Monday, August 10, 2015

The Politics of Herding Cats

My own reunion journey has had many stages: anxiety mingled with anticipation, the euphoria of discovery, a bottoming-out in long-delayed grief, inchoate anger.  There is no way I could have circumvented or shortened any of these stages, nor in retrospect would I want to.  Each has taught me valuable lessons, and I am still learning.  Today I'm more committed than ever to unsealing all adoption records and giving adoptees access to their original birth certificates, as 14 (I believe that's the correct number) of states have already done.  Anyone familiar with adoptionland is aware of the arguments (overwhelming) in favor of complete access and the resistance of a relative handful of legislators, adoption "professionals," and adoptive parents who want these records kept locked away permanently.  My intention here is not to rehash those arguments but to consider how we can best proceed with what is ultimately a political issue.

Social change is often glacial: slow but inexorable.  It is not inevitable and requires vigilance and commitment to change that may take generations to reach fulfillment.  What I see now is not yet a movement, though I hope and expect it will soon become one, just as Occupy and Black Lives Matter have.  We begin with raised awareness, then lean our collective shoulders against the closed doors of the past.  There is never unanimity among political groups, but such entities that are well-organized around a few easily articulated goals have the best chance of succeeding. 

I'm not an activist.  I've supported various causes over the course of my life--opposition to the Vietnam War, support for civil rights, natural childbirth, adoption, and now adoption reform--but I've never marched in the streets or held a candle in a nighttime vigil.  In any drama the protagonists take center stage, but, as in Greek tragedy, the chorus plays an important role as well.  I consider myself part of the chorus, and I believe that if enough of us shout loudly enough we will be able to push the central actors (legislators, lawyers, adoption agencies) to do the right thing.

Today people who are essentially on the same side, who want access to OBCs, family preservation rather than separation of mother and baby, the removal of the financial incentive in adoption, and total transparency, sometimes quarrel about whether it's better to work within the system or attempt to kick it down.  I'm of two minds about this myself.  In the 'sixties I often heard the arguments, "It's too soon; the nation isn't ready for full equality."  Or "You can't legislate morality."  I also heard, "If not now, when?"  And "Justice delayed is justice denied."  I've often wondered how we can accept an evil today that we know will be anathema tomorrow, but we do it all the time.  St. Augustine understood this: "Lord, make me chaste.  But not yet."  Is it better to compromise in order to get something or to stand on principle and risk gaining everything or losing it all?  This is the very conflict we're witnessing now in our politics with the Iran deal and climate change.  When I look at the problems facing our nation and our world, I favor compromise, anything that will move us toward our goal rather than keep us stuck in an untenable present.  I must conclude, then, that in adoption reform compromise must be accepted.

(I wish there were another phrase than "adoption reform."  I want reform, yes, but what I really want is an end to adoption as we know it.  That's why "family preservation" seems more appropriate.)

Everyday I read posts where people call each other out for not toeing some line or other.  Some cheered when Gov. Christie signed a bill granting limited access to OBCs in New Jersey; others railed against the bill for not going far enough.  Of course, it makes no sense that what is legal in one state should be illegal in another, but that is an inconsistency that has plagued our nation from the beginning.  I don't see Christie as any kind of hero.  He's obstructed adoption reformists at every turn and only gave in when he was forced to.  But he did sign the bill, and that's something.  Many people worked long and hard to get that much.  I don't believe they deserved to be called "sell outs."

It is naive to think change can come without compromise.  Principled intransigence may be emotionally satisfying and morally gratifying, and in extreme circumstances (in Nazi Germany, the struggle for voting rights or gender equality) intransigence may be an effective or necessary strategy, but in the complex world of adoption, with all its exceptions and ambiguities, a monolithic stance is more likely to be an impediment to change than a conduit.  We need to stop squabbling among ourselves, stop seeing our own personal experience as exemplary.  One swallow does not make a summer, and one successful adoption is not an argument for adoption in general.  Whatever the circumstances, it all boils down to civil rights and human dignity, what our country was (supposedly) founded upon.  All citizens have the right to full information about their family of origin.  Adoption (I prefer legal guardianship) should always be the last resort in extraordinary circumstances, and there should be no money exchanged for a child.  Now, what do we need to do to achieve these goals?