Is this sadness or anger? Is there a difference?

Ryan Bell
Ryan Bell
Jun 29 · 3 min read
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Image for post
Black Lives Matter protesters chant, “We have a duty to fight. We have a duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

The past few months have been very hard. That’s an understatement, of course, but it bears mentioning.

For the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic my almost daily involvement with the Pasadena Tenants Union has given me an outlet for my anxiety and fear that I and my neighbors would experience illness, displacement, or worse. Being engaged kept me from spinning out in isolation, merely worrying about the crisis with nothing I could actually do.

I’ve listened in on city council meetings, attended organizing meetings of my tenants union and other state and national organizations who are organizing to keep our communities housed in a context where housing is the number one way to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Then came the nationwide uprisings following the May 25 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The picture of the crisis that has faced our country for decades came into fresh relief. The death of George Floyd, and the scores of others Black and Latinx men and women, is the result of over-policing, but also underfunding everything else, including housing, education, health care, mental heath resources, public transportation, and basically everything else you can think of.

One significant cause of police brutality is the criminalization of so called “quality of life” issues—a tired euphemism for criminalizing poverty. The intersection of homelessness and housing insecurity and police violence is something that once you see it, you can’t unsee.

The public awareness around #BlackLivesMatter and prison and police abolition movements is inspiring. What is less inspiring are elected officials from city council to Congress, downplaying the demands of abolitionists and offering barely warmed-up reform efforts that have been failing for three decades.

In the midst of all this I’ve struggled with sadness or despair or resignation. I’m not sure what to call it. And underneath whatever that is is a seething anger. There are so many sources for my rage. The Trump Administration actively looks for ways to hurt the most vulnerable. Never picking on an enemy their own size they punch down like the cowards they are. But this target is so easy it’s hard to even take it that seriously anymore. Another day, and vile abuse from the most powerful office in the land.

What angers me even more is the betrayal and cowardice of the people who are supposedly on the side of the homeless, the poor, workers, disinvested communities of color, tenants, the aged, and the ill. Some of the worst cases of systemic injustice in the criminal system are in states and cities governed by Democrats.

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles: Democrat. Mayor Cuomo of New York: Democrat. Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago: Democrat. Mayor Kate Gallego of Phoenix: Democrat. Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis: Democrat. Mayor Lyda Krewson of St. Louis: Democrat.

You see the pattern here, right? This is why #BlueNoMatterWho is a dead end, but that’s a conversation for another day.

What I’ve learned in recent days is that I struggle to discern between sadness and anger. The source of so much of the anger I feel at the devastation being wrought in my community and communities around the country, and the apathy on the part of those who are elected to stem this devastation, is rooted, I suspect, in deep sadness, or broken-heartedness.

Those of us who are in the struggle need a way to process the internal stuff we’re experiencing in healthy ways as we continue to fight the powers that be and demand the life-saving resources we need. So, today I called up a comrade and asked for his perspective. I felt heard and I think he did, too. We didn’t have any quick fixes or easy answers but we acknowledged each other and our frail humanity in this struggle.

My hope is that community organizations and activist networks will take the time to attend to the very often broken hearts of the people who are fighting for their survival. We need to be able to keep this up for a lot longer.

Radical Humanism

this is the home of radical humanism

Ryan Bell

Written by

Ryan Bell

Member organizer, Pasadena Tenants Union; humanist chaplain, University of Southern California; and the host of the Life After God podcast.

Radical Humanism

this is the home of radical humanism

Ryan Bell

Written by

Ryan Bell

Member organizer, Pasadena Tenants Union; humanist chaplain, University of Southern California; and the host of the Life After God podcast.

Radical Humanism

this is the home of radical humanism

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