We found hope in a hopeless place

A guest essay by humorist Julian Modugno, plus a sweet, dumb announcement!

A Note from the Editor

Good morning, readers. This is Rebecca Coates, editor for My Sweet Dumb Brain, here with a special announcement!

Katie and her partner, Billy, welcomed their daughter last Thursday, on October 15th. They’re settling in at home and finding their new rhythm as a family of three.

This exciting news comes with another announcement: My Sweet Dumb Brain will be publishing once per month through the end of the year, as Katie enjoys precious time with her little one and adjusts to the newness of motherhood. 

Each issue will feature a guest writer, hand-selected by Katie, who will share a little of their sweet dumb brains. We’re kicking things off with today’s essay by humorist and satirist, Julian Modugno, a close friend of Katie (and me!) since college. Paid subscribers will get the usual follow-up Thursday email, curated by the guest writer, plus bonus content from Katie (as her demanding new lifestyle allows!). In January, we will resume our usual publishing schedule, with Katie back at the helm.

Katie and Billy share their love and gratitude for all the well-wishes! Here’s a big, sweet dumb welcome to Baby Hawkins-Mays—you are one lucky and LOVED little girl!

Becca xo

There’s a plague gripping our nation. It’s insidious, it infects everything we do, and it threatens to upend life as we know it. We can do everything in our power to try and make things better—to try and stem the spread of it—but it feels like a losing battle. So many of our fellow Americans deny the worst of it, opting instead to pretend like things are fine and there’s nothing to worry about. The symptoms are vast, ranging from exhaustion to irritability to a general malaise. 

No, I’m not talking about coronavirus. I’m talking about American politics.

I’ve got enough personal problems in my life—clinical depression, ending a four-year relationship, the cancellation of Netflix’s GLOW—and the political climate in this country just keeps exacerbating things. Every day I wake up to a news story about voting rights being rolled back, or the pandemic getting worse, or the police state intensifying and crushing any chance of reform.

It’s enough to drive an extremely charming and handsome gay man like myself (who, again, is single) to drink! And yet, as bad as things are—as bleak as they seem—I can’t help but feeling the occasional pangs of hope. People ask me how I can remain optimistic in these trying times, and once I climb out of my three-day crying jag, this is what I tell them.

Look at how many people are radicalizing right now. And no, I don’t mean radicalizing in the scary “celebrities are drinking adrenochrome and running pedophilia rings out of the local pizza place” way. I mean radicalizing in the “hey maybe basic human rights are a thing worth fighting for” way.

Conservatives in this country will shout “SOCIALISM!” at any attempt to use your tax money on something other than billion-dollar fighter jets and taser shields for small-town police departments. And while Americans are still not comfortable with the term “socialism,” they are increasingly comfortable with the policies promoted by so-called socialists like Bernie Sanders and the inimitable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Support for universal healthcare is at an all-time high. A few years ago, concepts like universal basic income, defunding/abolishing the police, and general strikes were not well known. Now, they’ve entered the public sphere as viable policy options and political tactics. Heck, even the apparently-controversial idea that Black Lives Matter has seen unprecedented support in the past year (although those numbers are declining again, so if you’re going home for Thanksgiving, be sure to confront your racist family members). 

The seeds for these ideas have been planted. Now it’s up to us to water them. The civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, and even social security were not ideas handed down on high from Washington, D.C.; they were ideas championed by regular people like you and me, people who were fed up with how the world worked and said, “ENOUGH.” 

These kinds of changes seem impossible, but anyone can make them happen. For example, across this country, millions of children eat free breakfast provided by their schools. But was this an idea conceived by some political think tank? No, it was a mutual aid program created by the Black Panthers that eventually grew so popular, Congress had no choice but to authorize a national version of this policy. If the Black Panthers, a group unfairly vilified by politicians on both sides of the aisle, could enact such tremendous change, imagine what the audience of My Sweet Dumb Brain could do if they leveraged their privilege for the greater good? 

And speaking of people banding together to fight for justice, we’re currently watching the rebirth of the labor movement before our very eyes. Unions are stepping up to protect immigrants from ICE. When the President tried to force a budget shutdown, the Association of Flight Attendants merely had to threaten a strike to get Trump to back off. And in Chicago, Los Angeles, Colorado, and even West Virginia, teachers have gone on strike advocating not only for themselves but for their students as well

None of this required legislation. It simply required people uniting for a common cause. There’s a reason the government tries to denigrate and disempower unions: they work! They shift power down to the people. Your job determines when you wake up, how much free time you have for your passions, what you’re allowed to wear, and how much money you have to survive. You deserve a say in these matters. Your boss needs you more than you need them!

When I worked as PA in television production, I was paid $9 an hour, had no healthcare, and could get fired because my boss was having a bad day. When I joined the union, my pay nearly tripled, I had the best healthcare of my life, and my boss suddenly had to treat me with the respect I deserve as a human being! And it’s not just me. Union workers tend to earn 19% more than non-union workers, as well as providing tangible benefits for Black workers who make up the largest share of union members. If you want to address growing income inequality, unionizing is the most effective way to do so. 

These are terrifying times. I won’t lie to you and say I spend every night lying in bed thinking happy thoughts and resting easy. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that we get to have our say once every four years. It’s easy to feel that if our candidate doesn’t win then we have to wait to make change. It’s understandable to worry that there won’t be another show as good as Netflix’s GLOW. But if we focus on the things we can change—such as providing mutual aid directly to those who need it, organizing with our coworkers, and talking to our neighbors about policies and programs that are important to us—we can start building a better world regardless of whether it’s an election year. 

As Katie has written many times (in nearly one hundred of these newsletters), we find hope when we confront our challenges. We just have to actually get off our butts and do something. 




Where we’re finding hope

It’s difficult to find the rays of sunshine when the world keeps raining crap down from above. We can get swept up in the bad news stories and feelings of hopelessness. But at the end of the day, we all need to find hope somewhere.

What’s giving you hope for the future? Whether it’s seeing the wave of new, young voters, or witnessing an act of compassion in your community, we want to hear about it! Share your response by leaving a comment below, or send us a message

Becca will compile your replies in Thursday’s subscriber-only newsletter. (And don’t forget! You can receive Thursday newsletters by subscribing for $5/month or $35/year.)

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Julian Modugno is a humorist and militant homosexual who is also known for being Jamie’s best friend (You know, ~that~ Jamie). As a member of Katie’s grief circle, he’s sad, too, but also wonders why nobody’s subscribing to his newsletter (which does not exist and which he has no intentions of starting). Julian spends his time writing articles for WUSSY Mag and encouraging people to delete their parents’ Facebook accounts

This issue of My Sweet Dumb Brain is written by Julian Modugno. It’s edited by Rebecca Coates, who dropped off her Absentee Ballot today! Go vote! Photo by Corey Young on Unsplash.

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