Like me, this friend of mine grew up in the shadow of Vietnam, and more painfully in the shadow of a Vietnam veteran. Unlike me, he still carries the pain of growing up in this world with him, as well as the pain of his father. Both of my Vietnam veteran fathers (step and bio) are dead now, leaving me with a window of opportunity to heal, but I am unsure of his situation. As part of this healing process I got to spend time working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), seeing more about how the machine that caused us all so much pain works, as well as getting a good taste of how the federal, state, and regional governments operate around us. More importantly, I got to see how politics plays out in these realms, how the puppet strings of the military industrial complex, as well as the GOP puppet masters work their manipulation and control across all 50 states. I also got to see how there are some very bad career people in the VA who back up our beliefs that government is malicious and in incompetent, as well as opportunists who come and go in very short periods of time to prey upon the money that flows around veterans, but I also got to see first hand how there are thousands of people across the VA complex in both the public and private sector that truly believe in making a difference in the lives of veterans. I spent time learning how much of it works. I experienced the massive scope of not just the world of veterans, but also the military industrial complex by being exposed to work with the Department of Defense (DOD). More importantly I did all of this learning and hard work on my own. Not in the shadow of my fathers, my mother, or anyone else I grew up with. I did it all on my own. I got myself invited to Washington D.C. as part of a fellowship with the White House, and did the work to learn how things work. Some folks back home gave the news of my work a simple like on Facebook, but most were dead silent, having long since written me off for being ungrateful and elite by moving outside of the community I grew up in, but now I also went to work for “them”, and even more concerning, under the leadership of a black president.
I have spent a solid five years unpacking my militant white supremacist libertarian upbringing, and it is something I will spend the rest of my life doing. Once you begin unpacking you realize what a rats nest of hatred and fear it is all woven up into a very toxic masculine reality that is uncomfortable, insecure, and something that holds you back at every turn. Understanding why I grew up loving war movies (something I am only getting over), shooting and owning guns was a very difficult journey, but then having to work through how it was all intertwined with my fear of the government and the rest of the world outside of my community has been extremely painful to accept. It just all seemed to make so much sense. It was clear and straightforward in a manly kind of way. War movies soothed my soul. Stroked my beings. Knowing that I owned more than ten guns, and had ammunition all around the house, in my garage, car, and wherever I might need it was comforting. The government could come at any time, and I was prepared. A fucking Boy Scout man. I was always prepared for the worst. I couldn’t see how my perpetual belief in the worst happening at each moment was just a well designed prison to keep me from truly being able to make change in the world and live up to my potential. I never voted until the 2000 election. I would use all those classic narratives that both parties are evil, and all government is bad, so why should I even be bothered. Now I see voting as just one of the tools in my civic toolbox, and I am more aware of how campaigns mobile, demobilize, and disenfranchise voters, and I can also carry two notions in my head at once–that government can still be bad, while there is also possibility for government doing good. Actually not just possibly. I can see evidence everywhere of how the government makes a difference in our lives each day because I spend time studying what the government does. Sure, there are a lot of bad things that the government does either intentionally or unintentionally, but it has also does so much good in the world. I have seen first hand how government is the only thing standing in the way of corporations steamrolling right over us all, but also what keeps the white supremacy from crushing the existence of people of color—-something I never imagined or understood until I worked in Washington D.C, and more importantly developed some friends of color who I trust and care about.
When I argue with my friend on Facebook about any of his anti-government memes, voter demobilization and disenfranchising propaganda, or pointing how he showcases something good that the Donald Trump government has done without mentioning any of the bad, I am fighting with myself. I wouldn’t have been a Trump supporter back in the day, but neither is he. He is just trapped between the national level puppet strings his daily life is subject to, and the personal connection he has on the ground with both sides of the political spectrum. He is wedged between the conservatives in his life that won’t budge, and the liberal leaning friends who push him to question his reality. One of the most painful parts of my journey has been the shunning that occurs by the people you grew up with when you begin to do the hard work to get out of your small community and begin exploring the world, expanding your horizons, and widening your perspective of how the world works. When you have bros who would kill anyone for you, suddenly tell you that you aren’t welcome anymore, simply because you don’t come around as much anymore, help them offload their pot crops each year, or just put up with their little backwood theater production, it hurts. It is scary. It feels isolating. There are plenty of times I thought about just going back to my old life of growing pot, dealing drugs, and being an outlaw, but now that I have gotten a glimpse of the bigger picture, made personal connections with other people who may not kill on my behalf, but would help me out in many other more positive ways, I am feeling much more nourished. Now that I have friends of color that come from diverse backgrounds from countries all over the globe, my die hard friends of my youth seem very sad and distant. The things we used to tell each other to keep each other from leaving are pretty pathetic. After learning that 95% of them will actually fold when “the man” comes around, or straight up rip you off when they owe you money, all of the bro promises one makes, and declarations about being “family”, are revealed for what they really are—-rural small town folks stories, myths, and downright lies. The decoupling of my reality from many of these gun toting, drug dealing friends over the last twenty years hasn’t been easy, but it has freed up more space for friends with less drama, as well as more diverse types of friends, including people who are truly passionate about making change for all of humanity, not just oneself, or just your community of people who look and act like them.
It is near impossible to relay the lessons of my journey to my friends back home via incremental social media posts. It isn’t even possible to do in person. While overly simplistic and admittedly a little elitist, I compare it to Sushi. You can’t just drop a Sushi newbie into an Omakasi experience at an expensive Sushi place and expect them to “get it”. No matter how enlightening and amazing it is, they won’t “get it” until they’ve worked their way up the experience ladder. No matter how much I go home and talk about what I’ve seen in DC or Europe, or what I have heard by keeping my mouth shut and listening to people of color, it won’t have the same effect as it has had on me. They have to go on their own journey. They have to begin unpacking the baggage of who they are, where they came from and where they are going. I can’t teach the people I grew up with to truly care about what people of color are going through until they have someone in their life that they truly care for. I can’t convince them that there are good people working in government until they have someone they care about doing the hard work to make change at the city, county, state, or federal level. This friend of mine on Facebook is just one of probably less than 25 people I still maintain as “friends” on the platform. I’ve long culled the people who stressed me out the most, which meant cutting ties with some people I love very, very much. However, I have established some pretty well defined lines when it comes to what matters in my world, and I am sure I will have to keep enforcing these lines. I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to change the minds of any of these folks. Most of us are in our 40s or 50s now, and change will not come easy. I mostly keep them there because It is a regular reminder of who I once was, and it gets me riled up enough to keep fighting with myself. I feel like I am fighting with myself when I engage with them on Facebook. I am also fighting with myself while I write here on my blog. However, at least here within my own domain I have control. I can focus on the outcomes being about healing, growth, and change. Not the unhealthy virtual hamster wheels of emotion that exist on Facebook feeding the advertising machine that makes Mark Zuckerberg and other elites more wealthy. My recent exchange with this friend on Facebook reminds of how far I have come over the last twenty years, but it also reminds me of how much work I still have. The very fact that I get worked up when engaging on these topics shows me how raw they still are, and historically I would kust turn off my emotions to remedy the situation. These days I know better, and I know that if I am getting riled that there is some baggage in the closet that is pushing me to this point. Pushing me to do some more storytelling to help me figure out what the fuck is going on behind the scenes of each thought funning through my head.
Normally I am not too concerned with the ongoing anti-government, voter demobilization, and libertarian 2nd and 1st amendment meme machine coming out of friends on Facebook. But after 8 years of managing a twenty something junkie who grew up in Oregon and spouted the same bullshit, then having to clean up after his overdosing and death this May, only to see a defense of Trump by showcasing the $1.8B investment the HHS made in the “battling the opioid epidemic”, I couldn’t hold my tongue and I sub-posted my friend. Calling out the social theater of his post, and how hypocritical it is to rail on the government so completely, then all of a sudden showcase government as good in defense of Trump. Sorry, that is a weak ass dance. I have too much experience to know that most of that money will not go to fix anything, or help anyone. Like many of Trump’s moves in government, it is a hand-out to his people. Trump is doing nothing to give people in rural communities hit by the opioid epidemic any hope. I saw this first hand with the kid. I battled with him about his guns right up until his death. I saw how the lies, conspiracy theories, and anti-government rhetoric help keep him down. I saw how the system kept him down in Oregon because of the anti-government, anti-tax, anti-welfare, anti-education, anti-healthcare mentality that exists, which creates a toxic and overcrowded system that doesn’t help those who need it the most. I was perpetually arguing with myself every time I spoke with the kid. He could not see the light. I saw myself in him each conversation I had with him, but to him, I was light years away in a different universe, with confidence, skills, and determination he had no way of mustering. So, don’t tell me Trump is doing good on the opioid front. Let alone use this to defend all his other atrocities and grifts. You do not get to use any government program to defend this grifter while you are anti-government. Sorry, that is off limits. Like the kid, I know I won’t change my friends mine. He’s too isolated. He’s too entrenched in hanging on to the past. Carrying his father’s burden, and never healing from his own run ins with the law. Some of his run ins with the law I was part of. I carry the same Vietnam war burdens, and the same drug convictions, felonies, and other baggage. The only difference is I have allowed myself to begin healing. I have my passport. I don’t need my guns anymore. I have diversity in my life. Diverse voices and opinions that I care about. I’ve seen the good that government can do, while still remaining vigilant when it comes to questioning and pushing back on the government each day. I wish I could help my friend see how master crafted his world is, crafted by the elite conservatives who are invested in demobilizing and disenfranchising him. I wish I could show him how the collapse and uprising stories he’s subscribed to and prepared for his entire life won’t play out like he sees in his head–that is a Hollywood movie. And while he fantasizes about a white revolt with all their militia buddies he is giving up truly living a free life. One where he can travel wherever he wants, afford what he truly needs, and experience a diverse range of interesting and creative ideas and cultures, instead of the old tired tropes. It breaks my heart that so many people I care for will avoid truly living in this life, and continue to believe the worst in people and the world. I want them to know what it feels like to begin letting go of some of their baggage and begin to heal, but alas it really isn’t my place to push these things on them. It is their journey, and I wish them the best.