Sunday, September 17, 2023

Backing Off Here, A Bit

This blog started in 2004, when our suburban county came under attack by a new kind of religious rightwing ideology. They were arbitrarily, viciously anti-gay and felt that the public schools should endorse their bigotry by refusing to teach the actual fact that there are gay and trans people in the world. They had a dumb and dangerous idea and it ran against any credible concept of knowledge and education.

Teach the Facts supported the school district to get a decent curriculum in place. The MCPS bureaucracy was sometimes shockingly unwilling to take risks, but individuals within the system were able to communicate and work with us, and we got the job done. That controversy has been forgotten and now our county's kids get a little bit more realistic view of human variation, taking the outcomes of our struggle for granted. As they should.

The school district was pretty bad then but not like it is now. Over the years it has become a closed system that resists the community rather than working with it. The recent example, uncovered in the Post, of principal Joel Beidleman, who had been abusing teachers and students for years, was an eye-opener -- and you know it's the tip of the iceberg, he's not the only one. Turns out MCPS just kept promoting this malevolent person and moving him around, and it got worse and worse. And then they appointed their own lawyers to investigate themselves and the report, so far, has been whitewash. That's what we can expect from here on out.

This month, MCPS is hosting three different events by Moms for Liberty, a far-right hate group seeking to undermine the values of our community. There is very little outrage at this point; our liberal leaders are afraid to say anything and most county residents are unaware of these events.

FYI, here are the three upcoming MCPS-hosted Moms for Liberty events:
  • Mon, Sept 18, 6:30 PM, Shady Grove Middle School (media center), Moms for Liberty Chapter Meeting
  • Tues, Sept 26, 11AM, Gaithersburg High School: "Protest Gender Ideology in Our Schools"
  • Tues, Sept 26, 7-9PM, Wootton High School, "Giving Parents a Voice" townhall

During the first wave of attacks from the right, our group of parents and local residents organized and aligned with other groups and with LGBT leaders as well as allies within the MCPS administration. Working together we marched forward through an onslaught of lawsuits and protests and dirty tricks, pushing back against the hatred until it retreated. We were aggressive about it and also funny -- conservatives have no response when you just make fun of them.

This time around, conservatives and religious groups have declared war on classroom reading materials with LGBT+ characters, trying to get a provision for opting out, and so far they are almost entirely unopposed. The liberals who have appointed themselves to support the current policy do not want to engage with the attacking hordes swarming down on our county. They are literally afraid of violence if we fight back. They don't want people to speak out because they are literally afraid someone will say something that can be taken wrong. I say "literally" because they have said this in public announcements. They want all statements to the press to be filtered through spokespersons who will be careful not to offend anyone or cause trouble. They will say happy things like "Lead with love," and "Radiate positivity."

The one county leader who has addressed the situation was ambushed by her own party and criticized in the national press for stating the obvious. The rest of our "leaders," when forced to comment, utter lukewarm platitudes and that's it. They're hoping this whole thing goes away on its own.

The liberal leaders want to "promote the inclusive books" and "support the LGBTQIA+ community." Fine, but those are not the problem. The books are in classrooms already and there is no real movement to get rid of them. LGBT-supportive policies are in place, big time, the school district is working hard to provide a welcoming environment. This is not the time to play defense.

Stories with LGBT+ characters are not a problem. Gay and trans people are not a problem. Those are simply the wrong places to focus energy.

The problem is ignorant, hateful conservatives trying to tear down the fundamentals of Western liberal society, and they are now active in our county. The insurrection is sometimes bleakly obvious, like when there are tiki torch marches, swastikas painted on synagogues, bubba smearing poop on the walls in the Capitol building, but sometimes you can't quite believe that it has slipped into your own neighborhood. It has, and it's serious. It's cool to have nonbinary dance parties and rainbow bumper stickers but I personally would like to see someone addressing the actual existential problem. Directly, forcefully.

"Inclusive" doesn't mean you define some group as different from everybody else, and then hold dance parties and wave signs for them, put their flags in your front yard and their bumper stickers on your car. Our MCPS English classes can and do have readings about all kinds of people -- there aren't "normal" readings and also "inclusive" readings. Our county's leading liberals see "inclusive" as a special category of people requiring special attention. They are not doing anyone any favors with their divisiveness.

There has been protest from the Muslim community, and our Montgomery County "liberals" turned Islamophobic on a dime. This opposition could have been melted away long ago by the school district, with a thoughtful and empathic communication strategy rather than wagon-circling. And even now, dialog could defuse and dissolve the situation. But there won't be any.

Though Councilmember Kristin Mink noted that the Muslim protesters are different from regular rightwing bigots, our leading liberals toss them in with Trumpers and nazis, as if they're all the same. In reality, the Muslim opposition to homosexuality is the same as their opposition to eating pork, it's a religious prohibition and they have the right to believe what they believe. And the public schools have a responsibility to respect their religion, it doesn't matter if other people agree with it or not. Religious beliefs are not a matter of opinion, we don't debate them and adopt the ones that win the argument. People believe "on faith," which means they accept the authority of a religious tradition, and the Constitution protects that.

But the current situation is not like forcing Muslims to eat pork, it is like getting them to read a story where someone eats pork. And there is no religious prohibition against that. Even devout Muslims can read a story with gay people in it.

Who has sat down with any Muslim protesters and shown them these books? A: nobody. Most of the protesters don't even know what they are protesting against. Our liberal so-called activists don't want anything to do with actually resolving the standoff. They want more rainbow umbrellas and flags, and to avoid discussion (aka "confrontation") where it would actually do some good. It would be nice to have these Muslims on our side in the real, serious fight against fascism, but that won't happen as long as "we" lump them together with fascist bigots. As we speak, they are meeting and organizing with well-funded rightwing extremists, having been kicked out of the county liberal establishment. Great. Just great.

This blog doesn't get very many readers these days, and it would be nice to see somebody take the lead in this crisis. My usual approach here is to wait until there are about 200 comments, which means it takes a couple extra clicks to refresh the screen, and then I post something mainly so commenters have a place to argue. We are not influencing public opinion.

You might not think so, but writing these things is a lot of work. Many drafts are thrown away, most are re-written repeatedly and edited for days before I post them. And what is the payoff? Pretty much nuthin. So my tendency is to hang it up here. Maybe somebody will step forward in our community and say what needs to be said. It doesn't have to be me. I would suggest someone younger, more resilient, somebody with a sense of humor and thick skin.

There are reasons to believe the good fight can still be won. My feeling is that Montgomery County Council Member Kristin Mink is a rising star in the national progressive scene, and serious people should get behind her and support her. Our Democratic establishment feels threatened by her -- she's young, thoughtful, she's outspoken, she has tattoos fer cryin' out loud. She doesn't string cliches together, she seems to have a clear and sensible political philosophy and bases her decisions on that. I am pretty sure she sees her political position clearly, and hope she will plan her future with a realistic view of what her starting-point is. Another ray of sunshine is political scientist Sunil Dasgupta's I Hate Politics podcast, which holds a magnifying glass over local Montgomery County issues; he gently elicits important statements from elected leaders and others, often backing them into corners they would prefer to avoid. But besides those two, we can expect to see a bunch of risk-averse Democrats waving their "Yay Us" pom-poms and chanting the same old stuff, the same signs in the yard and same bumper stickers.

I'll post this and maybe when we get to 200 I'll just close the comments and leave the archived blog here as a historical resource. Who knows, maybe something will happen and I will post some more. Right now, I'm not feeling like the effort is justified, and will be backing off a bit.