I was living in downtown Oakland California when Barack Obama won his first presidency. I was sitting at my computer hitting refresh on CNN every few minutes, waiting, waiting, waiting for the inconceivable to happen. Would a black man really sit in the most important of chairs? Would he put his coffee on the most hallowed of desks? Would a black hand hold the pen that had the power change the world with its ink?
I didn’t need to look at the computer screen to know when the results came in. I felt it. The vibration in the air built slowly in to a wild frenzy, the streets filled up with hooting and hollering, the town levitated. I have never in my life experienced the energy of an entire city in a state of joy. It was unbelievable. It was victory for a community that had never won, had never looked at a man of power and seen their own reflection in his determined but weary face. I will never forget what the streets of Oakland gave to me that night. The memory has and will continue to sustain me in times of confusion and loss. It held my head up in November when people voted with hatred and fear not heart, it moves my feet forward when the road ahead is so badly lit and it gives me precious hope today as my country does it’s damnedest to rip itself apart, limb from limb. I have seen how powerful we can be when united over love, I know what we are capable of when our arms are linked and our hearts are sure.
Over the past year I have culled a certain type of person from my life. I unfollowed, unfriended and divorced myself from the people that started showing signs of supporting Trump and those like him. Rather than engage in discourse (however heated) when they posted or said the frightening crap that is now commonplace, I just cut them out. In hindsight this was a terrible mistake. I stood on the tracks and refused to look in the direction of the coming trains, somehow thinking that kind hearted truth would prevail. What I didn’t know was that truth had become so fluid, murky and fleeting, like the smoke from a trash fire.
I was not the only one that allowed the election results take me by surprise. I sat smugly in the echo chamber of my curated life, so sure that ignorance wouldn’t win. And I was wrong. Not just concerning what was about to come but that those who facilitated it were purposely ignorant or nasty. Yes, the loud and hateful few that pushed the alt-right agenda and it’s yucky counterparts are comfortably ignorant, that is a fact. And damn nasty to boot. But the rest of those people did what they did because they could see no other way. Just like the people of 2008 Oakland, the states filled with our disenfranchised, poverty stricken Americans, felt so removed from the shiny prosperity that everyone but them seems to enjoy. Is it really that surprising that a reality tv star would seem so appealing to so many? He speaks their language, plays on their fears, offers that quick, unbelievable fix that so many crave. The demographic that supports Trump is largely poor and undereducated, two things that when put together equal desperation.
It is a twisted and strange thing to me, this elevating of such a crass and obvious liar, but when all the cards are laid out, I understand how it happened. When quicksand is slowly swallowing ones life, it is hard to blame the person who takes a hand from the devil. Choices that are made in desperation tend to be ill informed. Albert Einstein said, “An empty stomach is not a good political adviser.” There are many ways to go hungry in America.
As Trump continues to populate his White House with crooks, morons and oddities, each one more rank than the last, we the people hold our breath. Even his staunch supporters look on with confused expressions, refusing to make eye contact, that cocksure posture beginning to slump. America has become the most watched reality tv show ever, all of us waiting to see who gets voted off the island. We’ve been punked. We’ve been slimed. We are a laughing stock. What on Gods green earth do we do now? The only thing that America has ever had in spades in foolish pride. So let us use it now. Let us take pride in our land, the vast stretching glory of northern America proper. There are immediate battles that can be fought by us here and now. Some have watched and some participated in the stand off against the DAPL. Most recently 500 veterans were called to create a human barrier between police and water protector, 2,000 showed up and within a day the POTUS handed down what I think of as a stay after months of peaceful resistance. Information continues to surface concerning the ETP’s plan on ignoring the ruling but in the mean time, victory. How sad it is that we have to fight so hard to wrest American soil from a such bloody, greedy hands? But we did and we will. Together. Standing Rock is proof positive that united we achieve the impossible. There is power in small groups with pride, however foolish, in our country.
Whether we like it or not, our eyes are open now. We see how our flyover states have been ignored, how we have stopped truly seeing the people around us, the needy, the uneducated. If for some reason you don’t understand how we got here then I suggest taking the time and figuring it out. We owe each other that much. It is our great privilege to be citizens in a country that baked the pursuit of happiness in to our constitution. A part of that right is responsibility to the country as a whole, not just the prosperous parts. And we’ve failed at that. But we are not beyond saving. I look around me and I see the peaceful protests at Standing Rock. I see woman protecting other women from harassment and ribald assault. I see good men doing their part in this battle as well. I see the hard war on black lives coming under the spotlight. And for the first time in so very long, I see people not looking the other way.
It’s not perfect, it still needs so much work but we the people can drop the foolish part and feel the pride alone. The kind of pride that comes from participating, from helping, from understanding and most importantly, from forging unity where there was none. I felt so frustrated, so lost in all of this until I forced myself in to action. There are so many things that we can do when we work together. Be it locally, globally or somewhere in between. We are so powerful when we unite. Let’s take comfort in that. Let’s get to work. Let’s fill the streets with the energy of love and the pride of a people together as one.