Responding to Prop 8 and Other Hate by Adrienne Maree Brown

Ah this past week has really thrown me for a loop.

I want to write an essay on how I am voting No on Prop 8 in California, even though as I get older I am more and more convinced that all marriage is a convolution of church and state and that the only kind of union that should be available from the government to anyone of any gender-sexuality combo is domestic partnership.

But Prop 8 is not really about marriage, it’s about hate, hate that limits the kind of love and commitment available to people in our current system.  So I oppose Prop 8, and I want to write a whole piece about it.

But this past week, while I was on the road, a lot of things happened. Someone I love very dearly had an emotionally abusive encounter with her partner. At the same moment, in the same hours, my neighbors got held up at gunpoint at my apartment building. Jennifer Hudson’s mother and brother were murdered, and her nephew disappeared. The US raided Syria. And then, another neighbor was murdered by her jealous ex-husband.

And I can’t help but think, as I tend to, that all of these things – Prop 8 and violent fighting and desperate violence and murder – are all connected somehow.

I deeply believe that love is a driving force behind everything, even those things that appear violent and horrific. When I think of the motivation of those who I most deeply oppose, I try to figure out what they love. This approach has worked for me on very general levels, and on very precise and specific levels.

But I go through these experiences of the past week and I am trying to find the love behind these acts, and coming up short. I am mostly writing this tonight because I have come home, and am in my house and I can feel the way the safe space has been shattered, the quiet that pours into a place after violence occurs.

I can’t write a big endorsement essay right now, I have to write something that helps me process through this.

Perhaps there is a point of love where it becomes insanity. For the young boys who held up my neighbors, perhaps it is a love of self and need to survive that brought them to arm themselves and wait in the dark.

For this administration sitting in office watching the entire world galvanize behind the idea of change in US leadership, perhaps there is a love of…oh someone help me out. What kind of love could possibly lead to bombing? It’s such a sloppy stupid way of doing business.

For the domestic stuff – the below-the-belt fighting, and the obsession that led to murder…its evidence of such damage.

The man who murdered my neighbor would come around here at night. He would bang on the door and yell at her to open it. His voice sounded like the Nothing from Neverending Story, a big bad wolf in the night. It kept us all up, invading our dreams. He knocked at my door once and asked for a dollar. I said no, and closed the door, and stood there trembling, waiting for his footsteps to walk away. He seemed like the kind of person who could knock the door in if he wanted. And yet, as scary as he was, as many times as we all caved and called the cops who rarely came, with a restraining order on him…no one thought he would go this far. Now there is talk of the death penalty for him, violence for violence, a broken answer for a broken human. Where is the love in his story? I can only see the insanity – both he and my neighbor were people who needed help that never came.

We need social systems that heal, leaders who can both protect us and liberate us to be whole people and whole communities that don’t turn on each other, damage each other with insults, knives, bombs.

We all need help that isn’t coming, change that isn’t on the horizon.

I sat down for a late night conversation with a group of organizers in Portland, speaking of hope and transformation with them, but they were feeling hopeless. The cycle of social change and the structure of social justice work in this country…it holds up any true change as effectively as a leash on a dog.  I was making a case for the hope that can be seen in this election cycle, but even I could tell my arguments were half-hearted.

I believe change is a divine force, and I understand that most of the work I do will not show grand results in my lifetime. Usually I accept those terms.

But this weekend reminded me that life is a battlefield, arrows flying through air in my direction, many of them piercing my armor. Can I recover? Absolutely. I know that in the coming weeks I will see the amazing results of the work that I and my co-workers and allies do, get to be face to face with some of the organizers who most inspire me.

But policy isn’t the healing salve.  There is a deeper and more significant sea change needed, a more personal transformation and healing that takes time and focus and resolve and commitment, and I wonder if humans can truly step up to the task. Or, to be more specific, I know we can step up to the task, I have seen it…but will we step up in time? Can we be better and more compassionate to each other as individuals, and can we normalize mental health before we destroy ourselves?

I feel, given how hopeful I generally am, that it is nearly blasphemous to end this article with no ray of hope. And I can’t lie or withhold the fact that I have seen good things in this same time period, primarily in the wild wonder of children I got to play with this weekend, and in the joy, pleasure and presence I experienced with new and old loved ones over the past few days. I know that kind of love coexists in the world with all of that darkness. Perhaps on the grandest level the light and the dark are truly in balance. But which one are we all leaning towards? Which one are we investing in with our daily actions?

Can we evolve?

I ask this question in all seriousness, I want to hear stories of communities that respond to such darkness in ways that create tangible changes. How do we respond to bombings in ways that are more than symbolic? How do we respond to domestic violence, and the politicized hatred of our communities, in ways that leap up off of paper and make us feel truly safe? Hope is wonderful, but what are the practices that will help us realize the changes we hope for…where are the results we can see and feel?