Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Treating Amnesia at the DNC

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

So why shouldn't female Democrats just forget their support for Hillary Clinton, all the misogyny of the campaign, a couple thousand years of inequality that still finds most females in "women's" jobs like secretaries, nurses, and school teachers while 85 percent of national legislators are still men? Why not? When Hillary makes her speech, it will no doubt be to lift up a rug and ask us to sweep everything under it. Mrs. Obama already set the tone with her keynote speech, "I come here as a wife."

And why, if Obama actually makes it to the White House, breaking through that enormous glass ceiling already splintered by Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condi Rice, shouldn't his black supporters be pressured to "get over" the daily morass of American racism. Why shouldn't they forget the legacy of black street activists except on MLK day, and celebrate the post-race era because unity, after all, is the main thing? Dinosaurs like Charles Rangel and Al Sharpton should also be encouraged to drown themselves in the nearest swamp where no doubt the words "affirmative" and "action" are already sinking.

Every day U.S. soldiers die in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with an unconscionable amount of civilians, and they're all forgotten, too. The 4726 American coffins covered in flags didn't make it to prime time. And I barely remember the demos I went to before the invasion started, trying to head it off, and haven't been on the streets since to protest that ugly war our press has buried in an unmarked grave so that we can get on with the important business of the day -- like buying stuff.

Likewise, queers have forgotten how AIDS killed almost a whole generation of fags, transforming them first into the walking dead, skeletal, half-blind, deformed, before ARV's came on the scene. It's a good thing isn't it, how they saved lives, letting the HIV positive remain invisible, even if it also makes it easier to erase the people getting infected now? And in our rush to register for wedding china, why shouldn't we just be thankful for what we have and forget the bad old days when merely waking up in the morning as a dyke or fag or trannie meant risking beatings, blackmail, ostracism, rape, homelessness and jail?

Then there are all those things we can't forget because we never knew about them. Like how the Russian invasion of Georgia marks almost to the day the 40th anniversary of their invasion of Czechoslovakia which like Bush, I can hardly spell. That's ignorance, not amnesia. In high school history, we never made it past World War II. And I haven't done much as an adult to correct it.

Why think of these histories at all, when making sense of our own lives seems work enough? God knows relationships are hard, and families are a trial even if they aren't homophobic. Then there's that lazy cantankerous neighbor of mine here in Paris that persists in leaving her garbage outside the bins. It's a big leap to go from her to consider the whole neighborhood, the whole town, the whole country, the world where humans are an endangered species on an endangered planet.

Remembering's too much of a burden. Though forgetting is worse, especially for cultural or political minorities because it means we've lost sight not just of difficult lives but how we transformed them. After all, it wasn't by some miracle that people of color can now sit anywhere they want on the bus, and also sit in the Senate and maybe the White House. It wasn't a miracle that got us drugs for AIDS, and fought discrimination, and lesbophobia. It was activists. And it was activists that fought not just for the right for women to vote, but to get out there and represent.

The danger is that if we forget that progress occurred by human intervention, we'll forget humans can reverse it as well.

Already the religious fundamentalists that ACT-UP battled are regaining ground on the national stage. Already, abortion rights are melting away. Many grassroots networks based on race are unraveling, like our marginal gains in healthcare. We could cavalierly start a new war or dismiss others like the one in Georgia because we've ignored or forgotten the consequences.

Remembering, of course, is a high wire act. We can get tripped up and blinded by fury and bitterness, and recriminations. But we have to do it. Democrats, especially, should keep one eye on the past as they try to reinvent themselves as the unifying party of the future. Otherwise, what do you have but the kind of false narrative we saw in Beijing where their image of a bright and glorious land depended on silence and enforced amnesia? What do you have but a farce fit only for summer theater?

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