Speaking Truth to Power
Post by Auntie Vice
For those of you who don’t know, prior to doing free lance writing and stand-up, I was the Executive Director for the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, and I was also a non-partisan policy expert for the State for several years. I quit in April 2014 to redirect my career. The following post appeared on my LinkedIn page on the anniversary I left the State.
I am immensely proud of the research I have done and the work I did with the State of California. I left my job in politics over a year ago in part because the board of the agency I was working for took a vote to neuter its own power and partly because I was becoming immensely ill. I made the decision to not return to the political world after my disability began to clear. I opted instead to become a freelance writer and blogger.
This work has opened the door for me to do performance art and stand-up comedy. For many people, it seems to be an odd transition to go from heading a state agency and doing research which was recognized at the national levels to doing stand-up. For me, it made a lot of sense.
I have worked in some form in the political and academic world for more than 15 years. I pursued this career specifically because I wanted to help better the lives of disenfranchised groups. The fact that we are still fighting to make healthcare and housing basic rights for people and bodies are political battlegrounds makes me so amazingly angry and sad I had to do something about it.
In my work for the State, I was able to participate on projects that have made some difference. My work involving women veterans is a great point of pride for me. However, working in this world, I discovered that too often, the actual needs of people and justice are eschewed for political efficiency and the fear that someone will lose a vote or campaign donation. I reached a point where I could no longer compromise my ethics for a lingering hope of very slow institutional change.
I think America has reached a point where we are in a Shakespearean tragedy. It is only the fools who can speak truth to power. In the last decade, the only relevant, cogent and insightful commentaries on political and social issues I have seen have come from comedians. People like John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Kristen Shaal and Wyatt Cenac have been able to more effectively and truthfully address the massive corruption and social horrors in this country than journalists, researchers and definitely politician.
News outlets no longer inform, they compete for market share and have turned mass devastation into entertainment. Son of Baldwin aptly pointed out after the Freddie Gray shooting that news outlets were posting the video of his murder with very little commentary. They did this in order to get people to click on the video and watch it so they could use the click-through rate to sell advertising. He termed this obsessive watching of the video without context or commentary, “Death Porn.”
Transitioning into stand-up allows me to move into a role where I think I may have more of a voice for change than I did in politics. It saddens me deeply to see institutions that I believed could be agents for change and good become undermined by slavishness to public opinion and fear of controversy or losing a vote in the fall results in morality and justice being sidelined.
I know many people who have entered the political realm in order to make a change for the better. They are committed public servants. I have seen the same people after several years in this machine lose their footing and change their search for justice to one for staying in office and keeping a job. Their arguments shift from a need for immediate social change to one that embraces the concept of slow institutional change fueled by arguments of political timing and will.
We are too far off from where we should be in terms of social justice to believe that slow institutional change will work. People continue to die daily in the U.S. because there is not the political will to save people who cannot contribute to political campaigns. I see too many groups offered up to the public eye for humiliation and slaughter so that someone can stay in office in hopes that 20 years down the line things might change a little bit.
I really do hope that we can find leaders, both elected and unelected, to move the needle in the other direction quickly. I reached a point that this commitment to massive compromise and political game playing nearly killed me (I have the CT scans to prove it). I wish my colleagues who remain in this world the best and pray daily that they find the power and fortitude to make the necessary changes.
Until then, I will be a voice on a stage pointing out the absurdity of so many policies and calling for mass movements to save humanity.