A crisis of conscience

Recent events in Washington, DC have created a true personal crisis for me. And I am struggling mightily with it.

I have one quality that I live by more than any other: Integrity. I own what I say and do; I don’t hide behind excuses or past experiences in an attempt to justify my actions. I recognize that I can be seen as too aggressive or passionately impetuous (I think this is more of a response to my gender than my personality, but that’s for another post). I sincerely apologize when necessary for rash decisions. I will quickly change course when I can see that my initial response was perhaps inappropriate, as long as changing course doesn’t ask me to compromise my personal sense of integrity.

For the first time that I can recall, I compromised my integrity this week. I am shaken deeply by it, and I can not reconcile what I have done with who I have always believed myself to be.

After the storming of the Capital on January 6, 2021, I wrote an angry post on my personal social media page. I wrote it recognizing that my job could very likely be at stake and that I would potentially cause irreparable harm to relationships with people in my extended family. I hit send anyway. Some moments are bigger than those things.

Believe it or not, for the past four years, I have carefully considered what I put on my personal social media page because I run a nonprofit that depends on community good will. My personal opinions can not be the reason that the arts sector suffers for support. I know there are many in my community who think I have stepped over the line more than once, and I am sure there are leaders who won’t fund my organization because they think I am “too political.”

I struggle with the notion that my personal life is so interwoven with my professional profile. I often say that I don’t hold it against funders and leaders I work with for being Republicans and conservatives, why do they hold my Democrat and progressive stance against me? The work we do is good and meaningful to our community whether they and I vote D or R, isn’t it?

I am assiduous about keeping my organization apolitical. Go back and scroll through all 10+ years of posts. You won’t find a single one that leans one direction or the other. The only even quasi-political posts I have ever put up were when the current administration zeroed out funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Humanities and Public Broadcasting three years in a row. I had no choice but to ask people to reach out to our federally elected officials and ask them to overturn that decision. My job is to advocate for support for the arts, and that threat to federal funding would have been catastrophic.

I’m proud to say that I have met with staff of both Senator Hoeven and Cramer’s offices in Washington, DC and had fabulous conversations about the importance of the arts to our state and Metro. I’ve talked with Governor Burgum many times about his value of the arts. We proudly received the Governor’s Award for the Arts in 2017 and the Main Street Differentiator Award in 2019. I know many Republicans support the arts because I have been on the receiving end of that support.

But this post was on my personal page. And this moment was something I never expected to live through. Going forward, Dolley Madison saving the portrait of George Washington won’t be the last time there was a literal attack on our most sacred institutions. The history books now will say that the Capital was breached in the early days of 2021. And I can’t pretend that that wasn’t instigated and fueled by the man who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And yet, for the sake of my work, I changed course, removed the post and put this up in its place:

I wrote two posts earlier in a pique of fury. I have since removed them. I apologize for hitting send. My feelings are my own, and I own them, but I have larger things to consider than my response to this national tragedy.

And then I wept.

I cried so hard I broke multiple blood vessels in my face, something I have only done three other times in my life: the night I discovered I was pregnant, the day I gave birth to my son and the night I sat in the ICU with my husband who was in a medically-induced coma for alcohol addiction.

It’s easy to say it was just a social media post. Who cares? Social media is not a “real” place of discourse. Except we know that that’s no longer true. We know that much of this unrest was fomented on social media.

Perhaps my post was just adding fuel to an already burning fire or was going out to the chorus of those who agree with me. The comments from some indicate that not everyone was in agreement with what I had to say. And that’s ok. I didn’t say it with the expectation of no push back. I said it because it’s how I felt. It was my personal reaction to what I was watching unfold after years of an attempt to normalize this kind of vitriol around progressive ideals and even basic democracy.

But I took it down. I set aside my integrity for something outside of myself. I acquiesced to a stable salary and the overarching conservative lean of my community.

So my struggle this morning, and the struggle I will have to wrestle with for the foreseeable future, is what do I do with that? Who even am I and what do I stand for now that I have abdicated my integrity over something as simple yet combustable as a social media post on my personal wall?

AP Photo/Noah Berger