OUR STORIES, OUR MALL

November 15, 2016

Dear Friends,

We are all having all the feelings with the 2016 election, especially once we see the popular vote for Clinton and we see turnout rates, and how close we were. How close my daughters came to seeing the First Woman President. But now we are seeing and imagining the details of what will actually happen with a President Donald, and the sinking feeling begins.

As this happens, we are looking — at the most scary — a Supreme Court that will undo for decades our recent progress for reproductive rights, affirmative action, healthcare and insurance, and will continue to erode voting rights and union and labor organization. This will affect our DAILY lives: whether we have health insurance, access to reproductive health, effective rights to organize labor.

But at the most basic, we are looking at a President Elect who has no fundamental respect for Americans or our democratic institutions. He is someone who is not bound by norms of behavior or even by the pressures of public shame. He has done untold damage by denigrating, mocking, and disrespecting (in no particular order): Disabled people, People of Color, Immigrants, Women, Our free press and media, Climate Change, Reproductive rights, Voting rights, Veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD and former POWs, the Supreme Court of the United States, our military and our intelligence community, Nuclear peace, NATO, our international relationships and treaties, science, rade, undermining the idea of our democracy, questioning our free and fair election and threatening his opponent with jail, (in the past) questioning the electoral college, and most generally, the truth. [Twitter should have already suspended his account: I can’t imagine the sitting POTUS bullying or retweeting on such a hate-filled and name-calling Twitter account.]

We have to imagine this person who will be OUR President on January 21, 2017. This person is one who encourages violence and legal actions against those who express dissent or describe abuse, embraces white supremacists and their disgusting symbols and subtle messages, collaborates with foreign powers in order to influence our democratic elections, admires Putin and Saddam Hussein, refuses to denounce hate crimes, extolls ignorance, refuses to release his tax returns and indicate his financial interests in the world, and most frighteningly and recently, bars our free press from having unfettered access to his proposed transitions and developing executive branch. I think he shouldn’t get an entry-level civil-service job, nor pass the background check, but here we are.

There is no asterisk: he will be OUR 45th President, and no amount of saying #NotMyPresident is going to make it different. For historical context, I force myself to remember that many people believed that Obama was not THEIR President eight years ago, either because he was born in Kenya or was Muslim or because he was Black. We are seeing the consequences of some of our dismissive stances and our complaisance today. I don’t want my resentment to build, I don’t want to explain to my children why he isn’t really MY President when — he is. I want them to understand how our government works, and that when they ask about the popular vote, we explain the electoral college. And when they ask about the electoral college, we explain about historical deals that got our country to where we are today, for better for worse. And I want them to study and understand history so they can understand our present.

(And for more context: I have to imagine if Hillary had won, and his supporters were claiming that Hillary was not their President — we would howl. Donald would “keep us in suspense” about how he would respond, showing disdain for our peaceful transfer of power in our democracy.)

I live in the Bay Area, where we are all walking around like we are heading to or coming from a funeral. I can’t make eyes with people in public places, and there is a silence that feels like a hush of shame, hanging over and around us like the real fog that periodically occupies our daily lives here. We have had “grief groups” and we have counsellors in our schools for students who think they are about to be deported or are just channeling the anxiety they are feeling at home. We have held hands around Lake Merritt, and we have tried to breathe. And the hardest part for me has been how to parent in a spirit of optimism and calm while I am losing my mind and wanting to hide in the bunkbed.

Personally, I am a mess. I have a hard time cognitively assimilating the fact that he will be our president with my beliefs about our country and the hope and love that we contain and express. My brain, my body, my hormones are in constant disequilibrium and disarray. My daughter asked if maybe one day she could run for President, and I said of course, and then she asked if she would have my vote. This made me smile through my barely contained tears.

And yet I ask, what can we actually do — NOW? If I could DO something with all the anger and sadness and disbelief and shame surrounding me, what would I do? Here is what I would do:

Project: OUR STORIES, OUR MALL

In my ideal world, and maybe in our practical one [please! Someone help me!], we would all gather on the National Mall on January 1, 2017, and at 7am, we would erect a podium facing the Inauguration Stage, and we would proclaim it Our Stories, Our Mall — until we all have been heard. Consider it a type of counter-Inauguration. We would take over the Mall, we would physically represent with our bodies the many, many more votes that Hillary received than her opponent, and we would tell our stories.

I would ask Michelle Obama to say something like this:

When they go low, and they have gone very low, we go high, and we need to go very high. While e object to the President-Elect’s fundamental lack of respect for the people of the United States and our democratic institutions, we are here to represent — physically — the majority of Americans who voted for love and hope and togetherness. We are here to show that Our Mall is a place for Our Stories. Our Stories, Our Mall.

Then individuals would have the space and opportunity to stand and tell their stories: their stories of discrimination, mockery, disability rights, late-term abortions, sexual assault, verbal assault, bullying, being denied a right to vote, being called a fat pig or an eating machine, victims of hate crimes, members of the press who threatened for doing their jobs and who are being shut out from doing theirs. We would invite people who have worked for Donald who were not paid because they didn’t do a good enough job. We would invite middle-class workers who feel like their jobs were being dispatched elsewhere. We would invite the Khans, who lost a son in Bush’s Iraq war, we would invite Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe, we would invite Tony Schwartz, who co-authored the Art of the Deal, we would invite Heidi Cruz, we would invite the workers from Bangladesh who make Donald-branded ties, we would invite students from Trump University. We would invite anyone and everyone who had a story.

Ours is a nation of stories, and the more we hear each others stories, the stronger our nation becomes. My sister shared her late-term abortion story, on Facebook then on ThinkProgress, and she heard from Republican friends that they’d never thought of it that way, they were pained for her, and they would never think of it the same way. Her story shaped our country’s ideas of what it is like for a pregnant woman to need a late-term abortion: a small story, a small voice, a small change. But many voices, all at once, and again and again, will make our country and our history and knowledge stronger.

And we would livestream it, people would watch. Can you imagine all our voters speaking their stories, their truths? It would be not only cathartic to hear each other, it would maybe (maybe) help us heal, so our wounds don’t fester like the Obama-isn’t-my-President voters from 2008.

We would physically consume the National Mall from January 1 until January 20. We would force our President-Elect to either be sworn in before a mass of people who have shared their stories or be sworn in before the Donald logo in his Post Office hotel. We will #OccupytheMall, we will #LoveTrumpsHate, we will #ProtestTrump. Because, realistically, what can we do to protest this?

On January 20, 2017, he will be our President. While we may not be able to change the electoral college and what happens on January 20, 2017, we can have our stories and our voices heard in an election campaign where Donald had his voice heard any time he picked up the phone and called a news program.

Our Stories, Our Mall could join with the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, and we will try to stay high, stay high, no matter how low they go.

My further promises:

As much as I can, I will #GrabYourWallet

I will always refer to him as “President Donald,” because it will secretly make me happy since he cares more about be treated with deference by the people who surround him than my earning their respect.

And we need to remind ourselves, again and again, that Hillary won the popular vote: that more Americans voted for Stronger Together than for Making America Great Again [at some indeterminate, white nationalist past].