In this week of shattering earthquakes, what has shocked me the most have been the shrugs and eyerolls. Statements like this:
“It’s over and Trump won. Get over it and move on.”
“Why is everybody freaking out? It’s just an election.”
What I’ve found when I probe a little deeper is a profound ignorance of the fear that people of color, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ, and other vulnerable people are feeling. That’s the same ignorance that lets people complain about Black Lives Matter protesters blocking the highway. Get out of the way so I can drive my car. Don’t make me feel unsafe.
But honey – they are in the middle of the highway because they feel unsafe. They’re being targeting by law enforcement. Their families and friends are dying for no legitimate reason. This country has a history of civil disobedience used to draw attention to civil rights violations. What they’re doing is not only proper but in the annals of democracy, it is a hallowed act. Get out of your car and join them.
I went to a school council meeting Wednesday afternoon at my daughter’s elementary school. I asked our unflappable, determined principal about how the day had gone. “It was a really tough day,” she said. “Lots of kiddos in my office. Lots of kids worried that their families are about to be deported. Lots of black kids afraid they’re going to be killed by the police. They’re terrified. And we had to break up a game of Trump Tag at recess.” She sighed.
It’s a lack of empathy creating a gulf between rural white America and these poor kids. But there’s also a gulf to be bridged in my understanding of the fear that’s motivating Trump voters. Because they are motivated by fear, too. They don’t think they’re being hateful. They’re afraid. Isolation creates fear. Empathy, connection—these are still our best tools.
On Wednesday morning, with tears streaming down my face, I told my kids that love is more powerful than hate. That our belief in love is unwavering. That “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But we must also remember that it is more powerful than fear. As a white middle-class person, I might think it’s hard for me to bridge the gap between threatened minorities and white people who perceive a threat as well, but it’s much easier for me than for many. And so I must reach out, and listen, and stretch.
There are people who need our help and support, people who feel unsafe (and ARE unsafe), and the work doesn’t stop. Our belief that love is stronger than hate—that doesn’t stop. The search to find compassion for those whose motivations and decisions we disagree with —that continues more earnestly than ever. What we need to do is not retreat, but engage. Reach out. Connect.
This week I interviewed several college students for the summer creative writing program where I work. Let me tell you—they are incredible. They talked about the joy of connecting to others through writing, of making sense of life through storytelling, of the joy and magic of feeling for the first time no longer alone. They want to pay all of that forward and make it possible for others. They make the way by walking. Each one of them has already done amazing things—worked 30 hours a week while going to school full-time, for instance, or self-published three novels, or organized a Day of Tolerance with diversity training at their high school, or started a creative writing group at a tiny town library. Things I was never engaged enough to do at their age. They know we need each other and that we are stronger together, and they are reaching out. They WANT to be the glue.
That’s what my kids want too, clinging to my legs this week, imploring me with their eyes. Let’s glue ourselves to each other. On Wednesday I crouched by the little one’s preschool cubby, called the big kid over, and told them to remember: “When they go low, we go high.” We won’t say nasty things about anyone, even Donald Trump. We don’t need to. We will invalidate his positions with our love and compassion.We will stand up for people who are being bullied, people poked by the permission he gives to bigots and misguided people everywhere. We will be the helpers.
How to help is less clear, and more individual to each person. For me, I am working hard to find compassion and engagement with differing points of view. I am interested in bridging the gap. I want to pursue facilitator training and learn more techniques for engaging in civil discourse without triggering immediate defensiveness and disengagement. I also know that for many years I have ceded the space of Christianity to the warped version that would have us consider Trump a “pro-life” candidate. Though I most vehemently disagree with that interpretation of Jesus’ teachings, I have quietly walked away from the church rather than engage. But that space is too important, and too powerful, to give up on.
Social media is a place where deep conversations don’t always happen; yeah, we hear that a lot. But I’m not so sure it can’t be used that way. I’ve found lots of inspiration and information there, and I want to end this post with some of them, and some advice for engaging online which I’m going to follow much more closely than I have before:
- Always, always, always fact-check news, quotes, and statistics before sharing them online. No matter how “right” it sounds to you. Whenever you can, share a story from the most unimpeachable source out there. For example, if you see a story from upworthy.com (a left-leaning site), and you can find the same story on NPR, share the link from NPR. (And try not to share from the Huffington Post, because they don’t pay their writers, but that’s another side of beef.)
- Think about responding to an inflammatory post via private message rather than as a comment. Always ask questions and, if you can, offer facts. Be calm and avoid sarcasm. Start by offering a point of agreement or empathy. Using statements like “I was surprised to find out that . . . ” and “In my experience” implicates your own thought process, rather than accusatory “You” statements.
- Don’t disengage with people who disagree with you. Rather, try to enlarge your connection with them and make the bridge stronger. Keep engaging as respectfully as you can. If you’re trolled, say so and step away. (This pertains to my personal situation more than it does to people with a larger public persona, who find themselves trolled repeatedly and stalked online. A whole other ball of wax that also needs fixing.)
The Black Lives Matter platform.
Reasons for Liberals to Hope; the best piece of political strategy I’ve read this week.
This got me thinking: An opinion piece offering a different view of rural America.
A friend this week cancelled her HBO Go subscription and put that money into a monthly gift for Planned Parenthood. I don’t have much extra money, but I’m considering where I can shift. Here are some organizations to follow online, amplify their reach, and where you can, give them your money:
Also consider paying for a subscription to news organizations who are impartial and trustworthy; paying for good journalism allows it to sustain its essential function in our democracy.
We still belong to each other. And we are stronger together.