrible Trump and climate change is, this is really happening, and as things get underway, it seems to have a scary effect of accelerating things faster than we thought. We can predict things will be bad, but the timing of when shit will hit the fan and how bad it will be, or if we’ll only actually realize it hit the fan in retrospect, is part of what makes all of this so gut-wrenching.

I have a lot of thoughts about the many directions of fallout from this election. I don’t think I’m going to do a good job of unpacking all of them in one go, but here are my hot takes on everyone else’s hot takes, and I won’t even make you pay a subscription for my blog (but I always welcome a beer next time you see me if you like what I write).

First, a quick word on hot takes in general: A diagnosis is not a cure. A diagnosis is not a cure. A DIAGNOSIS IS NOT A CURE. Right now, I’m seeing too many postmortems and not enough “…and here’s how we win elections again and fight like hell in the mean time.”  I don’t know about y’all, but nihilism is not a solution (and it sure as hell ain’t a cure). In fact, I strongly believe nihilism is one of the most weaponized forms of oppression that people internalize far too much. Fuck nihilism, do whatever you need to do to be rested and ready for the road ahead. I’ll be back with more writing in the coming weeks.

Back to the title of this post:

How I’m Handling Existence At The Moment:

I don’t think it’s an accident that the vast majority of people who were checking in on me within the first couple of days after the election were women. Women know how to do emotional labor, and lord did the women in my life deliver it over and over as soon as it became clear what was going on. It really sucked to go from feeling like I was serving democracy by working the polls on Election Day (I definitely now feel entitled to my strong opinions about how elections are administered), to taking the express rocket into the post-election hell mouth. For the first 36 hours or so after the results I was dealing with physical symptoms of something (panic? shock? not totally sure but my blood literally felt cold and I felt like the skin on the back of my arms was going to peel off). I also had to drive up to Pittsburgh the morning after the election for a conference, and mostly made it there safely thanks to distracting podcasts and a long phone call with my best friend.

For friends and colleagues who reached out to me: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Why are we obsessed about the white working class and not the white McMansion suburbanites?

Ask yourself why coastal media outlets are so obsessed with profiling the poor white people who voted for Trump and not the similar numbers of middle- and upper-class white people who did the same. I have some theories, they involve two things: 1. White people acting like a six-figure salary and a college-degree makes them immune from racism and related dubious-political choices, 2. These same media outlets don’t want to piss off their subscriber base.

A word for those who want this election to be permission to write off the Midwest and South forever: you’re telling me that women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks who live in the middle of the country don’t matter.

You want some progress from flyover country? Send the folks in the South and the Midwest who are DOING. THE. DAMN. WORK. some help, money, or prayers, or STFU. I really, really, really need the national Democratic party leadership to not abandon the Midwest right now, because my reproductive rights will literally depend on it the second Roe is overturned at the federal level and bullshit trigger laws start taking effect. I don’t want to have to get on an airplane if I ever need an abortion (something that is already a reality for a lot of women in this country).

Do you know how hard people in places like Texas and Ohio work on things like reproductive access? Harder than you can possibly imagine. We work our tails off because it’s not abstract, it’s not theoretical, it’s very, very real. I’ve been a part of a supporters’ group affiliated with Planned Parenthood for a couple of years now, and people who do not spend time in this area have not a damn clue how bad things already have been for years now.

I don’t need condescension right now from Midwest ex-pats who live in coastal areas that say things like “Ugh, I’m so glad I don’t live there anymore.” I don’t need people to engage in narratives that erase the diversity of the Midwest by trying to say we’re all homogeneous and parochial white people. I REALLY don’t need bullshit secession fantasies

For those of us fighting the good fight right here at home, we need your money, we need your organizing strategies, and if you’ve ever thought about moving, or boomeranging back, to the Midwest, I can’t think of a better time to come here and help us. We need all the help we can get. And assuming we don’t all perish first in nuclear war, you know you’re going to want to be in a state that has access to some of the best freshwater sources on Earth when climate change really fucks things up.

Where are the geographers? 

I really need some good, county-by-county breakdown on WTF happened in Midwestern counties that went Obama-Obama-Trump by the political geographers out there. I’ve read probably a dozen theories by now, but much of it is highly speculative (as well as lazy, uncritical, and self-serving), and there has been precious little comparison of in-migration/out-migration demographics (i.e., did the eligible voter population change in the last 4 years in a way that favored Trump), how voter restrictions might have affected the populations in those particular areas, how gerrymandered legislative districts might have affected turnout for the national ticket, etc etc.

Because I haven’t seen any articles from anyone who seems to know what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to Ohio political geographic analysis, I went and looked at the counties that Democrats have carried in the last several elections (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, disclaimer: I have not verified wikipedia’s sourcing of county return data against official state elections sources). While this is very quick and dirty, non-scientific, non-rigorous analysis, here is what I found. Basically from 2000-2012, Dems consistently carried an average of 17 counties per general election – in other words, most of these were reliable Democratic counties that we won despite whether it was Bush or Obama who won the White House. This year? We only got 7 counties (out of 88). I wish a political geographer would dig into this, but this is why I am losing my goddamn mind lately about the state of the state party.

We have been asking too many “why” questions during this election. In my opinion, going forward, we need to be asking more questions that start with “where.” The where matters, because as we all learned the hard way, a national election is not won by “how many votes did someone get?”, it’s won by “where are the states that deliver us 270 electoral votes.” I think the electoral college is horse shit as much as the next lefty, but until that changes, we need a geographic analysis for every single aspect of our organizing. We need to start asking questions like, “where are the counties that we can flip back from Trump? where are the precincts that suffered the most disenfranchisement, and how do we prioritize those precincts for voter registration the next election? where are the most brazenly gerrymandered districts? where are the union halls that we need to make sure the candidate actually shows up to visit if they give a damn about winning labor’s vote?”

The GOP has been building their party up for 40 years and we were asleep at the wheel

We have so much ground to make up because of breathtakingly incompetent leadership who walked away from the 50 State Strategy to concentrate on easy wins or galas or whatever else makes the Democratic leadership confuse schmoozing donors for actual organizing. Meanwhile, not only was the GOP doubling down on the Gospel of the 1%, they rarely left a contest uncontested, turned gerrymandering up to 11 following the 2008 election, all while marinating in decades worth of propaganda from Lee Atwater to Jerry Falwell to Karl Rove.

Maybe the Democrats haven’t completely lost their moral compass, but I sure as hell wish we’d figured out how to win more races in the meantime. Because right now the GOP has an unbelievable lock on both state and federal governance.

Right here in Ohio, we have a habit of throwing promising leaders, who are often young, under the bus. We did it a few years ago. Then the Party came back for more humble pie  this year, outdoing itself by cutting down P.G. Sittenfeld in order to back a candidate who had a compelling millennial outreach strategy that involved telling his younger opponent that politics isn’t like playing Little League. Meanwhile, the “it’s their turn” establishment Democrats get their asses kicked at election-time, and people freak out about who the next generation of leaders will be. Sound familiar?

No matter where they are in life, people feel like their vote doesn’t matter and that’s a problem

Look, I tried to warn y’all about this idea that voting is an individual act of conscience, and how dangerous this ideology is, especially when it comes to turning out the vote. And what’s happened is because we keep acting like voting is this individual declaration of intent or some personal branding signal, then of course when you’re on the losing side, it’s going to feel like your vote didn’t matter.

Some of you may know that I did some voter registration and canvassing for Clinton in the area near where I live. I also served as a poll worker on election day. The areas I canvassed for the Clinton campaign were mostly low-income neighborhoods, and the residents are predominantly people of color. One day when I was doing voter registration, a young black man told me he doesn’t vote because he doesn’t believe it matters. The area where I served as a poll worker was in an area that was middle to upper-class, with predominantly white residents. During my very long day checking people in to the voter registration book and issuing ballots, some older white people also grumbled and said “None of this matters anyway, our votes won’t count.”So folks, this is where we’re at: no matter where they’re at in life, tons of people in my own corner of Ohio feel like their vote doesn’t matter. This is true across the country.  How do we get people to recognize that their vote does matter, at least in the herd immunity position I’ve argued from? Do we highlight stories where razor-thin margins show just how much one’s vote counts? We have these stories in abundance from local and state elections. Again, I feel like the focus on the top of the ticket has really hurt politics overall – of course in a national election, your vote has less “weight” simply because of volume. On the other hand, local elections mean your vote has much greater weight.

When my husband and I were encountering friends during this election season who simply couldn’t be convinced to turn out for Clinton, we at least implored them to still show up to vote, and vote for the down-ballot tickets. But this is never a message that official get out the vote machinery will say – it starts with “Vote for (Presidential Candidate) and oh, also, by the way, for these down ballot issues and candidates”. I suspect people’s brains click off after they decide “well I’m not voting for the President, so why bother showing up at all?” This would have to be confirmed by comparing overall turnout numbers with how many people voted a blank race at the top of the ticket. I hope someone does it.

Either way: even though this election has global implications that I fear will reverberate for decades, nothing has brought home for me how much local politics matters than this one. And that’s where I plan to put an enormous amount of my work in over the coming years.

Swing state voter report: Voting for herd immunity

As America’s longest presidential election finally gets underway (particularly in the 34 states that have early voting), and as a voter in the great swing state of Ohio, I have started to think that the best metaphor for voting in this election is that of the social responsibility of mass vaccination. In order to be clear about my personal views, I believe this election is between an experienced politician with profound shortcomings [1], but who fundamentally understands the three branches of government, the interrelationships between local, state, and federal governance, and what the Constitution does and does not allow a President to do. In contrast, her opponent is a man who has never been elected to public office before, or ever served in any civilian or military public service, who exploits frightening bigotry, and who has shown very little understanding of the functions of governance or the Constitution.[2]

During this election cycle, and particularly in Ohio, there has been a lot of grumbling along the lines of “Both candidates are terrible, so I am going to stay home or vote third-party, because neither one reflects my views.” I am distressed by this idea, because it suggests that voting is a personal act, or a personal expression of one’s views. From where I stand, we need to think of voting as a collective action, because it is not an individual act for which one reaps individually allocated benefits or drawbacks (note: this may have been different during Gilded Age machine politics when you could literally get paid for voting for a particular candidate or party). And like any collective action, whether it’s union membership approving a new contract, or an activist group deciding strategies for protest, there is inevitably an evaluation that comes down to: “this contract or action is not going to meet the needs of everyone, but do we think the larger gains that could be realized outweigh the parts that we have discomfort with?”

In the 2016 general election, a terrifying amount is on the line.[3] We have now gone over 8 months without any visible movement towards confirming a new Supreme Court justice, leaving the court with only 8 members. Of the current membership, three of the members are currently over the age of 75 (Kennedy, Breyer and Ginsburg), which means that the chances are pretty good that a second, or even third court vacancy will occur during the next presidential term. Few decisions at the federal level have the potential to shape the American experience more than what comes out of the Supreme Court – Plessy v. Ferguson, which institutionalized racial discrimination, was the law of the land for 58 years before being overturned by Brown v. Board of Education. And this is precisely why the top brass of the GOP keeps gritting their teeth and has taken only the feeblest steps to publicly disavow Trump – because they know that if they are able to control the Supreme Court membership, this is likely their last chance to embed right-wing values into the country’s long-term legal infrastructure, even as the rest of the country is in the midst of a massive political realignment.

To return to my original metaphor – voting is best thought of as not a personal expression of your values, but as a collective action you take on behalf of a larger group. And I think an apt comparison is that of mass vaccination.[4]

Mass vaccination has been one of the most breathtakingly successful ways in which we’ve reduced devastating disease and illnesses that used to routinely strike fear into populations – even within well-developed countries like the US (if you’re young and have never asked an older person what it was like before the polio vaccine – ask. You’ll probably hear some heartbreaking stories about kids they knew who were paralyzed or died). Mass vaccination works because of what is known as herd immunity. In any given population, there are members of the population who cannot receive vaccines, because they may be immunocompromised, or have a potentially deadly allergic reaction to the vaccine ingredients. Therefore, they rely on the rest of us to close off potential entry points for the disease to get into the population. When diseases that were long-thought eradicated pop back up, it’s often because vaccination levels have dropped below a certain threshold. This is dangerous not only for those who could be vaccinated but were not, but especially for those who cannot get vaccinated at all.

Part of the problem with those who decide not to vaccinate against all the advice of the medical and public health communities is that they view this as a personal choice, and not a critical thing they must do for the benefit and health of all. Those who choose not to vaccinate for personal reasons (anti-vaxxers) because of a perceived risk of vaccination are not entirely wrong – any vaccination does have a non-zero risk of side effects. However, the benefits (individually and collectively) of participating in mass vaccination is so overwhelming compared to the risks, that when an increasing number of people prioritize the infinitesimal unlikely personal risk over the overwhelmingly certain public benefit, everyone suffers.

As long as herd immunity thresholds are high enough, anti-vaxxers effectively become free riders. They get to have their cake (benefit from herd immunity) and eat it too (continue to indulge their personal beliefs about vaccination risks). It’s here that I see the most parallels to those who would rather sit this election out, or cast a vote for a third-party candidate, than to grit their teeth and vote for Hillary Clinton.

Like a single vote, a single vaccination is not sufficient to protect one against illness – a disease may mutate and still infect you, or the vaccine may only cover the most common strains of a disease, or you may experience side effects of immunization. However, you incur a major risk by choosing not to vaccinate: you’re rolling the dice that your participation is so marginal that it won’t affect herd immunity, and that the risks of your actions won’t bring about something far worse than you could have imagined, particularly for those who cannot receive a vaccination because of medical reasons.

Let’s look first at the effects of individual actions on a collective decision, because that’s effectively what both vaccination and voting are. If a certain number of people don’t get vaccinated, the herd immunity drops below a certain threshold, and a disease can re-enter the population. Likewise, if enough people don’t vote for a candidate, another candidate will win. And unless you live somewhere with instant runoff voting or alternative voting mechanisms, it’s generally going to be the candidate who is “first past the post.”

Now let’s take a look at some of Ohio’s recent 4-way polls:

Ohio 2016 GE polling

According to my back of the envelope calculations, the combined Johnson and Stein margins are anywhere from 1.4 times (the Baldwin Wallace poll) to 13 times (the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll) the margin of difference between Trump and Clinton. This means that if even a small number of third-party voters switched their allegiance to Clinton, it would make her election far more of a sure thing than the extremely tight race depicted above. By choosing to stick with third-party candidates, these voters are effectively withholding a contribution to the only collective action that can prevent a Donald Trump presidency – a vote for Hillary Clinton. Until we have an alternative voting method like instant-runoff voting or proportional voting, a third-party vote, especially in an extremely competitive state like Ohio, is an individual contribution to a collective action that signals “I am OK with the possibility of a Trump presidency.”

Let’s return to the second set of risks when you choose to sit out voting for president, or voting third-party: that the risks of your actions won’t bring about something far worse than you could have imagined. As outlined above, I assume that those voting third-party or sitting this out are indicating by their actions that “both sides are as bad as the other” and that therefore, they truly believe the actual presidencies of each candidate would be indistinguishable. Going back to the vaccination metaphor and herd immunity (which protects those who cannot be immunized), what does this mean for those who cannot vote?

In the American electorate, there are three large populations that are disenfranchised from voting in federal elections. These include children, non-US citizens, and depending on the state, those currently incarcerated or with a felony conviction. Since childhood is a much more straightforward trajectory than citizenship or carceral status, this is why some political scientists distinguish between voting-age population and voting-eligible population.

Many voters in the 2016 general election appear to have become so disgusted by the idea of “voting for two terrible candidates” or “always having to vote for the lesser of two evils” that they plan to vote third-party, or forego voting altogether to register their dissatisfaction. But if we accept the reality that only one of two candidates (Clinton or Trump) will win the election on November 8, we have a moral imperative to select for the least amount of harm for the greatest number of people. I firmly believe that a Trump presidency would be far more devastating for those who are shut out of voting, and therefore the only moral choice is to set aside my political differences with Clinton and vote for her.

Let’s look at this through the lens of climate change. Children have no voice in this election, and yet the actions that the United States takes – or doesn’t take – on climate change in the next few years could make the difference between a grim but adaptable future, and complete horror. These changes are already taking place, and will only accelerate by the time today’s children become part of the voting-eligible population and can legally vote their intent. Until then, we have a moral obligation to ensure that one of only two possible scenarios (Clinton or Trump) is the one that will inflict less damage than the other alternative. Clinton is nowhere near as visionary as she should be on climate change, however she accepts that it is a reality the US must address in cooperation with the rest of the world. Trump, on the other hand, believes that it is a fiction. Which viewpoint has the greater danger of harm for those who cannot currently cast their own vote?

If you truly cannot abide the idea of a Trump presidency, if the idea of Trump governing the United States fills you with horror, then there is only one rational choice you can make if you have voting rights: to vote for Hillary Clinton. Because if you can’t countenance a Trump presidency but you rely on other people to cast the ballot for Clinton you somehow aren’t willing to commit yourself to, you are contributing to a free rider problem: you want to vote your conscience, and let other people do the work of making sure Trump gets nowhere near the levers of power. Which then begs the question: how can you be sure that there aren’t too many others operating on the same mindset as yourself, which could then give Trump the number of votes he needs to be first past the post? Like anti-vaxxers who suddenly find their own children getting measles because too many other parents made the choice not to contribute to herd immunity, those who sit out or cast a third-party vote while fearing a Trump presidency are putting their own interests over the collective good of all.

Perhaps as a voter, you truly believe both a Clinton and Trump presidency would be equally reprehensible. You’re OK with either outcome. You’re willing to roll those dice. In that case, let me reframe the moral question as, “Who would you rather have as your political enemy?” In one of the smartest political commentaries I’ve yet seen on this totally appalling election, British writer Laurie Penny explored this exact question:

I do not expect a president of the United States —or any government leader, for that matter — to be radical. It is not capitulation to be realistic about what can be achieved at the ballot box in a modern democracy, particularly in a presidential election. It is not defeatist to understand that the very most you can hope for is to stop things getting worse as fast as they might otherwise have done. […]

A general election is about nothing more or less than choosing your enemy. Any government leader must be considered an enemy to those who believe in radical change. Hillary Clinton is not yet that enemy but by damn. I hope she gets to be. Hillary Clinton is the sort of enemy I’ve been dreaming of over ten years of political work. She’s the kind of enemy you can respect. I look forward to fighting her on her commitment to climate protection, on workers’ rights, on welfare, on foreign policy. Bring that shit on. That’s the sort of fight I relish. I want to argue over how the state can best serve the interests of women and minorities, not whether it should. That’s the sort of fight that makes me better. Four more years of fighting Donald Trump and his foaming acolytes would demean everyone involved.

My values are such that even though I disagree with Clinton on much, as a politician she is still playing by the same basic principles I expect from a President of the United States: to seek specialist knowledge from diverse experts, to wholly reject exploitation of racial, ethnic, and religious grievances for political gain, and to have previous experience on which to draw. On all of those counts, Donald Trump is an utter and spectacular failure. He routinely rejects the advice of specialists on domestic and foreign affairs. He exploits racial, ethnic, and religious grievances to an alarming degree. Finally, a person who has never served a day in public service, whether political, civil or military, is unfit to become a head of state, which requires an entirely different set of skills from running a for-profit entity.

Every day, normal people suck it up, grit their teeth, and roll up their sleeves for a vaccine. They might not like it, it might hurt for a while, but in the grand scheme of things, they are contributing to collective action that ensures the general well-being of those around us. If you are undecided, thinking about staying home, voting third-party, or a Republican who is leaning towards Trump even if he makes you sick to your stomach, on the eve of this election, I implore you to contribute to our electoral herd immunity. Suck it up, grit your teeth, and vote for Clinton for the general well-being of those around us.

[1] To me, these drawbacks are the standard left-wing criticisms of Clinton. She is too cozy with the wealthy, her climate change proposals are not nearly aggressive enough for what we should have started doing 20 years ago, her record on fracking is not good, and as someone whose job involves public records issues, the private server email business is totally appalling. Finally, my baptism into leftist politics was through protesting the invasion of Iraq in 2003, before I could even vote. If I knew Colin Powell was lying to the UN as a teenager, if I managed to get my slightly conservative Episcopalian church to help fund me to go protest in DC, there is still a part of me that can never quite move on from the fact that Clinton authorized the use of military force in one of the worst follies that has ever taken the lives of thousands of American servicemen and women, and countless lives of Iraqis. All this said, and despite my misgivings, I am early-voting for Clinton soon and even volunteering here and there for her campaign when I have a free hour in my schedule. The alternative of a Trump presidency is simply too horrifying to contemplate.

[2] And it goes without saying, but whose encouragement of his supporters to express and act on similarly bigoted views is beyond the pale.

[3] To be clear, every election is important, and local and state elections often affect your daily life as much, or if not more, than presidential elections. Failure to recognize this on the broad part of the electorate (and the get out the vote efforts of liberal/left political infrastructure) is how we have ended up with Republican-dominated governorships and state legislatures across the United States.

[4] To give credit where it’s due, the herd immunity parallel has popped up a couple times in the epic MetaFilter election threads. I think this might have been the comment that originally lit up this light bulb for me.

Catch me on WMKV talking about hiking

I’m super excited that I am going to be a guest on WMKV (89.3 FM in Cincinnati, and 89.9 FM in Warren/Butler counties), a local Cincinnati community radio station, this Friday, September 23 from 1-1:30pm Eastern. Good news out of town friends — you can stream WMKV through the website. Scroll down on the homepage or this link will hopefully work.

I will be interviewed by Carol Mundy, who is an amazing local naturalist (and full disclosure, my bff’s mom). We’re going to talk about hiking, getting outdoors, and about my section hike of the Sheltowee Trace. But I’ve also been told that Carol’s hosting style can be full of surprises, so you’ll just have to tune in to listen!

Lord make me an instrument of thy peace

Before going to bed last night I hopped on Twitter, and Twitter was doing what it does best: providing breaking news and commentary about a heart-rending story hours before mainstream news outlet picked it up. It was the mass shooting (which, I hope and pray will be investigated and classed as an act of domestic terrorism) at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect is a young white man, and 9 people have died as I write this.

This story is gutting on many levels. It breaks my heart to see a house of worship, often safe harbors for people sheltering from many of life’s storms, to be the site of such tragedy.

Many people on Twitter were saying many of the hard truths that this country — and specifically white Americans — need to wrap our heads around.

And here we are, repeating everything that much of America would like to think it solved decades ago. In particular, that an attack on a black church is terrifying precisely because it cannot be alienated from its historical context; black churches were routinely targeted during the civil rights movement, with the most horrifying act of white violence against black church-goers culminating in the deaths of four little girls.

It’s worth remembering that what’s happened since Trayvon Martin was killed is a sliver of the staggering amount of contemporary state-sanctioned and societal violence against black Americans since the passage of federal civil rights legislation. In my hometown of Cincinnati, you might know that fatal shootings by police officers happened a lot in the 1990s/early 2000s. But what’s happened in the past year is, without a doubt, a magnifying glass on how insidious and well-established structural and cultural racism continues to embed itself within America, and how saying Black Lives Matter is still heard by many white Americans as a statement, as opposed to a truth.

I think what marks the terrorism in Charleston as a particular zenith of horror is for many people, houses of worship are a bedrock of one’s community and an avenue for renewal. It’s bad enough that black Americans cannot walk down the street, spend time in their community, or be at home without being harassed, abused, and targeted by white and state-sanctioned violence. Targeting a church, a space that people rightfully expect to be safe in, and an important place in the history of black America’s struggle for justice, takes it to a whole new level of evil.


And yet, as many people point out, if you know your history, a shooting attack on a house of worship is par for the course when hate-fueled people are looking for convenient scapegoats. This is not new, and indeed it’s happened several times in the last 10 years alone.

To recap:

In 2008, a Unitarian Universalist congregation was targeted during a children’s musical performance by a white man with “hatred of Democrats, liberals, African Americans and homosexuals.” Two people died, including “an usher who deliberately stood in front of the gunman to protect others.”

In 2010, abortion provider George Tiller was killed while he was ushering at his church, by a white man who had harassed and intimidated abortion providers since the 1990s. The gunman threatened “two others who tried to prevent his departure.”

In 2012, a Sikh gurdwara was targeted during services, by a noted white supremacist. Six people died, and the government treated the attack as an act of domestic terrorism. The president of the congregation died while trying to prevent the attacker from inflicting any further harm, and his actions helped many of the children get out of harm’s way.

In 2015, as the news develops about the Emanuel AME massacre in Charleston, we are seeing indications that the young man who perpetrated this act of terrorism also identified with white supremacy.

…and this short list doesn’t even begin to include the many acts of vandalism and intimidation against houses of worship, in particular black churches, mosques and synagogues, that are fueled by racism and bigotry.

We know in this country that one of the largest threats of domestic terrorism comes from right-wing extremists. These extremists are overwhelmingly disaffected white men who direct their anger at people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and non-Christian faiths. But what we talk about when we talk about terrorism and community violence does not seem to indicate that we take threats of domestic terrorism carried out by white men seriously. We perpetuate white privilege by treating white gunmen as lone wolves, or people who had “mental issues,” while we hold entire communities responsible to higher standards. The point is, white privilege gives white people the permission to be judged as individuals while it does not afford the same to others:


I did not quite appreciate the reality of violence at houses of worship until I began dating my now-fiance, who is Jewish. The first time I attended services with his family was during Rosh Hashanah, and law enforcement was very visible walking up to the synagogue. Having grown up attending suburban Episcopal churches, this sight was pretty jarring the first time I saw it (and if I’m being honest, I still haven’t gotten used to it). I have a pretty small sample size, but visible security measures and/or armed law enforcement have appeared at every Jewish congregation I’ve had the privilege to visit so far.

What does it do to people’s spiritual health to have to contemplate their own physical safety while spending time at their congregation?


I drifted away from any semblance of spiritual practice for most of my late teens and twenties. My parents  married in a UU church, and I grew up Episcopalian. My father  attends a notably progressive Presbyterian church. For years he has been involved with  anti-death penalty activism as an expression of his faith in action. I was involved with anti-war activism when the US invaded Iraq, and many of those I worked with came from a Catholic and mainline Christian social justice background.

For much of my adult life I’ve been a “devout agnostic” — contemplating the existence of God and spiritual matters seemed like a luxury, an unknowable question that distracted from working towards the “real” questions of poverty, war, bigotry, and environmental destruction. Even as I didn’t attend church or cultivate a sense of spirituality, I still silently prayed when ambulances went by, on behalf of whoever they were heading to. I’m guessing that when an ambulance is heading your way, it might be one of the worst days of your life. I have no clue if anyone’s listening, but doing it felt like the right thing to do.

I’m not sure what flipped to inspire a search for spiritual nourishment, but it happened at some point last fall. I think it was in the aftermath of Ferguson and a feeling of growing helpless rage at the trajectory of our country. I was angry so many friends of color were terrified for their own and their children’s futures. I was angry that my fundamental human right to control my own reproductive decisions remain under serious threat. I was angry that the rich were getting richer, that destruction of the planet was a key indicator of economic growth, and how very helpless I felt.

I’m still angry about these things. I show up and do the work of activism when I can, but it still doesn’t address my inner fatigue. I knew I needed to find a way to channel my anger constructively, or else it would consume me and prevent me from being the advocate and compassionate human being I want to be. I knew I needed a community, and something led me to a Quaker meeting. The Quakers were always on my radar because of my college-era anti-war activism. I’ve been attending a meeting for several months now. While I’m not sure yet if it’s a way station or a permanent home, I  recognize it’s filling a vital spiritual need for me, in a way that I never would have anticipated had fury and rage not flung me towards something bigger than my own helplessness.


So where does this leave us? For those of us who incorporate aspects of faith in our lives, it seems that a universal value is challenging ourselves to bear witness to the suffering of others. The golden rule doesn’t mean shit if you’re willfully blind to the pain and agony of people who don’t look like you or live your life’s circumstances.

One of the most insidious responses you see whenever a national tragedy occurs is a rush to tell people not to politicize it. The problem is that bearing witness — acknowledging other people’s pain and agony — cannot be separated from “politics.” If a central article of faith is to do unto others, you have to square that with recognizing how privilege, systemic bigotry, and structural violence is used over and over to hurt communities who have asked you to recognize injustice time and time again. You cannot do unto others unless you recognize what is being done to others. You cannot bear witness until you learn how to listen as much as you learn how to speak.