The hands of life and death

Welp, I wish I was updating here with better news, but that is not the case. Today, as anticipated, the US Supreme Court has declared my humanity to be conditional only, predicated on what the state I live in thinks about it. What the state I live in thinks about it is pretty grim.

I’ve been thinking about this since the impending decision was leaked. There is a seemingly infinite number of takes on what’s to be done or what it all means: “She has an accomplice, you know — women don’t get pregnant by themselves!” “Time to nuke the filibuster/alter the Court/impeach the dishonest unelected justices….” “We can thank [insert villain/activist/centrist/Hillary Clinton] for this….” “A young man wanting to get a gun should be subjected to the same invasive and delaying hurdles as a young woman needing an abortion….” “They’re coming for birth control next.” “We need paid maternity leave and childcare — we can’t have all these children without support for them!”

Some of this is a more intense form of recreational complaining, snark vented for relief. Some of this is even true. A lot of it is stuff that people want to see done by fiat; I’m guessing they haven’t been paying attention for the last twenty years or so to the long game the confederascists have been playing. This event only seems like the work of a day; reclaiming our human rights won’t be the work of a day either.

I’m forty-six. That’s not very old. When I was sixteen, my mother took me to the bank in our small town and had me open a savings account with the money from my first summer job. I did not know then that the sixteen years I’d been alive was almost the sum total of time that American women had had the legal right to open an account or a line of credit without having to get a father or husband to co-sign for access. If I had known this, I might have been less sullen about this boring adulting thing my mother was making me do.

Thirty years later, I have more wisdom but fewer acknowledged rights.

In sifting these reactions, I’ve seen one issue surface in multiple ideological circles: the issue of guns. The mass shootings are becoming almost clockwork, followed by recriminations as predictable as they are useless. People from all perspectives point out what looks like an inconsistency in their opponents’ stance on guns vs. abortion — “You want to ban guns even though people will obtain them anyway, but you want to keep abortion legal even though women will obtain them anyway? Hypocrite.” or, “It’s insane that the Court says the states can’t forbid unfettered gun ownership, but the states definitely can ban abortion care even if a woman will die without it.” But when it comes down to it, the inconsistency is a mirage. There is a common link to this kill-don’t kill dichotomy that makes them perfectly consistent.

That common link is men.

Oh, I don’t mean men as individuals [insert tired hashtag here]. I mean men (particularly white ones) as a demographic that our homegrown fascists want to set above everyone else in the country. They want all of the responsibilities of our society to be fastened upon us, and all of the authority to be awarded to them.

They want the power of life and death to be in the hands of (white) men at all times.

To them, the very idea that a woman has the practical ability to thwart a man’s decision to beget life upon her body is an abomination so vile they call it murder for want of a more shocking word. Indeed, murder itself is a mere peccadillo in comparison. That is why they call the Pill, or IUDs, or any other form of self-administered birth control to be “abortifacient” even though scientifically speaking that’s ridiculous. It puts life in the hands of the person with the womb, and that is a thing to be destroyed and salted with fire. For a woman to escape from subjection is a mortal sin.

And if she does it anyway, well, there’s always the guns.

Life and death. The confederascists like to make sad mouth noises, but I suspect the worst among them actually rejoice over mass shootings. The more of them they allow, the more the rest of us will creep around in public, running errands like prey animals at the waterhole. Normal men who actually like and respect their relatives and coworkers; children rattling their lunchboxes on the way to school; the barista supporting her family on a pittance; the married same-sex couple swinging their daughter on a tire at the park.

To annul state laws against unlicensed concealed guns is to say: “Let the lynchings begin.”

Of course none of this is news to Black men and women. In fact, seizing the means of production, as it were, of children, and nationalizing it, is a largely white supremacist project. It’s not just that womb-carriers were meant to be disposable (and how dare they get ideas above their station); it’s that white women in particular need to be requisitioned for rebuilding the white population and staving off the minority majority. Of course, this project incurs a good deal of collateral damage — after all, more Black children will be born to women who can’t get around the laws, and the occasional elementary school classroom will have its share of unrecognizable white children’s corpses. But it’s all worthwhile in service of restoring the power of life and death to the hands it belongs in.

My lifetime. Forty-six years. Think about all the money earned by women that men couldn’t touch. Think about all that real property they’ve bought. All the businesses they’ve started, all the investments they’ve made, all the patents and achievements that have accrued to their own names. All the children born to women who were not obliged to identify them by their father’s surname. Forty-six years of riches, modest perhaps in proportion to the generations of white men’s wealth, but not insignificant. Forty-six years of dynastic property maddeningly held out of reach of their “rightful” owners.

They had no right to it. But they want it back.

So we have One Job: organize. I’ll talk more about this later; but if you’ve been reading earlier numbers of this intermittent gazette, you know that I have been following the Ukrainian resistance to the ruscist invasion as a mountaintop bonfire for the resurgence of democracy — actual democracy, not the democracy the coupsters were yelling about on January 6, 2021 while smearing their own shit on the walls of the United States Capitol. Not coincidentally, Russia is the last white patriarchy of any size or significance left in the Old World; also not coincidentally, Russia has been attacking us under the radar for at least a decade, at the same time as they were invading Ukraine the first time for daring to muster a democratic wave and oust the pro-Russian government Putin had installed. Ukraine has been at this for close on a decade, and they’ve done it by continuing to tell one another their story of a dream of freedom at least a century in the making.

Notice what Ukraine did first: they pulled together a coalition and voted out the Russian assets in their government. Then: they spent some years rooting out, or working around, the remaining spores of moldy corruption in their state, a work that is still in progress. They developed an identity of citizenship that pitches in with the minimum of fuss, since waiting for the government to invent that citizenship for them was an obvious nonstarter. They did most of this while being invaded by a nuclear power on their eastern border — the first time.

We are at their Step One. We are not giving Ukraine weapons and money because we have something to teach them about democracy. We are giving Ukraine weapons and money because they have something to teach us about democracy, and we want them to live to teach it.

This is a process. Grieve and rage as needed; then let’s get to work.

100 days later

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, known to us then in the US mostly as the untried people’s-choice president whom The Former Guy had tried to extort for manufactured dirt against Joe Biden (and escaped conviction in the Senate for it), took to social media with a firm reassurance:

One hundred days later, President Zelenskyy posted his latest nightly address thanking President Joe Biden for the US’s continued material support for Ukraine’s defense of their sovereignty:

Between Night One and Night One Hundred Zelenskyy was put through a public crucible of leadership. When the US offered to airlift him to safety, Zelenskyy’s retort — “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride” — signaled to us the quality of independence we’ve come to recognize as a Ukrainian passion; but it also signaled to Ukraine that unlike previous presidents, he wasn’t going to cut and run. It was time to stand and fight back. Ukraine has taken his cue, counted the cost, and decided it was worth paying.

The rest of us are still counting.

While we were counting, Ukrainians fought the might of Russia inch by inch away from Kyiv. The latest address above is recorded in the presidential palace proper, with the lights on: but this is recent. Most of Zelenskyy’s evening addresses were recorded in a bunker, in dim light, in moments snatched during his sleepless slog from emergency to emergency. Nor did he only speak to Ukraine. He gave address after address to every governing body within Zoom’s reach: in one early teleconference with EU leaders, he said, “This might be the last time you see me alive”; later, he crafted appeals to every country’s parliament, legislature, and council with analogies to their own history. But the core appeals to each were nearly identical.

He wanted the world to acknowledge, explicitly and on record, that Ukraine is a sovereign nation with the right to exist independently of Russia. And he wanted “ammunition”; weapons to fight Goliath off their homeland and put a stop to the indiscriminate carnage being inflicted on his people.

Goliath, meanwhile, was demonstrating that they were both inept and cruel in the prosecution of their illegal war. As the Ukrainians drove them back, they saw what Russia had left behind. Zelenskyy, visiting Bucha after its liberation, was captured on camera with his face an open depth of rage and grief.

I recommend this 60 Minutes interview with Zelenskyy for its portrait of the things I am talking about here. It’s the end that stayed with me: Scott Pelley finishes the interview with, “Mr. President, we wish you all the luck in the world.” Zelenskyy switches from Ukrainian to a halting English and says with a painful smile: “I need half of it. Even half would be enough.”

We wish you all the luck in the world.

I only need half.

Not too long after that, I downloaded the Duolingo app and started to learn Ukrainian. Going over these videos now, I can actually pick out words, though after only 44 days of the curriculum I’m not quite at the point of fully grasping everything that’s being said. This is a country that has a deep, mordantly funny, stubborn character. Ground between the millstones of empires for centuries like the wheat grown in their fields bound for parts elsewhere, they’ve been fighting for their independence (and their unity) for almost as long as we’ve had ours. They understand their own peril; they understand they are standing in the gap for everyone else’s democracy. I’m not sure we really understand either of those things, but I know whose example I want to follow.

This war isn’t new — Russia started the process in 2014 after Ukraine got fed up with Russia’s meddling and swept in a new government not beholden to Putin and his encroachments. There’s a picture somewhere of a fight that broke out in the Ukrainian parliament during these troubles; I thought it very quaint, then, to see political disagreements reduced to fisticuffs. I did not know it was the first manifestation of a malice that would finally show itself in our country with The Former Guy and the January 6 insurrection. Nobody died in the Verkhovna Rada as they did in our capital: but Ukrainians are certainly dying now. Our whole country has turned into Bleeding Kansas. The war isn’t new.

Zelenskyy was new, though. But one can only admire how quickly he understood his assignment. He became the avatar of his country to us, and a mirror for the Ukrainians themselves. He pushes Ukraine’s asks aggressively with one hand (“He has the list,” Zelenskyy said of Biden when Scott Pelley asked him what weapons he wanted sent), and dishes out sincere gratitude with the other:

He throws shade on Russia not as a slam line looking for applause, but as if he expects any Ukrainian sitting in his seat would employ the same devastating skill:

And I believe they would! After all, the Snake Island soldier’s defiance is now a Ukrainian postage stamp, and the Moscow — that very Russian warship he told to go fuck itself — has been promoted to submarine in the Black Sea fleet.

Zelenskyy knows how to use his art, too. Here he is (in a two-parter; do watch them both) juxtaposing the May 9 Victory Day with the slogan “Never Again”:

And the next day, rallying Ukraine to envision its future victory:

There is one benefit of war to set against its evils: it can be a rough but effective sieve for our priorities. And I think our first priority is to stop talking about, thinking about, and revolving about other people who are doing it wrong. They might be! Who cares? Find someone who’s doing it right, and imitate them. To the hilt.

This year I have resolved to say nothing about what is or isn’t being done in political circles if I do not have something I am doing to put next to it. Seriously, it just darkens counsel. I wonder what would happen if for 24 hours nobody in this country could post anything to social media, no “what he said!” or “can you believe this?” or anything. Would we be able to peer through the cloud of dust and see who we are?

Likewise, if your plans for Bleeding Kansas this year involve trying to make some individual or group feel ashamed of themselves for whatever they’re doing: you’re gonna need to make another plan. Like Russia at the Olympics, this year’s bad actors live in the conviction that shame is something that happens to other people. No plan depending on any of them having a change of heart or making an honest agreement is a plan that will work. Even those people who can be reached — is this really the best use of our time? I don’t think we have as much of that commodity as it seems. Be like Ukraine: surmount what you can, and when you can’t, trade space for time and fight smarter, not harder.

There are lots of op-eds proliferating in mainstream media right now, warning us that supporting Ukraine is going to get “complicated” and that we had better get used to the idea of letting Russia have its way at least in part if we want to save lives. Whose lives? Not the Ukrainians, a population destined for liquidation for the sin of refusing to think of themselves as “Little Russians.” They don’t want us to do their fighting for them. In all the ways that matter, they are doing our fighting for us.

I can think of lots of ways we could be less lost, less unfocused, than we are now. But I shudder to think of where we’d be without Ukraine, and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, its willing avatar, to raise the standard.