“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Women of America, get whistles! Can you imagine how far several thousand whistles can be heard when used simultaneously? We did this in Serbia in the 90s and we managed to drive our little dictator crazy. Just a thought.”
-- post from Boris, a Yugoslav man I met years ago when he was my son’s teenage friend
This grandmother’s knees and hips no longer march. They did. For a woman’s unhindered responsibility to make her own decisions about her body. Against the war in Iran. Missed Martin Luther Kings’s March on Washington, to my profound regret; my small people were too young to stay alone or go along. Out of the country for the Anti-War marches in the 60s. And now the aches and hobbles of age have intervened.
But my fingers still march. Not down Pennsylvania Avenue or along the Mall but across the keyboard, sending words to the page and into cyber-sphere.
Because this is not a week to be silent. Too much matters. This weekend we -- as a nation, as We the People, as me myself -- are engaged in the bedrock of our democracy: The grand ceremonial of the peaceful transfer of power from one duly elected president to another. And the exercise of our constitutional rights to peaceably assemble, speak freely, voice our concerns about the future of our country, serve notice that we hold our elected leaders and particularly our president accountable. Many of us on both sides are deeply upset about one part of this weekend’s activities or the other but we are all in fact acting out our freedom and dignity as American Citizens, both days. Let's honor that.
To put it mildly, we’ve been on a nasty, divisive roller coaster ride this past eighteen months or more. To get beyond the unsettling electoral upset. To this here. This now. This unpredictability. This uncertainty. This dark rabbits’ hole it feels we are swirling down. This president-elect to be sworn in on Friday.
“He won. Get over it. Stop whining.”
Yes, my friends who voted for him, I hear you. I am not whining. I am speaking my mind, freely. I don’t agree with you but I respect your right to make the choice you felt right. Nor am I arguing he wasn’t duly elected. He was -- to your surprise and pleasure but to my and many other people’s consternation. And contrary to the popular vote. That’s how our convoluted system constitutionally based on the Electoral College works. Because from one administration we like, or don’t, to the next one, we respect the process of peaceful change and honor the presidency. Thus our democracy continues.
Not all countries are so fortunate. One morning at a US Consulate where my Foreign Service officer husband was assigned, we woke to learn that overnight the country had been placed under Martial Law. Declared because their president, precluded from running for reelection again, did not want to relinquish power. Effectively he didn’t for fourteen more years when the people finally took to the streets. In another country, at a watch-the-results party the American Embassy gave for the Reagan Mondale election, as a Foreign Service wife wearing a big Mondale button, I was a walking demonstration. “Why would you vote for someone you know will lose?” the local press asked. Few people in that country would think of such a thing, or understand that others might. “Because I believe he is the better candidate.” My nominee lost. The winner, not my preference, was my new president. Accepting this peaceful transfer, pleased or not, is central to our American “exceptionalism.”
But -- I assume like a majority of us, given the unprecedented disapproval of the president-elect in the recent polls -- for the first time ever, I am caught between a rock and a terribly hard place.
“Wait and see. Give him a chance. You’ll be okay.”
I hope so, my friends. Not simply for me but for all of us. But I’m from Missouri and must be shown. Just because he was elected, he doesn’t get a free pass.
I don’t mean the normal give and take between parties. One wins, the other loses. I can live with that -- have done since I started voting sixty years ago -- and politick accordingly. Fight against repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Urge my Senators to vote no on nominees who would overturn the purpose or know nothing about the substance of the departments they have been named to lead.
My fingers are marching about something else. And the need to saddens me. My concern is for our core values in a rapidly changing nation and a fragile world. While I honor the presidency, even though he will be sworn in on Friday in the pinnacle of our national ceremonies, I do not yet respect this particular person. He hasn’t earned it.
We have all heard and seen him. As he campaigned. And since, during the transition. How can we not literally take him seriously and seriously take him literally? Not see what he does as potentially dangerous?
Over-full of self-aggrandizement. Turning facts on their head. Ignoring them. Denying them. Stretching truth. Spitting tweets. Spewing invective. Bullying, mocking, demeaning, disrespecting others. Acting in ways my mother taught me, I taught my children, they theirs, and you, my friends, taught yours, were wrong. But which gives others tacit permission to act out the hate for difference they already feel.
Declaring policy intentions that leave too many of us angry and fearful: Parents could be deported. Muslims could be put on lists. Hard struggles -- for equal pay for equal work, for a living wage, for greater economic equality, for equal voting rights, for equal representation, for the equal right to marry and form families, for reproductive self-determination, for equal justice under the law and in the streets, for equal respect -- could be overturned.
That liberty and justice for all will be diminished. That the essentials of democracy -- freedom of the press and of speech -- will be eroded. That impulsive reactions will leave us and the world less safe.
I wish I saw it otherwise. And yet, in an odd way, this is a time for opportunity and even hope. This weekend is a time of beginnings. Of a new administration and all that brings. Yes. But Saturday, as throngs march in Washington, across the country and around the world, if we use it not just to feel good about being there, but as a first step, as a way to form networks, that too is a beginning. Not just of protest and resistance but also of commitment to revitalization and renewal. And of the hard, everyday, grunt work of citizenship.
One of my sons’ intent, as he escorts three bus loads of college students to Washington on Saturday, is to support “the up-coming generation to feel powerfully connected with others who are committed to the long haul work of leading our political culture into a more just structure.”
My commitment is to focus on supporting voting rights for all citizens and dismantling gerrymandered voting districts so that one person one vote is more a reality. To actually call my representatives on issues, not just think I should. To work for the election of candidates at the local and state levels. To listen to people with whom I disagree and explore how we proceed from there. To continue marching my fingers to speak as they are moved. And if there is a list, to sign it a Muslim.
What is your commitment to the work of citizenship, be it big or small, local or national?
The forecast is for a sunny Saturday. May there also be the sound of whistle blowers, literally and in the other sense. This is not a time for silence. For waiting and seeing. Too much matters.