How do we live, now?
Post-inauguration dispatches from the nation’s capitol
“How do we live, now?”
The words filled the room with a heavy silence. It was Thursday evening, and just like every other Thursday evening, our Multidisciplinary Arts Team was stuffed into our studio for rehearsal. But this Thursday felt different. It was our first time together since President Trump’s inauguration.
As a racially and religiously diverse community, our artists have many different perspectives on many different things, including politics. But one thing has become very clear: we’re all concerned about the threat that the new administration poses to our country. Not only in an abstract way, but in a very concrete, tangible, “this will directly impact my family or someone I love” kind of way. We’re a community of immigrants, Muslims, queer people, women of color, among many others. And our vision of an America that thrives in diversity has come under attack.
So how do we live, now?
Our artists are living this question in different ways and discovering different answers. Instead of proscribing a singular solution, let me describe three of their lived responses.
Macro aggression, micro agency
One of our leaders recently stood in front of 400 people and talked about cleaning his room. He told the story of his friend, a single parent with no money and too many responsibilities, whose infant son was left to play in a heaping pile of worn socks, half-eaten leftovers, and unopened mail. Not knowing what alchemical brew of policy changes would magically pull his friend out of poverty, he decided to help his friend clean his room. That, at least, would be something. And it made a real difference.
In an age of macro aggression, we can still find micro agency.
Those small moments of reclaiming our agency in turn build collective power. It’s why some of our artists are devoting their nights and weekends to designing posters for protests and printing shirts for rallies. Visual messages go viral. They depict solidarity. They evoke a sense of purpose and possibility. They remind us that justice is beautiful.
And they give us something to do, together. Our powerlessness is not absolute.
I want to believe Corey Booker when he insists that the power of the people can take on the people in power: “Once you give someone the ability to amplify their voice in a social sphere, things can actually change.”
Don’t panic, be patient
I stumbled into the studio earlier this week to find one of our artists finishing up a phone call. She could clearly sense the pain that I was carrying from the day’s barrage of executive orders. “Be patient,” she said.
She went on to explain how she’d seen this before when she was growing up on the southside of the city. Not only from politicians, but from neighbors: individuals driven by greed, fear, ego. Individuals out for themselves at the expense of their communities. “They do damage, but they never last,” she explained. The community won’t tolerate it. “You gotta be patient.”
Patience isn’t the same as passivity. It doesn’t mean doing nothing. It means doing everything to stay focused and stay alive. And staying alive, for some of our artists, means feeling alive.
The other night, I celebrated one of our artist’s mixtape release at a smoke shop on Georgia Ave. with pulsing strobe lights and booming bass. As the beat dropped, the crowd leaped into the air, bouncing up and down in unison. It was pure joy. And we needed it. The hook was a timely reminder for all of us: “Don’t lose your mind.”
Dr. Howard Thurman once counseled to never reduce your life to the event you are facing right now. That’s why joy matters. And that’s what builds resilience.
Less hope, more love
To close out the Women’s March, twelve of our artists shared music, poetry, and stories at the historic Sixth & I Synagogue downtown. They used the arts to offer healing. I watched audience members close their eyes as the words and sounds washed over them. They must have felt the love that our artists have been building with each other for some time. It’s incredible.
Afterwards, the Rabbi invited our artists to participate in an evening prayer service, followed by a quick tour of the synagogue. I was heartened that the whole team stayed. The following morning, one artist sent me a note that read: “This was my first time in a Jewish synagogue. The community was so welcoming and engaging. This is an experience I will not forget.”
Muslim activist Linda Sarsour insists that it’s love, not hope, that keeps her going. Even when she feels like giving up. “We can’t be done, because our love for our people is not done.”
It’s increasingly hard to find hope these days. But love is breaking through and binding us together in new ways.
Earlier today, I spoke with one of our artists who was involved in the disruptive actions that shut down gates to the inauguration. While the Women’s March has been celebrated by some as a beautiful display of solidarity, there has been significantly less focus placed on the direct actions that preceded it, save for selective reporting on the anarchist tactics of the black bloc. So, I appreciated the opportunity to hear more about this artist’s experience. And it quickly became clear that love was at the center of those resistance efforts as well.
It takes unspeakable love to withstand pepper spray, stun grenades, and excessive force. That love has and will continue to find expression in many tactics. But it’s a love that must be cultivated in living rooms, around dinner tables, at trainings and protests, and in intentionally diverse communities like The Sanctuaries.
Rev. Erik Martínez Resly is the Lead Organizer of The Sanctuaries, a racially and spiritually diverse arts community in Washington, DC. He grew up in Germany and studied at Brown University and Harvard Divinity School.