IT. IS. OVER! Joe Biden is our President-elect and Kamala Harris is our first woman, Vice President-elect.
Celebrate that giant weight removed from our shoulders. Take a deep breath and exhale all that pent up stress.
How was that? Feel better? Good, because that is the break we* get — and the only one we deserve.
Get back to workWe have more work to do than ever. If I have learned anything in the past four years of the trump* (Ed. note: we are purposely not capitalizing trump in this column at the writer’s request) administration, it is that the great and mighty United States of America is a farce. Trump is not an aberration, but an inevitability. A moral reckoning we brought upon ourselves.
Do you know who knew this before my privileged white self? Black women, entire communities of black and brown people, Native populations, queer folks, and any other group living with violence and oppression in our country. When I watch someone like trump or his ilk, spew their hate-filled drivel, I only see their fear and self-loathing. The us-versus-them is meant to keep us busy in-fighting. We can effect significant change by working together, not apart, and those in power always fear an informed and organized populous.
The division in this country, when we look at the numbers in this election, shows that a majority of white people supported a racist leader and thought he deserved another four years to tear down norms and institutions. Do I think these norms and institutions were helping ALL people in the country — fuck no. The United States has exposed its dark underbelly to the world. We no longer have any moral high ground — NOT THAT WE EVER DID — to proclaim what is wrong in other countries. We have no one to blame but ourselves and no one to make changes except ourselves. There are no saviors. No knights in shining armor. No superheroes. Joe Biden isn’t going to save us. We have to save ourselves.
How do we save ourselves? We speak up. We discuss solutions, compromises, and create plans together. Kvetching on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media is selfish and self-serving because you have most certainly surrounded yourself with an echo chamber of similar voices. We cannot grow and “build back better” without engaging in some seriously painful self-reflection.
Am I advocating for a liberal snowflake to embrace a trump nazi or vice versa? Not really. To borrow a phrase from the MAGA cult, “Fuck your feelings.” I want you to work with and alongside your neighbors who are not polarized. There are more of us along the spectrum of political ideals rather than at the opposite ends.
Get involved, stay involvedIn order to rebuild and live up to values that are inclusive, we the people have to stay involved. We need to learn and turn a critical eye to systems that have been in place for hundreds of years. The best place is to start local. How does your sheriff or local police force engage with the people in your community? What about your local district attorney or judges? How is your school board supporting the learning of all children in your community? Does everyone have access to electricity, clean water, food, and a healthy environment?
Are local officials for city council, county commission, etc. running unopposed in local elections? Is there diversity of race, class, thought, gender, or ableness representing your community? White, straight, cis men are not representative of the majority of communities and should not be the only voices in positions of power. Not only do these males need to step aside, but others also need to step forward to Run for Something (runforsomething.net/) and we need to support them.
You don’t want to be out front? No worries, you can support others by working on initiatives for change:
Encourage the use of renewable resources to provide power and heat.
Raise funds to support your local library.
Promote access to superior education for all youth by increasing salaries of teachers, not just administrators.
Build safer schools.
Fund the arts!
Help your local police forces divest from military weapons.
Identify food deserts and ensure access to healthy food.
Advocate for housing for those who are houseless.
Increase access to recycling, reusing, and reducing plastics, etc.
Build a community garden. Then build 10 more.
Plant more trees.
Engage in community beautification projects.
Read to kids.
Read to adults!
Visit elders in nursing homes.
Participate in every election.
It is easy to disengage and stay wrapped up in the smaller pieces of our lives. The day to day living can easily be all-consuming, especially now, deep into a pandemic that seems never-ending. I’m not asking you to commit every waking moment to doing for others, but instead, building habits and living your values in everyday actions. Is it easy in this capitalist society to refuse something that seems small and inconsequential? Is it easy to live your values when your neighbors, friends, and family don’t? Is it easy to plug in and critically think through a problem rather than emotionally reacting?
Nope. There are no easy solutions and no smooth sailing from one success to another. Risk and failure, change and disagreement—are what make us human, what give us our humanity. It is what we do in the small moments, in the seemingly inconsequential decisions where we make the most impact.
Seriously painful self-reflectionThose questions I posed early require you to look at the systems and how they work for you differently than they do for others in the community. If you think your police forces are functional, kind, supportive, and don’t need any change — please ask yourself the last time someone called the cops on your behavior? Have you been jogging in your neighborhood and someone followed you because they thought you were a thief? Have you been in a box store and been shadowed by the security guard while shopping? When you get in a fender bender, do you hesitate to call the police? When you are driving and get pulled over, is your first thought that you could be shot, or is it frustration that you got caught speeding?
If your answers to these questions are to blame the people who are afraid of the police, then you have significant privilege. The privilege of not being subjected to dismissal or violence by the police. Do I blame the police? Nope. I blame the system that decided we should arm citizens who receive little to no training and whom we do not hold to a higher standard of education. If all police officers had to have a Master’s degree in a sociology or psychology field, I imagine that things would be different. I get it. You don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why we have catchy phrases like, “Walk a mile in their shoes before passing judgment.” If you want to support your local police force, advocate for more education and training**. Hold them to the highest standard, because someday you could be in the minority and wondering if that person we have empowered with a weapon is going to shoot you just for walking, breathing, existing.
What about the questions around getting involved in politics? Seems a little less loaded than the topic of divesting the police. If you caught my Political Love Story article a few weeks back I mentioned my friendship with someone who is on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me. One of our favorite solutions that we revisit regularly is requiring all high school students, as seniors or recent graduates, to participate in civil service for at least two years before going to college. This a rough sketch of our idea and I remind you that nothing is simple, but can always be built upon:
A minimum of two years of civil service
Teaching through AmeriCorp
Working for an elected official
Running for local office
Assisting community policing (no guns for the newbies!)
Working in public office: trash collection, mail delivery, parking meter/ticket staff, local parks and recreation, etc.
Staffing the local food bank
Public works – water, electricity, Internet
If we participate in services that benefit us all, it provides a more informed and engaged population of citizens. This raises the value and worth of discussions so that we are striving for better services and access with the goal of lifting people up rather than holding them down. It takes a multitude of voices, not fewer, to create change.
The question is are we ready to do the hard work necessary to avoid complacency?
Complacency that leads us to the inevitable darker side of our humanity.
*Whenever you see “we” I am referring to white people. Communities of color, queer folks, disabled people have already been doing this work with minimal help or support.
**Please note that education and training will not undo the inherent racism baked into police forces throughout this country. We absolutely must be critical and decisive in the overhauling of the police as an institution. The good cops won’t be harmed in dismantling the police; they, in fact, will be celebrating and championing the cause.