Shifting the baseline towards love

Dear President Trump,

Yesterday when I was mentally formulating my letter to you I kept thinking that the “shrinking baseline syndrome” was the “shifting baseline syndrome” – not that far off, but not quite right, either. When I was in “shifting baseline” mode, though, I found myself toggling between the frightening shifts in ethics and integrity in politics since you took office (which, really, would also fit the “shrinking baseline” formulation) and the incredible strides we’ve made in the past 5, 10, 15 years in the visibility and recognition of many of us who were stuck so far out on the margins that the mainstream used to get to pretend we didn’t exist.

I’m thinking about marriage equality for LGBTQ people and the military’s lifting of the ban on our service (though I’m well aware that you are reinstating the ban for new recruits who are trans and want to live in accordance with their true gender). I’m thinking of #MeToo and the millions of women and men who have stopped keeping their experiences of rape and sexual assault secret, who are speaking out about these experiences and naming perpetrators. I’m thinking of the D.A.s and the pro bono lawyers who are re-examining old legal cases where there were likely miscarriages of justice and working to free people who were wrongly accused. I’m also thinking of municipalities that are reforming their drug laws to address racial bias, including erasing misdemeanor marijuana convictions. I’m thinking of the witness of brave, brave individuals who have had the wherewithal to use their phones to record police shootings of unarmed people of color. I’m thinking of the millions of young people and their allies who are pushing for real, substantive changes in response to global warming.

Obviously we have leagues to go yet in shifting the baseline enough that everyone is safe from sexual violence, from gun violence, from police who have been over-trained to shoot and under-trained to de-escalate, from climate change. We have leagues to go in shifting the judicial system’s baseline so that there is neither a profit motive for imprisoning people nor endemic racial bias. And clearly we have yet to shift the baseline sufficiently such that when people harm others or the planet there is reliably accountability and restorative justice. Absolutely we have a long, long way to go with so many societal ills (and things that are making many of us literally ill). Indeed, you all are pulling out all the stops to try to drag the baseline back, to shrink the progress we’ve made so you can continue to capitalize on the illusion of superiority and righteousness for “real (way more deserving) Americans” just a little longer.

But hey, guess what – we are not going anywhere and we are not shutting up. We are not going to stop talking with each other and we are certainly not going to stop supporting each other, no matter how hard you try to pit us against one another. This is what happens when people muster the courage to compare notes and to fit the pieces together to see what the f*ck is really going on. You can’t stop this kind of progress. The baseline will keep shifting. We will keep pushing the goalposts out further (thank you Stacey Abrams for this wonderful analogy).

This morning at the end of a very heavy, very beautiful church service (that I might tell you more about in a day or two) our lead pastor sent us off with an incredible benediction. She reminded us that we have what we need, that we are enough, and that self-care is social justice. Upon hearing the last bit, the African American man sitting next to me sharply drew in his breath and then released it very, very slowly. And he smiled.

May we be safe to speak the truth, to hear the truth, and to accept it.
May we be willing to keep pushing the social justice goalposts out, to shift the baseline towards love.
May we heal, may we be healthy, may we be strong for ourselves, one another, and the planet.
May we make peace with the idea that we are enough, that we don’t need to buy into scarcity myths that keep us trapped and pitted against one another.

Tracy Simpson

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