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  • jess drass

a manifesto...of sorts

September starts the new year for me, and as we get close to it I tend to contemplate where I have been in the past year, and think about where I want to go. This blog started as an email to my family and attempt to come out of my hibernation, say hello and plan a time to get together, but then I realized that I wanted to reach out a little wider.

I wanted to write this because I have been MIA in just about everyone’s life for the past year (or years?) and I wanted to check back in with my world…because frankly, I need you guys. So if you would indulge me in reading a bit further…let me tell you what I’ve been up to and how I would love to re-enter the world where all of you are.

Just to warn you all up front about a few things – 1) this is a bit long, (The Masino Family Motto is Go Big or Go Home, right?) and 2) I will be talking about politics (YIKES!). If you don't make it all the way to the end, here's the big important ask:

I’m planning a big, crazy, only-Jess-could-think-of-something-like-that type of event on Sunday, October 13th from 2-6pm at the Gibson House in Marlton that I would love for you guys to be a part of. I don't think anything like this has ever been done before and I'm going to need all the help I can get. I'm calling it A Scream Near the Field, and you can find more info here.

For me it’s been a summer (or well, let’s face it, a year) of intense changes and transformations. I left my PhD program at Drexel in December because I did not feel comfortable with the direction of my research, education and my professional journey there. I walked away from a program where the only thing standing between me and a PhD in Creative Art Therapy was a dissertation and a practicum because I realized that there were fundamental philosophical differences between the work I was doing and the narrow mission statement of the program. After dropping out of my PhD program I felt like a disappointment and a failure because I couldn't just "get it done." I went into research (and psychotherapy for that matter) because I wanted to help make the world a better place, but when you take an honest look at it, the world of academia is a dark, corrupt, and insidious place. I have been gaslighted, exploited, made fun of, devalued & taken advantage of for the past 10 years by my "teachers" & others in my field. Thankfully, I had already found a safe & loving home for my ideas & my career teaching Adult Art Therapy Skills & Creative and Cognitive Development at the University of the Arts this past Fall. It has been incredibly inspiring and invigorating to see my “risky” theories & new ideas come to life through my students. I am beyond thrilled to be starting teaching again next week, this time adding 2 more classes to the mix (Research & Professional Writing).

I had no classes on the schedule for this past Spring, so I engaged in what I like to call an “Internal Sabbatical,” where I took a critical view of myself, my history, and my path in life. (*spoiler alert: it was NOT pretty*). In addition we also said goodbye to great patriarch of the Masino family, my Pop, in late February. As I’m sure can be said for many of my family members, his death (coming not long after the death of George HW Bush and so many of the “Greatest Generation”) has had a profound effect on me. There was a moment, days after he died, where I was standing alone in my apartment, trying to organize the hectic activities of the week when something stopped me in my tracks. I heard Pop’s voice in my ear, as clear as if he was standing right next to me, and he said, “Jessie, it’s YOUR turn now. It’s up to you guys to take this over.” I’m sure most of you know that I tend to be very connected to the spirit world, so hearing this wasn’t strange in and of itself- but what struck me was the firmness and conviction in his tone- something I felt deep in my bones. I knew that he meant it was time for me and my generation (GenX and beyond) to step up to the plate and create the world that WE want for our children, much like Pop’s generation had done for theirs. I became obsessed with social, cultural & political history and learning as much about the world and its systems as I could. I knew I needed to prepare myself for what was coming.

During this process of self-reflection, I got re-acquainted with a man who would end up running for President – Beto O’Rourke. Before he announced I studied him- his life and his policies, and the more I read, the more I thought, naw, this is too good to be true. I first learned about him last summer during his Texas Senate run. Like so many punk bands of our youth, John-John first introduced me to Beto, texting me the link to this Rolling Stone article.

I was really taken aback at first by seeing the image of Beto in a dress, looking like he had just walked off the cover of James’s 1993 album Laid (one of the most comforting & influential albums of my youth). I felt connected to him right away, through some strange shared sense of knowing.

I can’t quite explain it fully, but seeing him in that image made me feel immediately safe. The person in that picture was capable of a certain level of empathy, authenticity, compassion, and sensitivity that is generally unacceptable for just about any man in our society…let alone a politician. Yet that was juxtaposed with a fierce, bold, punk rock attitude that was in alignment, not in competition with each other.

The paradoxical sense of presence that I saw in that picture, and have continued to see in every interview, speech, and even when I met him in person, reminded me of so many of the men that I have known and choose to be close to and have in my life. The type of men who are the anti-Kavanaugh-like or anti-Trump-like persona. People like Charlie, or his father, Chuck, a lifelong EMT, or even our CJ. Or someone like our beloved friend Keith Berthrong, who was a shining light and protector to us girls in high school, and who’s death nearly 2 years ago still leaves a dark and expansive void for so many of us. These are qualities that I have never encountered in a man who was a politician, especially for one running for such a prominent office.

So did my homework on Beto. I imagined what would a White House look like if it was run like Dischord Records, as Beto says in the Vanity Fair profile . And when he finally announced, I joined on to the campaign right away. And not just as a volunteer either- no my crazy ass put together a whole package and submitted a general application to work for the campaign just days after his website went live. I have no experience in politics, and I knew that there wasn’t any position that I was qualified for, but there was something that I couldn’t shake.

In 2016 I published an article on my philosophy toward artmaking, called Punk Rock Art Therapy, and how I used it to “Create a Culture of Connection.”

(PDF available on my homepage).

This has been my life’s work – the foundation of my work as an art teacher, the focus of my research, and the cornerstone of who I am dating back to writing zines and Scream in the Field back in the mid 90s…and what was so strange to me, was that everything Beto was saying about his political ideology & his vision for America completely lined up with everything in that article I wrote. I have spent my entire professional life trying to explain myself and the “why” behind what I do to people who don’t understand or value me, and here I was, reading about someone who gets it for the first time ever…and he’s running for President?! I mean, WTF indeed. Case in point, here is the description for a Facebook group I created, called Punk Rock Politics:

Punk culture is based on an ideology that emphasizes questioning conformity and creating a space for individuality within community. It has inspired fans to create their own music and art as part of their quest for authenticity. Politics informed by punk culture can be a way to create a culture of connection while also building resiliency and instilling hope through core concepts of collapse of hierarchy, a search for authenticity and understanding, deconstruction/ reconstruction, and empowerment through a DIY mindset.

Sounds like Beto’s campaign platform, right? The funny thing is, it’s actually the abstract to my Punk Rock Art Therapy article – I just replaced the words “art therapy” with “Politics”!!!

I became more involved in the campaign by hosting events, debate watch parties, and working online through social media. Then in June I found a group called the Envoys for Beto, a grassroots, volunteer organization, and things changed a lot from there. Through the campaign and the Envoys I have received a great deal of training on how to support this movement. I’ve had multiple calls and interactions from the campaign headquarters in El Paso, TX and I am continually impressed with not only the operation they are running, one that stresses civility first & candidate second, and the support they offer their volunteers. From day one the Envoys and the campaign have supported me, encouraged me, and lifted me up in a way I have not experienced in my professional life, and I have developed a kinship and a close-knit community to people all over the country…strangely similar to the one I had in the very early 90’s on the music message boards on Prodigy.

So here’s where I am now. I have devoted much of the past few months working for this campaign, but what I’m personally working for is bigger than any one candidate – it’s about a movement. Looking at the world through the eyes of a researcher, I study the world around me in every moment. I pay attention to everything I can. And the world is changing. In some ways we are getting closer together and closer to our understanding of our potential, and uncovering sobering truths, and in other ways we are losing our humanity at an alarming rate. I know so many of us feel helpless…I know I do. Or at least I did. But taking the example from my grandfather, (and to be honest, the Buddha) that “how you do anything is how you do everything,” I’ve decided to continue living my life not by what I think I’m supposed to do to: fall in line, obey, and conform, but to continue to search for truth, lean into discomfort & cooperate for the common good of humanity.

Growing up I was taught that politics are private. That asking people who they voted for was rude, and that you should not tell other people who you voted for. While I’ve never fully pledged allegiance to any one party, and I’ve voted for people all over the ballot, I’ve always kept my political opinions to myself. I tried to stay neutral, especially as a teacher or a therapist. But that has all changed. There are Beto signs hanging in the windows of my apartment. Beto sticker on my car. Political info shared across social media…the public display of my political opinion is an entirely new thing to me. I’ve written a blog post further explaining why I support Beto, and also have my video on his website.

And here’s the thing: I know it’s A LOT. I know that not everyone who has taken the time to read this agrees with me. And I know that many of you are not, and even will not support Beto, and guess what: THAT IS TOTALLY OK WITH ME. I still love you. Heck I still like you and actually want to hang out with you. And you know what- when I see you in person we can talk about politics or we can AVOID THE SUBJECT COMPLETELY. Either way, it’s all good with me.

But I think it’s important to tell you the moment this all changed for me. The moment when my ability to keep my politics private completely flew out the window. I can even tell you the date…maybe even down to the minute. It started the afternoon of September 27th, 2018.

I had just watched an accomplished scientist, a researcher & professor, give the entire country a lesson on the impact of trauma and guess what? Everybody was listening. Everyone was moved. Everyone was learning…or so I had thought. After Dr. Christine Blausey-Ford told her story, and then explained the science behind WHY and HOW it had impacted her, I mistakenly thought that things would be forever different after that. That even though she was a woman, the crusty old white men who hold the power and make the rules would change. That they would appeal to their humanity and be champions for truth & justice to prevail. That they would understand what this scientist was saying and agree to reform our systems and laws to be in line with accepted scientific fact. The same scientific fact that I was researching in school, had studied with the world’s leading trauma experts, and experienced myself as a clinician in a women’s trauma center, as well as in my own personal life. I was so filled with hope it was brimming over.

But boy, was I wrong. In the same breath where they said she had “compelling testimony” they also said it DIDN’T FUCKING MATTER. Because they were going to do what they wanted anyway. And let me tell you guys, I fucking snapped. I saw red, and then I saw nothing at all. In my rage I posted something online, and am so thankful for a dear friend who reached out to me right away and said, “Jess are you ok? Do you need to talk?” And I was like, whoa, someone heard me. He could sense how I was feeling, and we planned to meet for lunch the following week (Not surprisingly, he was mutual friend of my dear Keith).

And a strange thing happened in the days following the Kavanaugh hearing. I started getting comments and private messages from people I hadn’t talked to in years or who I barely knew. Thanking me for the thoughts I was putting out there, and then confiding in me. Telling me about the things that had happened to them that they were too ashamed or too scared to tell anyone else. All the boundary crossings and abuses of power they had endured that never before had seen the light of day. But this moment created a rupture - a small crack in our social structure that could let out some steam in way where they felt they might be heard, even if it was just by one person miles and miles away. That it felt better for them to tell me, to at least tell someone who they felt understood.

It was in that moment that I realized something. Something that my privilege had kept me ignorant to for a VERY long time. That no matter what we said or how we said it, they were never going to listen to us. That in order to make real change we need to interrogate, deconstruct, and rebuild it ourselves. That I could no longer have the luxury to keep my personal politics private.

And that what I am asking you guys to help me with. (in addition to planning some times to hang out and just have fun, please). I am asking for help to meet with me, talk to me about what ideas you have on how you can make our country, and our world a better place. Let’s please start this dialogue, whether it’s at my house in Haddonfield, or some other place and time, but let’s start the conversation and commit to keep it going. No matter if you are right or left. Boomer or GenX. Progressive or conservative. There is too much we DON’T talk about. Too many things that many of us feel but are afraid to say…but it’s imperative that we do. And the time to start is now.

We are living in critical times where the foundations of knowledge, policy, and institutional systems are being questioned, disrupted, and reformed. It is imperative to interrogate these systems and research the creative innovations at the root of these disruptions. Protest without education is just noise. It doesn’t get very far in enacting change. Neither does belief. If our sense of truth is more closely attached to deeply held beliefs than to observed reality and lived experiences, working toward change is a futile effort. The most effective path toward change comes through critical analysis of our own lives so that we can better articulate our experiences.

For months I have been saying that having Beto run for president was like having one of my guy friends growing up running for president, but after meeting him myself, after watching him interact with my son, CJ, and after watching him speak over and over I realized the truth was a little different...with Beto running it feels like I am the one running for president. My vision, my ideals, my perspective…all up there on the national stage. Reflected back to me in a way that I never imagined could be possible. But that’s not something unique to me or to my experience…that’s the kind of leader that Beto is. What makes him distinctively qualified to lead our country is his ability to connect with and listen to people in such a radically authentic way. He is a mirror that reflects the greatest qualities of each and every one of us, and it is through this genuine nature that he inspires me to take action right now.

That being said, Charlie and I had this idea a few weeks back. We wanted to do a “Scream in the Field” type event to introduce people in the area to Beto, his philosophy and vision, and this movement we are all trying to build. We even booked the Gibson House in Marlton where we used to put on shows and started recruiting bands and musicians to play. I started planning the event with my fellow Envoys, and how it could lead to future events like this all over the country. And then August 3rd happened. The shooting in El Paso.

I have been struggling with how to pull this event off, as the jubilant tone just doesn’t quite sit right with me anymore. But then I was inspired once again to do something a little different. Beto's new direction and determination of the past week have had a profound effect on me. With this first event coming up so soon, I felt that it would be insincere to keep going in the direction I was thinking, and then today it totally hit me. You see the date of the event, 10.13.19 will fall on the 2 year anniversary of Keith’s suicide...and I can't stop thinking about doing something to honor him that day. And it's strange, because as I said before, Beto reminds me so much of my friend Keith - they are like the exact same person. So I want to take a slightly different tone for this event. I still will have live music, and still want to livestream, and still focus on Beto's vision for America, but I also want to use it as a platform to educate about mental health, stigma, trauma education and suicide prevention. This has been the cornerstone of my clinical work as a therapist for the past 10 years, and the direction of my research as well. I even had asked Beto about funding this type of research on a livestream the night before I met him in NY, and then gave him a copy of my research & proposals when I met him the next day.

Here is our starting point. If anyone would like to be involved with A Scream Near the Field at Betofest, please contact me ASAP. It will be held in Marlton, NJ, about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia. I would be forever grateful if there were any videographers/media that could be involved, as I hope to make some clips leading up to the event, and eventually put this together as a documentary feature that can be used for educational purposes. This event will have live music from local musicians, an art show & work from local artisans, education from local experts, areas to contribute to local fundraisers, a community mural, and some speakers sharing personal stories...and of course information on Beto. We will stream the event live online so people all over can share the experience and learn with us. The time has come for us to lean into our discomfort and have the conversations that need to be had.

**one final note...I had never thought that it would be even remotely possible to see if there was any chance for Beto to actually be present at this event, but now with the new direction of his campaign, I am so inspired to listen to my dharma and just at least put it out there and ask...Beto, would you join us?**

So here’s where I am.

I’d love to know where you all are so that I can meet you there.

Love, Jess

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Oct 14, 2019

Jess, this amazing.. I feel the sincerity, the pain and the joy of the things going on in your life. Beto had a way of lifting us , with his words ,his beleifs and that he truly is real. There's nothing fake about him. He tells it like it is. I can say with all honesty that Judge Pat would be so proud of him they are so much alike. I dreamed hear him a I'm transported to another time. His father's time. Good solid people all around

And I'm so happy that you found him and it has inspired you. You are going to do great things. Leave the doors of the past closed, open the one in fron…

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