A Progressive in Trump’s America

Finding ways to #ResistTrump in rural Maryland.

Have you ever felt like you were on the outside looking in? In my case, I feel more like I’m on the inside looking out, as if a thick sheet of safety glass separates me from those around me.

I live in a tiny rural county in Maryland, forgotten for the most part — a drive-through along the I-95 corridor on the way to bigger and better things. In its way, it’s on the inside looking out, too, but unlike me, it prefers it that way.

Insular and provincial, resistant to change, the people here are proud and family-oriented folks who place more emphasis on hard work than on higher education and find comfort in the simple pleasures rather than the “elitist,” “Richie Rich” pursuits. Some of them are also unapologetic members of the KKK.

I am originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was raised in a family of well-educated activists. My grandmother fought for women’s rights (voting rights, easier access to women’s health care, income equality and other issues). My mother was a hippy who marched for civil rights and campaigned for Bobby Kennedy. I grew up in the late ’60s and early ’70s standing on picket lines with my mother and was raised to believe we are all equal; that when we raise up and provide for the least of us, all of society benefits.

When I moved here 32 years ago, I was horrified to discover that I had landed in a center of Klan activism. I live twenty minutes from a small town that is a well-known KKK stronghold. Everyone in our area knows that if you are a person of color, if you are a Democrat/Liberal/Progressive, or anything other than white and Christian, it’s best to go the long way around, rather than through, the city limits.

When I first arrived, the Klan marched in our county seat annually, sported bumper stickers on their vehicles, and were not shy about speaking their mind on how they felt about those who did not fit their idea of social acceptability. That all changed following a shocking crime of violence committed against an African-American man acting as a good Samaritan to help a white woman in distress. Charles Peters was run off the road and beaten nearly to death, a crime for which his assailants were given lengthy prison sentences. After that, the others retreated to their tiny communities and went quiet. Most believed that was the end of it, that they knew their place and that racism and other -isms and -phobias were becoming a thing of the past.

I was never one of these people. Over the years, I have seen it on display, if in quieter ways. Comments made at holiday events and backyard BBQs, after everyone has loosened up over a few beers. Children who dared to step outside of these outmoded values to date outside of their religion or race have been disowned. Biracial grandchildren have been shunned and humiliated by those who have the most reason to show them unconditional love and tolerance.

I know these people. I have had to make an uneasy peace with them in order to co-exist. There are many I have come to love and care about, despite these attitudes. They are not, all of them, marching around in sheets and, if you were to openly confront them (as I often have), they would be horrified to learn you believe they are racist, sexist, or homophobic. They don’t condone violence. They believe those who are openly prejudiced are just a fringe and excuse their attitudes as a cultural leftover from their parents and grandparents.

But they would also be quick to tell you that their kids better not date outside of their race or to convert to a non-Christian faith. It’s just not right, you see. Why make the world a more complicated place for yourself or your children by being different? What would they tell the folks at church?

As the grandmother of a biracial child, I once had a good friend tell me that it was my “fault” I ended up with this amazing, brilliant, stunningly beautiful child of color because I taught tolerance to my children and therefore, that interracial relationships were ok. I brought it on myself.

Fast forward to this last year. Things became just a little less quiet as Trump ascended and the campaign cycle ground toward his victory in the Electoral College. Those like myself who are progressive and tolerant, who supported candidates other than Trump, have felt increasingly marginalized and intimidated. People of color, those that understand what is happening, are scared. Campaign signs have been stolen and defaced. Cars and homes have been vandalized. Meanwhile, the casual racists I know are a little less casual, a little more vocal. They are excited about the prospect that those of color, those who are non-Christian, those who are LGBTQ, are going to be “put back in their place.” As the campaign rolled on, like a slow moving train wreck, I have had to wrestle with my conscience and my love for these people, who are not evil, but who are woefully under-educated and insulated, who are struggling economically and looking for someone to blame. Who, deep down, fear anything “different.”

One by one, I have had to let them go. It pains me and it means, more than ever, I feel like I’m on the inside looking out. I have had to cast outside of my immediate community for ways to be proactive and find a place to resist. Even I, who has always stood for tolerance and acceptance, now fear what is coming and have to consider how I step and where in my efforts to push back against intolerance. I have a young child of color in my care. I can not afford to risk making her a target in a region where hate crimes in schools spiked in the days right after the election. I have to walk with a light footprint among people I should be able to trust and no longer do.

Due to circumstances of location and a lack of local resources and opportunities, I have struggled to find ways to work effectively to resist Trump and his proposed policies and nominees, but I do what I can. I contribute on several social media platforms, disseminating news articles and other information I consider to be reliable and fact-based, in an effort to better educate others, fill out online petitions from well-known organizations to lend my voice to various initiatives, and reserve one morning a week to call my state and local representatives to express my concerns about whatever issues are on the forefront that week. This past week and next have been primarily reserved for Trump’s nominees, particularly Sessions and Pompeo, who especially trouble me. I also recently attended a “Don’t Take Away Our Health Care” event in a neighboring county.

I also continue to strive to connect with Trump supporters where I can do so without risking violence or retaliation. I cannot hate them. I understand why they support Trump, even if I reject the sentiments they hold. I know they, too, will suffer as a result of his policies.

I believe, as that reality begins to dawn on them, the opportunity to promote a change in attitude to one of more tolerance and acceptance is high and should be seized upon. I intend to be there and open to promoting that change. They are not evil people, they are just misled, uninformed, and unaware that there is a danger to all of us.

Until then, I work to resist the best way I can, where I can, for as long as I can, and hope for a better future.

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