by Lowell Bliss
Hey Dad, if you are determined to train your children up as activists—and I will unashamedly say that I hope you are—then there are a handful of things you will need to learn:
My daughter Bronwynn’s signboard read:
“HOES MAD about your lack of urgency!! (*it’s me. I’m hoes.)”
What does that even mean? I suspect, of course, that “hoes” is slang for hookers, which itself is slang for. . . well, you know.
On Friday, September 27, students and employees from around the world conducted the second major day of the Global Climate Strike. Greta Thunberg and her father Svante were in Montreal. I’ve met Greta and Svante and wrote about it here: “Greta Thunberg has a Dad.” We were in Poland at the UN Climate Summit, COP 24, and I chatted with Svante Thunberg about what it means to raise such wonderful sixteen-year olds. (Bronwynn and Greta are the same age.) Svante chauffeured Greta from Sweden to New York in an eco-powered sailing yacht and then from NYC to Montreal in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s electric Tesla. Bronwynn and I, as mentioned, were on the QEW headed toward Toronto.
The first and fun-est duty in any protest march is to generate an idea for your signboard. I went with the Lorax on my Side A--"Unless someone like you DARES a whole awful lot. . . "--and on my Side B with the lame phrasing: “My daughter gets an excused absence because of your inexcusable inaction.” (Told them!) On Bronwynn’s Side A, she chose to identify. She wrote: “Just Another: ‘. . . very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.’” It’s a quote. . . from Donald Trump. . . about Greta Thunberg. . . after the President encountered her ire the past week at the UN General Assembly in New York. Trump had mocked her on Twitter. Greta, the powerless girl, however subverted the President of the USA by proudly adopting the appellation on her social media. Yes she is: she is a very happy girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. My daughter added her own “Just Another” and declared, essentially: I stand with Greta, including in the subversion of power. Very soon after arriving at Queens Park, Bronwynn locked eyes and smiles with another powerless girl, and it resulted in the following priceless photo:
But it was Bronwynn’s Side B sign that she bragged ahead of time would get the most action, and, sure enough, throughout the day, individuals—invariably of her age group—would give a flicker of recognition and then a broad smile. “Nice sign.” “Ha, hoes mad!” “May I take a picture with you?”
An old friend wrote me on Facebook messenger this morning:
Actually, I had a loose idea of what “Hoes Mad” meant, and so was speaking tongue-in-check, but my friend’s comment made me want to investigate and reflect more deeply. When it comes to climate change protest, exactly what are Bronwynn’s young cohorts—male or female—"going for”?
“Hoes mad” is actually something that men would say to each other in a conversation. The Urban Dictionary (of Slang) claims: “It is generally used when females are expressing anger in an irrational manner.” The example dialogue included in the Dictionary goes like this:
It’s a dismissive statement, not un-akin to Trump’s response to Greta. Here’s how maybe an old white guy like me might translate it:
If I were going to dissect this whole phrase and Bronwynn’s use of it on a sign in a way meaningful to other young climate strikers, it would go like this:
But then along comes someone like Bronwynn Bliss who won’t be dismissed so easily. She intuitively subverts “Hoes Mad” by declaring in parentheses and with an asterisk: “(*it’s me; I’m hoes.)” She essentially declares: “No, you don’t get off the hook. Polluters and politicians, you ARE wrong. And I own my anger. And there is a rational basis for my anger. And if you are looking for someone to hold you accountable, well, that person is ME. Even if it means that I have to identify as a “hoe” in your derision, that person is ME, and yes, I am MAD.”
Sticks and bones may break my bones, but your failure to act with urgency on GHG emissions reductions has the potential to kill me and many from my generation.
In 1992, a group of powerless Kenyan mothers were camping out in Uhuru Park in Nairobi, protesting the incarceration of their sons, many of whom were political prisoners in the pro-democracy movement, or at least held without trial, a recognized human rights abuse. On the fifth day of the protest, policemen showed up with batons to flush the mothers out of the park. The women responded by showing their breasts. Wangari Maathai explains:
Wangari Maathai, who passed away in 2011, was the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win a Nobel prize. She would understand “Hoes Mad.” So I think would a certain woman from Syria and Phoenicia, circa AD 30. Her daughter was tormented by demons and she could get no help from anyone. She cried out to a Jewish rabbi who had power and authority, but he dismissed her: You are not Jewish and “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” She bravely persists and subverts him: Go ahead and call me a dog if you must, but I love my daughter dearly and “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matt 15:21-28).
No, I am not training my daughter to be a prostitute, but I pray every night that she will live in solidarity with them and with all the other outcasts, powerless, and climate vulnerable in this world. “Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.”