500 posts!

Well, this is the 501st post.

I began writing this blog, now called Unspoken Politics, on March 30, 2012. Since then, the blog has averaged two posts a week.

Number of posts by year

2012: 33
2013: 152
2014: 242
2015: 57
2016: 18 (so far)

Moving to a four-year university has reduced the flow of new content- not necessarily because I have less time, more that my work now includes a lot more writing that is similar to this blog. Anyways, this is a welcome milestone, and I hope the next year has a noticeable increase in traffic and wider exposure.

The lone woman: standing outside the UU liberal consensus

SEVERAL years ago, I attended the “morning forum” at my local UU congregation. It was a current events discussion group that started a half-hour before the first service.

It was the end of the year, and by then a standard topic was a year-end review for President Obama. There were about twenty people in the room. Most of them were Kennedy-era liberals, with some of the older participants having grown up worshipping FDR.

The facilitator had developed a detailed handout, covering each aspect of the presidency. At the end of the session, each person gave a letter grade to the President- they were tallied on an easel.

Almost everyone gave Obama either an A or B on every segment- mostly A’s. Only one woman, along with myself, gave the President a failing grade in anything. We agreed that it was absurd to view the ever-lengthening Afghanistan conflict, or his deportation-heavy immigration policy as anything other than serious, systemic issues. Income inequality was getting worse, and the ‘recovery’ in effect at the time didn’t benefit people outside the top tax bracket.

Afterwards, it felt pretty awkward. Clearly I had intruded on people’s long-held worldviews. And as outspoken as I can be, I never dissent just to be shocking. The woman who joined my mini-protest came over. She was older than me, but a bit younger than the Kennedy-era liberals. Apparently she was often the lone critical voice in the forum, and she thanked me for keeping her company. It was clear that she was uncomfortable with the situation. But a forum is supposed to be a free discussion, and her contributions were both eloquent and well-grounded.

Two things Unitarian Universalism stands for are freedom of expression and against ignorance. But I felt a narrow political consensus gripping the forum that Sunday morning. This part of the congregation was so used to defending the president from conservative attack that they were uncomfortable with a progressive critique. Yet if the critique wasn’t there, the forum would have been fine living in a world where the President could do no wrong.

I never felt this way in a religious context. Atheist, agnostic, polytheistic, Eastern, ancient, contemporary. Congregants were always open to new religious concepts, and had often moved significantly from their previous beliefs. But there wasn’t much dynamism in politics. In many places, UUs come from well-off liberal families, and have held the same basic ideology since they were children. Like I said, the older members of the forum came from Roosevelt families, and still spoke of him in godlike terms.

Unitarian Universalism is a religion. But it wears its politics on its sleeve. I’ve written that UU politics and UU ideals do not link up. The ideals call for liberation. The politics call for institutions of injustice to behave themselves.

IN 2014, a couple of years after the forum, I gave a guest sermon at the same congregation (“And in Society at Large”, the text of which you can read here). My politics here were different, and my point of critique was systemic rather than focused on one man. But the same tension emerged. After the second service, a woman stood up during announcements. She applauded me for my sermon, but then tied it into her work she was doing- opening up the local Democratic Party office ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. At no point did I mention party politics as the solution- nor do they fit in a call for economic democracy. I felt being co-opted right in front of my eyes, in front of a group of people. I personally felt humiliated that my weeks of preparation had been twisted so quickly.

Afterwards, most people gave me pretty brief, nondescript feedback- good sermon, thought-provoking, the normal. A woman came up later, around my age, and thanked me for bringing up so many things- like cooperatives, corporate greed, and the need for workers to control their lives. She also noticed the lack of tact shown by the person advertising the Democratic Party (in a house of worship, additionally).

The woman at the forum, and the woman after the sermon were different. But they had a similarity: they were the only one. The liberal bubble was large, but there were UUs who wanted better political discourse within the church. How many people stopped attending services because of the narrow politics? How many people shut up when their fellow UUs praised an administration that had been at odds with communities of color on many occasions?

If diversity is an issue, and at every congregation I’ve been to oh god it is, politics is a real, tangible issue. I often see a politics that works and makes sense, assuming you’re white and financially stable. The Black Lives Matter resolution passed at General Assembly in Portland was fraught with conflict, essentially because the act called for prison abolition. Abolition is a step too far for mainstream liberals, but for people of color living in an age of mass incarceration, it is a cause for survival. It is great to have radical ministers and congregants offering a different way forward, but I’ve seen what happens if a church doesn’t have those people.

Or if they only have one. Always standing alone.

 

2014 in review

 

Thanks to all who have read some part of this blog in 2014. Though this isn’t a blockbuster website, traffic did quadruple from 2013, which itself quadrupled from 2012. There is now a fairly active Twitter account tied to the blog (@MackayUnspoken), and almost 300 people subscribe through WordPress.

More content in 2015. There’s still chaos in central Africa, eastern Ukraine, and the Rohingya areas of Myanmar. Mass protests have stalled in Hong Kong, while radical left-wing party are on the brink of seizing power in Greece and Spain. We still live in an age of austerity, growing inequity, and environmental disaster. There is so much more to write about, because so much lies beyond the scope of cable news and social media. Immense problems need radical solutions.

Take care, looking forward to all this.

 

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,100 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Pretty fireworks, and this journey is done

Celebration of Light fireworks show. Vancouver, June 30. GIF by Andrew Mackay
Celebration of Light fireworks show. Vancouver, June 30.
GIF by Andrew Mackay

The trip is over, and I have come back to the United States. Here’s a gif I made of the epic Celebration of Light fireworks competition that Vancouver has each summer.

So much blog data, what to do, what to think?

This is a rambling meta post, because on occasion it feels like the right time to talk shop.

One thing that has become much easier and cheaper to figure out in recent years, when writing a blog, is how much traffic you are getting and where it is coming from. WordPress gives you a statistics page that captures both incoming and outgoing traffic, and gives you a good sense of even minor developments. For instance, daily traffic is given in both views and visitors. At least in a blog like that the two tend to be the same or close together. If there’s a lot of views with not many visitors, you know someone is binge-reading your blog for whatever reason. A strange sense of pride results.

Having so much information can cause an identity crisis of sorts, though. In the past year, traffic here has risen considerably. Though not very high compared to mainstream blogs, July 2014 will end up being about 250% the traffic of September 2013. Unspoken Politics has gone from a writing exercise with very little traffic to a healthy enterprise.

What the metrics tell me- views, likes, subscriptions- is that the things I get the most fun out of writing isn’t what gets new readers. I’ve tried to make the core of this website fact-based analysis of current events. Below that, the odd polemic is pretty refreshing. Tier three is poetry and news photography, which gets way more attention than the previous two. Not that I don’t like writing poetry, it’s a great way to work on certain writing skills that could always use practice, but it’s a side gig. The reason poetry showed up to begin with is that I didn’t want the site to lie dormant when I didn’t have the time or will to post a substantive prose piece.

This is a State of the Union, I suppose. The blog is doing better each month, the content seems to be well-received, and this endeavor will continue. If I end up doing a college radio show this fall, there may be some new stuff about music. We’ll see.

Now, another stranger

Panorama of mountains west of Mount Whistler, British Columbia.
Panorama of mountains west of Mount Whistler, British Columbia.

By the way, you can click on any of these travel photos to see the big version. These are all huge pictures, you just have to keep them to a certain width to fit within the blog template.

Coming back into civilization, it is impressive how quickly you go from having some sense of familiarity with strangers to gaining complete detachment and anonymity. For most of this trip, there has been only one major road, with junctions often hundreds of miles apart. Thus you may pass a car or some cyclists, or they may pass you. At some point down the line, you will see them again. There is a sense of shared journey even if you don’t know anything beyond their car and the origin of their license plates (I played the game, and ended up with 34 US states and nine Canadian provinces).

Whistler is a giant tourist facility, even in summer. Besides mountain bikers and upscale shopping types, huge summer programs ferry blue-hatted upper-middle class children to the chair lifts and from activity to activity. This is the familiar feeling: to be lost amidst a large crowd going a million different directions. Even at home in the Bay Area, this is the environment I live in. At some point there are too many people and too many agendas and destinations. It feels odd to come from rural British Columbia and enter the system as a temporary outsider. No wonder people have culture shock when they move to a city, or from a rural environment to a developed country.

Black Tusk, Coast Mountains, British Columbia.
Black Tusk, Coast Mountains, British Columbia.

The natural scenery is now behind me, to be replaced tomorrow with the spectacle of the Vancouver Celebration of Light.