protest

So what’s the point of protesting…

Today the brand new president made statements accusing journalists of fabricating his feud with the United States intelligence community despite the evidence on his own Twitter account. His Press Secretary also used his first full day on the job to attempt convince the American people that the photographs of the inauguration were lies and warn news outlets against casting the president in an unfavorable light.  This is the beginning of the post-truth era and this is why it is so important and so wonderful that over a million people around the world went outside, gathered together, and rejected that narrative.

Every time there’s a major protest movement I hear the same comments from both the opposed and the apathetic…. This is pointless. People with signs do nothing, change nothing… And, yeah, the world after the Women’s March is still pretty much as it was. The people in power remain in power and the things that they threaten remained threatened. But fatalism is the refuge of people who either don’t understand how human society works or are choosing to respond to criticism by delegitimatizing instead of acknowledging it. People with signs don’t magically change the world because that’s not how anything works and if you think that a sudden utopia is the only outcome that would make protest worthwhile then just… what is wrong with you?

But people with signs gathering together is powerful and important because it is fellowship. Today the Women’s March was a physical reminder for progressives in this country that we are the majority. Actually seeing crowds emboldens us, empowers us, and makes us harder to lie to.

1984 depicted a world in which power controlled truth. Winston Smith is alone until he finds Julia. I won’t spoil the ending but the book does what books are supposed to do and gives the reader a visceral understanding of what it is to have no truth of your own and how even two people joined together by a mutual complaint can be a threat that power takes seriously. As anyone who’s been gas-lighted will know, the first thing an abuser does is isolate you, the second is convince you that only they know what’s best. Knowing for a fact that you’re not alone and knowing that the problems you see in the world aren’t figments of your imagination, that is not nothing. That is not a pointless show.

So, the day after our president said “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America” we gathered together to remind ourselves that peaceful dissent is not just our right but our responsibility. A democracy must remain responsive to the ideologies its people. It is against the foundation of this country to proclaim that its government is above reproach. We have to remain critical. We have to stay engaged and demand the space to express both our love for this country and our anxiety at its direction. We don’t need to have a perfect answer, we don’t need to have a hive mind like solidarity, we don’t need anything other than signs and the space to gather and share our concerns.

Societies build their ideologies slowly over time through community contact and conversation.  That’s why we protest. That’s why we keep protesting. Not because we have all the answers and the magic recipe for the perfect world but because in this very imperfect world we need each other now more than ever.

I hope some of the ripples caused by today go on to inspire change. I hope people begin to take an interest in local politics, pay closer attention to federal politics. I hope that not just the democratic party and people on the left, but that independents and those on the right who reject this post-truth dystopia we seem to be hurtling towards will feel emboldened by this reminder that we are the majority and we aren’t going anywhere.

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Fight No More Forever

Wednesday was the anniversary of the surrender of the Nez Perce at Bear Paw which brought an end to the Nez Perce War. I didn’t want to let the day pass too far by me without remembering what Chief Joseph said on that day 139 years ago;

“Tell General Howard I know his Heart. What He told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting, Looking Glass is dead. too-Hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are–perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

This speech is both haunting and incredibly beautiful, but I’ll try not to focus too hard on the beauty. Often in American culture, when we do acknowledge indigenous people, it is with a kind of orientalism. New agey myths surround the “wisdom” of the first Americans as if they only existed as shaman proffering a fun spirituality that we can pick-up in our twenties and decorate our facebooks with, then just as easily toss aside for the next culture we want to fetishize. In remembering Chief Joseph’s words, I want to remember that this was a human man who suffered great loss.

But I do think it’s important to remember these words because they, like all beautiful things, reach a place in ourselves that would otherwise be unreachable. They are a visceral reminder that this nation was built on a genocide. (And if you now want to stop reading this now because you don’t like that last statement you’re actually exactly who I want to talk to (hopefully not lecture, but talk to)). I don’t think we love our country any better by pretending history never happened. I don’t think blindness is good patriotism.

We pick and chose and borrow and steal from those parts of this nation’s history that are beautiful, affirming, and encourage us to think of ourselves as the hero of history. We get very, very angry at anyone pointing out that firebombs killed civilians in WWII, internment camps imprisoned law abiding US citizens and stole their property, slavery was an evil that made America rich (North and South), the wounds of Jim Crow have NOT healed. We get very, very, very angry when a man uses his very public stage to say that justice is not available to everyone in this country.

The outcry is “How dare you not love this country!” But if that’s how you love your country, I don’t think you and your country have a very healthy relationship. Total and unquestioning acceptance is not love. It is not loving to sit in silence while your loved one hurts herself. It is not patriotism to make standing for a song, repeating a pledge, and never ever criticizing, the hallmarks of good citizenry. Especially in a democracy where it is our duty to be vigilant protectors of this fragile experiment.

Love for America is not contingent on the belief that America is without sin. Rather, the ability for democracy to grow, and learn, and change, depends on people challenging the complacency of believing we’re perfect. That is what we should take pride in, protestors are patriots. I believe that we are strong enough to challenge ourselves and overcome, to acknowledge the sins of our past and from them learn to do better and be better. That is how I love my country. So from time to time, I remind myself of the worst parts of history so that I can find ways to make us better.