Friday, November 11, 2016

Hope in Dark Times: What We Can Do to Fight Trump, Cope With Our Grief, and Protect the Oppressed

I took most of Election Day off. I wanted to spend the day with my daughter, so I could one day tell her about how we voted for the first woman president together. I read her Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Seneca Falls Convention keynote speech. I dressed her in the baby version of a pantsuit, with a onesie instructing us to "Destroy Patriarchy."

When we voted, I put her hand on the machine to cast the ballot. I cried. The sweet old woman overseeing the polling place gave me a sticker for both of us. I cried again. On our walk to our car, a young African-American man congratulated us. I thought about congratulating my black friends eight years ago in 2008. I thought about my black foster brother crying when Obama was elected, thought about the slow and halting march toward justice, and cried again.

And then, at 3AM, when I woke up to nurse my daughter and learned that the United States had elected its first fascist president, I cried like I have never cried before. I thought about my 80-year-old lesbian friend who just got married a few years ago. I thought about the dozens of rape victims I counseled when I volunteered at a rape crisis center. I thought about all the times I have been sexually harassed and demeaned by men exactly like Trump. I thought about what would happen to the Justice Department, our court system, and our military.

I thought about my daughter. I cannot believe that I, that we, have failed her. I cannot believe that the millions of little girls in this nation who once had hope now instead face the grim reality of a White House occupied by an admitted sexual predator and a probable rapist.

When I looked at social media the next day, I felt sick. There were liberals ready to give up the fight and accept our new overlord. Almost all of them were white, and cowardly in the face of oppression. They have the privilege of blending in under a Trump administration in a way that LGBT people, people of color, and so many other marginalized groups do not.

Then there were the conservatives prattling on about how now liberals know how they felt when Obama was elected. As if electing a center-leftist is in any way comparable to electing a totalitarian sexual predator who has explicitly stated he wishes to destroy fundamental protections contained in the First and Fourth Amendments. And those were the best of the lot; the worst were already levying rape threats against women, openly mocking the disabled, and planning for the mass murder of Muslims and the mass deportation of Latinx people. That is, after all, what their leader has taught them to do.

I've organized protests and letter-writing campaigns since I was a child. I'm privileged to have several lawyers in my family, to be the grandchild of a judge and of a colonel, and to have a father who is a lobbyist. I am familiar with the system, and know how to work it. People know this about me, and rely on me to help them navigate the system. But when people started tagging me in posts asking what to do or seeking assistance planning protests, I was at a loss. I felt terrified and cowed, like my best option was to retreat into myself, protect my daughter, and pray.

I am tired of crying. I believe we each have a moral obligation to protect those who are weaker and more endangered than we are. So I've spent the last day contemplating what I can do, what we all can do. Here's what I've come up with. I hope it offers some comfort, some hope.

Coping With the Pain of a Trump Election

Know That Nothing Has Changed Yet
Today, right now, you are safe. None of us know what will happen tomorrow, or in January. That has always been the case. Anxiety about the future will not change it, so remind yourself that right now, in this moment, you are ok.

Trump cannot and will not change the landscape of civilization on day one. Barring a nuclear war, it will be a slow and gradual change, with many opportunities to fight back, seek safety, or escape. You have time to think about what you plan to do. Enjoy it.

Turn Toward Loved Ones
Relationships make life living. Focus on the ones that fill you with hope, and ditch the ones that saddle you with misery. We will all need each other in the coming years. Tighten your relationships now, so that you can lean on one another if a Trump presidency means a loss of health care, financial well-being, or safety. Your greatest protection is in those you love.

Turn Off the News 
Cable news is not news anyway. It's designed to make you afraid, and to keep you watching. Turn it off. It will not make you feel better. Knowing what the talking heads have to say does nothing to prepare you for the future. These are the same people who could not foresee a Trump presidency. What possible value could they offer you now?

Stop Fighting, and Stop Justifying Yourself
Fighting with people on the Internet is not activism. If you can stop a bully, do so. But if you're hoping to change minds, you won't. Anyone who can vote for a sexual predator who does not respect the Constitution is unresponsive to evidence, to reason, to human compassion. Don't waste your time.

Stop feeling like you have to justify yourself, too. After the election, I got about a dozen messages from conservative and moderate friends asking why I was so upset. At first, I felt an obligation to explain. Then I realized that I am entitled to my feelings, do not have to defend them to people who do not care about me, and that my time is better spent on something else. Feelings are feelings, no matter what they are. You don't have to justify them.

Get Help If You Need It
There's no shame in getting help to cope with your pain and fear. Going to therapy doesn't mean that your feelings aren't valid; it means you need and deserve help to deal with them. Even in the darkest times, it's possible to feel hope and to find a reason to keep going. The right therapist can help with that.

Helping Marginalized Groups 
If you have a bit of privilege and some resources, there is absolutely no excuse for failing to advocate for those who lack these things. It's hard to fight evil. It's also mandatory to do so if you want to be a good person. Too upset, too tired, too overwhelmed? How do you think those who will be most immediately affected by a Trump presidency feel? Here are five simple, actionable steps you can take to stand up for the disenfranchised:

  1. Serve as a safe space. Yes, you can wear a safety pin, but there are more substantive options. Walk with your trans friend who's afraid to go to the bathroom. Stand up for the mosque the neighbors are trying to oust. Serve as a clinic escort. 
  2. Stand up to bullying whenever you see it. Privileged people have a moral obligation not to leave oppressed people alone to fight bullies--whether online or in person. 
  3. Don't tell people how to feel. It's easy to "move on" and "embrace unity" when you are not directly affected by Trump. Other people are rightfully terrified that their relationships will be undermined, their safety will be taken, and that their children will be abused. 
  4. Reach out to disenfranchised friends. Don't wait for them to ask for help. Contact them. Offer help. Ask if you can do something to take the burden off. Reassure them you care. And for the love of God, listen and learn. You do not know more about what it's like to be a woman than a woman does. You do not understand racism better than a black person. You cannot offer unique insights on transgenderism to a trans person. 
  5. Make sure the campaigns in which you participate cater to the needs of oft-forgotten groups. Protests should be disability accessible. Childcare should be available at meetings. Bathrooms should be safe. Bullying should be swiftly confronted. 

Fighting Back Against Fascism, Trump, and Bullies 
In person and online, I have repeatedly seen people ask what they can do. This is frustrating in some ways, since all you need is a willingness to do a little research and work. No one should wait for a leader or expert to tell them what to do. The time to "process" and "organize" and "learn" has passed. If any of us are to make it through a Trump presidency, we each need to take a bit of initiative, focus on action rather than discussion, and do as much as we can. Some options for helping, and some things to remember:

  1. Fighting on the Internet is not activism. And fighting with your allies is especially damaging. I have seen so many members of Pantsuit Nation groups tell others how to feel or act. No. Just no. 
  2. Learn about your local government. Learn how to get a protest permit. Make friends with some local government officials, and use those friendships to start building local change. 
  3. Volunteer for a cause you care about, especially if it's a cause endangered by Trump (and that's almost every worthy cause). 
  4. Organize an event. All you have to do is create a Facebook page, then tell people about it. They will come. Whether it's lunch with a legislator, a protest, or a community service day, take the initiative to organize for good. 
  5. Find someone who has a specific need and help them. Maybe your neighbor can't afford health insurance. Perhaps a sibling is being bullied at work. A trans student in your community might need help accessing resources. Too often, we want to do the high-profile work. The more useful work is that which goes unnoticed: combing through insurance paperwork to help the neighbor, researching local discrimination laws to help the trans student, offering verbal self-defense assistance to the bullying victim. 
  6. Don't wait for someone else to tell you what to do. "Who can do..." is the wrong question. Don't ask it. Do it yourself, or find someone who can. 
  7. Pick a small, specific issue and tackle it. "Fighting fascism" is nearly impossible. Getting the local school board to allow a trans student to use the right bathroom is much easier. Local issues can command a lot of attention, and there's always a realistic chance of actually solving a problem. 
  8. Work to subvert the party apparatus that caused this. People voted for Trump because they wanted "change." The Democratic party failed to mount an effective campaign because of its tendency toward establishment stagnation. Demand that party leaders at every level be fired and replaced with more effective, forward-thinking leaders. 
  9. Vote only for candidates who actively oppose fascist policies, not those who are conciliatory in an attempt to gain power or attention. 
  10. Continue voting, and continue learning about political processes. The presidency is just one small slice of our political system. An oppositional congress could reign Trump in. Judges at every level provide further checks on his power. 
Finally, remember that it's easy to find momentum in the aftermath of this shock. It will be harder to keep going as these four years unfold. You don't have to act right now. Going to that protest down the road might not be the most important thing you do. It's okay to take some time to plan your response, as long as you really do plan to mount a response. 

I won't say that "we" will get through this because "we" have gotten through worse. Some of us have. Some of us have not. Not all black people survived Jim Crow. Not all trans students survive years of bullying. Thousands of women are raped every year, and hundreds are murdered by male partners. Not everyone survived the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I won't assert otherwise, and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same. 

Some of us might not get through this. Many of us will. The more work each of us are willing to do, the more likely it is that we will all make it through. For some, this is little more than an amusing side show. For others, it's a matter of life and death. No matter where you sit on that continuum, know that you have no right to do nothing. To give up in sadness and retreat into yourself is the height of privilege. 

Find something you can do, and do it. Then keep at it until things get better. 

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