Civic Salt: Unicorns are not the answer

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This is about men.

Nearly every civic institution in Maine is dominated by men. The judges, lawyers, legislators, reporters, and commentators who shape our civic discourse do not reflect the demographics of our state.

Maine has had 10 governors named John. Six named William. And exactly zero who have occupied any group other than those of white men.

Is it any wonder, then, that the rage we see and feel is not just about a slimy Supreme Court nominee or a president who has been credibly accused of sexual assault, abuse and harassment more than 20 times? It is a vain exercise for the men in this country and this state to express outrage at the indefensible acts of the Republican Party.

Save your political outrage. Save the talking entirely, actually. Take one moment or preferably 20 million. Listen.

Assault and abuse are not a women’s issue. Just like abortion is not a women’s issue. It is men who are both victims of assault and abuse – and men who are the predominant abusers. It is men who impregnate. And in both cases, women are the ones who predominantly carry the burden and pay the price. The price of employment, happiness, and a life free of trauma is an awfully expensive thing to pay. Especially when the flip side is an ounce of accountability paid by our most privileged group.

Yes, all men. There may be a unicorn out there. Someone who doesn’t laugh with their buddies at a sexist joke. Someone who doesn’t treat politics as a sport and not a potentially trauma-inducing event. Someone who doesn’t ignore or interrupt women. Someone who doesn’t implicitly trust men just a little bit more than they do women. I’ve yet to meet that unicorn.

Yes, all men. Just like yes: all white people. Our institutions don’t treat citizens equally. And women aren’t the only disadvantaged group. The men in power in this state don’t just benefit from patriarchy. They have the armor and power of white supremacy at their side, too. Just like I do. And just like you might, too.

Our state’s civic institutions will continue to fail our residents if led by this one minority group. Anyone who isn’t already wealthy, white, and male can benefit from diversity in government. But not if we’re always blinded by xenophobia. Not if we’re led by milquetoast advocates for political platitudes.

Mainers are fond of the word salty. It’s a very gritty and real quality that a person can exemplify. Our civic institutions are the opposite of salty: monochromatic, formulaic, and inaccessible. Bland is one word for them, but that doesn’t capture the violence, pain, and suffering caused by this imbalance.

We need a dose of intoxicating realness in our institutions and process. And a huge serving of accountability. From all men.

Emma Burnett of Portland is a civic technology evangelist and a communications and community organizing professional. Find Emma on Twitter @elburnett.

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