One week later, one person’s action plan.
I took my children with me on Tuesday and let my 5-year-old punch the ballot herself. We stayed up together that night because I believed she would get to witness the election of the woman she’d voted for. At 8 o’ clock we switched CNN to cartoons, and later I carried her to bed with her head resting in disappointment against my shoulder.
Yes, I wanted her to see a woman elected. But I also wanted her to see this particular man lose, because Trump’s behavior during the campaign was so flagrantly bullying and ignorant that even small children could understand it as wrong. I wanted to roll a little longer with the half-truth that hard work and decency always win in the end.
I woke up the day after the 2008 election feeling great. In retrospect, I’ve become complacent, because the country has largely been managed in a manner I approve of and I haven’t felt compelled to work hard myself to make sure my life reflects what I claim as my values. Injustice, prejudice and suffering have not disappeared in the last eight years. And probably, had my side won this time, I would have continued to outsource that responsibility. That win didn’t happen, and now in addition to the problems we already had there’s a new host of worries about a future guided by a man whose instinct is to criticize dissent before abuse, who invites hatemongers into his counsel, and who will forfeit seemingly any principle for applause.
The next day my daughter asked if we have to live with this, because even at 5 she is a master negotiator with a sniper’s eye for the smallest crack in adults’ resolve. I said we do, and that it’s our job now to show Donald Trump how people are supposed to treat each other. Then I lay in bed that night wondering how to actually do that. That’s the thing with parenthood: shit just flies out of your mouth when you don’t know what else to say, and then you’re stuck doing it.
In this last week I’ve been inspired by those able to cut through the panic and look clearly at what needs to be done next. It’s important to note that it’s a lot easier to do this kind of reflection when you feel physically safe and aren’t being threatened or harassed, and the first order of business is for those of us with the privilege to do so to stop arguing about safety pins and commit to fighting the ugly hate monster with everything we have, no matter how uncomfortable or scary it is.
Here’s how I’ve spent the last week, plus a rough plan going forward. I’m writing it down and sharing it to keep myself accountable. If you read this and detect a whiff of self-congratulation, you’re absolutely right. What I wanted to do this week was blame and seethe and air all my grievances on Twitter and I didn’t, which makes me a more emotionally stable presence than the next president, so let me wring what comfort I can from that.
Volunteering. Regardless of what happens in the Trump administration (look at those words! They are so crazy! Like Pope Fetty Wap!) life is almost certainly about to get harder for people who were already struggling. I’m researching local organizations to figure out the best way our family can contribute. In the very short term, just to get some momentum going, we committed to supporting a local family over the holidays. I’m under no delusions that one-time projects fix systemic crises, but it’s a step, and committing immediately to something seemed a way to break out of the paralysis. Like when you feel overwhelmed by the task of appointing a whole new cabinet so you take a morning to update your enemies list, just to have something to cross off the to-dos. It’s like that.
I subscribed to my local newspapers, both the local daily and the bigger regional. I subscribed to a local newspaper, as if it was 1994! Is some of it dull? Most definitely! But this is where everything starts. Local journalists are the first ones paying attention to the little shifts in law and custom that lead to disenfranchisement. They need our eyeballs and they need our money.
This part has been great, actually. Already I’ve found myself grumbling about city ordinances while alone in my kitchen. I covered God-knows-how-many city planning and council committee meetings as a newspaper reporter. I’ve been studying the methods of local cranks and area eccentrics for years. I was born for this.
We went to church. We went not to throw ourselves dramatically in the aisle and shout “JESUS WHY???” even if there was a little of that going on in my head. We went because a survey of our life revealed that our actual participation in culturally and economically diverse community organizations is dramatically lower than our belief in their importance, and this community service-focused one works for us. The post-election temptation to hole up in my Twitter tower talking about people in the abstract is strong; actually engaging with said people feels a lot healthier.
Several outlets have compiled helpful lists of organizations doing deep and necessary work on justice and equality. I want to look through these to find the best ways to help advocate for and participate in the America I believe in, which is one that is good for everybody, not just the people on my social media feeds.
There’s so much else to think about: voter disenfranchisement, the role of my trade, privilege and culpability, the mind-reeling implications of a national discourse permanently disfigured by foreign interference and lies masquerading as news. There’s a lot of work to do. It’s only been a week. This is just the start. What better response to Trump than to take this #MAGA moment and actually make America great again.