Rising From The Wreckage: When The Protests End, The Real Work Of Resistance Must Begin

A man holds an American flag upside down in a sign of national distress on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in San Diego, at a protes
A man holds an American flag upside down in a sign of national distress on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in San Diego, at a protest held in response to Donald Trump's election victory.

Have you ever been in a serious accident? If not, I'll tell you what it's like.

Imagine for a moment that you’re riding in a car. You’re cruising smoothly on the freeway despite the rainy weather, when suddenly the tires no longer grip the road. Before you know it, you're in a tailspin and you see oncoming traffic alternating with regular traffic as though you're on some horror-themed carousel. Still, you're not really afraid, because it doesn't seem real. Then, you see your drink fly into the air and you reach for it because you're worried about Sprite getting on your new dress. Before you can catch your drink, the car slams into the guardrail, smashing your head into the side window. Less than a second ago you were thinking about Sprite on your dress. Now, your mind is dulled. You’re slow to get out of the passenger seat. You only know it’s real when other cars pull over to help and the police arrive.

While this election was also a disorienting tailspin, we knew it was real when hundreds of thousands began marching in major cities across the country. We knew it was real when President Obama addressed the nation. We knew it was real when hate crimes surged. We knew it was real when the executive branch began to fill with all manner of white supremacist, climate change denier, war monger and homophobic politician. We knew it was real when “Saturday Night Live” held its only serious open aside from the one that aired after 9/11, calling to mind the brave performances depicted in “Cabaret” – the iconic play-cum-film set during the fall of the Weimar Republic.

The comparison isn’t a stretch. We have seen a hard right shift in Europe that has manifested as rage against Muslims in the form of torched refugee camps and discriminatory laws in parts of Sweden and France. Islamophobia is a common cause du jour in the face of the largely Muslim diaspora that has resulted from war in the Middle East and accelerating climate change. We already live in a world where Australia ships its desperate refugees, many of whom are Muslims, to squalid camps in Papua New Guinea. And let’s not forget what Trump said on the campaign trail: Guantanamo is staying open and he's going to fill it up.

Believe him.

However many things Trump will back down from or forget altogether, this promise is one among many that he and his cohorts would love to make good. Sadly, many right-wing populists in Europe agree with this thinking. Trump is not one lone wolf, he's one among several (nevermind his cabinet). If history tells us anything, these guys tend to come in historical packages, uniting together in the name of burning the world and sometimes turning on one another in their own megalomaniacal pursuit.

I realize that many news outlets are trying to normalize what is happening. I realize that President Obama has worked hard to reassure us. I realize that many around you might be shrugging their shoulders and saying “it’s just politics” as though policy has no impact on reality. I realize that everything is filtered through social media and clickbait headlines which makes things seem light at worst and detached from reality at best. But they aren't. This is real and dire.

Trump may look goofy, but he's dangerous – his cohorts perhaps even more so. I'm convinced that the reason many aren't terrified of Trump is because he is so ridiculous looking. We have a hard time assigning sinister intentions to those who appear so comical. But have any of you ever taken a look at North Korea's leaders?

EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Throughout history, without fail, human tragedies have taken place because no one took anything seriously until guns or camp chimneys were smoking. Until that point, most wrote off dangerous rhetoric as “just politics” or absurd – the New York Times dismissed Hitler as a buffoon in 1922 – and by the time they saw how disastrous the situation had become, they were unable to stop it.

While you may believe that the Trump administration is highly unlikely to attempt anything on the scale of The Holocaust or the Bosnian genocide, that’s no reason to fall asleep at the wheel. There’s a wreck coming, and we have no way of knowing for certain how severe it will be.

Based on what we know of history and of sociopaths (however incompetent), there’s great cause for concern. This has happened before. This isn't hysteria. We are poised on the brink of national devastation in some form or another, be it environmental, humanitarian, economic or all three. We're overdue for it to happen again, but that doesn’t mean it’s predestined. It will happen only because we let it.

And why might we let it? Apathy. Disbelief. Selfishness. An inability to see the bigger picture. Disconnectedness. Crippling anxiety. Diffusion of responsibility. Conflict aversion. It's part of our nature, which means it's up to us to overcome those natural inclinations and stop it.

That's a terrible weight, isn't it? Sadly, we don't get to choose what history we're a part of. Sometimes we just happen to be the unlucky ones who were caught in the crash.

I know that some of you will be in denial of this. You will plug your ears, cover your eyes and preach love without action to back it up. You will be unable to process that you might live to see something so horrible that it could go on the books as one of the defining events of the 21st century.

Others among you will be overjoyed with the feeling that you can rightfully reclaim "your" country, be it in the racial, religious, cultural or economic sense. Perhaps all of the above. You will stand idly by or you will be an active accomplice. Sadly, some of you will be victims, too. A few of you may have a change of heart and will choose to stand on the opposite side of history.

Still others will be worked up for a little while before the seductive desire to normalize and go about life as usual sets in. Hell, that's something all of us with enough privilege to feel safe from immediate death, deportation or imprisonment will fight on some level or another. After all, I love cat videos and Instagramming my #grannyhair as much as the rest of you.

Lastly, a few of us will actively resist. We will accept that the course of our lives and our best laid plans have irrevocably changed and likely not for the best or the easiest. We will accept the costs to our time, our flexibility and to our joy, which will remain tempered by this looming existential threat. We'll do all of this in service of this country, this Earth and our fellow man. We’ll do it for the hope of a day, when we are older and a little more weathered, where we can revel fully in that joy again and so that others might for the first time. We’ll do it so that we may be able to declare with confidence: "America was never truly great for all, but we will make it so."

A few messages among the thousands posted on the wall in Manhattan’s Union Square subway station.
A few messages among the thousands posted on the wall in Manhattan’s Union Square subway station.

For those of us who choose to act, we must do far more than raise awareness or wear safety pins or share articles like this one. Sure, we can still watch “Westworld” and go out with friends and take care of ourselves, but now we must make time to do the hard work. To be watchdogs and monitors of new laws and appointees. To write representatives and vote in every state and local election. To strengthen our communities. To protect our vulnerable. If you have money, donate to organizations that protect the rights of women, the environment, Indigenous people, the poor, the LGBTQ community and other minority communities. If white privilege is your superpower, use it to speak out against racism and to defend others who are being intimidated, violated or discriminated against. Whatever your talent, skill or privilege, there is a way to be useful. No one else is going to do this for us.

I know, so many of us are still relatively young and inexperienced. We feel so unprepared because we are. We grew up in an entertaining world where we lived in the hyperreal. The Holocaust was most vividly recalled as a Spielberg movie for many of us. The same is true of the Civil War and Wounded Knee. Now, many of us are living something that doesn’t jive with our understanding of reality as we knew it. It seemed so different up on the silver screen when a decade or more was compressed into two hours of dramatic moments. There, we knew the script and even the worst events were restrained by a compact and neat predictability.

Spoiler alert: That isn't how events play out in real time. This is messy and confusing, it moves in fits and starts, it's slow and creeping until it isn't. If we are not aware of this, we will be lulled, soothed, placated and then played. Played as pawns or accomplices in The Great Game.

No one taught us how to recognize a coming war or other human catastrophe, but history gives us valuable clues. If we are to have any hope of avoiding this, we must resist. Some of us will be intimidated, dismissed and abused. Some of us may even be arrested or harmed, but we must be brave in the face of adversity. We must be prepared.

Part of this preparation is the understanding that during the first 60 days or even the first 360 days of the Trump administration, there will likely be a lot of "business as usual" or even a few small "wins" on the surface that will lull people into a false sense of security and complacency. That is a dangerous mistake. I'm not advocating for panic, but we MUST monitor what's happening in every branch of government and step up our political activity and awareness. As I alluded to earlier, human disasters creep in slowly over time and the majority populace tends to be the last to realize those effects.

If this all sounds a bit intense and fear-mongering to you, remember this: Fear has a purpose. Fear is nature's way of motivating us to get to safety. Fear works in favor of self-preservation when appropriately induced. We move away from the rabid dog because we rightly fear it, we don't walk into its jaws. So be afraid, but not too afraid. Don’t let it cripple you. Fear complacency above all other threats. Let it keep you alert, let it strengthen your resolve. We can come through this with minimal figurative and literal casualties if we are watchful and active, if we protect our neighbors, if we lobby and petition against injustice, war and environmental destruction; if we vote in state and local elections.

Even if you can’t bear the sight of him, keep your eyes on Trump. Keep them on his cabinet. Keep them on the House and Senate. Keep them on your state and local government. Keep them on white nationalist and related organizations like Stormfront, the Traditionalist Worker Party, the American Freedom Party, American Renaissance, The KKK, the Council of Conservative Citizens and the myriad blogs and news networks of the Alt Right such as Breitbart. Keep them on Standing Rock, on our most vulnerable ethnic and religious communities, on immigrant and refugee communities, on women’s rights, on the LGBTQ community, on the economy, on policy, on a variety of news sources both inside and outside the US and on the voting booth during every election cycle.

In other words, keep your eyes on the road.