Yesterday, a friend called me to ask if I wanted to carpool to the demonstration downtown today. I said, no, my husband and I plan to go to a different demonstration on Monday, in front of a different building downtown. This the third time since January that I’ve turned down a friend’s invitation to one demonstration because I had another demonstration lined up. These days, there is no way I can attend them all.
And how did you react to Donald Trump’s presidential election victory?
A handful of my relatives and close neighbors were jubilant — but not my Quaker meeting. We are deliberately non-partisan, but we are liberal. Inside our clear windows and plain grey walls there were tears, wails and the gnashing of teeth. (This is not totally an exaggeration.) Meeting might have reached unity on draping our front doors with black crepe swags if our clerk had proposed it.
We were gobsmacked! Corporately and individually we had been knocked off-center. We thought we were striding onward and upward toward (our vision of) a better world when suddenly the whole country took a detour! How did this happen? Why didn’t we see this coming?
In hindsight, it is obvious we were infected with complacency. Progress, it seems, is not inevitable. Those of us vulnerable in any way now know fresh fear.
But for most of us in our Quaker meeting, cocooned in relative comfort and security and our white skins, we didn’t grasp the depth of insecurity, fear, frustration, homophobia and racism running through a broad swath of our fellow citizens. We just weren’t looking for a resurgence of hate and discrimination. Who voted for Trump, anyway?
It’s not that we weren’t aware of the other people around us. But ours is a stratified society with neighborhoods and schools determined by income. Even our meeting membership is, to some extent, limited in class diversity. We who are comfortable are never forced to mingle with the hungry. We take up collections for food banks and we do charitable works. We know the statistics and support legislation to alleviate poverty. Daily frustration and hopelessness isn’t ours.
But Trump’s strongest support came from people with annual incomes of about $70,000. For most of us, neither racism nor homophobia is a daily insult. But racism and homophobia and misogamy lurk all around us and are breaking the bonds of inhibition loosened by leaders like Trump with no compassion or shame. Even worse, some ministers reinforce these messages.
Quakers revere their more famous members of the past who were on the right side of history. And we are justly proud of the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (to name just two Quaker groups out in the world doing good). One day future generations may even revere a few of us current Quakers who are made of the same stalwart stuff as those abolitionists, suffragettes, and civil rights workers.
But most Friends are like most other people. We aren’t heroes. We aren’t activists. We don’t like to rock any boats or cross any lines. We think we know the difference between right and wrong and we vote accordingly. Besides, when Obama was president, we believed, the country was in good hands. We didn’t have to worry.
Then we wake up one morning and Donald Trump is president. We are in shock!
After a great deal of moaning and commiseration, we begin to climb out of this deep pit of despair. For the first weeks and months following the election, we administered self-care: prayer, readings, journaling, music. As a meeting, we decide to hold a retreat on Responding to Challenging Times. We calm down. We see that the sun still rises. Now we are ready to face reality.
There is some recognition that the problem is not Donald Trump. The problems were there all along — even while Obama was president — and Donald Trump is just a manifestation.
Now, along with millions of other people, we are paying more attention. We are swept up in that wave of others rising to assert decency and tolerance. We have our senators on speed dial. We subscribe to email newsletters chock full of alerts on committee hearings,
notices of demonstrations, talking points to share with our legislators. We write to the editor, pressure lawmakers with phone calls and letters. We are energized around common concerns. We hit the streets (peacefully, of course). We send post cards and make phone calls to other voters. We canvas. We hang signs and share Facebook messages. We not only vote — we get-out-the-vote.
Remember when we flooded town halls, demanding answers from our elected representatives? And when we were shut out of the those town halls, new groups (run predominately by women) organized their own town halls with local experts to examine social issues and look at possible solutions. Grass roots efforts found candidates and supported them with time and money.
Here in Virginia, these efforts have paid off in the midterm elections. In spite of gerrymandered districts that heavily favor Republicans, Democrats tossed out incumbents and took seats all over the state. They won in districts the party itself gave up on. And those new delegates are more beholden to the voters than they are to the Democratic party. (May we hold their feet to the fire.)
Ten months into Trump’s administration we are sticking it out. We persist.
But “Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty” is a tall order. How long can we keep this up? Will we slip back into our old patterns and trust Democrats to take care of our interests?
Blind trust didn’t work the last time. It brought us Donald Trump — and the continuation and expansion of endless war and income iniquities and the occasional child dead of a toothache through lack of health insurance and too many children hungry while their parents work hard at jobs that keep them poor. Even if Hillary Clinton had won the election, to what degree would that have changed? Would we have paid as close attention? Would we have witnessed and acted — or blindly trusted that Things Would Get Better?
We citizens have begun to feel the power we have. Will we use it? How will we use it? Or will we elect a few good people and go back to thinking elections are enough to fix everything?