Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Moving On By Getting Moving

So already, so many people have put their feelings into writing since Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump two weeks ago that there's no need for me to write my personalized variation of what they've already said. What does seem worth writing about is the article I read that moved me beyond wallowing and self-chastising to acting and doing.

The article, from New York Magazine, is called "Finish Your Ugly-Crying. Here's What Comes Next,"* and it's by Ann Friedman

First of all, Friedman makes it clear that white people--who are at least partially protected by their whiteness--have a particular obligation to get moving fast.
"We are about to enter a frightening new era for vulnerable people in America. Most of them cannot take a few days off to process what has just happened. Which is why those of us who don’t belong to the most vulnerable groups have a greater responsibility to start building that more “inclusive and bighearted” America right now. I’m sorry to inform you that we cannot take much time off."
That link at the end of the Friedman quotation is to an article that, pictured here, gave women an opposite point of view--encouraged them to feel entitled to take a break before getting moving. Probably "taking today off" wouldn't be problematic as long as it didn't lead to taking tomorrow off, and then the next day, too. But let's face it: if you permit yourself to take too much time off while simultaneously claiming the situation is dire and urgent, it's likely that deep inside, you understand and accept that the situation is far less likely to have a direct, immediate negative impact on you personally than on other people. In fact, you're banking on that. That's privilege.

Next, Friedman dispassionately names the source of the self-directed--and merited--anger that many of us white people are feeling.
Post-Rain at Dawn
"This is especially true for white people who worried about a possible Trump presidency but didn’t do much to prevent it and are now devastated by the result. If you obsessively checked Facebook and FiveThirtyEight but didn’t phone-bank, didn’t write personal letters to Trump-leaning relatives, didn’t drive people to the polls, didn’t donate, didn’t make sure that every single one of your friends was registered … I wish you’d done things differently. But we can’t go back and redo the election. We can, however, start putting in some good work right now."
by Scott Ketcham
Friedman identifies what made me most angry at myself: though I had done some of the things she listed, I'd left it to other people to do the truly critical work of trying to sway undecided swing-state voters to vote for Clinton. But even though I and others are guilty as charged, Friedman chooses not to belabor the fact that we screwed up. Rather than dismiss us, revile us, or give up on us, she encourages us to start doing the tremendous amount of good work that needs to be done, especially--but not only--because Trump won the election. She even devotes her next paragraph to making concrete recommendations for what that work might be:

"You can become an abortion-clinic escort. You can show up to a Movement for Black Lives event. You can actually start paying attention to your local and state government. You can volunteer with an after-school tutoring program. You can become a consistent donor to an organization that’s been doing social-change work for a long time** — long before you despaired about these election results and decided to really get serious about improving the country. Use the buddy system and recruit three despondent friends to do one or two of these things with you. And then actually do them."
I think Friedman won me over because she sounds so much like a really good teacher in these two paragraphs: she calmly doesn't let us off the hook, she doesn't minimize that or how we did wrong or fell short, she makes abundantly clear that we need to change our behavior (and probably our attitudes), she offers some concrete next steps for making that change--and she never stops communicating her belief that we can and will succeed at making that change.

Then she won me over even further with a couple of statements in her next paragraph: "You’ll know that you are taking meaningful action when you start feeling uncomfortable. When you are nervous and a little scared." In truth, I have a lot of experience helping students and educators talk across difference, and I'm good at creating and sustaining classroom and staff room cultures*** that support action, learning, and purpose across difference. What intimidates me is reaching across potential difference "once and cold" when there isn't the opportunity to build culture or community. Trying to persuade strangers to do or value something on the basis of one interaction is very different from trying to create an environment in which, over time, strangers cease to be strangers and develop understanding and conviction as a result of doing and reflecting in the company of one another

But creating a movement is often not the same as creating a community. And there's no question that a movement is needed. Furthermore, it's definitely more dangerous to reach out to the unknown other today than it was a month ago. But that's precisely the reason that reaching out is so critically important. Being intimidated is no excuse for not acting--especially when the word "uncomfortable" could accurately be substituted for the word "intimidated." Better to reserve "intimidated" for those situations in which there is a genuine threat of physical and psychological harm, as opposed to verbal disagreement accompanied by strong emotion.

That's why last week I made myself sign up to do some fund-raising and outreach phone-calling for Showing Up For Racial Justice next month.**** Frankly, I'm dreading making those phone calls, even though no one's going to ask me to solicit donations and social justice commitments from Ku Klux Clan members or others with comparable beliefs and agendas. I'm very much hoping that the training I'm required to do beforehand will allay some of my anxieties and that some of the skills I've developed over the years will be relevant to the task at hand. But let's face it: no matter how uncomfortable I may sometimes feel, no one can physically assault me over a phone line. I can live with feeling bad and feeling angry. And there's no reason I should assume the worst: it's very possible many of the people I contact will be receptive to my message and requests.

The bottom line is that for a long time, I've been letting a lot of other people do the heavy lifting, the dirty work--in other words, I've let others put their bodies and psyches on the front lines while I supported and cheered them on from my comfort zone. It's not that I've done nothing, but I've certainly risked far less than they have. Now it's time to join them on the streets, in the offices, and on the phone lines. I've begun. No, I won't be at the Million Woman March in Washington D.C. on January 21. But I will be standing in front of the Massachusetts State House on that same day, in solidarity with the women in DC.

And at the same time, I'm feeling a parallel urgent need not to embrace a we-they mentality when it doesn't apply. So I end this blog post with a story about an undecided voter who did feel heard and respected. In "Understanding the Undecideds" in yesterday's Boston Globe, Diane Hessan chronicles her ongoing professional relationship with undecided voter George. Ultimately, George decided to vote for Trump, but when he told her about his choice, he also "told me he hopes that I go to Washington to send Trump a message that women and minorities still count."*****

Hessan ends her article with the following paragraph:

On the grounds of the deCordova Museum
"So, where do we go from here? I don’t know the full answer, but my recent experience does help me know where to start. Whether you liked Clinton or not, we can probably all agree that we are Stronger Together — and I have learned that instead of speaking about each other, we need to speak with each other. If you had asked me to describe a Trump voter last spring, I would have been largely wrong about their motivations, dreams, and even their values. Sure, there are extremists among them, but it was eye-opening to realize how legitimate the concerns of many are, and to realize that, if I just listened hard, I would find that I have more in common with the Georges of the world that I could ever have imagined. Empathy — trying to understand others as deeply as possible — is an important first step, whether around the Thanksgiving table or in social media. President Obama said it eloquently last week, noting that our election is ultimately an intramural scrimmage because we are all on one team. If we believe in liberty and justice for all, we have to acknowledge how terrible it is to feel left out — and then to ask questions, learn, and walk in each other’s shoes." 

Meaningful dialogue with dedicated extremists may be impossible, but meaningful dialogue with people with whom we share some but not all priorities and views is indeed possible. In the months ahead, I plan to engage when I can and to oppose, remind, and assert when that's what's needed. Thanks to Ann Friedman, I'm back, I'm here, and I'm ready. I know where to go from here, or at least where to start.

* Friedman, A. (2016, November 09). Finish your ugly-crying. Here's what comes next. Retrieved November 21, 2016, from 
** Screen shot of Southern Poverty Law Center home page:
*** Screen shot of; I'm quoted in this book.
**** Photo above mission statement [Photograph found in Showing up for racial justice, Louisville, KY]. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from 
***** Hessan, D. (2016, November 22). Understanding the undecided voters [Editorial]. The Boston Globe, 290(145), A10-A11.