Politics and Writing

Two different times (in as many weeks) I’ve seen people that I like and respect in the writing community post on authors and/or aspiring authors and discussing politics online. The issue for me here is that I seem to be on the other side of the discussion from both people, but I still respect and value their opinion. My hope is they will realize this should they come across this posting. It really stems on my opinions of citizenry as a whole, and how it has evolved to this point.

Should you be interested in the blog posts that I am referring to, I will link them. Both are well written and thought provoking. Again, I may disagree with them, but that says nothing for the worthiness in reading them. The first came from Julie Butcher and is a blog posting over on AMWriting written about Online Political Behavior for Writers. The other comes from one of my local authors Alex Bledsoe over at his blog on Bullying and the Political Pile On. Both raise excellent points, but points I’m not fully in line with.

With the AMWriting post, the answer of Online Political Behavior for any writer or aspiring author was “just don’t.” In particular, the end line was basically a question of what’s more important to you, a career in writing or being right on the Internet? This makes it out to be an all-or-nothing concept, relating it to the similar discussion about authors calling out bloggers/reviewers that gave them a bad review online. Here’s the difference for me – name calling and threatening a blogger who gave you a bad review is a career killer, tweeting/blogging your political opinion is not. In a best of circumstance, Internet name-calling and threatening will only weaken your writing’s fan base. If a political opinion is stated intelligently and with some civility, that is not only your right in this nation, but – in my opinion – is a duty.

Consider that civics used to be a big part of our education in schools. Now also consider that in some schools, it still is. My son (who is now 21) had an assignment to look at the candidates in the upcoming presidential election, choose one, and dedicate some volunteer time to that campaign office. He looked into the issues himself, read a lot of CNN and MSNBC, watched a lot of The Daily Show (sad that this is one of the best sources for unbiased news reporting) and decided that Obama’s platform sounded the most solid to him. When did this stop becoming a priority for people?

I am what I would define as an independent. I choose to vote based on platforms and the individual, not the party line. My wife’s family are all Republicans and (as near as I can tell) they are because that’s just the way they’ve always been. My wife, myself and our son are the political black sheep of the family. Even my stepson and stepdaughter are Republican. Personally I see no reason for it other than “that’s how grandpa voted, so that’s how we are,” but that is their right. Here’s where things get interesting.

Forget the presidential elections for a moment. I not only live in Wisconsin, but I am a state employee here. While not a teacher, I am a member of the teachers union. In the last elections here, while I wasn’t 100% happy with the job Governor Doyle had done, I was definitely not happy that Scott Walker won the election. I had no trust in him based on his record and stances as the County Executive in Milwaukee. I couldn’t believe that Ron Johnson beat out Russ Feingold for Senator. Near as I could tell, he won it by flooding the airwaves with anti-Democrat commercials, literally spending over 9 million dollars to secure the election (then getting that amount back as a “severance package” from the business he left for office). Sure, my candidates lost, but how bad could it be?

Collective bargaining rights were stripped. Bills were pushed through allowing for the non-bid sale of public utilities to private companies with only the approval of the Governor. Citizens were being denied access to the state capital. And the penultimate, for the first time in 42 years I was ashamed to be a Wisconsinite. For the first time in my life I was seriously considering what was keeping me living in this state.

What does this have to do with writer’s having an online political opinion? Some people in this state who voted for this Governor were shocked at what he was doing. Part of this could be attributed to people not talking about politics. We have a constitution that assures us our freedom of speech and the ability to live without fear of persecution. So how would that align with keeping my mouth shut so people will buy my book? Honestly, if anything I have to say on politics offends you that much my books will likely offend you even more.

There is a bit more to it than that, but those issues I think relate better to the other blog I referenced. In Alex Bledsoe’s blog he was relating left leaning bloggers to bullies. The idea is that pointing out the news of the issues that face us is preaching to the choir (as most if not all of their readers are also left leaning). The inevitable chorus of support, the “pile on” of the grade school playground. Having seen the “business end” of the pile on more than once in my day, I’m not sure I agree with the single-sideness of this statement. (I should mention that he lumps himself in with the “left-leaning” bloggers to those who haven’t read the linked blog.)

As for why I think that view is a little off is that same reason of having been a state employee in Wisconsin this past year. The right in this state has started a war on the state employee, they have used us as a target to put in front of people to fuel their attacks on the unions in an attempt to cripple the Democrats come presidential election time. Forget the “pay their fair share” and why this was a pay cut and not a “just like everyone else” adjustment. In the past year I have been called a thug, a union stooge, lefty, a member of the “Looney Left” and worse. Skip everything else about Walker, the Fitzgeralds and Grothman (not even getting into Grothman’s legislative attacks on women’s rights and single mothers) they demonized teachers, nurses, police, fire fighters and a host of other public employees to further their big business agenda.

When faced with a recall election, the Governor that has condemned the “out of state interests” he claims are driving this recall, went out of state and collected over 12 million dollars to fund his campaign. Think of the last time you saw 12 million dollars for any single state election. All of this in the face of attacks on the character of the protesters.

Look at a the national stage. A young woman wished to testify before the Senate on the issue of birth control as preventative care and was turned aside in favor of an all-male religious panel. When she did give her testimony (to those that would hear it) a conservative talk show host (who I’m betting preaches to the choir on a daily basis) took a personal attack on her, calling her a slut, a prostitute and suggesting she posts videos of herself in sex acts since she wants to “get paid to have sex.” The pile on is something that happens on the left and the right. For my part I think the “pointing and laughing” analogy from the blog is shown more on the right than the left, but I’ve been the target of some of those jeers.

It boils down to a simple idea. It can be expressed in a song. Hell, it’s being expressed in a Super Bowl commercial. Respect. I am a state employee. In this current political environment I cannot vote Republican. I am not a stooge of “big union bosses” nor am I a thug. I simply do not share the same beliefs as you. If you take the time to listen to me instead of hurling party-line insults at me or Fox News talking points, you might see where there is room in the middle.

When it boils down to it, I will not go gentle into that good author. I will speak my mind, but (in the words of Dalton from Roadhouse) be nice. If you decide that my having a political opinion that differs from you means we cannot associate online or you cannot read my fiction, I’m sorry to hear that. If you feel you can’t do business with me because of it, I question your professionalism but admit the right to your opinion. But consider how much different the political landscape would be if we all followed the rule my mother instilled in me when I was a kid – treat others as you would want them to treat you. (“It’s better to be pissed off than pissed on” helps me to keep a level head.) Or, in short… Pepsi for All.

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3 thoughts on “Politics and Writing

  1. This is a very well reasoned post. Interestingly I have just come from Facebook where one or two updates above the link to this post is quotation from Arundhati Roy that has several hundred likes and shares about the duty of every artist to use their voice to battle the status quo head on.

    There is a genral misunderstanding of silence that is fertilised and carefully nurtured by those in authority a very particular kind of passive aggression. To speak out is political, to keep silent is to remain neutral. That’s how the mantra goes, and nothing could be further from the truth. Silence is as political, and its results as tangible, as the loudest protest. It just doesn’t seem that way. Because staying silent chimes with what we are taught from the earliest age about good manners and raising our hand before we speak. Which does make me wonder whether good manners maybe make for a bad society.

  2. Thank you for this post. I wish more people discussed the nurturing of civil discourse. Also, the funny thing about topics like politics and religion is that you can have viciousness even between people who are supposedly on the same side. I think if we practice more compassionate and respectful speech, while speaking up for what we believe is right, we still have the ability to change the world.

    Oh, and your comment about people disliking your books more than your comments? Spot on. My world view is very present in my writing. How could it not be? I’m not just writing because I have stories in my head; I’m writing because I have something to say. That’s why who I am online is me, because I am my brand.

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