“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Thomas Jefferson
In the early hours of the morning directly following the recent election, I boarded a plane bound for California where I was to give a conference keynote address in San Francisco three days hence. I seized this opportunity to travel first to San José so I could wax nostalgic walking around my alma mater, San José State University (SJSU), where I earned my B.A. degree in 1969 and one year later, my Secondary Teaching Certification.
Shortly after taking off, images and sounds from a Walt Disney film from my youth screened in my mind. A novice sorcerer’s apprentice appeared engaging in his daily chores of filling two large wooden pails with water by submerging them in a small waterfall-supplied fountain. He then walked a short distance down to a standing pool where he deposited the contents of his labors.
During this process, he watched his mentor in his workshop weaving clouds in the air forming dark bats and brightly colored fragile butterflies. The sorcerer soon showed signs of fatigue, laid his magical pointed hat upon a table and departed for sleep.
With a certain mischievous gleam in his eye, the apprentice placed the power-filled hat on his head, and placing his arms outstretched, weaved a spell over a broom resting in a corner. Suddenly coming alive, it marched under the apprentice’s control by commencing to transport water from fountain to pool. Back and forth walked the broom with its filled pails, until the apprentice fell fast asleep.
He dreamt of raising his hands toward celestial bodies calling on them to advance the tides ever higher as the engorging clouds cascaded their bounties onto the land. But as he suddenly awoke, the apprentice realized that his creation had taken charge. It had brought the room to flood stage by severely over filling the standing pool.
The apprentice, carrying a large ax, ran after the broom and slashed it into thousands of tiny splinters. This only increased the problem exponentially as each sliver awakened and quickly grew into a full-sized broom. Now thousands of pail-toting brooms continued the chore of transporting more and more water, ever-adding to the flood tide and washing away everything from the space in torrents of destruction.
Finally, the sorcerer awakened and returned to restore order and tranquility from chaos and devastation. As the novice, head down-turned, attempted to slink away, the sorcerer swatted him with a broom.
Soon after departing the plane, I strolled around my former university campus. I was in awe, but certainly not surprised, that so much had changed over the many years since I had last walked these pathways and entered these now renovated buildings.
As I entered the space surrounding the new Campus Center, a group of students engaged in an open-mic rally voicing their feelings and thoughts on the election results. Some had tears running from their eyes. Some voiced anger, even rage. Some expressed fear and pessimism over the future direction of our country.
At the end of the rally, I approached the rally organizer to give praise for providing students an occasion publicly to process their feelings. I informed her that as an alumnus of the university from the 1960’s, what is happening in this country today in some key ways mirrors the reactionary past.
When I attend SJSU, police and the F.B.I. routinely invaded the spaces and shot members of the Oakland Black Panther Party and other black and brown people, and our government engaged in an illegal war in Vietnam, which divided our nation.
I told her I had served as an anti-war activist, joined the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and was one of the original members of the first student group advocating for the rights of gay and lesbian people, the Gay Liberation Front.
Since same-sex sexuality was still illegal throughout the country, including California, at the time, then Governor Ronald Reagan and his Chancellor of the California State University (then College) system, Glen Dumke, forbade us from using campus facilities for our meetings. We met, instead, after hours at a local diner for support and political organizing.
“Oh my God,” she shouted. “I have to talk with you about the history you experienced. I am the co-chair of the current LGBT campus organization. It’s so great meeting you.”
She relayed to me her great concerns and fears over the election. As a Latina lesbian, she dreads what a Trump presidency might hold for her and for all the other groups of people Trump has attacked, stereotyped and scapegoated during his campaign.
My new friend, this student organizer, told me about a rally that was to take place later that evening at the Smith-Carlos statue on our campus. “Tommy Smith and John Carlos were my classmates when I was a student here,” I inform the student. “Though I did not know them well, I met them on a few occasions, especially when they returned triumphant from the 1968 Mexico Olympics.”
Smith and Carlos did our campus and our country proud when standing on the stage of medal winners in their track and field events; they raised their arms black-glove fisted in symbolic solidarity to elevate the consciousness of the world to the plight of people of color in the United States.
“That’s totally amazing,” shouted the student. “Now I really have to talk with you about history.”
Since I heard about the erection of the statue since my previous visit, I ask her to direct me to it, which she did. I left her and promised to see her again at the rally later that evening.
Chills of pride and remembrance overtook me upon approaching the statue honoring two of our most notable alumni. I had the privilege of hearing John Carlos speak at Iowa State University quite recently when I served there as an associate professor.
Following his presentation summarizing the events surrounding the 1968 Olympics through his continuing civil and human rights work, I walked up to him and introduced myself as one of his admiring classmates. We reminisced briefly of these times, and the events that have since transpired.
At the student rally with the statue as the backdrop that evening, SJSU Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Kathleen Wong, spoke first to the large crown, comprising many hundred activists. Dr. Wong asked us to form into group circles of about 10 people. She gave us the charge of each person going around and introducing themselves, then expressing what they were feeling about the election.
I found this activitiy particularly important and poignant, especially since the election had been decided only the previous day, and people had been experiencing a range of emotions. Before we can take effective actions, we must first process our feelings. I believe this is true in all areas of our lives, especially in cases of traumatizing events. One such event for many of us was the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States. I shiver even typing those words.
In our circle, we introduced ourselves. When it was her turn, a Latina student angrily declared that “I am so sick and tired of trying to teach white people about racism.”
I took a risk and said to her, “It is not your job teach white people. That is my job and the job of other white people.”
With a surprised expression turning to shock, and then tears forming in her eyes, she looked at me and said, “Wow, thank you. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard a white person say that.”
I continued, “It’s the job of white people to teach other white people about racism. It’s the job of men to teach other men about sexism. It’s the job of heterosexuals to teach other heterosexuals about homophobia. And so on for all the many forms of oppression.”
“Yes, yes,” cried other students in the circle. A major theme most students brought up was that until the election, they had not been “political” and were “uninterested.” The election of Trump, however, was a loud and clear wake-up call. Each student committed to process their feelings and to take action from then forward.
Dr. Wong then moved the crowd to a corner of the plaza beneath bright light for the open-mic session of the rally. Within the series of moving and inspiring speakers was an undocumented student who vowed never again to live in the shadows blanketed by the fear of deportation. He, along with his peers, vowed to help and shelter one another from what may lay ahead in the next period of time.
Attending this protest rally that evening, I finally understood the symbolic meaning of my vision of the sorcerer’s apprentice while I was inflight. Donald Trump is the personification of the unqualified political novice, the dangerous sorcerer on The Apprentice who mystified many voters by dumping wooden pails of venom across the landscape and ultimately exposing a partially submerged tidal flow of bigotry across the land.
Donald Trump, however, is no Mickey Mouse, and the United States is not Fantasia. Trump did not simply hold a great number, though fortunately not a majority, under his hypnotic spell. No, not at all. Trump astutely perceived the undercurrents as well as the surface molten lava flows of resentment—not only of the massive economic divisions and disparities that Bernie Sanders gave voice to—but also the fear and resentment of the many white people of the changing complexion of the population.
Bernie, on the one hand, fashioned a movement to empower the disposed. Trump, on the other hand, exploited the fear and resentment of many to feed his own insatiable narcissism and lust for power and celebrity. By so doing, Trump brought out the worst in people.
From the first day he descended the escalator in his tower of gold, with head raised arrogantly forward as he held court at his press conference announcing his run for the presidency, Trump tossed down the bodies of Mexican people, as if they were red Trump steaks, as if they were his initial stepping stones on his long and brutal march to the White House.
Throughout the remainder of his jaunt, he stepped over the bodies of Muslims, Jews, all women, black people, Latinx people of all nations, activists in Black Lives Matter since they did not matter to him, people with disabilities, bodies that did not fulfill his rigid standards of female beauty, prisoners of war, the military in general and military generals (about whom he knows more concerning the strategy to defeat ISIS), women who have the audacity to fight to control their own bodies and their own lives, couples in same-sex relationships, invading “alien” immigrants, dreamers, in fact, anyone and everyone who disagree with him or criticizes him.
Eventually, however, the apprentice’s powers tend to turn on the apprentice. In the immortal words of anti-slavery activist and writer, Frederick Douglass,
“No man can put a chain about the ankle of another man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”
The most exciting and positive result to come from the election is the spark igniting the newest iteration of the youth movement. They represent the dynamic force, the experienced sorcerer of Fantasia, who steps up and drains the flood, removes debris and restores us to a semblance of stasis.
With Trump’s blaring Islamophobia and dog whistle anti-Semitism, plus his racism, misogyny and ableism throughout his campaign, and now with white nationalist Steve Bannon’s ascension as Trump’s chief policy advisor bringing his blatant anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim, racist, misogynist pronouncements and actions, it is the time for further and enhanced alliances between U.S. Muslims and Jews, people of color, women and people with disabilities; it is time for people of all socioeconomic classes to work together for common interests. And in the formation of these coalitions, I see young people leading the way.
Photo credit: Getty Images