AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was originally posted to my Facebook page.
To resist, we have to get over a few narratives that American neoliberalism and reactionaries have handed to us. Namely:
1. The idea of scarcity—that there is only so much energy to use in resistance, or that there are only so many opportunities for resistance, so we need to all agree on how to approach an action or campaign. This just isn’t true. AIDS activists didn’t move the NIH, FDA, White House, and general public on their cause by all working in lockstep to do the same thing, and they didn’t have only 1986 to do it. The ceaseless march of protests, the myriad of forms of resistance that included direct action, lobbying, negotiation, public relations campaigns, research, and so on, and that extended for more than a decade brought about change. In just three days of his presidency, Trump has seen leakers, philosophical arguments waged online, editorials from the press, rogue federal employees, and the largest global demonstration in history. There is enough room for all of us.
2. The idea of exceptionalism—it sounds trite, but ordinary people can make extraordinary change. We are already in an amazing time where humans have extended their life expectancies, where we have cures for dozens of diseases that used to kill millions of people every year, where we can travel around the planet in mere hours, and where we can harness the clean energy of the sun at ever-increasing efficiency. Social progress has moved quickly, too, where only 1.5 years ago we saw marriage equality, 50 years ago we saw the end of the ban on interracial marriage, only 97 years ago came the right of women to vote, and only 117 years since women could own property. Just in my lifetime we have moved from an absolute erasure of trans lives to near-universal acceptance (the millennials are working as hard as they can on this). Although lived experience feels different from abstractly tallying these forces and changes, the reality is that we didn’t need exceptional people to bring them about. We needed a mass of people to cause a tipping point. Each of us is capable of calling for and receiving productive change in our communities.
3. The idea of purity—there is a reason so many people throw around the word hypocrite, because it is easy to accuse imperfect people of imperfection. None of us adhere perfectly to a philosophy, and none of us should be dismissed out of hand when we contradict ourselves. Certainly the consequences of our words and actions are subject to thoughtful critique, as they should be. But puritanical thinking relies on another false premise, that things are simple. Nothing we humans have created over millennia, like our political and governmental systems, are simple. We need to step away from the call out, shunning, dismissive practice that limits the relationships we need more than ever to actively resist this government. We need not call people out in open forums, certainly not before we have approached them directly in a way that opens up communication and the possibility of accountable change.
I keep saying it’s going to get bad, and I mean it. It will probably get worse than I envision, because I am an optimist, even in trying times. I told my mother today that I am trying to face into the wind and take it on. But a number of conversations I’ve witnessed in the last two weeks concern me that we are caught up on all of the above, and if we stay there we will not effectively be able to help each other.