I won’t be at peace on November 9th. Even if Hillary wins. Because there is a ton of work to do. We’re on the cusp of a monumental election. Either it’ll go down in history as the first time we’ve elected a woman president; or it’ll go down in flames as the first time we’ve willingly elected a misogynistic, racist demagogue as president. One who openly courts white supremacists, openly threatens to shred the First Amendment, and openly promises to devastate foreign policy history at whim.
I read a telling meme which said something like, “This is the first election in which a candidate has brazenly attempted to usurp the democratic process with the backing of the KKK, FBI, and KGB.” The terrifying circus this country has become reminds me that it’s time to invest in some serious self-reflection, especially after the election, regardless of who wins.
We’re also on the cusp of some serious social justice action. Like an academic friend of mine says, “Either this momentum will become a real, transformative movement, or it’ll become a moment, a blip on the radar.” We’ll either turn the wheels of change or be further oppressed by current, stubborn injustices.
I see a lot of news, blogs, and punditry about how bad things are, but where are the action-takers and their solutions? So much of what has gone sideways in this country is based in old, calcified, systemic defects which we’ve let harden as we slept in the comfort of willful ignorance. Or, maybe we citizens lost our greatest American privileges in some misguided, post-9/11 aversion to conflict. Regardless, the erosion of our rights of privacy, speech, voting, assembly, and equal justice is a very real crisis and our lack of response in hindsight can often be construed as apathy. And I include myself in that lambaste.
And so, given we’re 30 years on from the Reagan eighties and 15 years from September 11th, it will take more than a few protests and blogging to keep America’s pathologies top-of-mind. And even more to excise them. We must be incessant, we must be persistent, we must be diligent. I encourage action; I encourage work that is the altruistic inverse of Trump’s campaign to “make America great again.” I offer that America can be great, perhaps for the first time, by ushering in lasting change.
The Civil Rights Movement got the legislative part right, but prevailing biases can push even the highest court of the land to steal progress away with the pound of a gavel, as it did with both Citizens United and the gutting of the 1964 Voting Rights Act.
We need to become uncomfortable; to unmoor ourselves; we need to investigate and invest in cultural change, sociopolitical revolution, epistemological metamorphosis. Those are fancy phrases for “change the way we think and believe.” Some, myself included, would argue we need spiritual transformation as well.
And yes, laws need changed, but de facto sociopolitical and cultural norms still prevail in the midst of our inertia. I mean, we still have ghettos, right? Because we allow them to exist. Just like we allow our children to attend schools without books or proper food or heating. We still have millions of guns in the hands of people whose main purpose for using them is crime or terrorizing others. For many, it’s still okay to fly the Confederate flag in some perverse, defensive posture. And we still traffic in stereotypes and scapegoating—of women, blacks, Jews, immigrants, homosexuals, and especially since 9/11, Muslims.
This election has reminded me just how badly the American empire’s feet of clay are crumbling. What’s mind boggling, too, is how vehement our differences are. I can go on and on about how black folk and gay folk need their voices heard. And that’s totally true. So, too, do we need to hear the millions of American voices in the flyover states, the rural South, our Native brothers and sisters, and the American colonial outposts like Puerto Rico. So many different people feel unsafe for so many reasons; they feel unable to become all they can. And stereotypes go both ways across the Right/Left aisle.
Which is why the work will take dialogue. We must listen to one another’s stories. We must hear each other’s voices without shrill rancor. I can’t possibly pretend to know the full genesis and history of how so many different pockets of American demographics—poor, white, rural, immigrant, college-educated or not—feel disenfranchised; how they feel somehow wronged. But I’m willing to listen.
So often now, people of opposite political bents don’t even want to hear it. The enmity is intractable and frightening. But we better listen. We must cease being ahistorical and pay attention to what happened. Not just the last tweet, or last night, or last week’s news cycle; but what has impacted us the last 15 years; 40 years; 100 years; 240 years. It all matters. And for too long our intransigence has been swept under the rug, as if that kind of American miseducation could just “go away.” But here we are today, wondering how we got to this enormous election with petrifying stakes.
That ahistorical tick has allowed many Americans—perhaps half the country—to become disenchanted, but without fully grasping the historical circumstances which conflagrated into our various contemporary pains and slights.
It is time now to put in the work, and I don’t mean in some media-grabbing concert or event; some flash-in-the-pan, trendy blip on YouTube, but something lasting. Something substantive. I mean a prolonged campaign to save ourselves and to fight to have the rights which have been stripped of us returned. And let me say it again—regardless of who wins the election. Prior social activists’ work took a sincere, cultivated, and focused effort to fight for our freedoms.
I’m encouraged by the “mainstreaming” of Black Lives Matter, for example. I’m encouraged by #NoDAPL. Finally, politicians, pop artists, actors, athletes, and students around the country are taking a knee or starting campaigns to consistently agitate and keep American injustice top-of-mind. Some college campuses even have whole curricula built around America’s wonderful history of protest.
That is what is needed: our discourse fluid and engaged; our sleeves rolled up, our arms locked in solidarity; and sweat on our brow as we do the hard work of healing ourselves, redefining ourselves in our own terms, and regaining the rights which we’ve been stripped of slowly but surely, these last two decades or more.
It’s the struggle Frederick Douglass, in 1857, brazen as always, said was necessary: “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning… This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”