Be the resistance we need to see in the world — On being a loving and vigilant friend in dangerous times
Shit is getting real and it is getting very scary. 45 and his cronies are targeting vulnerable populations and they will be using every opportunity that they can to threaten the lives and livelihoods of many different marginalized groups. The list has already included immigrants, Muslims, Black communities, protesters, poor people, sick people, families, students, children, women, and the list will continue to go on.
There is a powerful movement going on and there is an amazing resistance brewing. This is all important and necessary, and while there is work being done to strengthen the collective struggle, we all have to be very aware of what it means to show up for our people when they are in trouble. We all have to be ready to show up and be loving and vigilant friends to people in need and people being threatened collectively and individually. There have been some things about how to intervene in a racist attack, or fighting every day bigotry, or how to take self defense, but what we’re talking about here is something much deeper. It’s about how the collective struggle is enacted in our day-to-day interactions and relationships. This is about how to BE the resistance that we need to be, and be the change that we want to see with the people around us every day. We need to know how to be fiercely loving and vigilant friends and when we say “friend,” we mean being a friend to whatever person needs it right now, whether or not they actually are your friend, or a person you pass on the street, or something in between. Be that loving and vigilant support that people need to make it through and find strength in these very challenging and difficult times. With this in mind here are some basic guidelines for being a loving and vigilant friend in dangerous times.
- Be aware and be attentive: Look around you to be aware if there are people affected by a certain issue who are terrified right now and need immediate support. Every week that some new policy comes up, or an appointment is announced or whatever other terrible fuckery is rolling down the hill, there is someone who is feeling very scared, very alone, very panicked and very confused. Be there for them. Pay attention to what is happening in the news and reach out to your friends to find out what they need and what they need you to do.
- Listen to and take the lead of the people who are hurting: If your friend or neighbor, or a stranger is hurting, don’t barge in and tell them what you think they need to hear or what you think you need them to do (and it should go without saying, but DO NOT go in there and try to invalidate what they are fearing, feeling or seeing). Listen to your friend, both what they say and don’t say. Be there. Ask how they are doing and just let them know that you care and you are fighting and you are there with them.
- Show up as you are needed: After you listen, if your friend expresses a specific need, you show up for them. Don’t judge them and don’t ask if that’s what they really need. You listen and you respond to them as they need it.
- Focus on them: If someone is hurting, what you do is you listen to them and you prioritize them. What you don’t do is collapse in a jumble of your own needs on top of the existing fears and threats your friend is facing. Deal with your own burdens somewhere else and don’t bring them to the person who is in immediate need of help.
- Do the heavy lifting so they don’t have to: When someone is panicked and overwhelmed “small” things can seem really big. If your friend is panicked about the details of some specific policy, you do the leg work to get concrete information or resources to share with them. Do not come to your friend to generate more panic or unload your emotional burdens onto them.
- Don’t promise things you can’t or won’t actually do: If someone is scared and expresses a need, don’t promise to do it, but then not follow through. Be honest and be reliable. And if you can’t be the resource your friend needs, try to find someone somewhere who can. Or maybe you can help pick up the slack somewhere else to allow your friend to have the emotional space to work it out. Bring over a home-cooked meal, help watch the kids, just give extra money, whatever it is that relieves some of the burden.
- Don’t put requirements on your work: You’re here to show up for your friend. Just show up. No thanks required. No pay back needed. You are showing up because it is needed, not because you need to feel needed or you need to feel good.
- Do your own work: Once you are aware of issues going on, do the work to make the world a better place and address those issues. Attend the protests and marches, show up for people that need to know you are there. Scream loud so whoever is scared can hear you and know that you are there and know that they are not alone. Call your representatives. Create new policy. Disrupt the status quo. Start new initiatives. Work in your communities. You figure out what you can do, and you just keep going. And you don’t ask for thanks, you just keep doing it until your friend and other people like your friend never have to be scared again.
- Believe what your friend says: If your friend calls you and asks for you to hear a microagression, a covert or overt form of racism or other marginalization they’ve dealt with, believe what they are saying. Don’t whitesplain to them in any manner of: I’m sure that’s not what they meant or I don’t think they meant to be racist/homophobic/ableist/sexist, etc. This is one of the worst forms of retraumatizing behavior.
- Don’t play both sides: Your friend will know if you are the friend who provides a shoulder to cry on for people targeted, only to buy dinner for your racist grandma who voted for 45, later on that night. This is the time to take sides, and you can’t have it both ways. If your white supremacist family is more important to you than fighting racism and injustice, own it, and then step aside. People who are being targeted need people they can trust, and if that’s not you, stay home.
- If you make a mistake, just suck it up and do better: Did you have good intentions, but your impact didn’t live up to what you wanted to do? Don’t curl up into a ball of defensiveness, tears and rage — suck it up, learn from it and do better. Just figure it out and do better. This fight is for the long haul and all of us are having to learn better ways of doing and better ways of being and there will be lots of mess ups along the way. Don’t let that prevent us from achieving the collective greatness that is just on the other side of the fuck ups.
*This piece comes from women of color and white women allies, and was particularly led by women of color.