how we go on

I spent most of last night and today not knowing what to say, not having any words for what we all just watched happen, or how it made me feel.  But then I got a message on social media from a scared young person, and I wanted to think deeply about how to answer with as much hope and as much truth as I could find.  I don’t know if I’m right about any of this, or if it helps at all.  But I’m a writer, and words are the only thing I have, so it felt important to use them.

Please see the end of this post for helplines and other resources you may find yourself needing.  Thanks to Erin for sharing.  Also thanks to Courtney Enlow on twitter for sharing the poem quoted below.)

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claire i’m so sad and scared. how do we go on after this election? why is there so much hate?😥

Oh, my loves.

My sweet, scared, sad, vulnerable, beautiful beloved angels.  Come here.  Snuggle up.  I’ve got you.  I’m right here.

The answer is … we go on by going on.

As we always have.  As we always will.  As we must.

Today, we do whatever we need to do to survive, to keep ourselves from crumbling, and we give ourselves what we need, whether that is staying home from work or eating chocolate cake for breakfast or calling a suicide prevention hotline (see resources below).  Today we let ourselves feel whatever we are feeling, without judging it or permitting it to be judged by others.

No one gets to tell you, today, while you are aching, to get up off the mat to start mobilizing for the 2018 midterm elections. No one gets to tell you, today, that if you had voted differently in the primaries we would not be here and therefore you are not permitted to feel sad.  No one gets to tell you, today, that your grief and fear are not real.

Later, there will be things to do, and we can talk about what some of them may be.  But they will keep.  Barack Obama is still the President of the United States.  We are still safe for now, we are still okay for now, we woke up in the same country we have always lived in.  So take today.  Take this week.  Take the time you need to feel whatever you are feeling.  Hug your cat and your nephews.  Call your mother.  Say “I love you.”  Eat cake and watch sitcoms.  You are grieving.  The reason this feels like grieving a death is because it is grieving a death.  We were in the attic with the door closed so we did not know the house was on fire.

But we know the house is on fire now.  And that’s better than not knowing.

My friend Ijeoma Oluo is a brilliant feminist and anti-racism activist in Seattle, and she posted a video on Facebook last night that made me feel something like . . . not hope, exactly, but the germ of something that might sprout into hope at some time in the future.  She talked about the election like a cancer diagnosis. If you are sick, and you don’t know you’re sick, or you don’t know the name of what you have, you can’t treat it. You will just go on being sick until you die.  Those of us who have lived through the diagnosis of a terminal illness – for ourselves or for a loved one – know firsthand how terrifying and painful it is to hear those words.  But it’s also where hope resides.  Because once you can give the thing a name, treating it finally becomes possible.

So we have been given a diagnosis.  We live in a white supremacist, sexist society.  And not just in the United States, but in countries all over the world.  Brexit and Trump are symptoms of the same illness – the white male patriarchy, who hates anything which is “other,” feeling oppressed and threatened and terrified by a rapidly-changing world which has unequivocally declared that it wishes to move forward and leave their antiquated ways behind.  The fear of women, of immigrants, of LGBTQ people, of nonwhite faces, of non-Christian religions, is driven by their certain knowledge that women and immigrants and LGBTQ people and people of color and non-Christians are rising and rising and rising, in their own country and all over the world, and clocks cannot be turned all the way back.

So now we are freed from the burden of trying to figure out what is wrong with us and why we feel sick.  We know what it is.  We know that eight years of a black man as president and the rise of a movement designed to push police brutality against black Americans into the forefront of the national conversation awoke a strain of white nationalism so deep that a silent majority rose up from seemingly nowhere, millions of them, who were never counted in any poll, who we had no idea existed, and they voted into power the single least qualified candidate who has ever run for President of the United States.  Because that is how much they hate women and people of color.

There is a lot of blame being thrown around, already, for whose fault this is.  You could make a compelling case that this is the fault of James Comey, for example, with his letter to Congress implying that the discovery of new emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop somehow implied Hillary had covered up a crime, even though nine days later he was forced to acknowledge that the whole thing had been bullshit – but only after millions of people had already cast votes.  And certainly there is blame to be laid at the feet of the media, who spent more column inches and airtime on Hillary’s emails than on any of the categorically disastrous Trump/Pence policy positions, and who made the mistake of not treating him as a serious threat until it was too late.  I have already seen Sanders voters blaming Hillary voters, claiming if we had all simply voted for the Jewish socialist in the primaries, the horrifically anti-Semitic and bigoted Trump campaign would, I guess, not have gone after him as hard. But that’s a wildly inaccurate reading based on the fact that we never had to watch Bernie on the receiving end of a Trump smear campaign attacking him for his progressive socialist beliefs. We don’t have any idea what lies they would have come up with.  (And we would have lost Bernie Sanders in the Senate, where we desperately need him more now than ever.  His career would have been shattered by the Trump steamroller, just like hers; the only difference is that hers was already over.)  You can blame third-party voters in Pennsylvania and Florida, whose votes totaled higher than the gap between Clinton and Trump, meaning that if they had voted for her instead of Stein or Johnson, she would have won both those states and the presidency.  I will fully admit to having felt this anger, but I also know that this is only a tiny piece of the puzzle; the problem is not simply that third-party voters diverted enough votes to flip the election, the problem is that it should never have gotten close enough for third-party voters to matter.  

Progressive values did not lose this election.  White supremacist patriarchy won it.  That is our diagnosis.  We know what the sickness is now.  We’ve passed a point beyond which we can’t pretend that we aren’t sick. We’ve hit rock bottom.

So now what?

How do we go on?

I had an Election Night party last night.  I had a house full of people and 2 dozen homemade brownie cupcakes with different cut-out pictures of Hillary Clinton’s face on them, and a banner that says “SMASH THE PATRIARCHY” hanging over the buffet table. We started out the night so hopeful; friends came wearing pantsuits and Hillary t-shirts and we had ice cream and champagne to celebrate at the end of the night, when we predicted we’d be watching the Oregon returns roll in after tearfully hugging each other through a jubilant Hillary Clinton acceptance speech.

And I will never forget for the rest of my life the way it felt to be sitting there on my couch, feeling physical nausea, as we watched the CNN electoral map change color in front of us. As the inevitable, terrible thing we had all dimly believed was an impossibility became reality right in front of our faces.

And I don’t want to forget it.  Because this is one of the most important things that has ever happened in my lifetime. I want to spend the rest of my life fueled by the horror of that moment, motivated by ensuring that something like this never happens again.  I live in a country that knowingly elected a fascist, and it was not even close, and we need to talk about how this happened and how we all get through it and come out the other side.

I felt sick to my stomach most of last night, and started crying as soon as my house emptied out.  I cried for a friend who is queer in a small Southern town and is surrounded by Trump supporters who make her feel afraid to come out, and I cried for the fact that our new Vice President is a man who diverted HIV/AIDS treatment funding in his state to go towards conversion therapy for LGBT youth, and for the four trans teens who took their own lives last night.  I cried for another friend, a black man in a red state, who messaged me last night in tears and told me “I feel like I’m surrounded by enemies.”  I cried for my friends who have young children, and who are trying to figure out how to explain what happened.  Kids who don’t know how the Electoral College works, but who do understand what bullying is, and that it is never supposed to be rewarded with access to more power and more resources so that you can bully more people more effectively.

I cried last night, until I fell asleep.  I woke up this morning feeling numb.  Then I talked to my best friend on the phone, and then my stepmother came by to visit, and my phone was blowing up all day with friends texting me to say “I just want you to know that we will always be here and we will always be allies.”  The group text of my college roommates was full of “What can we do?”  One is organizing a monthly series of networking and mentorship events for women executives in her field, because there is no system of support in place for them.  Another wants her theatre company to invest more in rural outreach, bringing arts programming and discussion into the kinds of communities where conservative echo chamber thinking allows bigotry to fester.   My family has a small private foundation – we invested my mother’s assets and life insurance after she died, which allows us to make gifts to charitable organizations with it – and the family group chat has been all about ways we can use those resources to figure out what vulnerable populations in our communities are about to become more vulnerable, and what we can do to help.

How do we go on?

We go on by going on.  As we always have.  As we always will.  As we must.

The white nationalist and anti-immigrant backlash which led to the rise of Trump is not a political problem.  It is not even exclusively an American problem, although America is in many ways the festering heart of it.  It is bigger than misogyny, bigger than Brexit, bigger than bigotry against any one race.

It is not a crisis of politics.  It is a crisis of empathy.

If you see immigrants as a force which has swept into your country and caused economic instability, making it harder for you to find a job, then you do not see those immigrants as human beings like yourself. You do not understand or care about their lives.  You do not see them as humans equal to yourself.  If you see black men as inherently dangerous, if you see women achieving positions of political and economic power as a threat, if you see Islam as a home for terrorists – what you have lost is empathy. What you have lost is the knowledge that every one of those people has a humanity which is equal to yours.  You are accustomed to having 100% of the privilege; now you only have 99%, which feels like oppression, and so it does not matter to you how many people out there have had zero all this time.

How do we go on?

Empathy.

We have to find it again.  We have to get it back.

We have to stick together, now more than ever.  We have to find common ground instead of losing the next two years to liberal infighting and wasting our shot at taking back the Senate during the 2018 midterms, our best chance to limit the damage of a Trump presidency.  We have to find, and unite behind, a truly kickass Democratic presidential candidate, and we have to balance realistic expectations about electability with a sincere commitment to progressive values, and then we have to address the fact that forty-five percent of Americans did not even vote in this election.  About a quarter of the electorate went for Trump and another for Clinton; the difference was just a few percentage points (with Clinton ahead, though losing the Electoral College).  And then another few went to third-party candidates.  But that’s still barely half of the country.  Decisions are made by those who show up, and last night we saw what happens when the ones who show up are the white supremacists who hate women.

They hate us.

They have always hated us.

You were not imagining that.  It is real.  It is ugly and it is awful and it is real.  And when we avoid it – when we stay in New York for Thanksgiving because we can’t stomach flying home to Kansas and sitting across the table from our racist grandfather and feeling that discomfort; when we read only the news sources which validate our worldview; when we immerse ourselves in the liberal bubble and don’t ever set foot outside – then we miss the signs, and lose out on opportunities for the conversations that lead to real change.

Those most at risk – with less privilege and more danger – need to take care of themselves.  Queer people, people of color, young progressives, flee their small towns and move to big cities to make better lives, to find safety and freedom. That is real.  That is valid.  That may be what you need to do.

But maybe those of us who have more privilege need to ask ourselves whether, by avoiding our racist Kansas grandfathers, by filtering our political posts on Facebook because we’re too tired to get into a whole big thing with that girl from high school, by making the red parts of the map redder by gathering up our Democrat friends and moving out of South Dakota to live in San Francisco instead, we are choosing things that make us feel comfortable at the expense of the hard, messy, uncomfortable activist work that our friends of less privilege really need us to do.

I do not want anyone putting themselves into a position of danger.  I do not want anyone risking their safety – physical, mental, or emotional.  But this is how we go on.  We look at ourselves, at where we fall on the ladder of privilege, and those of us who are higher – who are white, cis, straight, able-bodied, neurotypical, middle class or higher, educated, economically stable – step up as much as we can on behalf of the people around us who have less privilege and can’t.  If you’re playing a co-op video game and you have six lives left but your partner only has one, you take the bullet.  Not all of them – not enough to endanger yourself – no one is asking you to do that – but as many as you safely can.  Because maybe sitting down across the Thanksgiving table from your racist grandfather and explaining Black Lives Matter to him is the only possible venue where someone he cares about and will listen to could actually change his mind. And maybe the way you show your love for your friends of color is to take that one bullet for them.

How do we go on?

We look around our communities and we see who needs help, and we ask what we can do.

Do you pay to subscribe to a good, real newspaper?  We are going to need a well-funded free press over the next four years.  The Washington Post did vitally important journalism over the course of the Trump campaign, breaking a huge number of stories – like the Billy Bush tape and the fraudulent Trump Foundation – before anyone else did.  They have more than earned the couple bucks a month I pay for this online subscription. They fought hard for our democracy, and we are going to need them.

Can you afford to make a small recurring monthly donation to an organization that supports vulnerable populations in your community?  Protections for women and LGBTQ people are about to be violently imperiled; Lambda Legal, homeless shelters that support queer youth, and organizations that support women’s healthcare in the U.S. and around the world are going to need your money.  $5 a month over the course of a Trump presidency is $240.  What if we all did that?

If you can’t afford to donate, can you volunteer?  Do you live in a district with a Republican House or Senate member coming up for reelection in 2018?  Can you contact your Democratic precinct to get on their mailing list so the second they’ve nominated a Democrat to run against them, you can get on board to start knocking on doors?  Do you have a few hours a month to help stock the food pantry at your church or volunteer to help with childcare at a domestic violence shelter?

Do you regularly watch or support any of the reality television shows produced by Mark Burnett, whose media empire singlehandedly turned Trump from the failed real estate mogul who was treated mostly as a joke in the 80’s and 90’s into a brand synonymous with business success which led voters to believe he was capable of fixing the economy?  Or any of the other shows, like Jimmy Fallon or SNL, who helped Trump brand himself as a lovable straight-shooter, your quirky uncle with the weird hair instead of a genuine threat to the stability of the entire world? Turn them off.  All of them.  Right now. And tell them why.  There needs to be a reckoning.

Is your social media world an echo chamber, where you mostly hang out in communities where everyone mirrors your same beliefs, and spends most of their time talking about how everyone who has different sets of beliefs is wrong?  Can you expand that circle in a way that does not threaten your safety or emotional well-being in order to consume media from sources you disagree with, so that you are better armed and equipped for the real, difficult, substantive conversations we are all going to need to be having with that 25% of the American populace who knowingly voted for this man as President?  Can you have those conversations in a way that facilitates real change, through listening and educating and explaining, rather than attacking or dismissing in counterproductive ways?

You do not have to do any of these things today.

You do not have to do them tomorrow, or the next day.

Today, we go on by letting ourselves grieve the promise of Obama’s America, of the country we thought we had become.  It feels like a funeral because it is.  You get to feel that.  No one gets to tell you that you don’t.

Today we go on by telling other hurting people we love that we love them.  By telling our scared friends that they have our support and that we will fight to keep them safe.  By checking in with the people of color, immigrants, Muslims, queer and trans people we know and love, who feel their safety directly threatened by the results of this election, and we do not “not all white people” them – we do not dismiss their anger and betrayal no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel – but instead we remind them that they are seen and they are valued and that we intend to show up.  

Today we go on by celebrating women.

Women are amazing.

Women watched a man rise to power and become the President-Elect of this country after harassing, abusing, belittling and insulting us over and over and over again.  By sexually assaulting us and then bragging about it.  By empowering an army of misogynists online and in person to dismiss the woman running against him not on the basis of her policies (of which many Trump voters could not name one if you asked them), but on the basis of her womanhood.  For daring to be a woman with an opinion who stood up to the absolute pinnacle of toxic masculinity and said, out loud, “You are a toxic man.”

Hillary motherfucking Clinton.

You don’t have to agree with her policies.  You can have real questions about what the potential challenges might have been had she become president, and still look at what she did and feel that, as a woman.  How fucking brave that was.  She stood there next to a man who was less qualified for her job than anyone who has ever run for that job in the history of the republic, and she smiled like we told her to because she would be called a bitch if she didn’t, and while he foamed at the mouth spouting lie after lie, she never once cracked.  And then after the first woman major-party presidential candidate was forced to concede to a rapist, she gave a concession speech that kept the dream alive for the next generations of women and girls coming after her.

Women are amazing.

Feminism is amazing.

We are going to need each other over these next four years. We are going to need to rally behind the women in our government (some good news last night, there are more women and especially women of color in Congress than there were before, and my home state of Oregon elected Kate Brown, a bisexual woman as the country’s first-ever openly LGBTQ governor) and our future women candidates.  We are going to need to speak up about the right to control our own bodies which may be back on the chopping block, again.  We are going to be up against a culture of toxic masculinity that has just received an unprecedented stamp of approval, as though Gamergate itself has been elected to the presidency.

We need each other.

We need to stand by women – queer women and women of color and trans women and altered-ability women and low-income women and immigrant women and Muslim women.  55% of all white women voters picked Trump, and 45% of all Americans – including millions of women – didn’t vote at all.

Let’s make that our work over the next four years.

Today we grieve and we watch Parks & Rec or The West Wing and we eat brownies for dinner and we call our moms and we cry and we do what needs to be done.

Tomorrow – or whenever it is that tomorrow comes for you, however long you need to take to feel like you can pick yourself up off the mat and lace up your boots and get back in the game – we raise up an army.

We go on because we always have.  Because the patriarchy has always been here, stomping us into the dirt, telling us that we deserve nothing and we are greedy bitches for asking for more.  Telling us to shut up, to stay in the kitchen where we belong.  Telling us that we are too fat or too black or too loud or too ugly or too poor or too gay or too weird or too shrill or too old or too young for our opinions to matter.

You never, ever have to apologize for the fact that this hurts you.  You never, ever have to feel guilty for the fact that it feels terrible to know how many people in this country – in this world – insist that you do not have a place here.

But you do have a place.  This is your country too.

How do we go on?  How do we survive this hate?

With love.

You don’t have to love the people actively trying to destroy you.  You don’t have to turn the other cheek when someone hurls racial slurs at you or jokes about grabbing you by the pussy or calls you “objectively disordered.”  But we have to love each other.  

We have to model for all the kids and young people in our lives what real masculinity looks like – good men who aren’t afraid to show emotions or parent their kids or use their privilege to speak up for women – and that no one can go through life alone.  That being the king in your lonely golden tower is not a fate to aspire to, even if you can get elected president that way.

We have to remember that anytime we call a woman a bitch for speaking up too loudly, every time we roll our eyes at a celebrity on a magazine cover who gained 15 pounds after she had a baby and we call her gross, every time we use “kick the chair” or “kill yourself” as an insult, every time we believe lies about someone we don’t like without checking because it’s more satisfying to believe the shocking lie is true, we are complicit in the system that elected a vicious, superficial and cruel reality television star to the presidency.  And that was only possible because we made him a celebrity and gleefully enjoyed the train wreck because it made good television for YEARS before it finally became clear what its devastating consequences would be.

How do we go on?  We never fucking call another woman “fat” or a “bitch” ever again.  

We turn off the reality television shows that provide an enjoyable trainwreck, create abusive environments for our entertainment, and pour money into the pockets of genuinely terrible people.  We stop being the kind of people who find other people’s suffering funny or empowering, who let the bully say terrible shit to other people because then at least he isn’t saying it to us.

We built the kind of culture where a Trump could thrive long, long before he declared he was running for President, and we cannot prevent another Trump until we have dismantled it from the penthouse down to the foundations.

Cry today.  Take care of yourself today.  Put on your own oxygen mask before you help the person next to you.

But tomorrow – when you’re ready – there are vulnerable people who need you.

We go on by going on.  As we always have.  As we always will.  As we must. Because there is simply no other way.

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Thanks to my best friend Erin for the tips and resources below, which I copied directly from her Facebook post; please share with anyone you think may need these.

CRISIS HOTLINES:
-National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255, chat: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#
-for LGBTQ+ youth: 1-866-488-7386, text/chat http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/get-help-now
-Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860, http://www.translifeline.org/
-Crisis Textline (any crisis): http://www.crisistextline.org/textline/
-Substance abuse hotline: http://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
-Alcohol abuse hotline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

CALMING/SOOTHING RESOURCES:
-guided mindfulness meditation (also available as an app): https://www.calm.com/
-more guided meditations: http://www.chopra.com/articles/guided-meditations
-tips for managing anxiety symptoms and attacks: http://www.wikihow.com/Calm-Yourself-During-an-Anxiety-Atta…
-take deep breaths in sync with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wdbbtgf05Ek&feature=youtu.be
-If you can, talk to someone you love in person, or at least on the phone, rather than via text or chat. Physical contact is important to combat feelings of isolation and fear.
-When push comes to shove, better out than in. Cry if you’ve gotta cry. Scream if you’ve gotta scream. Write it out, in a public space or in a private journal.
-If you need to disconnect, disconnect. There is no shame in stepping back to take care of yourself right now.