Hello, fair people of the Internet. I’m back. Still clicking along in a Microsoft Word document trying to repair this crazy country with spit and chewing gum and words. Let me tell you, despite my best efforts, it’s not going great.
But, for right now, let’s take up another piece of that puzzle.
There’s been a lot of talk this week about safety pins and safe spaces and resources and allies. Almost all of that discussion is great discussion, but we need to hash out a definition or two before we really get the ball rolling on social justice.
So let me propose two criteria that haven’t come up much in all of the Facebook posts and news articles and conversation that I’ve been hearing:
- Being an ally means you’re in it for the long haul.
- Being an ally should not be a reactive step.
Now, before we get into all this heaviness of responsibility and compassion and fighting-the-good-fight, I promised you I’d reveal my two darkest secrets on the Internet. Right here. Right now.
Because therapy, apparently, is not as good a strategy as ripping open your soul for your friends, family, your friends’ family, and that one troll named Fukk-u-nobama123 to see.
So here we go.
My first deep dark secret: I have neither seen nor listened to Hamilton. I’m not even entirely sure what it’s about, outside of…well, probably Alexander Hamilton.
I have been doing theater for the past eight years at six separate theaters in three different states. I think I’m actually two degrees from Lin-Manuel Miranda himself. But my Hamilton knowledge? Nada. All the revolutionary memes that have been going around Facebook lately? I don’t get them.
And I’m sorry. For any readers who haven’t already disgustedly closed out of this article and gone back to Buzzfeed, I do hope you’ll still hear me out. But be aware, as I give advice, that I really don’t know nothin’ about nothin’. I don’t even know anything about Hamilton. I’m taking my best guesses, but they are not all going to be correct.
And now, my faithful readers, for surviving the first of my dreadful secrets, your reward is my second one:
I was looking forward to doing nothing.
And wow. That one hurts. But it’s been lurking in the back of my mind since Wednesday morning at 3 am, and I think it’s time I own up to it.
Because all of you posting about your safety pins and safe spaces and support for the ‘other’? I’m with you, guys. But if I’m going to do what the world demands we’ve got to do now, then I first have to admit: I was looking forward to not having to do it.
On Tuesday night, I was looking forward to celebrating Hillary’s victory. I was looking forward to tears of joy over our first female president. I was looking forward to dancing across the shards of that glass ceiling. And I was really, really looking forward to considering the battle won and going back to not caring about politics again until midterm elections.
This election cycle was draining and disheartening. I couldn’t wait to be done with it. I couldn’t wait until we got our next wave of progress: first a black man! Now a woman! And after that win was announced, I fully intended to hibernate until the next go ‘round, when I would gamely re-assume the mantle of informed citizenry and vote again, as per my civic duty.
Yeah, guys. I voted. I followed this election cycle. I did everything that is expected of a good, decent Democrat. And I couldn’t wait to not have to feel that responsibility any more.
So suffice it to say that in past five days, I’ve aged about fifty years.
For the last eight years, Democrats and our sense of progress have held power. And during this election cycle, when we saw that Hillary’s big competition was Donald Trump, most of us failed to read the writing on the wall and laughed instead, figuring that the next four years would also be ours to claim.
And oh boy, did we call that one wrong. So in part, we own that loss. We’d taken up walk-on roles in our march towards social progress, showing up to vote or protest when the need emerged, then receding back to our daily lives after the moment passed. For a long time, we’ve had a government sympathetic to our wants; we’ve been able to kick our problems upstairs, paying lip service to our disgruntlement but rarely having to do much more.
I’m no fortuneteller, but my guess is, come January, we’re not going to be able to do that any longer.
And in the meantime, in our relative absence, a storm has been brewing. Now those who have taken umbrage with the last eight years will take their turns. Many of us, who felt progress was finally being made on the issues we supported, now feel rightfully threatened. But despite those fears, one opportunity has presented itself: we have a new charge to create those changes that need to happen and protect those groups that need defending, instead of waiting for the higher ups to legislate it. Because this time, they’re not going to.
Let’s circle back around to the ally issue.
I’m white, straight, female, Jewish, and economically comfortable. Even considering the “Jewish female” part, I have caring, strong, feminist, and (hell, it doesn’t hurt to say it) handsome male friends in my life. And while anti-Semitism is alive and kicking, the cultural target has largely shifted from my back to my Muslim neighbor’s. All things considered, I’m pretty lucky.
Pre-election, I would have still considered myself an ally to those who needed one: after all, I thought the right thoughts, smiled at the right strangers, supported the right issues. But now, with Trump’s America looming around the corner, I recognize that these good intentions just aren’t going to cut it.
Being an ally is not passive work. Posting on Facebook, wearing safety pins, proclaiming that you are there for anyone who needs it…don’t get me wrong, all of these gestures are kind. But they all place the impetus on the person in need to make the first real step. Few people are going to come out of the woodwork to speak to a stranger wearing a safety pin, however good that wearer may be. Perhaps the person in need might appreciate the gesture, but he or she has no guarantee that these pinned people are the resources they claim to be.
As for safety pin bearers intervening in situations of harassment…there’s both no guarantee that those bystanders will actually come across a situation that needs their help, and no guarantee that they will actually intervene.
So if you want to be the best ally you can be, then you have to be proactive about it. Seek out a group that defends the rights of those in need. Visit a local mosque. Donate money to the ACLU. Volunteer with Planned Parenthood. Organizations that are committed to helping the groups that will be threatened under Donald Trump’s administration already exist, and they have always needed your help. Now is the time to give it to them.
The other factor to keep in mind is that emotions are running high right now. Both now and in January, there will be a lot of backlash against Donald Trump. We will fill ourselves with our righteous fury and seek out ways to fortify our communities against him.
But there are several weeks between now and January and four long years after his inauguration. As righteously furious as we may be during these times, we will also have to do our taxes and shop for groceries and take care of our families and get our work done. Life will go back to normal.
Therefore I charge you: remember these feelings of upset and panic. Remember how disenfranchised you felt when the election results first came in. As life starts to slip back into its usual patterns, remember your worries and fears. Remember that not everyone is in a position to let those worries go over time. For those of us who are not allies, who are, in fact, in vulnerable groups, we are not going to forget. We are not going to find “normal.”
So if you stand with those who need your support, then don’t allow yourself to find “normal,” either. Pay attention to Trump’s presidency. Keep his administration accountable. Commit yourself to a monthly donation to an organization that needs it. Establish a volunteer relationship with an organization that extends farther than a one-time project. Forge connections with those who are different from you. Keep them a part of your life so their concerns are always at the forefront of your mind, even as our own routines come back and our own worlds settle down.
I was looking forward to doing nothing. Now nothing I do seems like enough. Even writing doesn’t seem like enough…which is unfortunate since, outside of telling dirty jokes and eating a lot of bread, it’s really the only thing I’m good at.
But now also isn’t the time to limit your own power. When you despair, you disenfranchise yourself, and that will slip you back into complacency.
We’ve lost a battle, but we have time to regroup, strategize, and put our strengths to work. Let’s not lose the war.
Get strong. Get smart. Get feisty.
Find the people whom you respect and who have influence. Tap them on the shoulder. Take them out for coffee. And find the people who need your help. Get behind them, immediately, and stay there for the long haul.
I have no idea if we can do this. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try.