I read a book which terrified me a couple of years back. It was Reading Lolita in Tehran. Before I read that story, which is true, I already had an image of the women living under sharia law in Iran, and in my head they had been born into that life, and that was sad. But the real story is so much worse: that educated, competent, productive women started to find their rights eroding under a new regime, and then suddenly they’re living in a world in which they’re forced to wear veils in public, are searched at gunpoint by soldiers for wearing perfume or lipstick, have to be escorted by male chaperones, and have their passports confiscated. They have to meet in secret to read books and talk freely.
It happened in Tehran, y’all, to people not very different from us, and not that long ago. Seems like that’s what’s happening in Raleigh. You go out for a birthday party and a band, and you find that your megalomaniac politicians have snuck woman-controlling legislation into a late-night bill regarding preventing Sharia law in North Carolina. Seriously. A bill preventing people from adopting laws based on a moralistic fundamentalist religion, which then includes laws based on moralistic fundamentalist religion, from the same fundamentalist Baptists who tried to mandate a state religion a couple of months ago. It’s too much. It would be pure comedic gold, if this were a movie about bumbling politicians, but it’s not. It’s real.
How did we get here?
I actually had an entirely different post started this week. That one was about driving past the Governor Monday night as he walked up Wilmington Street. I marveled that he looked so calm and affable, on foot and just a couple of blocks away from the hundreds-into-thousands of Moral Monday protestors up by the legislature. I mean, sure, he totally looks like a character from Anchorman up close (I’m not being snarky about anyone’s appearance, but you know, politician hair and all) but I’m sure if you met him at a cookout or something he’d be as friendly as the next guy. There was a guy (minion? friend? bodyguard?) next to him in the same kind of suit, and there was something just a bit off in the way they were walking casually and smiling. See, I’ve walked through the streets of Cairo by myself as a single woman, and I know what it looks like when you’re practicing looking calm, confident, and affable in a sea of people who don’t respect you very much. You walk just a beat too slowly, with just the smallest hint of a clench in your jaw, with a carefully considered gait. That’s what I saw underneath the casual stroll on Monday night.
I was going to write about how I took some time on Monday to appreciate that we live in a country where even politicians we don’t respect very much can walk down the street in broad daylight, and people who strenuously disagree are in close proximity, strenuously disagreeing in a civil fashion, and that is what binds us together as a democracy. I was going to write about how, when I walked through Tahrir Square exactly a year before it erupted into riots and looting at the Egyptian Museum, that place already felt like a powder keg, and I didn’t have the context to understand why. I was going to tell the story of my guide being pulled over by the police for an expired tag the day I went to Giza, and he turned pale and shaky and asked me if I had any cash, because that was the only way we were walking away. I gave it to him, because I figured out it was my safest way back to the hotel; I watched them bribe the police officer, and he paid me back at the next stop, and then took me back to my hotel. I wondered, then, what it would be like not to be able to trust the people charged with keeping you safe.
I was going to write, too, about Istanbul, and walking through Taksim Square in the snow, and how it’s a fairy tale place in my memory, and how I love it so much I’m afraid to go back in case I should break the spell somehow, and how sad I am that now people are rioting in the streets there, too, because they have been pushed one step too far, one time too many, by officials they no longer trust.
And then the North Carolina legislature pulled this stunt last night.
This is not how democracy works. This is not how a civilized government functions. You don’t introduce paranoid legislation about Sharia law which no person of sound mind could possibly take seriously, and then in a night meeting when people are out celebrating birthdays and listening to Jason Isbell, throw in a whole bunch of unrelated women-controlling laws, and vote on it first thing in the morning because the universe is off kilter and you’ve been handed the votes you needed to restrict some more people’s rights.
It’s underhanded, shameful, and embarrassing. All of this mess. There’s a special place in hell for people who behave this way, with reckless disregard for everyone who wasn’t in their college fraternity and isn’t a member of the same country club. That special place in hell is their problem. The mess they’re making, for the sake of our state’s children, our state’s poor, our state’s jobless, our state’s educators and students, our state’s heritage, our state’s environment, and our state’s reputation as a place to do business, live, and travel? That’s my problem. That’ll be my problem for a long time.
I’m buying a pitchfork, y’all. I don’t believe in inciting riots, but I’m about ready to take to the streets. Because, you know what? This is how it started for women when the fundamentalists took over Iran, too. I’m waiting for someone to take away my car keys and offer to hold my money for “safekeeping” and cover me with a veil and ground me from wearing red boots or dangly earrings or lipstick. Because, you know. Women are dangerous temptresses and must be simultaneously controlled and seduced. Oh wait. I was back in Cairo for a second, which is why you have to do that overconfident smiling walk with the clenched jaw when you walk down the street.
I am not doing that here. This is my home, and I was here before Charlotte moved in and gave themselves raises and gave our Union Station money to their golf buddies. Step up, Pat McCrory. I don’t want to hear any mumblings about how you’re “concerned” about how fast that legislation was jammed through. Show some leadership. Show some veto power. Get your party under control. Get your house in order.
We’ll help. We’ll start with your lawn, which is making national news as a pretty crowded place to be on Monday nights. I’m guessing you’ve just doubled that Monday night lawn party, folks. It’s going to be a doozy next time.
Meanwhile: throw some love in this direction:
Way better than molotov cocktails and “occupy” campouts. These people have a mission, and a method, and a lot of voices. I don’t know Caitlin Cary personally, but I’m in awe of how fast she put this together, and how many people she’s rallied, and how many people are talking. Fighting back with music is a way better idea than my pitchfork.
Full press release is here.
See y’all at the Pinhook. Saturday at 3.