A Mother’s Resistance

It’s election day. My husband Henry and I plan to meet friends for celebratory drinks. As time passes, based on unspoken intuition or a case of ‘nerves’, we all cancel, stay home, and quietly watch returns.

The phone rings after 11 — it’s one of the children.

“You’re not asleep.”

“I was. I’m calling to find out what’s happening.”

“It’s not good.”

There’s a pause. As one of the few women administrations in a ‘tough’ tech firm, my bio-daughter would have been vindicated by a Hillary win. But that’s not why she supported Clinton.

I text one of my step-daughters. She writes back, too shaken to talk. Henry and I call anyway. She can’t stop crying enough to catch her breath. My other step-daughter thought she’d wake to a victory. She’s incredulous and miserable. My bio-son texts, livid.

Meanwhile, my mother, in her late eighties, reports that she dreamt that she opened The Times to a full page, black and white portrait of the president-elect. She cuts it into hundreds of tiny pieces.

We’re devastated, but not because we lost an election. We witness the erosion of Democracy — loss of rights, violations of the constitution without compunction, the reign of the plutocrats. In these early days, I believe it’s important to turn the country around for all of us — not just for the people who ‘see’ through the deceptions and manipulations, but also for the people who don’t.

I pretend I’m calm; I don’t want my anxiety to make things worse. But, Henry and I mourn deeply, as if someone we loved had been torn from us. I’m also angry. In conversation, some friends suggest I’m too involved. Me? I’ve reverted to that inescapable motherliness — a need to keep our children safe, even though they’re adults and two of them have their own kids. I follow the news to issue appropriate warnings.

As a child, I tried to understand the Holocaust and read widely and deeply about it. Now, I’m thinking about Nazis. I half-joke that the family needs an emergency escape plan.

Finally, I decide it’s more important to stand up and holler than to plot exile. I join an organization, GoBk, and take action, returning to my roots.

I was a young college kid during the Kent State shootings. My friends and I were immediately galvanized (our professors joined us) and I helped organize marchers and moratoriums. We sought advice from the ACLU and met with corporations to gain support. I wrote longhand letters to Richard Nixon.

After grad school, I went to work at the Egleston Square Branch of the Boston Public Library. During high school, a few of my friends and I focused on racial justice issues in our county. Now, I had a job that allowed me to explore diversity in children’s literature, for libraries in Roxbury, for the general children’s collection, and as a rep to the Boston Public Schools. I was angry at systematized bias, but I was busy and full-hearted, sure things would get better.

Then, I became a mother and my view shifted from the external world to a smaller universe. By the time I looked up again, Reagan was in the White House. We watched as the privilege gap widened. But privilege was not just about wealth or power, it was also about information and knowledge. I was sick of politics as gamemenship and removed myself from the public square.

My children were young. Election results would reverse, the country would change, and our forebears were smart enough to ensure a balance of power. I was sure things would get better.

Years passed. My children were out of school and working. I supported good causes, condemned ‘engineered’ ignorance, preferred non-profit work.

My friend Carey and I were developing a film about an important, unacknowledged figure in women’s suffrage, Matilda Joslyn Gage, influential mother-in-law of L. Frank Baum. Carey invited a small circle of Matilda / Oz ‘experts’ to her apartment for drinks. It was the night after the 2008 election. Even those of us were who were, by nature, stoic or quiet were ecstatic. We had all fallen in love with Obama, sure things would get better. We didn’t understand.

We didn’t understand the extent of the perceived fear of white men losing their hierarchical standing. We didn’t understand how pernicious The Heritage Foundation and Koch Brothers were. We didn’t understand that the ‘Christianist’ right, which seemed like a glitch in history, was building and would be coopted by the GOP. Never having listened to Glenn or Rush we didn’t understand how thoroughly people had been deprived of truth. We worried about outliers, but believed they were rare.

Were we too optimistic? Were we simply naive? I step back into my young adult shoes in an uncanny, full-bodied way. I’m walking to a postbox in Washington, D.C., grasping a letter to Richard Nixon. I don’t remember the content, but I know the subtext. The authority figure who gained power without moral integrity was not to be trusted. Obsessed with power plays and violence, not only had we not evolved, we didn’t want to. But I was young and so were human beings. I was sure we would become mutually supportive, fully creative, equally empowered.

I was sure we’d continue forward, even if the path were not always clear. Decades later, the 2016 election slammed us into reverse. My longheld beliefs were crushed.

For months, I’ve had to remind myself that I can tolerate grief in order to fight, in small ways, for truth, for the environment, for the democratic process, for our children. I’d like to save them from this crisis. Can I? Nope. They’re each uniquely capable and each of us fights in our own way.

Sometimes, a child calls disillusioned and puzzled by the behavior of ‘opposition’. But even before the election, the status quo was broken; there was too much unfinished business. As a friend reminds us, overcoming huge obstacles may enable us to make real progress. Sometimes, to resist, we must resist our own downheartedness. Moving forward is the only option.