Nobody is Answering the Call to Civility

Whatever happened to polite discourse? Hell, what happened to somewhat rude yet not disturbing discourse? For a while now, progressives and even conservatives have been calling for civility in politics. A cursory glance over the day’s news can tell you that such a thing is now rare. You can easily see it in every political campaign, every debate, and half of the stuff you read on the Internet. Vicious musings, mudslinging, and occasionally violent rhetoric and action appear to be becoming the norm. We saw the real beginnings of this after 9/11, and we saw tensions start to boil over with the 2008 election, when suddenly our seemingly post-racial and “politically correct” society abandoned all façades and attacked Barack Obama with every sort of racist stereotype and slur they could get away with. Collectively, it almost looks like we’ve gotten used to it. Most of the politically apathetic people I know tend to react with a, “Yeah, that’s horrible. Now, back to what I was saying about that guy at work…” sort of attitude. This atmosphere doesn’t scare them, and I don’t know why.

A little over a year ago, violent musings became reality when Gabrielle Giffords, a United States congresswoman from Arizona, was gunned down in what was thought to be a politically motivated attack. Giffords sustained serious injury after being shot in the head, and two others were killed in the attack. One would think that such an act would make citizens stop and think about the disturbing political rhetoric being used to attack opposing parties in this country, but it didn’t. I’ll repeat that: the attempted assassination of a United States congresswoman caused in part by political rhetoric did not change that rhetoric. Just last Tuesday, female state senators in Missouri were presumably targeted and threatened with violence when stickers depicting crosshairs were found over their office nameplates. The underlying political message here is clear. It is becoming more and more dangerous to be a progressive in a country that feels threatened by progressive legislation, and it is even more dangerous for progressive women.

[Trigger warning for mention of animal cruelty.] Some of you may also have heard of a horrifying incident last week involving the family pet of a Democratic campaign manager in Arkansas. Jake Burris came home with his children to find their pet cat brutally murdered, the word “LIBERAL” written across its corpse. This is absolutely inexcusable. I was so upset reading this story that I had tears in my eyes. To use a defenseless animal who doesn’t even know what liberal means to get a terroristic political message across is incomprehensible to me. This is territory that to me has always been somewhere you never go. You leave a person’s family out of it, including animals, and you stick to the issue and the person. This is the climate we live in. A place where, all in the name of politics, it is excusable to attempt to assassinate a member of Congress, threaten state senators, murder cats, and commit other atrocities such as assaulting women at political rallies. So, what can we do about this?

It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but I’ve listed some things here to get you started:

  • Call people out. It’s really that simple. If you feel safe doing it, let people know when they are out of line or offensive. If a casual friend of yours starts espousing vitriolic, unsettling ideas, let them know. Tell them that you will not tolerate that sort of talk. See if you can educate them on why what they are saying is offensive or disturbing. Don’t worry so much about being polite you have a right to feel safe.
  • Volunteer your time. Got a few extra hours and a little extra energy? Go help out a cause you support! Offer to be a clinic escort at Planned Parenthood and shield women from the screaming hordes of sign-carriers! Help out at your local homeless shelter! Offer your services to a domestic violence shelter and help to end family violence!
  • Get the word out. Talk about stuff. Let people know what is going on in the world and why it’s so frightening. Help people put things into perspective. You’ll be surprised how often you hear, “I never thought about it like that before!”
  • Donate! Send your old (good condition–no holes!) clothing to homeless or domestic violence shelters. Got a little extra cash? Consider donating to nonviolent organizations and organizations that are dedicated to helping people. Every bit helps, and no amount is too small!
  • Be nice. Even if you’re having a bad day, there’s no reason to be an ass to the Starbucks barista!
In this culture of anger, fear, and violence, let’s try to create something different. Let’s try to create something helpful, something kind, something that actually does good instead of harm. Radical thought? Maybe, but I can dream. Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments!


By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

8 replies on “Nobody is Answering the Call to Civility”

I love how positive you are about the fact that every person has the power to make a difference. It’s always nice to be reminded of the power of our voices. Groupthink is a very powerful thing, and it’s not always easy to speak up against the hateful political rhetoric of our times when you’re outnumbered and likely to be seen as an instigator.

I suppose they way I see it is that if one person speaks up, there’s good potential to create a wonderful chain reaction here. I think it certainly can be dangerous to speak out against what’s going on, and while it’s important to be safe, silence damages everyone. As Audre Lorde said, “Your silence will not protect you.”

You are so right. Love that quote.

Ironically, Mayor Bloomberg made the same argument in regards to gun control Sunday on Meet The Press, even using Gabby Giffords as an example. You must be on to something. =)

I wholeheartedly agree, I found the article great too!

In addition to the suggestions you offer, I would also say another method is for you / us / others to continue writing about the escalating violence and putting it into the context of our everyday lives.  Increasingly, just having an opinion is becoming dangerous.  I can only hope that the more attention is brought to just how bad and out of control the situation is, people will start to take notice.

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