It’s been a couple days. We’ve pinched ourselves, screamed “WAKE UP!”, turned around three times and cursed (or spat), crawled under the covers, got blackout drunk, looked at endless streams of kitten videos, and prayed that this would all be some horrendous nightmare or well-executed (but thoroughly un-funny joke). We wake up again this morning to find nothing is changed: Donald Trump is the President-Elect.
If you’re like me, this morning is a morning of taking stock and figuring out what to do next. Crawling out from under the covers and blinking back the daylight, it’s a morning of reflection and resigned planning, acceptance of an inevitable that we must figure out how to endure.
Everyone’s responses are different. Everyone is utilizing a toolbox they have built (and are building) over the course of their lives. And everyone’s toolbox is different. It is built from the intersections of oppression and privilege that govern our lives and this society. My toolbox and tools are different than yours, and that’s ok.
We are alive because of a combination of sheer dumb luck and developing these tools that keep us safe. Those survival tools, those actions we can take, the lines we can hold- they are different for everyone. If we are going to get through this, we have to remember that people are coming from different places.
Every single response is important.
Some people will visibly alter their appearance in some way: they will work to blend in more, or they will work to be more visible. Both are valid: some people have families they need to protect, jobs they can’t afford to lose, or do not have the mental capacity to deal with an increased level of harassment and violence. I see you. You have not faded into the woodwork, nor are you invisible, and your response does not make you less than. Others need to take up space, to wear defiance in clothes and makeup and facial expressions, and blending in in certain ways would feel like defeat or acquiescence. Yet others do not have the capacity to “blend in.” I see you too, and I honor your courage in the face of terror.
Some people will advocate legislation, lobbying, contacting representatives, signing petitions. That is a perfectly valid action to take, and that side matters very much. But there are people who cannot afford to wait weeks, months, and years for minds and laws to change. Some people are getting attacked right now, and they will be dead before a vote is called or the license comes through for the protest. So some people will advocate self-defense training, and will walk the streets willing to fight back. Those responses are necessary. This is not about the glorification or demonization of violence, but the recognition that some people have learned to survive by fighting back, and we do not dishonor that by expecting them to operate from a toolbox built with more privilege than they have. I respect if you have the ability to take the time to work the legislative route; however, I viscerally understand if you don’t have that kind of time at your disposal. Neither is better than the other; they are both necessary. Vilifying one to glorify the other exacerbates the divisions along class, race, sex, and gender lines. If you don’t have the need or desire to fight, don’t. But some people do, and they are not morally bankrupt or less-than those who do not.
Some people will advocate calling the police when instances of violence or harassment occur. If that’s what makes you feel safe, then that’s your choice, but please remember that there are many people for whom calling the police will further endanger their lives, not deescalate the situation. The issues that existed before this election have not gone away: police are still killing people of color, and with the election of Donald Trump, the police force is going to be more dangerous than ever before. Those at the Standing Rock, already subjected to raids, violence, and terror, are about to face an even more dangerous and volatile atmosphere in the coming months. Please remember that feeling safe with the police is a privilege. Being believed by the police is a privilege. Having the police care enough about your area/neighborhood to show up in a timely manner is a privilege.
The reality is this: things did not suddenly get worse for marginalized people on November 9th. But a large number of people suddenly realized how bad they have always been, and are learning the capacity for how bad they can get.
So I ask these things of friends, comrades, and allies:
- If a person belonging to a marginalized group asks you to do (or not do) a thing, please listen. In particular, do not call the police if someone asks you not to. You don’t know whether this will help or cause further harm in this situation. Please, do not let your learning experiences come at the expense of someone else’s safety.
- Do what feels like what you need to do, based on your skills, life, and experience. For example, if you’ve never been to a protest before, talk to friends who have experience before you go to Inauguration in DC. See if there are any local trainings in your area and find out different ways you can get involved. Not everyone needs to get arrested, and not every body is a safe, arrestible body.
- Related: Have informed consent before taking action, and take steps to ensure your own safety. If you want to dress more provocatively or confrontationally, do it! But be aware that the risks may have changed, and take whatever measure you need to take to mitigate those risks. If you want to go to a massive protest, do it! But understand that there are some people who might (intentionally) get arrested, and decide whether that is a route you are able/willing to go. If not, figure out where to be and a good exit strategy if things begin to escalate. Also know that even if you don’t want to get arrested, even if you’re not aware that you’re doing anything illegal, mass arrests do happen, and there is always a chance that you will get caught up if you go out. Informed consent of our actions and their repercussions is vital to keeping us safe.
- Use the resources available to you. If you have income, donate to groups who reflect your beliefs and ideologies, but do not shame others who do not. If you have passing privilege in certain respects, actively keep an eye out for people who are being harassed and talk to them, offer to walk with them, and ask them what they need. Not everyone will need something, and not everyone will be receptive. But for some, it is worth it to hear, “No, I’m fine” fifty times for that one person who says, “Actually, I could really use help…”
- Know your neighbors. Know how many pets they have, how many people are living there. Particularly in cities, where there are apartment buildings and rowhouses, burning crosses can light up homes. You can’t know if everyone is out safely unless you know everyone who is there.
- Network and communicate: There will most likely be phone trees and different networking techniques that are community-driven to report harassment, abuse, sexual assault, etc. Plug into those. Offer what resources you have
- Don’t let the small stuff slide. We’ve been doing this for years, letting microaggressions go because “they’re a good guy, just kind of an asshole sometimes.” We’ve also been letting it go because we didn’t see it. Our eyes are opening now, and we cannot stuff our collective heads in the sand anymore. It is up to those who benefit from systems of oppression to dismantle them. We’ve let it slide, and Donald Trump is now the President-Elect. The small stuff adds up.
- Do not shame those who utilize different strategies than you. Remember that our responses, resources, experiences, and skills are directly related to the types of oppression and privilege we have (and have had) throughout our lives. If something is not for you, move along. It takes a combination of actions to create change, and every person is not called do every action. Make the best choices for you, but realize that they are subjectively best.
There are many amazing links going around to rally support. This is the time where we learn who our friends are and who has our backs. I suggest you check out this information on Bystander Intervention, this meme about how to respond when you see Islamophobia (but also applicable to other types of oppression as well), some tips on how to have hard conversations in social groups, at work, and at home, and safety pin solidarity action. If there are other great resources to check out, please feel free to leave them in the comments.
The capacity to walk away from a struggle is a privilege.
Remember that there are those who are not able to walk away from certain types of oppression. If the only thing you can do is make sure you survive, then do what you need to do to survive. But remember that there are those who do not have that choice. Do not shame others for the steps they take when disengagement is not an option.