How to Thank a Republican

It never would have occurred to me to express gratitude for Republicans in Congress. I’m so accustomed to operating from oppositional consciousness that I find it challenging to create necessary alliances. But isolating with only my principles for company doesn’t accomplish much in the fight for a better world. That’s why the call from Ana Castillo, my ultimate literary superstar, challenged me to write to Senator John McCain.

McCain was one of only four Republican in the senate to publically contest the travel ban that took effect yesterday. Every Democrat and Independent is vehemently opposed. On the right, McCain was joined only by Susan Colins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Sasse Benjamin of Nebraska. All the rest were glaringly silent on a controversial ban that turned passengers back,separated families, triggered at least one suicide attempt, and spurred massive protests at international airports around the country. Even NYC taxi drivers went on strike leaving arriving passengers to pick scabs from Uber.

But I digress. The point of this essay is how Ana Castillo inspired my thank you note to McCain.

Ana Castillo is a Xicana firebrand. While her award-winning poetry and novels, like My Father Was a Toltec and So Far from God, captured my heart over twenty years ago, it was her collected essays in Massacre of the Dreamers that spawned my biggest literary crush. She fearlessly challenges oppression from every angle. I even wrote her a love poem.

So when my personal diosa de la palabra (goddes of the word), said that we should take the time to thank Republicans who are speaking out against the administration, specifically naming McCain, it shook me up. She writes:

“Bitch-slapped publicly by Trump (as is most of the world), McCain is now coming for Trump…Democrats ain’t got a chance in hell alone. Maybe McCain ain’t got enough gunfire behind him right now but is one who will stand up to the ID (if only for personal vendetta). Write to him. Back McCain’s ass. We ain’t got many allies tonight. Let’s count each like s/he is the last wo/man on earth. The planet depends on it.”

While I don’t agree with many of his past votes, like his strong position on gun control and second amendment rights, for years I’ve noticed the senator from Arizona as the kind of Republican that I can respect. A decorated POW vet, he regularly supports bi-partisan legislation. A committed secular onservative, he is a voice of reason willing to challenge anyone and anything that would threaten his constituents and the country at large.Serving in the senate since 1987, McCain is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Ex Officio of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and sits on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate  on Indian Affairs. He primarily sponsors bills on Armed Forces and National Security (33%), Health (13%), International Affairs (11%), Crime and Law Enforcement (11%), Immigration (11%), Public Lands and Natural Resources (9%), Native Americans (7%), Agriculture and Food (5%).

For the past 30 years, he’s been writing legislation to defend our national security, national parks, veterans, and tribal populations. In digging up the legislative dirt on McCain, what blew me away was a bill from early in his career, S. 2167 (101st Congress), approved as the Native American Lanugages Act. The 1990 act, which McCain drafted 27 years ago next month, “declares to preserve, protect and promote the rights and freedoms of Native Americans to use practice and develop Native American Languages” and to “fully recognize the right of Indian Tribes and other Native American governing bodies, States, territories, and possessions of the United States to take action on, and give official status to their Native American languages for the purpose of conducting their own business.” Given this nation’s history of genocidal land grabbing and assimilationist deracination, that’s some pretty radical shit. As Castillo says, we need every ally we can get and McCain would be a fierce one to have on our side.

So how can I, a queer Xicana witch like my idol Ana Castillo, make peace with a white male Repulican senator and get him enrolled in the #RebelAlliance? Getting all new agey ho’oponopono about it, I started with gratitude. I drafted my thank you note on McCain’s official contact page last night, before I did any of this research and before I discovered that he spoke up against the travel ban. I spoke directly from my genuine desire for a strong ally in a crazy world:

“I’m writing to say thank you for your service to our country. As a Green/Working Families Party voter, I may often be on the other side of the political divide, but I have long respected your integrity, independence and willingness to work with others on critical issues.

“This is a difficult time for our country. I, a born and bred California girl who lived in Colorado and New Mexico before relocating to New York, a woman whose massive Mexican-origin extended family lives almost exclusively west of the Rockies, am looking west for some hope. As a scholar, I’m afraid that our democracy is at great risk. As a mother, I’m afraid of what the future holds for my Arabic-named Brooklyn-born son and his Muslim immigrant father. As a queer divorced Xicana, radical feminist, disabled single-mother and a practicing witch, I’m wondering when the Bannon brigade will come for me.

“While I’ve never lived in Arizona, my cousins and close friends do, so in writing this letter I guess I’m writing for representation by relation. I simply want to ask you to continue to do your fierce work in Congress, defending our democracy from those who seek to undermine it with malicious intent.

“We the People: those are powerful words, words worth fighting for. I’m doing my part as an activist, mother, writier, teacher, scholar, survivor. Thank you for doing yours.”

Tomorrow marks 10 days since inauguration. We have 90 days of Bannon’s blitzkrieg to survive (let’s not kid ourselves about who’s really in charge), then 1308 days until the next presidential election. There is no knowing how much damage El Jefe and his handlers could inflict by then, but will likely be of Death Eater proportions if we don’t get smart about how to fight back. Join me in reaching across the aisle to sane conservatives like McCain to build a stronger resistance movement within the government. Let’s give Congress a legislative mandate to go rogue like the National Parks Service. Wokey the bear is a great logo, but we’re gonna need all the help we can get.