Unpacking the Sausage: Resolve to stand apart together

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I want to start 2022 from a place of compassion and shared humanity. I did not start 2021 there.

Facebook’s “On This Day” feature reminded me that I ended 2020 with a post seeking collaborators for a public art installation of a guillotine on the steps of Congress after a 2-week post-Christmas quarantine. Given the actual events of Jan. 6, 2021, that post aged like milk.

Bre KidmanI wound up spending Jan. 6 at home, pouring my frustrations into an embroidery inviting one to “shit on Mitch McConnell’s doorstep.” I only learned of the attempted insurrection when I paused to post a picture of the finished piece. My first thought, I am ashamed to admit, was “Thank goodness the right wing snapped first.”

After a year of seemingly endless blows to left-wing voices, it felt like a relief to have the right bear the brunt of public ridicule for once. The relief faded quickly when I watched a clip of some protestors huddled and sobbing into the news cameras:

“They’re not helping us.” 

“These politicians aren’t doing anything.”

Before liberal readers get mad and call me an apologist, I’m not suggesting that I agree with the would-be insurrectionists about what they wanted the politicians to do. I’m not forgetting how police opened barricades for them just months after brutalizing BLM protestors. I’m also not ignoring the racist and fascist propaganda that fueled many protestors to make the trip. 

There is no negotiating to a political middle ground when it comes to racism or homophobia or sexism. Identity and systemic marginalization are incredibly important in considering the impact of public policy, but unfortunately, that’s not why they have become central to political messaging. 

Political consultants can smell blood in the water. When their fundraising emails tap into our basest “us-versus-them” survival instincts, the money flows. Our natural impulse to protect people with whom we identify leaves us so distracted by rage and fear that we ignore the way our entire political process is essentially pro wrestling: The scriptwriters (read: the ultra-wealthy) know who’s coming out on top, but the enterprise thrives on the money you spend on swag supporting “your” fighter. They’ll give you loads of dramatic tension to keep you watching, but the outcomes never change anything material and the tension never resolves.

Neither Trump nor Biden prioritize helping poor and working people over keeping Wall Street afloat, but it sure was an expensive election. Everyone sure is tense.

In that shared unresolved tension – in those moments of stark desperation at a failing system – I find both the heights of hope and the depths of despair. 

The despair comes in waves these days, as I vacillate between pragmatic small-scale caregiving and abject fury at the absurdity of our circumstances. I’ve seen enough grief and trauma in my life to surf through it.

The hope, however, is an awkward and persistent thing.

It shows up in unexpected places. Conversations about the function of public policy with my Libertarian ex-military uncle. Unpacking the problems of emerging technology in policing with my 35-year (and counting) cop father. And in the catalyst for this piece: Steve Collins’ posthumous profile of Max Linn for the Lewiston Sun-Journal.

I never met Max Linn. A wealthy 62-year-old businessman who opposed COVID-19 safety measures and marched on Washington to “stop the steal” would, in most circumstances, not be an ally to a broke, immunocompromised, queer millennial socialist. However, I was surprised to learn that in December of 2019 he joined protests for the rights of people in Hong Kong while I was biting my nails in the car listening to NPR reports about it. 

It made me reconsider his infamous (for Maine politics, anyway) performance in the 2020 U.S. Senate debates. The moderator was all too keen to allow Sen. Susan Collins and Sara Gideon to pivot nimbly into stump speeches that avoided answering every question – and to ignore Lisa Savage’s performance as the only straight shooter in the room – but stopped short of letting Linn disregard the questions entirely.

When asked to stay on topic, Linn replied: “Request denied.” It was inelegant, but highlighting the double standard struck me as a pretty badass move. Collins’ profile suggests it was one of many.

Linn and I belonged to different political survival huddles, but I think if we’d looked we might have found some points where we met on the same side of the barricade. And finding more places where we can stand together is, I think, the crux of what I want to bring to 2022. I mean, 6 feet apart, but close enough to see one another as human. 

Hopefully, it’s a better start than last year.

Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].