Saturday, November 19, 2016

If I Could Turn Back Time

I think we all thought life would be better once the interminable election was finally over.  But I would give almost anything to turn back time.  The anxiety of not knowing what the outcome would be was actually better than this.  Back then, there was hope.  Hope that things would be ok.  Now we know that they most likely won't be ok, and that is actually worse.  We've watched this week as hate crimes have skyrocketed.  I appreciate that so many of them NAME Trump.  The hate crimes scrawled on Episcopal Churches last weekend proclaimed Trump.  The viral video of the man in Starbucks verbally abusing a Starbucks barista shows him declaring, "I voted for Trump."  I appreciate them making the connections for us.  We don't have to speculate if these acts of hatred are connected to our esteemed president-elect.  They explicitly, unequivocally are.

People of Color have rightly pointed out that this is nothing new.  The hatred that is happening now has always been there.  But yes, the veil has been lifted.  The "Heil Trump" graffiti-ers may not have done that before last Tuesday, or at least, they would have written it in a notebook as opposed to on a church building.  And the man abusing the barista may have kept those comments in his head or under his breath before, but now he says them out loud, with the validation/explanation, "I voted for Trump."  Critique political correctness all you want, but none of this seems better to me.  These people were always already racist.  Sure.  But allowing them to make their statements in a public forum doesn't seem better to me.  It's more aggressive and horrible, yes.  Previously people had a sense that they shouldn't say these things out loud.  Or maybe not in certain settings.  Now they just spew, "Go back to your country."  "Heil Trump."  And any number of other racial and homophobic slurs.  I suppose to the extent it proves that America is in fact that bigoted to be true (as opposed to suspected) may have some value.  But the people on the receiving end of the hatred likely aren't feeling glad that people are now showing their true colors.

It makes me nauseous that Muslims are taking off their hijabs (and that legislation was proposed to make wearing them illegal, even though it's clearly unconstitutional), and that Jews are taking off their religious symbols so as to not draw attention to themselves.  This is America.  We're supposed to be able to wear anything we want and practice any religion we want.  And even if that is the law, it makes no difference if people feel unsafe practicing their religion on a daily basis.

What have we become?

I've gone through phases in my life where I was really engrossed in studying the Holocaust.  Mostly because I couldn't understand how it could happen.  How could millions of people be rounded up and killed?  Just like that?  From children's books like "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," to "Man's Search For Meaning," and "Night," and of course, "The Diary of Anne Frank," - I wanted to understand.  The narrative I internalized as a Christian, as an American, was that the Holocaust happened because 'good people did nothing.'  And yet, there's books like, "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed," and the movie, "Schindler's List."  This week I realized this narrative is patently false. Good people during the Holocaust were not doing nothing.  They were acting.  They were hiding Jews and helping them flee the country.  Average people watched their neighbors put on Stars of David and be hauled away, never to be seen again.  And did nothing.  Are they good people?  I think we call them that to assuage our own consciences.  What if we're faced with a similar situation and respond similarly?  We're still 'good,' right?

Morally speaking, if this kind of persecution comes, we can't sit by and do nothing, and call ourselves good.  Or Christians.  We must act,  We must resist.  I can't believe I'm saying that.  One fundamental truth I've had to accept about myself is that I am not an activist.  I really have no desire to protest.  I'll teach, I'll preach, but facing off with the powers that be with a large group of people in a public place causes me great anxiety and is not really where I want to be.  I had accepted this about myself; but this election has awakened the activist in me.  I can foresee that in the not-distant future, I will be present at marches, at actions, using whatever privilege and resources I have to resist what is coming next.  When the president-elect stacks his administration with bigots and white supremacists, the writing is on the wall.  We must stand up to and reject this, and protect those who are now being targeted by run-of-the-mill, everyday hate-filled bigots.

I still have a "#nevertrump" sticker on my car.  I looked forward to taking it off on November 9th.  Apparently it's going to be on there until 2020.  I have never put anything political on my vehicles.  This year was different.  My son said I'll have to take that off when he becomes president or I'll get arrested.  "No.  This is still America, and I still have freedom of speech.  I can't be arrested for saying this."  But why is my son worried about this?  I've seen plenty of terrible bumper stickers about President Obama in the past eight years.  It's their right to say those things.  So my sticker is staying on my car.  And also, I got a compliment on it yesterday afternoon.

A week later, it's just barely hitting me: the grief for what almost was.  We almost had a shot at moving toward more progressive legislation, to finally breaking the glass ceiling.  We almost had it all.  But instead, we're now contemplating how to keep Muslims, and immigrants, and LGBTQ folks and people of color safe.  Part of the rage I feel is grounded in the reality that the future is not going to be good, not what I wanted or imagined.  That now my time and energy has to be directed to fighting for equality and safety for people that should be pre-ordained.  If the popular vote winner was the winner, we would be moving forward right now.  Instead, we're moving backward.  It's horrifying.

One thing that Nazi Germany didn't have that we do is states.  I growing increasingly convinced that a primary locus of resistance will be at the state level.  To that extent, I'm grateful to be in California, a blue state that tends to reject much of these ideals.  So how can we let the state leaders know that we stand with them to resist mass deportation and Muslim registry?  How can we encourage our state government to protect the people here and refuse to participate in these illegal and immoral policies?  That's where I want to focus a lot of my time and energy.

A final thought: I found myself being drawn to listen to a song I haven't played in years: "Dear Mr. President" by Pink and the Indigo Girlz.  It struck me how it was cathartic to hear again, giving voice to my questions and anger.  And yet, the song ends with Pink singing, "Dear Mr. President, you'd never take a walk with me."  The truth of that line directed to GWB was a nod to his elitism and ignorance/distance from the people he leads.  But hearing it now, I realized I wouldn't want to take a walk with this president-elect, because it wouldn't be safe for me to do so.  He has made it clear that he can access women's bodies any way and any time he wants to.  I'm not interested in testing those words because I believe he was telling the truth.  This is truly a sick reality we've landed ourselves in.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who wishes we could go back and change a few things.  Of course we can't undo what has been done, and it sucks to have traded one set of anxiety for a whole new set that feels devoid of hope.  So now, as we look to the future, let us plan, and coordinate and resolve that no matter what, we will not let fascism win here. That the Church will not allow history to repeat itself.  The writing is on the wall - we see it.  So, let us act.

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