Monday, December 05, 2016

Finding Our Feet--Together

By Kelly Cogswell

Last Tuesday, or maybe a decade ago, I ventured out in the rain to an anti-Trump meeting at an enormous Episcopal church uptown, where water was leaking into the foyer from the small domed entry and pooling on the tile. Inside, the large sanctuary was respectably full. The crowd was about half first-time activists of all ages, the rest middle-aged veterans of groups like ACT-UP, with stunned but determined faces.

The group agreed on a tactic-- direct action, with or without arrests -- then talked about issues for a while, before breaking into the usual sub-groups to introduce themselves and begin organizing. In the media committee we agreed it played a huge role in Trump's election, and would be an essential tool to fight back, shaping the meaning of our actions, creating our own--truthful--narrative of what Trump was up to. We still left without a name or an action. The biggest problem for anti-Trump activists isn't tools, but where on earth to start.

In some ways, the Trump-Pence regime is a crisis even broader and deeper than the early years of the AIDS epidemic when activists still had intersectional issues, but only a handful of targets: drug companies and researchers, homophobic evangelicals and the Catholic Church, CDC definitions that ignored women, government programs controlling health care access and information that betrayed queers, people of color and the poor.

This hydra has too many heads to count. And they're not just out to destroy the usual suspects, but the basic rules Americans have played by. Or aspired to, even when they failed us. I still want what I pledged my life to when I was six, Liberty and justice for all.

One person suggested holding a demo about free speech and assembly that would be as bold as possible, so that six months or a year from now we will have a yardstick to measure what we've lost when attacks on the Constitution and basic civil liberties take hold, and the once unthinkable becomes commonplace.

Pretty soon we'll believe we've always had a president-elect randomly creating policy tweet by unfettered, random, hateful tweet while his minions bring their calculated determination to stripping women and queers of their rights. And the other asylum inmates now in charge are perfectly justified in picking fights with China, or Iran. Stymying trade agreements. All agreements really, like terrifying three-year olds. Sometimes in the name of profit. Sometimes in the name of God.

Lately, I wonder whatever happened to reports of a new wave of evangelicals that were gay-neutral, pro-environment, less obsessed with abortion. Are they busy at home installing solar roofs, or did their fragile white egos catch fire with the politics of resentment? Is it them bashing the nearest queer, or Jew, or Muslim? Oh, poor white man lusting after more than a house and car and food. Oh poor white woman sleeping next to a disappointed spouse who dreams of a bare-chested Putin on a galloping horse.

Equality can't compare. Or the drudgery of democracy in which every vote counts, and must be counted.

I know what resentment is. I'm familiar with hate. I've put up with their bullshit dyke-baiting and woman-bashing for fifty years. And on bad days, I want what they do. To burn the whole thing down. I don't even care if I go with it. But then I see a little light somewhere. Hear a scrap of good news.

Like very early Monday morning when U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ordered a recount to begin immediately in Michigan. "With the perceived integrity of the presidential election as it was conducted in Michigan at stake, concerns with cost pale in comparison." Just before that, the Obama administration halted construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

And for a moment I could see the point of the phone calls and emails, donations and demos. If there's a way forward, we have to draw the line beginning with the case of Standing Rock, where some very determined people were willing to put their bodies on the line over a period of weeks, and months, until the small encampment of Native Americans grew into an enormous movement. Because that's what change takes, time, patience, and activism in the flesh. It's the only way we have to remind politicians and business people that we exist beyond their policy reports and number crunching, and we won't be ignored.

The problem remains, though, that everybody can't be everywhere, can't do everything. And choosing a direction is especially difficult for those of us at the crossroads of identities. I'm beginning to believe it doesn't matter what you choose or how. Perhaps we should just leave it to chance. Like the woman passing a Planned Parenthood who saw protesters outside, and stopped, and went inside to volunteer. That's all any of us have to do. Pick one thing. Get plugged in. Make a stand.

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