“Mommy, where will we move to after Donald Trump drops the big atomic bomb to start World War 3? I don’t want to have to move again. And when will Zahir be sent back to Somalia? I don’t want him to go because he just got here and he gives really good hugs.”
These are the words Zippy spoke on Wednesday evening, after spending post-election day in school with a bunch of other 6-year-olds who have huge, scary questions on their minds. Their teacher, whom I adore, shut down all the post-election conversation. I wish she hadn’t done that. I wish she’d taken the opportunity to tell those kids the simple truth: You are safe here, our country is strong and the Constitution will hold, we adults will protect you.
But maybe Zippy’s teacher, like me, doesn’t truly feel that way right now. Maybe she is uncertain about our safety - or our ability to keep our loved ones safe. And maybe she, too, wonders if our country, this great American experiment, truly is strong enough to weather the monsoon of ugliness rained on us throughout the election season. Maybe she is struggling, as I am, with her own scary questions: What will happen to my healthcare? Will they really throw out the Paris Accord? Will the next Supreme Court nominee overturn and negate my rights to make decisions about my own body? Does half of our country honestly believe that banning - or removing - immigrants will solve any problems? Are there people walking by me every day who harbor violent feelings toward gays, people of color, Muslims, Jews, and even women? Even worse, are there people I love who believe in the ideology of supremacy and hatred that has driven DJT’s campaign? And have I been complicit in this outcome?
I started writing a couple weeks ago, in an attempt to get ahead of the election, about the soul searching I’ve been doing over the last year. I ditched all of those writing efforts because some of it has been too painful to even articulate. What I’ve discovered this year about myself and about our country is that neither of us are what I thought we were. Until recently, I have been relatively content with status quo, as long as it didn’t affect me negatively. I have walked blithely through life unaware that some of my friends don’t feel safe because of the color of their skin or because of their sexuality or gender identity. I have never contemplated what it must feel like to live in a poor, rural area in which the one and only industry has closed down, where I see no other options; I have never thought what it must feel like to not only see no real future for myself or my children because I’ve been left on the sidelines by my school, my community, and my government. I have not acknowledged the many layers of institutional racism that exist because those layers didn't harm me or my children. When I witnessed bigotry, even though I felt shock and horror, I wrote it off as "that one time" or "that one person." I have been confident that I can do anything I set my mind to, and in times that I have been financially stressed, I have always known that there were people around me who could help. I have always had health insurance, and dental insurance, and a refrigerator full of food. This is my privilege as a white, heterosexual, cisgender, middle class woman in America. And I have wrestled with this word, this concept of privilege, for months. (I’m embarrassed to admit that, too, that it’s only been months, not years or decades of wrestling.)
On Wednesday morning, when I realized that DJT had been elected, I sat on the edge of my bed and wept. I didn’t know how to tell my children that this vulgar, hate-filled man had been elected by our friends and neighbors to be the leader of our country. And I took this election outcome personally: We elected a misogynist, an accused sexual predator, to be President of the United States over a wildly qualified, intelligent woman. I walked through the entire day feeling numb and empty, eyes leaking without warning. I felt deep, hollow grief. And I felt fear. What comes next?
I realized today that most of these tears may be a release of the emotional stress of this awful campaign. I know now, as well, that sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option. One thing a year of self-reflection and despicable rhetoric will do is force you to discover what you truly value and what you truly will stand for - or against. So this is what I told Zippy last night when he asked me about World War 3 and the possibility of his young friend being tossed out of the country. “My number one job is to keep you safe, and I will do everything I can, every single day, to protect you. We are not going anywhere because we love our home, we love our country. And I will not let anyone send Zahir away.”
These promises are true and absolute. There’s a problem, though: I’m not an activist. At least not in a stand-up-with-a-megaphone or tie-myself-to-a-tank sense. As my dear friend wrote in a text message yesterday, “I’m not really a freedom fighter and I’m afraid I’ll let the whole team down.” So many of us feel that way this week.
What I am, or at least what I aspire to be, is an active agent of peace. I have spent all day today thinking about what that means, what that could look like, how that feels, and I’ve come up with some ideas that I believe can work for me. I’ll list them below, in no specific order, and I ask that you share any additional ideas you have, too. (I am sure I won’t be able to do all of these things, and neither will you, but we have to think big and bold and stretchy right now, because we don’t really know what’s coming.)
- I can donate money to organizations that are under threat, such as Planned Parenthood, or any number of environmental groups.
- I can find out what’s happening in my community, stay connected to local activists and politics.
- I can show up to peace rallies and solidarity events to share loving energy.
- I can volunteer with youth organizations, especially those that provide support for new Mainers.
- I can write for websites or publications that support activist organizations.
- I can write emails and make phone calls to my state Representatives and Senators.
- I can phone bank or canvass for initiatives I believe in.
- I can actively seek people of color to write books in my 9-to-5 job.
- I can volunteer as an escort at Planned Parenthood.
- I can offer the spare room in my house to anyone who feels they need safe shelter.
- I can offer meals at my table to anyone who needs to rest while they’re out canvassing or doing things I’m not bold enough to attempt.
- I can stay vigilant and step up for people who are taunted or bullied on the street.
- I can support nonprofits that work in rural schools.
- I can work in my ed-publishing world to put good PD in the hands of teachers in rural schools.
- I can encourage smart, kind, progressive people I know to run for public office - then support them along the way.
- I can have face-to-face conversations with people who have opposing political views, and work hard on my listening skills.
- I can ask “how can I help?” more often.
- I can mediate between people who don’t see eye to eye.
- I can do more research on an issue before popping off an alarmist blog or article on social media. And on the flip side, I can share responsible journalism at every opportunity.
- I can pray for our new President and elected representatives.
- I can raise emotionally intelligent, kind, feminist boys - and invite their friends into our home, too.
This week - this year - has been painful, no doubt. And I have every confidence that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I am not going to use words like reconciliation or unity right now because those are code for complacency. Yet I know, regardless of who we voted for this week, we all have talents and passions and convictions, and we can be freedom fighters or activists or agents of peace or whatever we need to be for our children, our friends, our country. Most important, let’s be love. Let’s be courage. Let's be strength. Let’s be hope. Let’s turn our privilege into active participation in this big old messy democracy, and let’s fix it.