Flip­ping o≠ the pres­i­dent ex­poses na­tion’s di­vi­sions

The Washington Post - - METRO - Pe­tula Dvorak

We’ve done a brilliant job of cleav­ing our coun­try in two over guns, golf, kneel­ing, pizza, the first lady’s shoes and a few thou­sand other things.

Just in case there isn’t enough to fight over, we now have Juli Briskman.

Briskman is the 50-year-old mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive who got fired from Akima, a gov­ern­ment con­tract­ing firm, for flash­ing her mid­dle finger at Pres­i­dent Trump’s mo­tor­cade. A photo of her went vi­ral last month, but her name didn’t sur­face pub­licly un­til last week, trig­ger­ing a tsunami of at­ten­tion for the sin­gle mother from North­ern Vir­ginia.

Early on Nov. 6, when I wrote about her, Briskman had 24 Twit­ter fol­low­ers. Now? She has al­most 18,000. Her name be­came a trend­ing hash­tag. She’s sort­ing through scores of job of­fers and has around $90,000 in a “Thank You Juli Briskman” Go­FundMe ac­count she had ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with start­ing but has been moved by. “Through your gen­er­ous do­na­tions, heavy bur­dens have been lifted,” she wrote on the page. “Thank you!”

“That’s a lot of money! I am shocked by the sup­port and gen­eros­ity peo­ple have shown,” she told me. “I greatly ap­pre­ci­ate Rob, Steve and John set­ting those up and I sent a note of thanks to be posted in the cam­paigns today. I am sort­ing through the hun­dreds [of] mes­sages and con­nec­tions that have come my way since this all hap­pened and I am not sure where I will land. It is def­i­nitely my plan to pay some of this for­ward once I get set­tled and can fully as­sess my fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion.”

Al­most 13,000 peo­ple have signed a MoveOn.Org pe­ti­tion de­mand­ing Akima give her her job back.

She’s not quite sure what to do with this.

“I just learned about the pe­ti­tion yes­ter­day,” she told me, in an email ex­change. “The pe­ti­tion is meant to go to my for­mer em­ployer to ask for my job back or for com­pen­sa­tion for

the ‘ hos­tile and un­war­ranted ter­mi­na­tion.’ As I am not sure what I will do in re­la­tion to Akima at this point, I asked MoveOn.org to pass along my sin­cer­est thanks to the or­ga­nizer.”

She’s been bom­barded with in­ter­view re­quests from all over the world — TMZ even sent a re­porter to stand in the pour­ing rain to plead for time with her. She was the topic of of­fice and on­line con­ver­sa­tions all over the coun­try.

“At this point, it’s big­ger than me,” she texted me last week, “and not about me any­more.”

The di­vide over how peo­ple saw her was stark. “Mid­dle finger hero lady . . . ” “. . . an in­spi­ra­tion to us all.” “a She-Ro” “. . . a pa­triot.” That’s what one part of Amer­ica called her. From the other: “Loser!” “Lib­tard” “!@*&$#*%@” I can’t pub­lish the pro­fane and misog­y­nis­tic words some peo­ple used to de­scribe her. They be­lieve she dis­re­spected the pres­i­dent when she was out on her bike and the Trump mo­tor­cade whooshed by her on the way back from his golf course. She im­pul­sively flipped the black cars off. Twice.

(If you have lived in Wash­ing­ton long enough, you may have done this any­how, re­gard­less of who was inside, be­cause those mo­tor­cades are hell on traf­fic and are at the root of thou­sands of missed ap­point­ments all over the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.)

She chose to out her­self to her bosses be­cause she was wor­ried some­one might rec­og­nize her, though only her back — and the back of her hand — were vis­i­ble in the photo.

Big mis­take. That hon­esty was enough to get her fired be­cause she vi­o­lated her em­ployer’s code-of-con­duct pol­icy.

Even so, as she vol­un­teered at the polls for Vir­ginia’s gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion, the vot­ers hur­ry­ing by her to regis­ter their own protest of Trump didn’t re­ally rec­og­nize her.

Folks did rec­og­nize her for­mer em­ployer.

The Face­book page of Akima was car­peted with ob­scene ges­tures. Folks posted pic­tures and GIFs of mid­dle-finger salutes, from pho­to­shopped (Mr. Rogers, the Queen Mum, Je­sus Christ) to real (Stephen Col­bert, a go­rilla).

Briskman took plenty of flak too. So did I. More than 9,000 peo­ple com­mented on my col­umn. Be­cause Briskman is a she, the del­uge that blasted my in­box was a fire hose of misog­y­nis­tic ha­tred. I was bombed by emails laced with sex and vi­o­lence. Men — I would guess they were mostly older, given the Rogers and Franks who were tak­ing time out of their re­tire­ments to spew words they’d never say in front of their grand­kids — were is­su­ing all kinds of judg­ments on Briskman’s body too.

The dis­cus­sion could have fo­cused on civil lib­er­ties, free­dom of speech, the ap­pro­pri­ate con­trol an em­ployer should have over em­ploy­ees. These are def­i­nitely worth de­bat­ing.

In­stead, sadly, many of the ar­gu­ments boiled down to the stale, knee-jerk, pro-Trump or anti-Trump, us-vs.-them that now taints most of our na­tional con­ver­sa­tion.

Dan Gar­nett, who emailed me from his Hot­mail ac­count, summed up the line of at­tack pretty well.

“You are one whiny lady. I’d like to send you a case of paci­fiers and a blan­ket for your nap­pie time. Hate us all you want; we still won. We will con­tinue to win. You are wel­come to join us, by the way.”

Like it or not, we are al­ready joined, Mr. Gar­nett. We’re all Amer­i­cans, to­gether. And we have to find a way to move be­yond de­mo­niz­ing one an­other.

As for Briskman, she told me she was get­ting ready for a long planned va­ca­tion. She can’t wait to get away.

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